Managing a remote team presents a unique set of challenges. The biggest ones deal with communication and coordinating work tasks so they get done correctly and on time. It’s hard enough when team members work from home in the same or neighboring states. But what happens when employees are scattered across locations and time zones?
Obviously, the group has fewer opportunities to connect and communicate in real time.
Suddenly, managers and employees become less reliant on facetime and more on building trust and setting clear expectations. Keeping remote teams on the same page across time zones might be more difficult, but it’s not impossible. You just have to rethink what effective communication is and the ways you can accomplish it. Here are some ideas to try.
Optimize Virtual Meetings
Time is of the essence when team members are located in different parts of the world.
Holding virtual meetings means coordinating everyone’s availability during reasonable overlaps in time zones and work hours.
Meetings are often necessary for things like project kick-offs and weekly check-ins. But when real-time gatherings are disorganized and the agenda’s unclear or missing, employees can’t prepare or stay focused. Such meetings quickly become a waste of time for everyone involved.
Some staff members sidetrack the conversation. Others keep silent because they’re not the type of people who can easily think on their feet. Managers end up doing most of the talking, and any items on their to-do lists become lost and forgotten afterward.
By creating and distributing a meeting agenda beforehand, you’ll stand a much better chance of leading an effective conversation. An agenda establishes a clear purpose so the team knows what you’re going to talk about and why. Employees will understand how they’re expected to contribute and will have time to prepare their talking points.
Documenting the agenda, conversation, and recap with action items eliminates confusion before, during, and after a meeting.
Embrace Asynchronous Communication and Collaboration Tools
It would be nice if all communication between remote team members happened via video calls in real time. However, that’s not a practical expectation when one team member is wrapping up their day while another is starting theirs. Learning to use and rely on asynchronous communication and collaboration tools is a must for any remote team.
You simply can’t expect to answer every question and keep assignments moving without multiple ways to communicate. A Gartner survey reveals that almost 80% of digital workers used collaboration tools in 2023. While phone calls and virtual meetings have their place, synchronous exchanges aren’t necessary for every communication purpose.
Team leads may just need to assign tasks and spell out the assignments’ requirements.
Staff can read over these details in their own time and confirm the work is in progress. As questions and hiccups come up, team members can exchange drafts of deliverables, clarify sticking points, and offer suggestions.
Assignments can still be collaborative outside the boundaries of in-person communication — easily visible (and reviewable) comments threads see to that. Furthermore, asynchronous tools can remove the distractions of real-time conversations, increasing efficiency.
Establish Workflow Processes and Expectations
Remote teams might work together, but staff members spend more time on solo tasks.
Employees in the group can be thought of as a chain of islands. They might fall under the same name and share similarities, but each is somewhat isolated, operating in a separate world.
Remote employees who don’t have clear workflow processes and expectations will find it difficult to bridge gaps between themselves and their teammates. A proactive individual who isn’t clear on their responsibilities or how to keep project milestones moving might reach out. However, others may wait for clarification or assume a manager will coordinate everyone’s work.
Even those who initiate conversations about a project’s deliverables might run into problems. Perhaps another team member worked on the same task or took over to make sure it got done. Or no one else did anything because they were starting other assignments, and now the deadline’s two days away. You can help your remote team avoid these mishaps by designing crystal clear workflow processes.
Whether your group uses project management and collaboration software or shared documents doesn’t matter as much as setting expectations. Let the team know they’re supposed to check their dashboards for assignments and messages. Establish clear guidelines on how drafts, approvals, and final documents should move through the pipeline.
Also, define and clarify each team member’s responsibilities for a project. No one should be left wondering what to do.
Facilitate Non-Work-Related Conversations
A significant challenge with remote teams is building a sense of connection and culture.
Team members who don’t regularly see each other in person are more likely to feel disconnected. Surveys of remote workers found that they missed the social connection aspect of working in an office the most.
Building trust and connection takes getting to know team members’ personalities, work habits, and preferences. Remote teams that are geographically closer to each other might be able to arrange occasional in-person team-building events. More physically distant teams have to get creative, but participation in casual and team-building conversations is possible.
Managers might set up separate digital networking channels or groups within the team’s communication software. Staff can lead and create conversations about their favorite movies and entertainers or hobbies. An intranet site could feature employee spotlights, giving the team insights into who their colleagues are outside of work. And managers can create conversation prompts and virtual exercises, letting team members participate if they want to.
Staying in Sync — Asynchronously
Keeping a remote team on the same page means approaching communication from a more structured angle. Some of the spontaneity of face-to-face conversations might be lost.
However, well-organized meetings, digital tools, clear processes, and virtual connections can make up for it. With a coordinated group effort and purpose, your remote team can work in sync, even across time zones.