How to Manage Geographically Remote Teams
Most people reading this aren’t old enough to remember the time before digital communication devices. Innovations and landmark inventions like video conferencing, intranets, file sharing, as well as the film You’ve Got Mail starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan brought remote communication to the fore. In order for teams to work effectively in this bygone era, they actually had to be based in the same physical location.
As you’re well aware, this is almost a foreign concept today. And sadly, You’ve Got Mail really doesn’t hold up anymore (in this blogger’s opinion).
Now, teams are subject to a variety of circumstances. Your most important colleagues might be based on the other side of the planet, speaking a different language. Your team can also consist of 5 or 6 teammates based in HQ, 3 or 4 in another office, plus teammates working individually in far-flung exotic locations or even from home.
Doing business in this manner presents a multitude of difficulties when it comes to management. How do you manage geographically remote teams? How do you keep everyone on track? Can you ensure those working as individuals don’t feel isolated and overcome barriers like language and culture?
This is no easy feat, but with the right knowledge and tools at your disposal, you can craft a team out of this collective. Here are some techniques and tricks we’ve tried ourselves or picked up here and there on how to manage geographically remote teams.
Choose the right teammates
The first step towards success is choosing the right teammates for the job. Ideal traits include:
- Self-motivated – Working remotely or as part of a small team in another location will require a strong independent work ethic as opposed to needing constant supervision or encouragement to complete tasks.
- Results-driven – Choose teammates that can create and produce their own deliverables. You want team players who won’t do exactly what you ask. You want to hire people who will see the bigger picture, ask “Why”, solve the problem and achieve the company’s goal. This sort of person will be happy in being assessed through the use of key performance indicators. Even better, they will ask for it!
- Communicative – To manage a geographically remote team, insisting on a culture of communication is vital to any successful team. Choose teammates that can communicate well and truthfully. They should also be tech-savvy and master Collaboration tools such as video conferencing, file sharing, messaging or issue tracking systems.
Once your team are in place, remember that a shift in the perception of power has been observed with geographically remote teams. Tsedal Neeley, associate professor of Organizational Behavior at Harvard Business School, stated that:
If most team members are located in Germany, for instance, with two or three in the United States and in South Africa, there may be a sense that the German members have more power. This imbalance sets up a negative dynamic.
There are means of counteracting this perceived shift in power.
Define your purpose
Preventing this split into “in-groups” and “out-groups” requires exceptional leadership. To avoid any schisms, define your team’s purpose. Share any goals and objectives with your team to create a sense of unity. Remind your team periodically how their work contributes to the overall strategy of the company.
Produce a roadmap or a project charter and share it with your teammates. This ensures your teammates can physically see the importance of their role and are clear on what their work is heading towards. Discuss with senior teammates in different locations whether they are happy with the course of direction, encourage them to challenge any decision or course of action they may not agree with.
Utilise a brainstorming session if you believe teammates are not speaking out enough. Brainstorming sessions allow for free-flowing discussions, insist on input from everybody, even if they’re only sharing a passing thought. There are many other ways to encourage contributions from your team, check out our blog on producing more interactive meetings.
Discuss with them the amount of scope they have when dealing with any problems and ensure they have all the necessary resources and tools to work effectively. When delivering feedback on any work, be fair and even in your distribution of this feedback. If you’re only providing information or feedback to the team closest to your proximity, the imbalance can result in unwanted tension among remote teammates.
Keep track of teammates profiles and progress
To demonstrate how pivotal each employee is to your team, reach out to each one individually from time to time, particularly those working remotely or on their own altogether. This doesn’t have to be too formal in execution, a simple email or phone call would probably suffice. Take into account that people working remotely might require more follow-up as they don’t benefit as much from the natural information flow of the office. They also can’t ask spontaneously for your opinion. Set some extra time for them.
Discuss with them their position on the team and get an idea on:
- When they’re working;
- What they will be working on;
- How they feel the project is going;
- What they enjoy;
- What they struggle with.
Using this information, you can begin creating a database providing you with a ‘bird’s eye’ view of your team. This will mean a lot to employees as your level of empathy consolidates the belief that they’re vital to the team’s success.
Manage team dynamics
Geographically remote teams, unfortunately, don’t have the luxury of chats around the water cooler. Allowing your teammates to interact in a relaxed social environment forges emotional connections between colleagues which allows for greater empathy and creates trust.
When organising a remote meeting, allow for light conversation. Designate 5 or 10 minutes at the beginning of the meeting for general chit-chat, particularly in the early stages of collaboration.
Create a sense of understanding among your teammates, particularly those with cultural differences. Allow opportunities for your team to discuss these cultural differences, encouraging sensitivity and empathy. It is highly recommended to introduce a zero-tolerance policy on cultural insensitivity.
Try and organise team meet-ups once or twice a year. Meeting face-to-face can greatly improve the dynamic between teammates. As Davide Casali states:
Knowing the colleagues, their tone of voice, their mannerism, facilitates every further dialogue that will happen online later on. Sarcasm, humour, dry sentences, can be then interpreted in a lighter and more conscious way, leading to better communication overall.
It’s hugely beneficial to your team’s cooperative skills to tackle some team building exercises and challenges when attending your meet-up. These can include sports, escape rooms, a hackathon. Problem-solving games encourage teamwork, and when collectively faced with adversity, humans tend to bond a lot easier. After your team bond over mutual problems, they should find it easier to solve complex situations in future.
There are scenarios that can be solved using remote meetings, but remember there are still situations that are best met with a face-to-face meeting. Check out our blog on when to (and when not to) host a remote meeting.
Keep in contact
Keep constant contact with your teammates, particularly those based furthest away. A conference call, email or even a quick one-to-one call can do a lot for team morale. This reinstates the idea that their contribution matters and leads to a more cohesive team.
Utilising the right communication tools makes communicating with your team a breeze. 247meeting offers a full range of remote meeting solutions including audio, video, as well as screensharing, not to mention the very latest features in mobile conferencing.
Our mobile app eliminates the need for memorising PIN codes by utilising dial-out technology as opposed to dialling-in. You can manage geographically remote teams at the touch of a button while always knowing who’s on the line.
It’s worth thinking of your geographically remote team not as far from the rest of your team, but closer to your customer. You’re essentially managing a long-distance relationship, so focus on getting the most out of your teammates. Communication is central to managing geographically remote teams.