We’ve talked before about the elements that comprise a successful team, and I’m guessing many of you can look back on successful teams you were a part of – whether it was your middle school soccer team, your college debate team, or the human resources team at your first job – and remember the people, elements, and atmosphere that made them great.
The Challenges with Remote Teams
What we don’t often do is reflect fondly on the remote team we were a part of. You won’t see someone get misty-eyed while holding a high school letter jacket and talk about the time they conferenced in for the state championship game. In part this is because remote teams are a new concept so we have fewer of those in our past to look back on. But it is more than that. Remote teams lack the intimacy, comradery, and atmosphere of being co-located with your teammates. Even if the work you’re doing with your team is among the most meaningful you’ve ever done, it’s difficult to forge that bond through the screens, phone calls, and emails you use to communicate with those with whom we are doing that meaningful work.
Bridging the Gap
As what we consider to be work continues to evolve, and at times creeps into other parts of life, more and more people and teams are working remotely. In today’s workplace “Skyping” has become part of the business lexicon and we don’t think twice when we jot down and fire off an email to someone working out of London. So how do we bridge that gap, overcome the obstacles of working with a remote team, and create the best elements of being on a collocated team while working remotely?
Don't Let Distance Stand in the Way
While the physical distance of remote teams is a glaringly obvious obstacle, the truth is not working in the same space as your teammates creates other distance as well. Distance in style, approach, trust, and relationships can all come from not having those little moments of being together. This doesn’t mean remote teams can’t succeed. They can and certainly do. What we’ve found from our research at Edgework Consulting is that the same things that make co-located teams great are the same things that make remote teams great. The differences with remote teams are the tools you use and the extra effort you have to put in.
Developing Long Distance Relationships
Not sharing physical office space with your team means that colleagues can’t pop in to ask you a question, or share a personal note about their weekend. And while at times this can feel like a good thing, those little moments of personal interaction go a long way toward establishing trust and making teammates care for each other – important steps in team development. What we need to do is make sure we actively create those moments and seize them when we do. Schedule a few minutes before the virtual meeting for informal chatter – and come armed with some topics to discuss. Think carefully about your teammates and be proactive in engaging with them. Haven’t heard how Steve’s vacation went? Ask him. Need recommendations on a car to buy? Poll your team on what cars they drive.
As we dig deeper into remote teams, we’ll share more research into how remote teams create that personal bond and give you the tools to make the team you’re on now among the best you’ve ever been on.
This is another entry in Edgework Consulting’s Teamwork Training series. Each Teamwork Training post is designed to help you get more out of yourself and the team with which you work. For more Teamwork Training posts, click here.