5 Science-Backed Tips to Manage Your Remote Team Effectively Find ways to help your team bond, regardless of their actual locations.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Remote teams are all the rage. According to one Gallup survey, an increasing number of companies are finding ways to incorporate remote workers into their staff. There are many advantages of remote teams, so it's not a surprising trend. Remote workers have a lot more flexibility to work and deliver high quality results without the stress of dealing with traffic and other considerations that come into play with on-site workers. In addition, remote workers generally cost less.
At the same time, working with a remote team can be very hectic and prone to costly errors. There is a lower level of oversight, communication can be tricky, and making sure everyone is on track is a little more difficult than if they were just down the hallway. The good thing is there are a few strategies that have been proven by science to mitigate these issues.
1. Prioritize clarity, not brevity.
There is a common misconception that being clear means speaking as little as possible. That couldn't be further from the truth. In reality, being brief online can mean that your message is not passed clearly to the receiver. Online, the person you are communicating with doesn't have the opportunity to factor your body language and other cues into their interpretation of what you're saying or writing.
In the widely accepted 7 Cs of communication model, clarity and completeness are priorities. Even though conciseness is also present, it's subject to the others in that it ought not to be applied at the expense of the others. From auditing to school teaching, several studies have shown that clarity is the most important component of communication.
Make it a habit to be as comprehensive as possible with your instructions. Don't assume, and be sure to cover all bases so you'll leave as little room as possible for misinterpretation. Encourage your workers to ask for clarification so you can be certain the message is passed accurately.
2. Reduce your digital volume.
Your digital volume is not how loud your voice is when you're on Skype with your team. Harvard Business Review uses the term to refer to how much communication you're transmitting to your team.
If you overdo things by following up each and every task by email, text and phone, for instance, you'll likely leave your team members feeling bullied, not trusted and micromanaged. According to a 2011 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, people who believe they are being watched perform at a lower level. If you've decided to work with a remote team, give them the leverage and flexibility to work effectively.
3. Establish communications norms.
With physical interaction, there are often cues and habits that form an unspoken language among colleagues, helping them understand one another intuitively. Science has shown that without them, even close friends can get confused about what you mean. According to Monica A. Riordan, a researcher at Chatham University, after conducting a study on the accuracy with which emotional cues in emails are interpreted, "simple misinterpretation of an intended emotion can lead to a drastic alteration in that emotion."
According to the study, reliance on friendship or situational awareness is insufficient. The good thing is, you can overcome that problem by working with everyone to establish some norms -- and perhaps some acronyms that you can use to indicate the contexts of any message. On an individual level, you could also ask your team members to state how they prefer to communicate. For instance, do they like quick messages or lengthy, detailed ones. What degree of humor and informality are they comfortable with?
4. Create a strong culture.
Inasmuch as it might not be feasible to do the traditional birthday cake celebrations for members of your team, it's still crucial that you create other rituals that will help bring your team members closer and help them bond, regardless of their actual locations. According to a study conducted by academics from Gebze Institute of Technology in Turkey, the most important components of a good company culture are involvement, consistency, adaptability and mission. In their words, "given its inherently 'socially complex' and 'causally ambiguous' nature, a comparative advantage gained through a culture-driven organizational capability is usually difficult to imitate, thus constituting a valuable source of sustained competitive advantage and superior performance."
Whether it's playing a multi-player game together at the end of the week or creating a Slack channel to share funny pet pictures, the point is to choose activities the whole team is comfortable with which will help to develop informal interactions and friendships.
5. Provide mentors.
Mentorship has consistently proven to be one of the most effective ways of getting a new team member to settle in quickly and begin working effectively, and remote teams are certainly no exception.
Try to find a mentor who is in approximately the same time zone as the new member. A mentor who is an equal will also be a confidence booster. Ensure that the mentor understands that their role is not to be intrusive or to micromanage, but rather to provide direction and pointers where necessary and help the newbie understand the culture.In all, it is clear that while there are a lot of benefits you can reap from incorporating remote workers into your business, you'll have to commit time and resources to ensure that you can keep everyone on track and working at maximal efficiency. By implementing the guidelines above, you'll be well on your way to doing just that.