Originally published with the Forbes Coaches Council, August 2018
It’s a fact of modern office life: We all have to conduct business remotely. And many of us have to bring together a team of far-flung colleagues or reports.
We all know that absorbing information given to us over the phone or through video conferencing is much more difficult than in person; for one thing, it’s much easier to multitask when the other person can’t see you, and much harder to create a feeling of personal connection. And as a leader, it can be difficult to gauge what’s happening on the other end of the line.
When you are working with a remote team, you need to communicate often without being in the same room or even the same country. Creating a team ethos that draws you all together helps everyone communicate effectively day after day.
A few techniques can help make you feel closer:
- Create connection. The hardest part of working with a virtual team is not feeling connected with each other. Try to have “getting to know you” calls, in which every member shares some personal information. Or send around biographies that include information beyond a professional role. Facilitate more casual conversations with a group instant message platform like Slack.
- Carefully communicate around goals and progress. This is important for any team, but for those working remotely, it is even more important to keep people in touch with goals, decisions and progress. The team leader needs to take the initiative to communicate with every team member so that everyone feels aligned and motivated.
- Stay plugged in. Schedule weekly or bi-weekly meetings to review goals and progress, and give time for any issues to be brought up. Since you don’t have the opportunity to bump into each other in the hallway or swing by someone’s desk, it’s important to create a regular, predictable time for people to share ideas, address problems and trade information.
- Make it personal. Add a few minutes to your regular meeting to acknowledge your team members by noting significant work accomplishments, anniversaries or birthdays.
- Hold occasional, in-person gatherings. Whenever possible, try to get your team together in person, even if only once a year.
- Use video, not voice. Make the visual connection that video conferencing makes possible. Being able to see each other not only forges stronger bonds; it helps people stay focused on the task at hand. When everyone is visible, the team leader can spot when someone drifts off and bring them back in to focus on the task at hand.
- Set expectations. Let people know that you will ask questions and call on people, and you will be actively seeking their participation. Make sure no one feels blindsided by a call to participation, and plant the seed that they should be looking for opportunities to jump in.
- Cultivate participation. Ask questions. Tap someone to give a project update. Share your screen, and have a team member pull up documents while you continue to run the meeting. Use polling software to keep people engaged and gather data from those less likely to speak up. The more opportunities people have to be active in a remote meeting, the less likely they will be to drift off, check their email or start preparing for their next meeting.
It’s undeniable that managing a virtual team has unique challenges, but they don’t need to be insurmountable. With a little special attention, cultivating a strong, efficient team that communicates clearly and effectively is well within your reach.