Remote Work Team Challenges? No Problem
By Line Morkbak
Navigating the challenges and rewards of remote teams requires adoption of a virtual mindset and it has to start with leadership. The tastemakers and fearless leaders courageous enough to adopt a virtual mindset and model, and communicate these virtual values and behaviors gain cohesive teams built on trust and risk-taking. See also: Successful Projects. Productive Teams. People who like their jobs, work hard and want to stick around.
Line Morkbak schooled us in how to cultivate a virtual mindset and create a culture that thrives even as team members sit in different time zones. She shares some of the challenges of this seemingly perfect work situation, and how to navigate them. Some of the most common complaints? Too many and too long of meetings; communication breakdowns; and lack of relationship building. Of course, working remotely is also an amazing opportunity that is suited for those who want a little flexibility and to guide their own ship. It’s also a great way to harness the power of bright minds from across the world and direct it toward a single challenge. Pretty cool, eh? How then, given the benefits of the situations, do we make it work and work well?
Adopt a virtual mindset.
What is a VM, you ask? Well, aside from being a very expensive piece of interactive equipment, it’s also the mindset that when we work and lead remotely intention is a cornerstone, the foundation, really, to every question and approach within the team. Questions like: Who truly needs to be in a meeting, and what needs to be discussed or shared? How can the team get to know each other, and do they have each others’ backs and trust each other? And, often the most challenging, how do we give feedback or communicate empathy respectfully without being there to read a person’s body language?
Assume Best Intention
#1. Turn on your empathy button: When we work remotely we don’t get the same cues as from face-to-face interaction. Strive for understanding and take the time to hone in on how to communicate thoughtfully to each member of the team.
#2. Manage meeting frequency: Think about the efficacy of each and every one. Too many meetings usually means not enough prep time, which makes them ineffective. It also demotivates and distracts people from time that could instead be spent on quality work. Think about what needs to be discussed and who really needs to be there. Stick with one or two purposes for the meeting and keep it under 45 minutes.
#3. Do the prep work: Use meetings to make a decision or collaborate, not to brainstorm. Tools such as a real-time board or a Google doc let team members comment on agenda items, issues, or purposes prior to the meeting. This helps keep meetings short and effective.
#4. Build relationships: This is where intention is front and center. How can you get people talking to each other? Connect them. If team members build trust, they will have each other’s backs AND will be invested in the team’s success. A buddy or mentor system can go a long way to creating responsibility for one another and the team while escaping that feeling of alienation or disconnect that occurs when working remotely.
Where to begin? Working Agreements are a cornerstone to a virtual mindset. Develop this living document as a set of covenants, er expectations, that the team promises to one another. Think of it as that moment you spit on your hands and shake to show that you are in this together---blood brothers!
These agreements often include:
- Reliability – I can reach you and you can reach me in a reasonable amount of time (I’ll respond to you!).
- Consistency – You can count on me and I can count on you in what we deliver. I’ll communicate to you if I have a hiccup or need some help.
- Responsiveness – I’ll communicate in many ways to you and you to me. Wanna know when we can talk? Look at my calendar. Am I available now? Check out my Skype/GoogleChat/etc. to see my availability status. (The onus is on the individual to keep this up-to-date.) Having a hard time or stuck on something? Let’s chat. The end goal here is to make work visible. Leaders can evangelize tools to help teammates to keep work progress visible and observable.
Work agreements share a common language: Specific expectations and tools to be used. And, how is this document living? Well, it’s easy to get a groove when all of the team members are in the same country, time zone, functional team, generation. See also: Same stroke of luck, same mood, same brain wavelength. But, what happens when a key person is in Berlin for 6 months? Oops. This is when working agreements are revisited and thought about. Expectations are adjusted to ensure that everyone can move forward and feel connected and supported as this person runs away. Again, be intentional.
Working and leading remotely is a rewarding challenge for all involved. This includes who benefits from the effective and high-quality solutions dispersed teams deliver. A virtual mindset begins with figuring out how to collaborate fairly seamlessly within the virtual setup. Read: Intention and Courage.
Line Morkbok, founder and managing director of Global LEAP Consulting, worked virtually for years in consulting roles based in the U.S. and throughout Europe. Her own experience with virtual interpersonal exchange and learning was so limited when she first started. She’s since made it her personal mission to improve dispersed teams’ communication and collaboration through workshop, webinars, and on-site mentorship.
Because she has lived internationally and worked in a global setting where people come from different backgrounds – culturally, educationally, or generationally – she has witnessed firsthand the value that diversity brings to collaboration. She enjoys helping teams harness diversity to produce incredible team outcomes.