Managing remote teams? Start here.

, Monday, October 31st, 2011

 

It may not be news to most of you that Beaconfire really values the people who work here ☺ … However, some of our really talented colleagues have had to leave the DC area, but we didn’t want to lose them.  So remote working was born!

How has it worked out?  And what do you watch out for?  Keep reading…

Long standing tradition and practice has dictated that the most productive methods of output and collaboration revolve around teams being physically located together.  A recent global trend, however, is driving that understanding in another direction.  The Internet, highly advanced collaborative worker tools, improved communications, and a new working culture are allowing people to come together on teams that are no longer co-located.

Here’s what we have learned in the process and consequently look to establish for remote teams:

#1: A sense of being a Team
Team members can feel isolated and independent even if they are working in the cubicle ten feet away. However, if team members know they are part of a team working on common goals and common deliverables, they tend to be more actively involved.  So let those remote workers know they are part of the team, and ensure they are invited (even if they have to webcam or call in) to team meetings and discussions.

#2: Establishing ground rules
It is probably more important for remote teams to exhibit a common and acceptable set of functioning behaviors.  Ground rules may include expected hours for working, lunch times, determining which meetings are mandatory (in-person, web-based, or via telephone), and establishing expectations for communication turnaround times.

#3: Leverage technology
Technology is available and improving all the time to support virtual team members.  This includes fast access to the Internet, audio conferencing, videocams, collaborative software, and shared directories.  At Beaconfire, the inclusion of video chat has been a major success.  Some remote staff even like to have video chat on during the day while they work to keep the conversation going and limit the barriers to communication.

#4: Give people shorter assignments, and check in often
Instead of assigning a six-week activity to a remote team member, assign the work in three two-week activities.  And you’ll want to check in, ideally, on a daily basis on ensure progress.  If the remote worker is working closely with other team members on smaller or more modular tasks, it reduces risk of timeline expectations not being met.  Check-in often, and especially point out deliverables that on the critical path.

#5: Communicate, as much as possible
Be extra proactive to ensure all team members understand what is expected. Remote team workers can start to feel isolated if they do not receive regular communications. The communication lines on a virtual team must be opened up especially wide.  And keep in mind the following best practices:

  • Pick up the phone.  Typically, our instinct is to try and have conversations over IM/email, but very often things move much faster and people feel more engaged on both sides when we actually pick up the phone (and/or webcam) and have a conversation with someone.
  • Keep it interesting – Use a variety of communication techniques.  Pick up the phone , Video chat, etc.

#6: Tips for the Remote Worker:
And what the remote worker can do to himself/herself to help -

  • Be uber responsive and available.
  • Use Instant Messenger to make yourself available at all times during the work day. Even if you are busy, take a second and say “in a meeting” or “on a call” or “crunching on something, how important is it?” It makes people feel less like you are remote and no one can complain that you are hard to reach.
  • Communicate to your team members about your availability/status/whatever you’re working on – it really helps put people at ease when they can’t actually see you.

 

It’s worked well for Beaconfire so far, and we are witnessing some of the dynamics of ‘team work from afar’ and how it has reshaped our working relationships within the company.

Have a best practice that has really worked for your remote team? Feel free to share.

 

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