Whether you lead remote teams or projects or are an individual contributor, you are impacted by the new reality of working with remote colleagues. Here are 14 tips for leading remote teams, dealing with email, and making the most of video conferences.
Leading Remote Teams
Build and foster connections. A feeling of connection is critical to building trust in a team. Even if your team has never met one another in person, encourage them to get to know each other outside of projects and deadlines. Suggest each team member share photos, their hobbies, and other personal things that they are comfortable sharing. This will help each member look at each other as real humans instead of just sounds at the end of a phone.
Create a communication design. Compile everyone’s contact information, communication channels you’ll use, the expectation of responses, and how and when teams will coordinate and meet.
Measure. Identify ways to measure the effectiveness of remote work for your team.
Reflect. Every week or two, check with your team to discuss what is working, what is not working, and what you will do differently.
Even simple gestures can be misinterpreted in the absence of visual cues when interacting with colleagues who work remotely. Here are three ways to make your email understood:
Visualize. When emailing or calling a remote coworker, imagine her at her desk listening to you. This visualization will increase your empathy and help you clearly say what you mean.
Don’t be ambiguous. Don't just say, "Circle back with me," for example. Be clear about follow up. Do you expect a phone call or an email? When?
Respond promptly. When you don’t reply right away to an email or voicemail, you leave the person wondering whether you respect and value them and their request. Answer quickly, even just to say you'll send a complete answer later.
Make video mandatory. Telephone conference calls aren't the same as virtual meetings and participating through audio as a disembodied voice, rarely works well. Video maximizes engagement. Make this a rule for your team—no exceptions.
Facilitate the conversation; don’t moderate it. Discussions in virtual meetings need to be facilitated much more firmly than the same in-person meeting would require. Consider yourself a tour guide charged with keeping everyone in the meeting oriented and engaged. Because the temptation to multitask is great, you need to generate relevance for everyone involved continually. That means micro-framing each portion of the discussion and the expectations for how individuals should participate. For example: “Thanks, Danny, for the clear recap of the issue. Does anyone have any other questions or comments?” or “Let's spend a few minutes brainstorming how to solve this. All of you are subject matter experts, so I'm going to have everyone share one idea. Extra points if you combine your idea with one that someone else has shared.”
Check your appearance. If you are on a video call, make sure your lighting is right, and you look professional. When someone hasn't taken the time to appear professional on-screen, we'll unconsciously assume they are sloppy in other areas. This may negate trust and collaboration. My kids jokingly call my clothing “the mullet look” because I often have yoga pants on the bottom and a jacket, blouse, and jewelry on the top.
What if you don’t want to look at yourself? If you resist the move to a web-conference because you don’t want to look at yourself, put a sticky note over the part of your screen with your picture.
Audio check. We all have limited attention, and poor sound quality is a huge distraction, inhibiting good processing. It's all about the signal to noise ratio. With a clean audio signal, any kind of work is a lot easier. People focus on distant, scratchy, or intermittent sounds instead of the discussion. Make sure you can be heard one foot away from the microphone works
Use the tools. Use the thumbs up, polling features, and even the chat function to keep engagement up and make decisions. Being able to see everyone’s responses to a question using one of these functions – as well as their body language – will save much time. The chat function is also a great way to get everyone’s reaction at one time, instead of a discussion based on who feels like speaking or who speaks loudest.
Pay attention to body language. People nod unknowingly when they agree with a point, and vigorously when they strongly agree. The meeting leader will be able to see if someone is confused or interested in the topic.