Here are a few ideas:
- Be available. Availability is a critical component for building trust. Obviously this is more difficult on a remote team than walking around the corner to a team member’s desk or office. Using technologies to simulate ad hoc discussions, such as instant messaging, Skype video calls, or Facetime, can help.
- Balance availability with respectful disturbances. Being available all the time will wind up in lost productivity and non-stop distractions, and it’s easy to let instant messaging and random Skype calls add to that. So, team members have to find a balance in how they use that technology to get the information they need while respecting how they engage others – just like you would do in an office environment. When possible, schedule time to speak with each other, keep your calendars updated so that others know when you are available and not available, and make use of “time-outs” so that people can shut off their email, instant messaging, and other technology to get real work done.
- Establish a consistent routine for formal communications. This means having a regular meeting schedule and others systems in place to share information and coordinate initiatives.
- Carve out time and money to meet in person on a quarterly basis or more often to accelerate trust and cohesion.
- Be more intentional with your tone – in both emails and on the phone – than you would in person. Without the ability to see your body language, it’s easy for others to misinterpret your messages.
- Use technology to share project information. Collaboration tools such as Basecamp by 37 Signals will enable you to share files, reduce issues with versioning, and coordinate efforts in a centralized location without having to download software.
- For important communications – make a phone call. There simply is no substitute to talking one-on-one.
- Make an extra effort to reach out to your team members. During meetings make positive comments such as “I’m looking forward to working with you on this.” Make an effort to call team members for no specific reason than to connect. If there are opportunities to be onsite, make it a priority to spend time together.
- Utilize technology to close the distance gap. If you have the budget, consider using videoconference or telepresence technologies. If your budgets are smaller, consider webinar services. And, if you don’t have a budget, use Skype or Facetime.
- Consider cross-cultural differences by having an open conversation about your communication preferences and clarifying what each team member needs at an individual level.
- Understand your listening style. Listening on remote teams plays an important role, as much of the team’s work is conducted via teleconference. People have different styles of listening and each style has its strengths and limitations. Learning about your listening style will help you understand your blindspots and opportunities to improve team cohesion.
Stay tuned for Part 3 where I’ll share some ideas on the importance of having disciplined processes in place on a remote team.