Remote teaming is still teaming, and whether you’re new to the remote game, grappling with the decision of working remotely, or have been working remotely for a while, communication with your teammates remains key. In our research on remote teaming, we've found these those who excel at remote communication share these four characteristics.
Transparency – be clear about what you’re working on and why. If you’re afraid of oversharing, don’t be. When you're walking around a workplace office, there are many little clues about what your teammates are working on, and you miss those when you’re not physically around them. You absorb the subtleties of who is swinging by whose desk, who comes in early and leaves late, what kind of prep is happening for meetings, and so on. In a remote teaming environment, you need to help your teammates see what they're missing by telling them what you're doing. If you think you’re sharing too much, you’re actually probably right in the sweet spot, but your teammates will help you figure that out as well.
Frequency – teaming is not a simple transaction, a baton handoff where you finish what you do, hand it off to the next person, and watch him or her disappear in the distance to finish the task. Teaming well means getting to know the people with whom you're working. In a remote world, there’s no communal water cooler to exchange pleasantries and banter, while also getting a quick word in about the project due Thursday. So you need to create that time and space. Whether it’s scheduled into the first ten minutes of a virtual meeting, or an impromptu call to a colleague while driving to get lunch, frequent, sometimes non-transactional, communication is important to cultivating and maintaining a strong working relationship from afar.
Ease – but it has to be easy. We recommend as few tools as possible, and as reliable as possible. If you can, use just one platform for every type of meeting. Whether it’s Google Hangouts, WebEx, or GoToMeeting – all of which have their upsides – settle on one that works, that everyone knows, and that is reliable. And then push yourself and everyone on your team to master this platform. This is your virtual meeting space, your conference room. Make it one in which everyone is skilled and comfortable.
Creativity – despite all the new tools and toys we have, remote teaming is still challenging. The tools and toys are only as effective as their reliability, and chances are they will stop working at the most inconvenient time. Those with the most satisfying, effective remote teaming experiences have all shown creativity in bridging the gaps. No matter the effort you put in, your virtual meeting space has limitations that a physical meeting space doesn’t. But it also has possibilities. Embrace those possibilities and have fun. When a software program crashes at the least opportune time, don’t curse it (well, maybe do, but quickly move on). Instead, think creatively about what to do. It could be that treating yourself to a latte and hopping on the WiFi at the coffee shop down the road is the solution to more than one problem.
Transparency, frequency, ease, and creativity. If you’re having trouble teaming with a colleague when either you or she is working remotely, chances are one or more of these characteristics is getting in the way. Try looking at how you communicate and test that against these four characteristics. If one of them isn't present in your communication, try focusing on that one to become a better remote teammate.