It is no secret: over the last decade the “geography of the workplace” has shifted dramatically. Since 2005, remote working has increased a staggering 80 percent. Also, Forrester Research's US Telecommuting Forecast predicts that by the end of this year, 43 percent of the entire U.S. workforce will operate outside of traditional offices.
Why this enormous rise? Because not only do remote teams allow businesses to reduce costs and recruit talent, but they also increase productivity and even worker engagement. Unfortunately, many companies still struggle with creating a workflow that reaps the benefits of remote teams. That is why this simple 5-step list of how to build productive and tight-knit remote teams is so vital.
1. Identify Your Project Goals
Clear goals are the lifeblood of productivity. Goals unite, inspire, and drive accountability. As the old truism goes, you cannot manage what you cannot measure. And yet, it is staggering how often project goals are left cloudy or simply unstated when, in reality, they should be the rallying cry of your teams.
As Kapta CEO Alex Raymond explains, this means prioritizing two things. First, clarity: “There should be no business jargon or crazy acronyms in the goal.” Second, measurability: “Goals need to have specific metrics and deadlines to be effective.”
Having a well-documented objective for each and every project is essential to ensure that both in-office and remote teams are on target. Keeping this “big picture” at the forefront of your team's collective mind (one that is tied to specific numbers) makes it easy for leaders to determine whether or not specific tasks have strayed from the goal, even by a little.
2. Clarify Each Person's Task
Once you have a clear goal for your overall project, the next step is to break that overarching goal down into actionable tasks. For instance, there is a world of difference between an imprecise goal, like “raise product awareness”, and an explicit task, like the VNO formula: verb + noun + object. Instead of “Contact person X”, get as detailed as you can: “Call person X on Tuesday morning to coordinate a featured product mention in two tweets next week.”
Another helpful task formula is what’s known as the “user story”. Here are two versions you can easily use:
- As a [role], I want ]goal/desire] so that [benefit].
- As [who, when, where], I [what] because [why].
Whatever template you put to use, each member of your team must be aware of not only how their tasks contribute to the overall goal but exactly how they can accomplish those tasks.
Integrating a consistent task formula into your workflow management tool – which must also include nonnegotiable elements like time tracking, project and task dues dates, staff allocation, completion rates, and multiple milestone views to compare project tasks to project goals (see below) – is essential.
3. Select the Right Tools
When you work in a remote team, technology is a blessing – but it can also be a curse. The Internet is bulging with a glut of productivity platforms and apps, but not all of them are as helpful as they claim. In order to reduce chaos and boost productivity, carefully select tools that simplify your remote workflow.
For instance, when team members work virtually, documents can get scattered across multiple online hubs: email for links, Flipboard for news aggregation, SlideShare for presentations, Point for social sharing, Evernote for web clipping and Pocket for videos, so just think about all the time you waste hopping across these channels.
Instead, integrate your communication and collaboration tasks into a common digital hub. For example, memit is a clipping and sharing tool that unlike those mentioned above not only saves content in the app itself, but also creates a digital copy of every resource in whatever cloud provider your team already uses.
Whatever you decide on, using fewer, but more powerful tools is the most efficient way to save resources and enrich teamwork.
4. Get Close to Your Remote Workers
Remote teams suffer from the lack of one-on-one interactions that characterize a regular workplace. In fact, Kira M. Newman, founder of The Year of Happy, warns that “remote teams have freedom and flexibility, but they are also at risk for disconnection and discontent.”
Most workers are distributed across the nation, and sometimes even across oceans. However, just because you cannot tap on shoulders or linger around coffee machines doesn’t mean you cannot find ways to nurture your virtual relationships too.
As a leader, take the time to touch base with each person regularly and make it very clear that they can contact you as well. Help your employees understand that they play a vital role in the success of the business. Bringing your remote team members and contractors into your inner circle will positively impact their work ethic and their performance quality.
In addition, simple acts of kindness, such as paying surprise compliments, will strengthen team spirit and instill a sense of belonging.
5. Do Not Make It All About Work
Between 51 percent and 79 percent of remote workers believe that lack of personal relationships within the teams causes dissatisfaction. An integral part of your project goals should be getting to know your team on a deeper, more personal level. Find ways to collaborate outside work hours. Play virtual board games, host digital happy hours, gift each other, and even try to meet up offline when you can.
Taking deliberate measures to bring your team closer promotes communal achievements. Your employees will start placing the team's success over their individual aspirations. Consequently, they will become more invested in your projects, and work harder to ensure that your project objectives are met as a team.
As more organizations adopt this business model of remote working, the ability to conceive and lead a strong remote team to the proverbial finish line will help your business stand apart. Outline clear, measurable goals, assign specific responsibilities, choose your tools wisely, and encourage team bonding.
Now up to you: what is your favorite remote-working tip?