Some tips that could help you improve your work with remote teams

In some projects, creating remote workgroups with some team members are necessary because the conditions of work and possibly the composition of the team do not allow us to be always physically present.

For this reason, it is important to know that remote working conditions deserve special care and attention. A few months ago, I had the task of leading a project that had a high percentage of remote participation, I share some tips that I think are important to know to improve teamwork.

  • Try to gather the entire team when launching the project. It is very important to gather the team at the beginning of your project, even if it is the only time that this meeting take place. This initial meeting is essential, not only for forming the teams (you can find further reference in the “stages of team development” by Bruce Tuckman[i]), but also to work through the basic rules and expectations of the project/work style you will use during your work commitment.

    Do not neglect the stages of team building; they are important. This means not evade the storm phase (conflict) and the normative phase during the team’s training

  • Evaluate the technology within your reach. This point is cardinal for the proper performance of the communications team.

    Has the sponsor of the project provided you with an adequate internet connection? Can  the bandwidth support videoconferencing? What about the stability of the connection? Is it stable enough to hold meetings without interruptions or disturbances?

    At first we chose to use Skype as a tool for communications, however, the required bandwidth was too much for the connection that was assigned to us. At this point, we began to evaluate various options, like Hangouts and even WhatsApp. In the end, we were able to use the hangouts video conferencing tool, which worked pretty well.

    You need to remember that without a sufficient connectivity, your team members will take longer to perform their tasks, and even may fail because communication errors usually generate rework and unnecessary friction.

  • Don’t ever stop communicating. It is important to remember that if some members of your team work remotely, they will require a greater communication effort.

    It is obvious that the face-to-face communication will be lost and, with it, the benefit of the meetings during the breaks, at lunch, or in some extra work activity.

    One of the features of the SCRUM framework that is quite good to work with remote computers is the daily meeting. Meet your team every day at a specific time, (much better if it is at the the start of the working time at the location where the project is being developed) and during 15 minutes, discuss the progress of the previous day and what will be done during the current day. This discipline will help a lot to control which team members are working properly and to be always aware of the possible changes to be implemented.

  • Recognize individual achievements. If a team member has done something exceptional, recognize it in the team meetings. The motivation must be constant and keeps morale high. Do not hesitate to mention the positive contributions of the members of your team.

  • Use and strengthen your team’s skills. It is important to find skills that allow supporting the project tasks in several team members.

    I remember that the remote project I was in charge of had three main management aspects: strategic, process management and technology management.

    One of my first tasks was to find members with skills in each of these three dimensions, so that in the area of project execution we would always find at least one person who might be able to manage the needed skill. This activity facilitated the project implementation in the development location of the customer.

  • Identify the personal characteristics and needs of each member of your team. Not all members of your team have the same restrictions or requirements. Usually, those who still do not have family or sentimental commitments are partners who can spend more time at a remote location of execution. This becomes a little more complicated for people who have children or who possibly are in a period of gestation or early parenthood.

    In the project team, we decided to make a turnover in the town of execution. The purpose of this rotation was to reduce the fatigue that some team members may begin to experience due to their constant visit to the city of development of the project.

    I could conclude that the optimal visiting times are periods of 3 to 4 weeks to the town of remote execution. However, there were team members who by their specific skills, could be effective in a shorter visit. It all depends on the objectives of each trip and compliance.

  • Maintain effective meetings with virtual teams. Do you know how to hold effective meetings with remote teams?

    They need basic rules and very clear expectations regarding the respect and group behavior. Have you instructed that all team members should be silent if they are not talking, and possibly with the microphone off? Have you told the team members that they need to come to the meeting prepared with the items on the agenda?

    If I was overlooked, do it at once! Team members are not fortunetellers or readers of mind and you must assume that procedures would not be understood unless they are informed about them.

    In my vision, before a meeting, I generally explain what is its purpose, what should be the outcome, how much time (timebox) we will take to complete the meeting and some basic standards of respect, such as the intervention order, keeping the phones in vibrating mode and maintain a single driving thread of the meeting.

    Normally I have these basic rules and clear expectations agreed during the initial meeting, and I like to include the team in these discussions, so they also have an acceptance of how we will work together, and what is important.

    To work with remote teams, be aware that not all members can be treated equally; each has different characteristics that must be addressed properly.

    It is also necessary to distribute the workload in a balanced manner and to allow flexibility, so that the planning of the project should be made with the participation of all team members. Such action will generate a commitment from the start of the project.

Leading remote teams requires an additional level of management, and to use different skills than those we would use with the whole team on site or located together. Having this knowledge and ability will ensure a successful outcome for your project, i.e. fulfilling the goals in terms of scope, time and optimized use of the allocated resources, and the satisfaction of both your client and your team.

[i] Tuckman Bruce, five stages of team Development and practical limitations, See online article

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