In 2019, who could have guessed that our work lives would change dramatically because of a virus? And if you could have guessed, why didn’t you tell the rest of us?
I’m just kidding.
We weren’t really prepared to respond to COVID-19, but despite that, associations have been remarkably successful in navigating the troubled waters of the past several years. Much of our response has centered on developing “distributed” teams with staff members working from home or from remote locations with few (if any) requirements to report to a centralized office.
Remote teams have worked very well for many associations, but the business model has raised concerns about how to keep staff members who are working on remote teams engaged, productive, and collaborative. At Rhythm, we’re a completely remote team and always have been. We’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about optimal team performance that doesn’t include regular in-office interactions. In this blog, we’d like to share what we’ve learned about building camaraderie in remote teams. We think our suggestions will work both for all-remote teams as well as hybrid teams.
Good communication is key
Communication is essential to all teams – remote and in-person – but it’s particularly important to remote teams. Without regular communication, it’s easy for remote workers to feel isolated, and isolation can lead to a host of other performance issues.
Rhythm has adopted some project management tactics to keep everyone connected. The sales and marketing team, for example, starts each day with a 15-minute, stand-up meeting. You might also hear this type of meeting called a huddle. During these meetings, we share information, discuss what we’re working on individually, exchange updates on department projects, and flag any problems or issues. If we have a new issue, we use these stand-ups to schedule later discussions with those concerned. Because we discuss the issue during stand-ups, we know that everyone is aware of a new challenge even if all staff members aren’t directly involved in addressing it.
We also schedule one-on-one meetings between staff members and their supervisors once a week. The meetings give the supervisor and team member dedicated time to discuss projects, and they provide dedicated time to discuss individual development, set goals, and establish rapport.
Finally, each team member submits a report each Friday outlining their progress on projects, identifying obstacles, and posing questions for the next week. Managers review and respond to these reports promptly so that team members know their work is acknowledged and valued.
If team members need to “talk” to each other during the week, they are free to have chats via video, messaging, emails, or phone. We give them a choice of apps so they can use the most appropriate channel.
Technology can help
Back in the dark ages when carbon paper was a thing, it was harder to stay in touch with employees unless they were all in the same office. Fortunately, now we have a plethora of communication and project management tools to help teams stay in touch. Technology can be a big help in managing remote teams.
Using technology, however, has one caveat: it won’t help you if your supervisors don’t already have the management skills they need to do the job well. Technology is a wonderful tool, but it won’t take the place of management training.
That said, here are some ways technology can help your teams stay connected:
- Project management software like Asana or Trello
- Communication channels like Slack
- Video conferencing like Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams
When teams connect using one or more of these tools, they have subtle ways to communicate with the team. Slack, for example, allows team members to indicate their status during segments of the day. Everyone knows instantly who’s on leave, concentrating on a project, in a meeting, or at lunch. Small helpers like this can help keep a team working together smoothly.
I know we could write an entire blog on hiring well, but it’s essential to managing remote teams. Managers must be able to trust their team members, and team members must be able to trust their managers, or the entire team can collapse. Nothing can take the place of effective managers and team leaders.
We think we do a pretty good job when we hire new team members, and we’ve found it’s a balancing act. We look for candidates who possess the skills necessary to do the job, but we also want people who perform at a high level. We don’t want to drag the process out, but we want to interview long enough to be assured we’ve found someone who is a good fit for our company. We’ve thought carefully about the hiring process and spent many hours writing job descriptions. We’ve learned how to interview so we can discover talented people who can help us succeed. Make sure your association has an effective hiring process.
Set expectations early
Do you prefer to be contacted by Slack or by email? Do you expect an immediate response to a Basecamp ping? How quickly do you want a response to an email? Do you consider one-word answers to your questions helpful or disrespectful?
We all know that minor annoyances can become major issues over time. So don’t be afraid to ask team members about their work preferences. Setting expectations early makes communication easier and helps the entire team work effectively.
Pay attention to the culture you’re creating
Many associations that are shifting to remote or hybrid teams worry remote work will change their culture – and not for the better. But just because you work together in an office doesn’t mean your culture is wonderful.
Associations and companies like ours that were remote before the pandemic, however, have developed rich and effective cultures, even though team members don’t often meet in person. If your culture needs work, be intentional about it. You can use always-remote companies and associations as models for your culture change.
Our final suggestion is to say thank you – often, loudly, and publicly. Your culture may already support praise and recognition as an association-wide behavior, and if it does, bravo!
It’s always beneficial when the entire association recognizes good work with awards and plaques, but recognition can also come from the people you work with every day – team leaders and co-workers. To help with recognition every day, several collaboration platforms build applause, thumbs-up, and other emojis into their systems. If a colleague makes your life easier, you can quickly recognize the effort and say thank you.
Remote work seems to be here to stay, and Rhythm wouldn’t have it any other way. As you consider remote work and your mission, be assured that high-performance teams don’t necessarily need to be in the same building. Remote work can be one of your greatest assets.
Emma is the Marketing Manager at Rhythm. When she's not thinking about all things content-related, you can find her traveling or shooting 35 mm film.