While working away from the office helps save on commute time and may align more with your schedule, telecommuting can also make it challenging for leaders to connect with and motivate their teams.
To overcome this hurdle, I spent an afternoon researching effective strategies for remote team building.
In the coming sections, I’ll show you seven keys to building and strengthening the lines of communication, creating a more cohesive team, establishing trust and making your team members feel empowered.
Just because you have a scattered team does not mean that you cannot have a unified goal…or have fun while working apart.
1. Start With Clear Expectations
One of the most essential aspects of leading a team is ensuring that every member understands team goals and expectations. For instance, if you expect your team to maintain their regular work hours while working remotely, state that clearly as soon as possible.
That said, you could have people on your team who work better during evenings and nights or parents who must take care of their kids throughout the workday, so create a path for these team members to perform at their best.
You likely do not expect your team to make themselves available 24/7, so establish “office hours” when they can expect to receive and send emails, phone calls and other forms of communication. Speaking of which, which methods of communication do you feel work best for remote working?
Instant messages work better for some situations while video messaging suits other circumstances. Think about creating expectations regarding response times so work does not fall behind because one person had to wait several hours to hear back from someone else.
Consider having a group discussion regarding expectations so everyone can contribute. This makes your job easier, and you allow your team to embrace their agency, which can become a great motivator.
2. Keep in Touch
Modern technology makes it easier than ever to stay connected and share information. Make sure all your team members have a fast, reliable internet connection, and consider giving a company phone to vital team members whom you rely on for an immediate response.
Once you have methods of communication in place, maximize their utility. No longer can you pop into someone’s office or cubicle to ask a quick question. Establish regular “water cooler check-ins” where you meet with your team as a whole and speak with team members individually.
One essential tip to remember with remote check-ins is that you want to keep them as short as possible. Just as several in-person meetings in a day can drain your patience and mental reserves, the same applies to sitting in multiple video chat meetings a day.
For all the advanced technology at our fingertips, do not forget that phone calls still have their use. Call rather than send an email or text message when you have something emotional or stressful to communicate. Sometimes, heightened emotions are difficult to adequately communicate through text, as tone of voice can do a lot of the “emotional lifting” for you.
3. Make Time for Team-Building Activities
While you focus on staying connected to your team, leave room for your team members to connect with each other. You want your members to trust each other and feel that they can rely on their remote co-workers.
Another reason to schedule time for team-building activities is that some members could struggle with feelings of loneliness, isolation, depression and anxiety, feelings that they may not openly communicate.
Something as simple as a fun game or activity or a virtual happy hour can help you unify your team and let them relax during a busy workday. Do not forget to celebrate birthdays, accomplishments and anniversaries. While you all may not go out to lunch together, you can create a special video chat during lunchtime for co-workers to eat and relax together.
Allow your team to break off into smaller groups during their virtual lunch or happy hour if they want to, as it may become difficult for everyone to hear each other and be heard in a room with several people who may all talk at once.
4. Set Up a Checklist
Once you create a path by establishing expectations, build mile markers along the way so your team knows how far they have come and how far they have to go on a project. A visual checklist notes progress and helps foster a sense of accomplishment. Another great thing about checklists and scoreboards is that they help reinforce priorities and essential performance indicators.
Rather than a checklist or scoreboard, setting up an online spreadsheet that keeps track of your team’s progress may be a more suitable fit. You can use a spreadsheet that everyone can access and update on their own. Whichever method you choose, keep it consistent and easily understood. If you like, update the checklist during a weekly team meeting. This is also a great time to discuss changes that you may want to make to a timeline or project objective or talk about details concerning a project or task.
Decide whether you want separate checklists for individual departments or individual employees. Going this route may take more time than having a single scoreboard, spreadsheet or checklist, but it could pay off. This is another situation in which letting your team take the reins can save time and keep everyone happy.
5. Offer Time-Management Tips
Working from home offers many benefits, but it can also come with several distractions that make it hard to stay focused on work, which can decrease overall motivation. Rather than wait until your team relates their struggles with time management, get ahead of the problem before it crops up. Establishing goals with your team can help them better manage their time and give them one less task to complete.
Rather than the amount of work done, let your team know that the overall quality of their work matters most. It does little good to be a fast-working employee if someone else must go back and correct that person’s rapid-fire work or if that employee’s low-quality work puts everyone else behind schedule.
For those who have the hardest time with proper time management, work with them one-on-one to identify their problem areas and address them together. When you see an improvement in someone’s work, celebrate the accomplishment to encourage the person and reinforce the behavior.
6. Always Offer Feedback
Imagine giving remote working your all and not knowing how well you do. As you and your team whittle away at your checklist or scoreboard, offer feedback on your team’s performance as a whole and individually. You want your people to know that you pay attention to their work and want to help them succeed and advance their careers.
It is a great idea to establish a process for offering feedback. For example, you can have one-on-one check-ins on Fridays or Mondays so that employees know how well they performed that week or how to focus their time for the week ahead. No matter the process, pencil in time to ask about individual team members’ well-being, and allow them to ask questions or voice their concerns. Displaying a caring attitude can act as a great source of motivation and loyalty.
Implementing a reward system for a job well done also helps your employees feel appreciated. You can offer a cash prize, a gift card or gift certificate or another reward.
7. Refrain From Micromanaging
Depending on your leadership style, you may experience difficulty adjusting to a remote managing style, which could lead to micromanaging. You must learn to trust your team members and offer them plenty of opportunities to test their capabilities, discover their limits and overcome hurdles. They cannot do that if their leader scrutinizes their every move and checks-in more often than necessary.
When possible, let your team make decisions on their own, but let them know you are only an email, phone call or video chat away if they need clarity, encouragement or guidance. You do not want to accidentally deprive your people of learning opportunities that can help them become better professionals who feel confident in their capabilities. Just ensure that your team has all the tools and resources necessary to do their best work.
Another reason to not micromanage is so you free yourself up to tend to other matters. You must also take steps to manage your own mental health while working outside of the office. Just as your employees make great strides, you should also expect them to fumble. You do not want micromanaging to be the reason your team stumbles. Letting go and giving your people space do their thing can relieve you of any anxiety you feel about working remotely.
Hopefully, you have the tools you need to ace managing and connecting with your remote team. Allow for an adjustment period for each tip above, as it can take you and your team time to get used to working remotely.