The workplace used to be a lot simpler. There were very few functional or cultural barriers, as most teams worked within silos of like-minded people with similar backgrounds and roles, and they typically worked together in person. Common work jargon and colloquialisms were all well-understood and team communication was relatively easy.
Enter the 2018 workforce, and teams are far more diverse – in every sense of the word. Matrix structures introduce different roles and functions to collaborative workstreams and discussions; team members are now set-up all over the world – literally – and the demographics of those teams span multiple generations, varying backgrounds and skill levels. All of which, by the way, offers a much broader set of opinions and capabilities.
As an active member of several remote and global recruitment teams myself, I know firsthand the tremendous amount of value and success that can be achieved with geographically diverse teams. I also know firsthand the challenges that come when working with remote teams. In addition to juggling multiple time zones, a lot can get lost in translation when working with people who do not sit in the same office as you. There is a lot to be said for non-verbal cues, and the level of interaction afforded through remote devices, whether phone or video, is limited. There are also basic communication barriers that can compromise the ability to manage these teams, especially when English is not everyone’s first language.
Luckily, overcoming some of these predictable obstacles to unlock a team’s true potential can be achieved with the right mindset and best practices.
My number one piece of advice? Empathy is key.
It is crucial to put yourself in the shoes of the other people on your team and to find ways to acknowledge and accommodate their situations – whether it’s that they’re available at different times than you, or that they have different preferred modes of communication. The more open and empathetic you are, the more results you will be able to drive as a team. Managers and members of remote/global teams must be conscious of one another and proactive about including each other.
5 Tips to Build a Better Remote Team
From one remote team member and leader to another, here are the top five ways to improve communication and galvanize a remote/global team:
1. Be aware.
Start by getting to know every team member – including their time zone relative to yours. This sounds small, but in a remote work environment it carries weight. If you are constantly asking – or worse, forgetting – where your team sits in relation to you, it sends the wrong message. Also, be aware of each country’s domestic calendar as it relates to PTO and holidays. Again, a simple step to take, but well worth the understanding for the sake of your team.
2. Be considerate.
Being part of a global team means you will absolutely need to take calls or participate in meetings outside your normal work day hours. Teams need to work to manage this and disperse the inconvenience, but be considerate and accommodating (within reason) whenever possible.
3. Be clear.
Global, and even domestic, time zone differences can cause confusion when it comes to response expectations. Be mindful of around-the-clock emails, and be explicit about turn-around expectations and response times. For example, a seemingly simple request to have something reviewed by “end of day” should be clarified by “whose” end of day is being referenced.
4. Be engaging.
If you have a mixed team where the majority sits in one location together, appreciate how remote and global team members feel as minority participants to that team. Diffuse any concerns that their voices, and therefore opinions, may be less important by directly soliciting their thoughts before, during and after calls. Also, avoid overusing in-person solicitation, like asking people to raise their hands, or only focusing on the live interaction from the people in the immediate room.
5. Be opportunistic.
Take full advantage of the “chase the sun” dynamic a remote/global team offers. Smart teams will set up to complete certain sequential work that can then be carried out by the next region in the following time zone. The successful orchestration of these globetrotting projects can provide a meaningful and unique sense of purpose for the team at large. It is also arguably one of the biggest benefits to having a global team. Take advantage of it!
Small, considerate steps to make sure each member of the team feels included will offer huge returns in productivity and in reaching goals.
Remote and globally-structured teams are here to stay; and by consciously including everyone, not only will you encourage better performance at the individual level but the team at large will begin to feel more like the traditional, onsite team you may be used to.