With today’s connectivity, people don’t have to be in the same room anymore to collaborate. With an 80% increase in the number of people working remotely, it’s no surprise more teams are going remote – introducing remote customer service vs co-located customer support.
There are tons of perks for remote customer service teams: expanding time zone coverage, opening up a wider talent pool or giving employees more flexibility. On the other hand, it can be more difficult for remote teams to stay in sync. Employees can miss out on the spontaneous conversations, lack cross-functional cooperation and they’re even less likely to be promoted.
The reality is that there’s no silver bullet here. There are ups and downs to both remote and co-located team structures. Deciding on the right one, or even mixing the two, is more of an art. Ultimately, no matter what your structure is, your team success depends more on how you run it. Two areas that any team can focus on are communication and culture.
Communicate better, wherever you are
Communication patterns differ. Co-located workers have the advantage of physical proximity. Being able to see someone in person makes it easier to have a quick chat or to read nonverbal cues. This means that co-located teams have more real-time conversations.
For remote customer service workers, communication need to happen more asynchronously. And without the context of nonverbal messages, remote employees need more context and clarity in messaging to avoid misinterpretation.
Despite these differences, both types of teams can benefit from more process around communication. It’s important to establish a clear process for how and when to use each tool. Without consistent usage, your team wastes valuable time trying to find the information elsewhere or doesn’t find it at all. Confusion reigns, your team feels out of the loop and quality suffer.
Choose the right tools for communicating
Choose the right communication tool for the task at hand. Chat apps like Slack are great for chatter or urgent questions with a more conversational feel. However, important details can get buried in chats so store documentation and daily minutes in a central repository that’s easy to search. Atlassian Confluence is a great tool for this, but it’s not the only solution.
Look for something that’s built to organize information, has powerful search capabilities and allows for version control. Information management is especially important for remote customer service employees but even co-located teams can benefit. Your system is up to you, but there needs to be a system.
When you help your team to adopt to a new system of communication guidelines, over time, you’ll notice you don’t have to do any guiding anymore. They’ll feel empowered and the quality of your support will improve.
Make great communication a habit
Along with your system, establish routines that prompt team members to communicate. Use daily updates with priorities and news, and offer end-of-shifts report handoffs. If you’re co-located, take advantage of physical proximity – hold face-to-face meetings and make a habit of striking up conversation. If you’re remote, call for more regular digital facetime. When you work in the same office, communication happens naturally. But when you’re working remotely, it takes more effort to check-in. That’s why building these internal processes is important.
Build an unshakeable team culture
Strong culture is the backbone of a strong team. No matter where they work, your employees need to share your culture to feel connected to the company.
Hire the perfect fit
Culture starts with hiring. The way you hire is essentially how you cultivate the future culture of your team. Make sure your hiring process is thorough and thoughtful to ensure that candidates fit.
Make sure you’re asking the right questions. Remote workers need to be more independent and self-motivated. Ask them how do they keep themselves organized or when was the last time they had to make a decision without having all the facts. Co-located workers need to value a more consistent schedule over flexibility. Ask them how do they manage office distractions and what kind of environment is best for their productivity.
Create connections in-office or remotely
Once you have the right people on your team, you need to make sure they’re connected. Build routines that encourage socialization and fun, but that don’t require too much effort. Co-located teams can do things face-to-face, but remote teams can do just as much through technology:
• Schedule monthly lunches, if you’re co-located. Go out at the same time, share food photos and chat, if you’re remote.
• Any team can organize a book club, join up on fitness goals or organize shared playlist.
Set up your team for success
There’s no magical team structure that runs without challenges. Due to their unique situations, remote and co-located teams differ. Each setup has its pros and cons. No matter what, successful teams come from strong management no matter where in the world you are.