Working in remote teams has become the “new normal” of business life today. Some companies were already transitioning to work from home or partial remote roles; however, many have been forced to embrace remote work recently. Remotely distributed teams require organizations to leverage their workforce effectively and bring the most talented and knowledgeable people together in new ways to address their most pressing problems. With more companies transitioning to remote working in the coming years, it’s vital that managers understand how to use collaborative tools to promote a strong company culture and boost employee engagement.
At first glance, managing a remote team may not seem very different from leading one in person, but there are some significant distinctions. The most obvious is the fact that team members don’t occupy the same physical space. Since they don’t generally see one another when communicating, they lack some of the visual cues people take for granted when meeting face-to-face. In addition, it can be more difficult for managers to promote collaboration, especially for team members who feel disconnected and disengaged from the rest of the team.
Maintaining a positive company culture that promotes collaboration can be a challenge for first-time remote managers. It makes sense that team members would interact differently from remote offices than they would in a company conference room, but managers have been working with remote teams for decades. It’s not impossible, it’s just different. Finding effective tools, maintaining consistent communication, and setting clear expectations help remote teams just as they do for those in-office.
Organizations that make concerted efforts to cultivate and manage their workplace culture tend to be more innovative and do a better job of retaining their top talent. Much of that is due to the strong correlation between company culture and employee engagement. When people feel like the company they work for is committed to goals and values they believe in, they’re more likely to be engaged and proactive in their work. Recognizing the work your employees do, supporting their careers, and creating a culture of communication improves performance and productivity. Employees in these environments are more likely to hold themselves accountable while upholding the company’s core values.
Maintaining a high level of engagement is important for all successful teams, though remote teams may feel more pressure to be self-motivated and proactive when they’re working from home. Some employees will thrive in this environment, while others will need more guidance. Trusting your teams to manage their own schedules and communicate information effectively is important, and setting clear guidelines upfront will help. Remote teams with a healthy and collaborative culture are more likely to be highly engaged and productive than teams that are managed through unclear methods, lack consistent goals, or are strictly based on how long the person sits at their desk.
Managing remote employees may be different from managing people in an office, but it still comes down to the same principles: managing personalities. As in every workplace, people have their routines, capabilities, and preferred management types.
Understanding an individual’s differences is critical when managing a workforce. Employees who thrived in an office setting might find themselves adrift when they aren’t able to get face-to-face interaction with coworkers. Conversely, quieter employees who dreaded small talk at office parties might suddenly become a high performer in a remote context.
Predicting how an employee will respond to new work challenges doesn’t have to involve guesswork or gut instinct. Behavioral and personality assessment data can create a detailed profile of how employees will likely react when placed in specific situations. Employees who tend to be more extroverted and social may need more focused interaction than those who like to keep to themselves. Understanding behavioral tendencies is also important for promoting productivity and cultivating company culture.
Cognitive assessments measure more than natural aptitude, they also showcase how well an employee learns and adapts to new information. This is critical for shifting to a remote workplace, especially when people are forced to transition quickly. There is often less information and direct guidance in an unplanned change, so people need to be comfortable functioning independently and asking for help. Cognitive assessment data can help identify which employees will need more direct guidance after the initial shift and which ones are more likely to adapt to remote working quickly.
With the right technology, remote leaders can easily stay connected with their team and make sure everyone is doing their part to fulfill the team’s objectives. In addition to a good webcam and a quality headset, here are some essential collaboration tools for business every remote team should consider.
Traditional conference lines make it difficult to manage a meeting because visual queues are out. Without these cues, people tend to talk over each other, which can lead to frustration.
Video conferencing programs like WebEx, GoToMeeting, Zoom, or Adobe Connect make it possible for remote team members to see and interact with the rest of their team. These programs also allow participants to use features like hand icons and other tools to help manage the conversation.
Telepresence technology takes this a step further, with more sophisticated programs to make participants feel like they’re meeting in person. These programs include Cisco’s TelePresence series and Polycom high-definition conferencing.
Sometimes team members just want to have a discussion without setting up a meeting, or they need to get someone’s attention right away. Instant messaging tools and social software like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Cisco Jabber allow them to check in with team members in a way that’s less formal, like tapping a coworker on the shoulder.
These programs aren’t just good for project planning and brainstorming. They’re also a great way to build relationships. Team members can use them for casual conversations, questions, team-building activities, and even parties.
When team members don’t see each other every day, it’s easier to lose sight of what they’re each doing and how much time they’re spending on a particular project. That’s why it’s essential to use a project management system or software everyone is familiar with. These programs make each project visible and trackable. They also allow team members to easily communicate the next step, whether it’s providing data or passing along a document for review. They can share files, assign tasks, identify dependencies, and check deadlines.
A few popular project management software programs include Basecamp, Teamwork, and Jira. They are particularly useful for teams implementing agile scrum methodology as a way of managing their workloads.
When team members are scattered across several projects or time zones, it can be difficult to determine when key tasks need to be finished to keep deliverables on track. Or to track billable hours. Time programming tools like TimeFox, Clockify, and Kronos allow teams to keep track of their work and project hours, which is especially helpful if you’re managing many clients or projects to monitor how much time you’re investing in each one.
Time tracking tools can also improve accountability, ensuring that all team members are putting in the appropriate amount of work and managing their workloads effectively. Setting up alerts for key scheduling milestones can also help to improve decision-making.
One of the major benefits of remote teams is their ability to collaborate over great distances and different time zones. As with any collaborative project, it’s helpful to have access to files anywhere, anytime and it’s important that they are stored securely.
Additionally, your team needs to be able to share documents and edit them in real-time. Dropbox, GoogleDrive, and Microsoft OneDrive are all good tools for this. Cloud-based productivity software like Google’s G-Suite (which includes Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides) and Microsoft Office 365 feature public cloud storage integration that allows multiple users to easily edit documents and track revisions in real-time. Online whiteboard and presentation software platforms like Prezi, Conceptboard, and Scribblar also allow teams to develop ideas collaboratively and deliver presentations as a group.
While technology may never be the same as face-to-face interaction, it can help teams and clients meet, connect, and remain productive from anywhere in the world. Of course, remote collaboration tools are only as effective as the leaders who implement them. Unless they are accompanied by effective strategies for managing remote teams, their impact on team performance will be limited. Behavioral and cognitive assessment data can provide helpful guidance when it comes to identifying the specific needs of remote employees.
Administered as part of the pre-employment hiring process or as a tool for professional development, Omnia assessments are independently validated as 93% accurate and free of all forms of bias. Our team works constantly to adapt to the latest tools, technologies, and testing methodologies to provide you the best possible insights when it comes to employee assessment. Contact us today for a consultation about your company’s specific assessment needs.