3.3 million Americans currently report working from home, which means in 2017 more huddles are happening across oceans and time zones than ever before. It also means that you probably have at least one remote team that you regularly interface with.
And these flexible work arrangements mean quite a few benefits for many of us. According to a recent study by Baseline:
• 82% of telecommuters report that their remote work arrangement reduced their stress levels
• 80% said it improved their morale
• 70% said it increased their productivity
These statistics may not come as much of a surprise to the happily self-employed, but it goes without saying that these high marks are greatly dependent on how well we manage our work and communications with our remote teams.
As with anything in your solo career, your satisfaction will boil down to how in control you feel of your circumstances. If your freelance career is a chaotic mess of miscommunication and scheduling havoc you can cut the above statistics in half!
In this post we’ll outline how you and your collaborators can get the most satisfaction and productivity out of your remote team arrangement — no matter how spread out it might be.
Why your remote team can be an advantage
Many factors in making the 1099 life work come down to turning obstacles into opportunities — the same applies to management of your remote team.
Most of us are familiar with the famed Benjamin Franklin quote, “If you want something done, ask a busy person,” — this sentiment plays on the idea that busy people are motivated by necessity to make their crazy work-loads . . well . . . work! A challenge can push team members to deliver their best work and be on top of their communication and planning.
The innovation@work Blog by MIT Sloan Executive Education explains some very interesting findings related to these alternative work models.
In their article, “Subgroups, Imbalance and Isolates in Geographically Dispersed Teams,” Georgetown University’s Business School professor Michael O’Leary and co-author Mark Mortensen of INSEAD reported that one distant team member can bring out the best in a team.
“The ‘isolate’ prompts the group to be more disciplined in its coordination and communication — yielding a better and more productive experience for all team members,” the authors write.
Members of remote teams need to be more proactive about their scheduling and check-ins to really make it work. We’ll explore the specifics of these best practices in the next section.
Hash out availability variables and establish an agreeable workflow
While Spain may have put the kaibosh on the well-known afternoon siesta, there are still many other factors that come into play depending on the location of a given contractor.
Many states have their own holidays which are not observed even a half-hour drive away — let alone time zones away. This makes it all the more important to have a certain flexibility and standard of courtesy built into your workflow. Contractors need to be upfront about outliers in their availability and set their team mates up for success while they are otherwise occupied.
I really can’t imagine managing a fully remote team without a project management system such as Trello or the like. It’s true that these tools can get a little messy and take some effort to use properly, but if you and your team can create an agreeable process for using them, you will significantly streamline your workflow and remove much of the frustrating ambiguity and waiting-game dynamics from your remote teamwork.
If Basecamp or Trello aren’t your thing, have a look at this list of solid alternatives to the platform in Capterra’s Project Management Blog.
To best sync up with your remote team:
• Create a collective work calendar that each member of your team can update with their obligations and variations in their availability for the weeks and months to come.
• Use a project management platform like Evernote or Trello to keep up on your individual tasks and notify members of your remote team when specific actions are required.
• Schedule weekly “catch-up” Skypes with your team members to address challenges
• If you aren’t the project leader, still insist that you have a weekly catch-up with your project manager to avoid any week-to-week hang-ups.
• Schedule a once-a-month “face-time” meeting where you and your remote team get to mingle and build a stronger team dynamic.
Don’t lock yourself into text communication alone
We mentioned in an earlier post that email communication has a few shortcomings we need to be aware of when working with clients and collaborators — and remote teams are especially prone to these issues.
Onboarding specialist and author of New Leader’s Playbook George Bradt makes the point in a recent Forbes article that remote workers and organizers of dispersed teams need to employ every tool in their communication arsenal to promote a healthy and productive “long-distance relationship.”
“Think across the five senses,” says Bradt. “Have a bias to video versus just voice calls. Make sure everyone has the same documents. Share the same brand of coffee. If it’s a lunch meeting, make sure everyone gets the same lunch at the same time — no matter what time zone they are in.”
This is a great insight. Advocates of the tried and true collocated team model (everybody in the same physical location) have long stressed the important x-factors of sharing the same space, and sensory experiences as your collaborators — Bradt’s advice unlocks some of this “x-factor” and injects it into the remote team scenario.
If you need the one line summary, Bradt puts it simply, “Live beats visual, beats audio, beats written.” If you’re only doing the “written,” your team will be at a major disadvantage.
Be solution-oriented and empathetic — not reactionary
This sounds painfully obvious, but it bears mention — you cannot act as if your project is your team’s only project (hopefully it isn’t your only project either!).
We often get short with our patience when the times to work and communicate that suit us best don’t always line up with the availabilities of our other remote team members. We need to manage these frustrations effectively.
Just as you would do with a client you’re facing some difficulties with, it pays to set aside your in-the-moment annoyance and be a human being when communicating with your remote team. No one likes passive aggression and everyone has their own non-work priorities. If you want your personal time respected, you need to offer the same courtesy to the other members of your team.
And remember: it’s a lot easier to offer your remote teammates these courtesies when you know one another as more than disembodied text.