Working with remote teams is a core skill that almost any professional needs to learn these days. Whether your team is literally scattered across the world, or you have just a few employees that work from home on a regular basis, building the skill of effective teamwork online is crucial.
There’s no need to go into the extra challenges of working remotely. We’ve all had misunderstandings caused by brief chat messages that lacked empathy and context. There are plenty of other articles to advise on strategies to minimize these types of mistakes. However, the other crucial part of teamwork online is simply knowing what everyone is doing.
How do you know if remote team members are actually working?
This is a question that many people have when they consider working with distributed teams. I would counter this with; “how do you know that team members in the office are working?”. There are perhaps more distractions there and it’s easy for employees to look like they might be working when they’re really not doing anything effective!
In reality, remote working does not create problems with your ability to track productivity. Instead, it highlights them by removing the security of having your team physically present in the office. Of course, we know that simply turning up for work is not an indicator of productivity. But how do you get a gauge on productivity? Especially when most of us are doing complex roles and our outputs cannot easily be counted or measured.
Time tracking is not the answer
Knowing whether someone is sitting in front of their computer is not the way to think about productivity. Sure, there are plenty of tools that can track your team members’ movements and report back on how much time they worked and what sites or applications they were using. However, these only serve to send a strong message that you don’t trust your team.
Also, is time really the thing we want to measure our team’s performance on? Surely we should reward team members if they find ways to do things smarter or if they get something important done? Recording the amount of time they spend on a task just encourages mediocracy and takes the importance away from quality.
Yes, it’s easy to track hours, but unfortunately, it doesn’t give us any insight into productivity.
More meetings are not the answer
All high performing teams establish a practice of meeting together regularly. There are not many people that love meetings, but this ritual brings the team together, allows people to understand what others are working on, and importantly, meetings introduce accountability.
The standard format for a regular meeting is to report in on your progress since the last meeting, perhaps work through some particular issues you’re having, and then commit to doing something before the next meeting. This commitment is a big part of what gets things done.
A regular meeting is great for holding the team accountable and getting everyone on the same page. But what about all the time between meetings? You can’t reasonably expect people to meet more than once a week.
Here’s what works: Sharing your work
The solution is to find a way for your online team to share their work. The concept is simple – everyone records their plan for the day and ticks things off as they go. But the important part is that this information is made transparent across the team.
In my last business, we initially did this with a simple Google Doc, but we’ve since built an entire team productivity tool around this concept. I’ve also seen other teams use Slack or chatting tools or even email to get everyone to state their plan for the day.
Using a method like this gets everyone very deliberate about what they aim to achieve in the day. Importantly, when your team knows their colleagues are seeing their plans, they feel doubly committed to getting those things done. Accountability is a very powerful tool!
A system like this also helps cross-functional teams understand each others’ roles with much more depth, which of course helps them appreciate and build stronger bonds.
Having real-time information about what people are doing, without invasive time-tracking, also allows you to have more meaningful interactions with your team. You can easily see if a team members priorities are different from yours, you can provide information or resources which might help with their work, and importantly, you can give timely praise when they make progress on something important.
Implementing a system for “sharing your work” is one of the highest impact changes you can make to improve team performance. Have you used something like this in your team? Give it a try as you might be amazed at the difference it makes to team productivity.