Making remote teamwork…work

Here’s a post from the vault that I hope will help you if you’re new to remote working.

More and more of us are working remotely; some of us some of the time, some of us all of the time. There are pros and cons…

What’s great about working remotely?

Many of us can now work any time, wherever we are. We might be working at a regional hub, in a hotel or at home. Many employees value the flexibility of being able to combine work with caring responsibilities. Remote working removes the commute, which for many of us takes up a big chunk of time. We can collaborate with colleagues all over the globe. Therefore, advocates would claim that remote working is more efficient and enables everyone to be more productive.

What are the downsides of remote working?

Some people miss the banter, feel isolated and left out. It can be lonely when there’s little or no face to face contact. The social benefits of being in a shared workplace are diminished – it’s all about the project. The technology never sleeps, regardless of time zones, resulting in employees feeling ‘always on’ and at risk of burnout. Quality of communication can suffer, whether that’s due to cultural differences, over-reliance on email or local tech infrastructure not being up to the task.

5 essentials to make remote teamwork work


1.Remote teams need to have a shared mission and clear team goals

Assumptions are the termites in the foundations of any relationship, and this is particularly pertinent for virtual teams. Don’t assume everyone ‘gets it’ – why should they when they see more of their kitchen than the values on the wall at HQ? Keep the team’s mission in plain sight. Refer back to the shared mission and remind everyone why this team exists. Remote teams need specific long- and short-term goals; everyone should know the organisation’s expectations and what needs to be delivered by when. Accountability completes the cycle and provides lessons learned for the future.

2.Remote teams need the right tools for the job – and training in how to make best use of them

Some apps require more bandwidth than local infrastructure can handle, resulting in poor sound quality, frozen video and dropped connections. Beyond technical fit, consider cultural fit: how formal/informal is the organisational culture? What output is needed? Does everything need to be recorded? How does the team best collaborate? Consider co-creating guides to using the tools; when they’re appropriate (or not) and how to use them.

3.Remote teams work best when they put people first and plug-ins second

Whilst the focus of remote working can seem to be all about the tech and the process, we need to stay human. More looking each other in the eye (even if it’s via webcam), less email and other text-based communication. As with face to face meetings, establish basic courtesy ground-rules that encourage everyone to contribute without hogging the mic, and deal with serial interrupters. Celebrate, whether it’s Chinese New Year, Eid or Thanksgiving.

4.Remote teams’ meetings need discipline to work well

Too many face to face meetings take too long and don’t make the best use of attendees’ time. Often there are repeat offenders who arrive late and/or unprepared. There’s no wriggle room for this with virtual teams: time is tighter, discussion needs to be focused and preparation is vital. Every virtual meeting needs to have a clear goal, elicit contribution and wrap up with clear next steps.

5.Build remote working into performance management

Schedule virtual 1:1s with remote team members. Give and get feedback on your own and your team members’ remote working skills.

HBR has a handy video from their ‘Explainer’ series that you might want to share.

You may find this post useful: ‘Raise your team’s game with after-action reviews’


Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’.


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