3.3 million full time professionals, excluding volunteers and the self-employed, consider their home as their primary place of work. That is a lot of people who are not a part of the “regular” workplace, but are still vital members of a team. How do you build a high performing and cohesive team when you are not meeting face to face? Here are three quick tips
- Communicate frequently. When people are working across distances, it can be difficult to manage expectations and understanding of performance. While it is important to be clear about expectations in face to face interactions, it becomes even more important when you are working across distances. Try to be clear and concise when outlining a project. What needs to be done? When does it need to be done? Should we bringing in outside sources or other divisions? While you wouldn’t hire someone unless you already trusted them to work remotely, frequent communication creates an increased sense of communication, accountability, and trust because you know where everyone is in regards to the project. Communication needs to be very clear, and rules of relationship and meetings need to be established for your telework communications. Because you are not working face to face, it can be difficult to pick up on the nuances of communication. This can lead to conflict or misunderstanding because we are misinterpreting the communication, and we have all seen when emails have escalated into a full fledged argument that ends up in HR. One way to prevent this is to use emojis (I know not everyone likes emojis, but they can be useful in aligning intent and impact) in written communication to convey your emotion at the time. Also, if you have the ability, when issues are high in emotion, communicate over video conference, or at the minimum phone. We are more likely to ask for clarification or pick up on intention in tone with verbal communication, and we are more likely to respond in a good way. Written communication during times of high stress or conflict can be your enemy. Some people feel that they can write something that they would never actually say face to face because they are protected by distance. Even though they are still separated by distance, phone and video conferencing make conversation personal enough that people think a little more before responding. Establish an email etiquette rule, and don’t hesitate to reach out by video conference. As you will see in the next section, it is also important to have a sharing or check in time at the beginning of every call, especially the first call of the day. Allow time to check in and see how everyone is doing.
- Create a “water cooler” space. Part of being a team is getting to know one another outside of our job titles and every day work tasks. Creating a space, such as a blog, message board or internal chat system, allows employees to share what is going on in their lives as well as things they find interesting, or professional development information. Community is built in the space between our work tasks. We feel a sense of camaraderie when a task is completed, but when you know what motivates a person, you encourage one another and can build friendships and strong working relationships across distances.
- Meet face to face. Host a face to face team building retreat. For some startups, this can be a bit more of a challenge. However, it is a beautiful thing when the people in your organization who work together through Skype, phone calls, emails chat, etc., have an opportunity to meet together face to face. It allows them to get to know each other a bit more and share things they have learned from their experiences working remotely. It is also an opportunity for you, as a leader, to explore what your employees need to be the best they can possibly be at their jobs. I’m sure you will have some outside of the box thinking that can help grow your organization in ways you never imagined. These face to face team building sessions are a lot of fun. It allows everyone an opportunity to see one another at work, as well as socialize during the out of seminar times.
Teleworkers want to enjoy their work, and maintain their ability to work from home, so they will work harder than most to create a friendly, cooperative, and positive work environment. As leaders, you set the tone, so remember to: communicate frequently, create a “water cooler” space, and hold face to face team building sessions to build highly engaged and high performing remote teams.