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Saturday, 27 May 2017

Managing remote teams successfully

Organizations all over the world are coming to the realization that remote teams are becoming more common across all industries. With technology that can help support communication and streamline activities, remote teams can be effective no matter where or when they are.
Phil Montero’s book The Anywhere Office states, “72% of U.S. employees say that flexible work arrangements would cause them to choose one job over another”. An efficient distributed work program can also enable companies to hire talent in remote locations that are unwilling to relocate to the areas where the company already has facilities. Similarly, organizations can retain key individuals by allowing them to transfer away from the central office while remaining employed.
A key stat provided by the Global Knowledge group found that 90% of issues that remote teams have are interpersonal issues. The other 10% of issues were from the utilized technology. Looking at these two numbers, it makes a lot of sense to start off by addressing your likely people issues.
Step 1: A remote work environment will have people working from different geographic locations and time zones. It is important to involve the entire team while designing a communication plan. Construct the plans that work well for the whole team. For example, set the periodic bridge calls or webinars at the best possible time for all the team members to attend. You may not want the key members to fall asleep while making important decisions. You need to figure out the communication channels and the plan. This is developed in collaboration with your team so that team members can feel part of this critical step.  As stated in GovernmentCIO Magazine’s previous article “Essential Element of a Communication Plan” you need to address goals and objectives, the target audience, key messages, format, communication channels, frequency and timing, and roles and responsibilities.
Step 2:  The organization chart is essential. The team needs to understand the chain of command which ties into a lot of aspects of the project. The manager needs to ensure everyone on the team is clear on the organizational chart and does not have any objections to it. A strong organizational structure allows there to be minimal micro-managing yet clear communication across the entire team. 
To develop a strong organizational chart, you must have all team member roles and responsibilities, job titles, and understand the reporting structure.
Step 3:  Ensuring that you have the right tools will determine if your project is successful or fails on remote teams. As stated in their article, tools allow for collaboration when a person halfway around the world is sleeping. Steps 1 and 2 are critical, but this action ties those together to allow a team to function as a unit. Multiple categories you need to consider include instant messaging, Project Management, Team Collaboration, Phone Calls, Video Calls and Screen Sharing among others. It is key for the organization to have a set of tools and processes in place before the project kicking off. Most projects need a lot of direction and management time up front to ensure activities are kicking off right. The tool set that is selected will allow management and team members to get a clearer picture of the project.
Step 4: Having an organization chart, communication plan, and tools in place are useless unless they are understood and utilized. The project manager must ensure that proper training is provided at the onset of the project to teach and inform all team members. 
A remote team is ‘Paperless’ which means, all forms of communication including deliverables, edits, feedback and so on will be through the tools and processes established by the team. Allocated time for training is necessary once employees understand and have access to the tools. Allow for some dedicated simulation training time; this will enable your employees to make mistakes and learn before the project starts.
Being accessible is crucial for any remote team. Most remote teams don't hand out desktops as devices instead team members use laptops, iPads, or their cell phones to get work completed. It is essential for team members to always be engaged no matter where they are.  Finally, allow employees to practice with their devices and let them make mistakes when there are no real deadlines in place.
The entire goal of step 4 is to provide the team with a sense of security that they not only have what they need but also know how to use it. This is one of those steps that help build team camaraderie as well. When a team fails and succeeds as a unit, it builds trust. Getting a team to ameliorate and build a foundation requires a lot of small building blocks. Training will allow your team to communicate and start down that path.
Closing Thoughts
Being a geographically dispersed team does not mean you cannot establish strong relationships, have effective communication, deliver on time and provide excellent quality. Building a great remote team is similar to building any team. You need to develop strong processes, utilize technology; foster communication and most importantly build trust. Managers already communicate with their teams but on the remote team, the manager needs to effectively communicate. This is the form that the manager will use to discover any misunderstandings and resolve them early before they become a distraction.

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