We’ve had to redefine a lot about the workplace in recent years, but that doesn’t mean we have to adjust the standards and expectations we set.
The rise of the global remote and hybrid work environments presents a productivity paradox: How do we meet our goals when we aren’t always in immediate contact with those who help us achieve them?
Productivity is often a core concern of remote work. According to a Microsoft study, although 87% of employees say they’re productive, 85% of managers find it challenging to be confident that they are. In fact, just 12% are fully confident their team is productive.
How we collaborate has changed as well. A Citrix survey showed that more than half of business leaders and employees believe collaboration will be entirely virtual by 2025. The average Microsoft Teams user’s number of meetings per week increased by 153% from the start of the pandemic through last spring, Microsoft reported, as work discussions shifted online.
Few projects stand out without some degree of teamwork, and when at least some contributors work off site, achieving a desirable result can be tricky — but not impossible. Here are three steps to build a dispersed team that comes together seamlessly to deliver great results.
1. Bring in the right people
Constructing a successful remote team begins with identifying talented candidates who demonstrate they can handle working on their own. (As some companies are finding out, not everyone can.)
The best candidates won’t excel the same way those in an office do. Because of their relative independence, remote workers must be ambitious, detail-oriented self-starters who can balance their short- and long-term assignments without constant oversight.
Interview these candidates virtually because they will be working virtually, and pay close attention to how they interact with you. TopResume’s recent survey of hiring managers, recruiters, and HR professionals noted that avoiding eye contact, an unprofessional setting, and being continuously interrupted by family members are among the most common deal-breakers during remote interviews. If those things happen while you’re interviewing a candidate, they’ll happen while on the job. One bonus is that virtual interviews let candidates show off their digital collaboration skills.
Additionally, the TopResume survey showed that 55% of decision-makers value personality in prospective employees. If a candidate dazzles you from behind a computer screen during an interview, they’ll likely do it again when they have the job.
2. Create an environment of accountability
Building a supportive culture can be difficult when your team is dispersed. Research from Owl Labs showed that 41% of employees find it harder to fit into their company’s culture when working remotely because they may have limited interactions with teammates. As a manager, you must make all team members feel welcome by encouraging them to build camaraderie and relationships and by treating them the same as any in-office colleagues. By stressing accountability and the importance of being a team player, everyone feels valued, which spurs quality collaboration.
Communication is key. Be direct, concise, and clear to remove any uncertainty among team members. Inexperienced groups may need additional instruction, but overcommunicating can overburden veteran teams. Stay mindful, too, of remote employees’ needs to define the hours of their workday, which get blurred if they’re at home. They’ll be on board if you support their desire to find a work-life balance and remain flexible with their availability.
You can also make remote employees feel included by exchanging feedback, whether in regular meetings or via a virtual open-door policy. Build comfort with them by starting meetings with personal check-ins. They must trust you’re holding them to the same fair standard regardless of where they’re working.
A scorecard that evaluates each person’s performance is also a valuable tool. It shows when and how they impact a project, and it demonstrates clear expectations, including their impact on business goals, team culture, and individual growth. The “inverted pyramid” management model is especially effective with a dispersed workforce. It empowers employees to make on-the-spot business decisions and take ownership of their work.
Everyone must understand that team goals equate to individual success. Outcomes are important, but collective buy-in is a hallmark of a quality team regardless of the arena it plays in.
3. Provide tools to unite and maximize workflows
The pivot to remote work has coincided with a surge in the use of online collaboration platforms. They bring people together outside the traditional office environment, but they must be used strategically and responsibly.
Migrating to a single platform, such as Microsoft Teams, gives everyone the best chance of collaborating successfully. Using multiple services — including email — leads to information falling through the cracks, but switching to one streamlines interactions and keeps discussions centrally located.
Encourage your team to maximize the tools you provide and implement training sessions to go over lesser-known features that can be especially helpful to those who are remote. Planning functions, for instance, increase team-wide visibility that helps you keep projects on track, while chat streams make it easy for everyone to review conversations chronologically even if they weren’t part of them originally.
Moreover, actively monitor those platforms and set a strong example by practicing what you preach. If you can’t optimize their use — or your own — the chances of keeping your remote team on track can be severely limited.
Collaboration will always evolve
There’s no doubt the future of collaboration will look different than it does today. Emerging technologies, such as the metaverse, will continue to shape the way we interact with our colleagues regardless of where we’re located.
That doesn’t mean a team mentality, clear expectations, and a desire for success — some of the hallmarks of quality collaboration — will change. If anything, as we’ve seen, how we achieve them must be reevaluated. Your ability to put your team members in a position to succeed will determine how well you’re ready to navigate those coming challenges.