How Remote Teams Can Stay Productive and Creative

April 2018

Source: iStock

The days when working remotely were technologically challenging are long gone. Whether you consider it a disruption or an advancement, the new order is enabling collaboration between remote teams facilitated through a multitude of innovations in mobile technology, online networks and project management tools—resulting in redefined workplaces. 

A report by The Economist Intelligence Unit, that focused on how CIOs can contribute to business performance, concluded that the most effective way to support productivity through mobile technology is to implement policies and practices that allow employees to work wherever and whenever they wish. “Wherever and whenever” may sound radical to a more traditional report-to-an-office workplace model, but you need to find ways to make it succeed. By 2020, 40% of U.S. workers will be independent contractors, according to an EY infographic. It’s a rapidly growing way of work and life for those in the gig economy, and especially for millennials (the early adopters of technology and crusaders for work independence—not to mention the dominant demographic in today’s global workforce).

The challenge for organizations is to keep everyone on your remote team connected, build a rapport with one another, remain onboard with your company’s values and meet project goals. How do you accomplish that when remote workers lack context for team member’s situations and are unable to view facial expressions and body language, leaving them powerless to experience different non-verbal cues, which can make up 93% of standard communication?

High-quality voice and video conferencing services are key and, in fact, millennials have created market demand for it. A joint survey by Cisco and Redshift Research found that 87% of millennials would prefer to work for a more “video-enabled” organization over one that limits its investment in video conferencing. Wider adaptation of virtual reality will soon enable meeting participants wearing headsets (see Microsoft’s HoloLens) to be in the same room together, no matter where they are physically located. (We’ll need to add this to our 2019 budget!)

At Twirling Tiger Media, our business model enlists team members from across the country to serve clients coast to coast. I’m always surprised by people’s curious responses that the two managing partners of our company live on opposite coasts, as it’s been the norm in our creative industry for decades. Here’s the results of some lessons learned for keeping remote team members’ collaborative efforts creative, humming along and avoiding communication time lags or misunderstandings:

Voice and video conferencing:
  • Call or video-conference with team members weekly—sharing ideas in conversation is part of the creative process.
  • Validate others by listening without interrupting or sharing your own story.
  • Schedule a reasonable start and finish time using calendar invitations and stick to it.
  • Ask short, open questions.
  • Be sure your applications are easy to install and set up.
  • Don’t wait for a call or video-conference with your client to test an application’s reliability.
  • Use “share my document” and “share my screen” features.
Project management software:
  • Onboard team members with your project management software of choice.
  • Look for project management software that offers technical support and training resources. You may pay a little more for support services, but how much is your time to troubleshoot and train worth?
  • Publish project expectations, assign tasks, and set milestones and deadlines.
  • Create a file-sharing system, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket … corporate documents should be kept separate from project management software.
  • Have multiple automated backup systems in place as part of your data recovery plan.
Emails and texts:
  • Use effective written communication practices.
  • Get your point across clearly and simply.
  • Show empathy and understanding.
  • Be efficient to avoid wasting time—there’s no need to flood everyone’s inboxes with back-and-forth emails when you can summarize the gist of a communication to managers or team members.
  • Use emojis or emoticons sparingly if you must to add nuance. 
  • You may be missing context in a seemingly curt communication, so first assume there’s a reason for an out-of-character tone and that it’s not intended to be a personal slight.
  • Be openly honest with team members when you need time away from all communications. (We use the term “going dark.”)

Finally, stay up to date with new communication platforms. Hyperlink InfoSystem reports that more than 50% of workers’ time is wasted on outdated communication methods. And, with our years of creating content for the cybersecurity industry, we would be amiss not to warn you about the acceptance of BYOD (bring your own device) by team members and the security risks to your enterprise. Establish a BYOD policy for your company, or if your team is comprised of independent contractors, offer resources for good security practices.

Stay fierce!

—Maureen Joyce