Managing remote teams comes with a unique set of challenges. One of the biggest challenges is building trust among team members. Check out this article to find out how we tackle the issue.
I remember what it is like to work in an office. The sound of fingers typing on keyboards, idle chit-chit around the coffee machine, and quick lunches in the break room all come to mind. Remote work was not as widespread back then. As advancements in technology made it possible for remote teams to collaborate effectively, remote access has become more and more popular. Over the years, I have been in charge of quite a few virtual teams.
As it turns out, passion is contagious even when physical distance stands in the way. In fact, some workers are even more productive outside of the office environment, especially when encouraged by team leaders with a penchant for open communication and transparency. In the end, the most difficult task is to build the trust that a good team needs to function at the top of its game.
Not only do team members need to trust that a manager can provide good guidance, but good managers need to learn how to trust their employees to do their jobs. Here are a few things I have gathered to help you build trust in a remote team environment.
Hire the Right People
Some people are just better fit to work remotely than others. When hiring someone new, look for a certain degree of experience with freelancing or self-employment. Ideally, you want disciplined, self-motivated, and goal-oriented individuals who respect deadlines and thrive independently
Focus on the work that stands out when glancing over applicants' resumes instead of looking for a steady employment history. When you don't connect with someone directly on a day-to-day basis, the majority of your interactions will revolve around work. Give applicants a sample project to complete before making the final decision – it will give you a better sense of their style and you can see if they are able to perform an assignment with minimal guidance. Making an informed decision about who to hire is the first step towards building trust among a virtual team.
Transparency is golden in the world of remote work. Without efficient communication and the ability to figure out who is working on what at a moment's notice, you are setting your team up for failure. We use Toggl to coordinate our projects. It is user-friendly, with an attractive design and great tracking functionalities. It can also be accessed on the web, as a desktop widget, or on mobile devices, all with real time data synching. Most importantly, it gives you a clear overview of the time spent on the project by each team member. Another tool that comes in handy is iDoneThis, which helps you track everybody's accomplishments at the end of the day.
We also use Swiggle and email to keep in touch, and Google Docs and Google Drive for collaborative work. We are pretty basic that way, but it works. We have experimented with other chat platforms, but we are sticking with Swiggle because our team is already familiar with it. If you keep things simple then your employees will be able to adjust to the workflow much faster.
Another challenge that comes with remote teams is unpredictability. Since everybody is working from home, we needed to design an IT support system that benefits all parties involved. Our IT department uses Proxy Pro 8, which allows the IT department to connect remotely to devices in our network and fix technical glitches from afar.
As an additional precaution, I advise my team members to have a backup plan in place for when they experience connectivity issues or have trouble with their devices. Knowing where the nearest café or co-working space is can be a lifesaver when you need to meet a deadline and the power suddenly goes off. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it isn't pretty.
While perfecting processes and continually adapting the workflow is essential, managers should never value mechanisms over people. Remember to check in with your team members on a regular basis. A chat every now and then, a video call, or a face-to-face meeting whenever possible all go a long way when it comes to building trust and establishing a solid professional relationship.
Trust doesn't happen instantaneously. Communication, transparency, support – make this your mantra and trust will steadily be built over time.
On a related note, while virtual teams are doing wonders for us at the moment, I'm not sure if remote work really is the future of business. Every once in a while, I still miss that refreshing sound of fingers on the keyboard.