How employees in remote teams work together successfully
In recent years, terms such as “fully distributed team” and “remote team” have become increasingly common. There are numerous publications about which tools to use to get a handle on communication and coordination.
At the same time, the group of people who don’t believe in remote teams is still huge.
We think it is helpful to distinguish between different types of remote work on the one hand and to understand what the actual challenge is on the other. Only then should we talk about tools and processes.
This blog post is intended to give you a first insight into the topic of “remote teams”.
What are the types of “remote work”?
The terms “remote working” or “remote work” are now firmly established in our vocabulary. However, they are often used for very different scenarios. In our practice, we are familiar with three possible options.
Fixed price and fixed scope
In this scenario, there is a well-defined task that needs to be completed. You hand over the task or project to a freelancer and pay a fixed price. An example of this is a graphic designer who is asked to create a brochure.
This case is not problematic because it is not a team. In addition, the price and performance are clearly defined. If the service is not delivered, there is also no payment.
This means an employee hired by a company who often works at home but is also regularly in the office.
Several software developers
They live in different countries, scattered around the world, and never or extremely rarely see each other. The developers work on an hourly basis or are permanently employed. Together as a team, they create a software application.
The challenge of working remotely lies in scenarios 2 and 3 when a team is deployed that needs to be managed. In this blog post, we will therefore address exactly these cases.
The special characteristic of remote teams
To understand what the real challenge is, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the person working remotely on the one hand and the person coordinating the work as a manager or with budget responsibility on the other.
When you sit together in an office, you unconsciously absorb information. This applies, for example, to the mood of colleagues, which can be contagious and motivating. You can also see whether someone is working very intensively on something or is more relaxed as they stroll through the day.
You also get more details about the project that you pick up through the grapevine. Often this information is important, but you are not even aware of it. Time pressure and the urgency of tasks are perceived more readily.
This flow of information with psychological effects is completely missing when working remotely or in a home office. This can lead to various effects.
What is the impact of “remote work”?
The effects on the team and the manager are many. Since the employees are not present, the manager is not convinced that the team is working but has the feeling that the colleagues are having a good time.
Individual team members feel a distance from the rest of the team and sometimes develop less ambition. They need the group dynamic to work efficiently and with motivation.
Because small but important details are missing, team members can’t always perform their tasks ideally.
These effects can significantly impact the productivity and creativity of the team. Numerous attempts to set up a fully distributed team have failed. Therefore, it is important to recognize which measures to take in order not to jeopardize success.
Controlling the remote team with the right measures
Appropriate measures should ensure that all relevant information is well structured, distributed, and perceived so that each employee can perform their tasks well.
It is additionally important to estimate (approximately) how much an employee works – in terms of time as well as quantity and tasks.
As a further goal, a team spirit should be established and constantly maintained so that employees are motivated.
The decisive factor is the selection of employees
Even at the beginning, teams can be doomed to failure if attention is not paid to the right selection of employees. Pay closer attention to the following characteristics, even more so than in a standard office scenario:
- To a greater extent, the employee must be able to work independently and coordinate himself and his daily routine. Self-discipline plays a central role here.
- Very important is the ability to express oneself clearly and compactly, both orally and in writing. This helps to avoid misunderstandings. A friendly tone should be maintained.
Our experience shows that recruiting interviews are “decisive for the war”. Here, even young HR managers are often overwhelmed because they lack the experience of how to identify the right candidate who fits well into a team.
A few tips for remote teams
It is advantageous for a new employee to be physically on-site for induction. This creates a personal bond with the company and the team. Familiarization is easier because questions can be asked more quickly.
Different types of meetings are needed for different problems. On the one hand, some meetings are used to structure work, and on the other hand, meetings where work and tasks are rather distributed.
It is very important that the result of the first category of meetings is that the tasks are entered into a system and described with sufficient detail. The second category of meetings is more of a daily ritual. These team meetings are used to determine who is working on what and if there are any hurdles, who can help, etc.
The use of telephone and email have significant disadvantages when managing remote teams. It is better to use systems like Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams, etc., because here topic-specific communication channels can be created, and communication can take place almost like in a conversation.
There is also the option of time-delayed communication. In addition, participants can be added to and removed from a communication channel. This flexibility and focus have proven to be very beneficial.
In the absence of a coffee kitchen and hallway radio, a substitute is needed to encourage emotional bonding between employees. This helps in creating team spirit. It is advisable to create special chats for private topics. Management must initially take on a role function here and do things like sharing a few vacation pictures or congratulate on a birthday.
As far as financially possible, the team should meet several times a year. Quarterly planning can, for example, be combined with a joint excursion (hiking, rafting, or similar). This is especially important at the very beginning when the team is first put together and starts its work.
Remote teams are more difficult to manage than teams working together in the same building or office. The selection of employees, communication, tools, and management processes are important.
Read our blog post on how best to proceed when building a software development team and what strategies and tools can help you with your projects.
Communication with remote teams is not always easy. Communication problems occur frequently, but can be eliminated with the appropriate knowledge and measures.
Finally, here are some links to companies that have established themselves as pioneers in the field of remote teams: