Remote work is here to stay.
I don’t think anyone is questioning the value that you can get from working on a remote team. The benefits are clear, but, for me, one jumps out: I can get the right resource for my team, wherever they happen to be based.
However, working in a remote team is different to working with the same people in an office environment. It requires a change in how you think about work and how you think about sharing your work with other people.
A shared mindset, or attitude, will help draw your team together. And believe me, it is different for those working remotely to those who park their cars next to each other every morning. You have to work to create the outlook you want your team to have. It’s definitely part of building a successful team culture.
Here are some tips on how to do it:
There’s nothing more important than trust in a team, especially a virtual one. When you can’t see what your colleagues are up to, you need to have confidence that they are doing their work. Otherwise, at the extreme, you start to believe you are the only one contributing to the company and that sets up barriers that can take a long time to break down.
I have seen this once. It’s damaging.
Give people time to share what they are working on and celebrate progress together. While many virtual teams don’t have rules around working hours, there is an inherent trust that you are doing your job.
At the end of the week (or the middle, or whenever) you need to be able to show that you have made a contribution. So does everyone else. Make that contribution visible. This celebrates what your team has achieved and also highlights people who aren’t making such a large contribution. As a manager, you can then quickly step in to help, reassign tasks and align the team again before any feelings of distrust creep in.
Trust happens more slowly in a virtual team. You have to work to earn the respect of your colleagues and their trust in your abilities and your productivity. There’s a bit of faith involved: you simply have to trust that they are as committed as you are and not spending all day watching Netflix. But once you’ve got the trust there, you will know that your team has your back.
When the foundation of trust is there, it can help a virtual team to fly. It’s an amazing feeling.
Schedule Virtual Meetings Regularly
I don’t just mean have virtual team meetings on your project. I mean make a regular schedule for them.
Create the expectation that every Tuesday afternoon you all get together in a virtual meeting and update each other, review progress or whatever. Part of your mindset as a team is coming together on a schedule.
It makes meeting up predictable and people get familiar with the format of those calls. That’s a way to create a meeting culture on your project, and in my experience it also means that people are more likely to call each other outside of those set times as well.
Get the Right Tools
Collaboration doesn’t simply happen. You have to invest in the right tools that will underpin your desire to create a team culture that is productive and that delivers your project in the way that you want. Even if you think your mindset of the team supports virtual work, they still need the tools to do their jobs. If you don’t provide the basics, the mindset of the team will never be what you want it to be.
You might need something like Slack. You might need enterprise grade project management tools that have document sharing built in. You might need something else.
Whatever it is that your team needs to be able to do their job and work together effectively, that’s what you need to get. Spend some time together as a team working out what that tool set might look like, and then invest in it, and the training to go with it.
Onboard New Team Members
Too often, new starters are given a laptop and a phone and told to get to work. They might have long and detailed conversations with one or two other team members who are instrumental in the tasks they are doing. But overall, they aren’t introduced to everyone in the team from Day 1.
I think that’s a mistake. Introductions to everyone should be part of your onboarding, and this is even more important with virtual team members. Schedule a 30-minute meeting with them and everyone else on their project or team, even people they might never have a personal need to work with.
Part of a successful work culture is knowing who you can call on when there’s an issue and if you haven’t met them, that can be difficult.
It’s also not helpful for creating the right mindset in those new starters. Being with people who share the same values and behaviors as you will help your new starters adopt the culture more quickly. They’ll settle in faster and feel more part of the team if they see the shared values being lived by others.
Don’t let your new starters struggle trying to work out their network all by themselves. Help them make those connections and your culture will evolve more strongly, more quickly.
Pro Tip: Over-communicate with everyone; not just your new hires. Everyone needs to stay aligned and it’s easy for people to fall out of the loop by accident. Keep talking about objectives, goals and the important stuff.
I know: you’re not at work to have fun. It’s a serious business. You have to earn a living, blah blah.
The attitude of the team needs to be that work comes first. I get it. But wouldn’t it be great if we could do work and have fun?
Oftentimes, “fun” translates as things a co-located workforce would be able to do: drinks after work, bowling, sponsoring a conference, and spending all day standing at the booth. Even charity events normally feel more aligned to office environments: how does Charity Christmas Sweater day work when there’s no one around to laugh at the reindeer pullover your grandmother knit you? Bucket collections, cake sales: how could you make things like this work for a remote workforce?
It is possible. Quizzes and online games, video, and meeting up in small groups locally are all possible. Even sharing GIFs on your Slack channel counts!
You could also send small items to your remote team members like posters or a corporate mug. I don’t know anyone who would count a mug as “fun,” but it is another way of creating a sense of belonging and to build a team when you can’t meet up.
Fun means different things to different teams, so make sure that whatever you are doing is appropriate for the culture of the people you work with. When the mindset of your colleagues is in the right place, you’ll find this comes naturally.
Finally, one of the fastest ways to deepen your team culture is to meet in-person. I know you can’t do this every week in a virtual team, but if you can get everyone together once a year it will have a huge impact on relationships and creating the place you want to work.
Being together facilitates those small talk conversations about leisure activities and family that you don’t get to talk about in virtual meetings. Knowing that little bit more about your colleagues is a great way to foster deeper working relationships and create a shared sense of being part of something bigger.
When each person has the right attitude and approach to virtual work, your whole team can flourish.