Just because people are working from home, doesn’t mean they are an effective remote team. In fact, even if your team was successful and cohesive when you were all in the same workspace, doesn’t mean that you have great remote collaboration now. What can you do as a leader to promote, encourage, and nurture remote collaboration? I’m glad you asked.
Here are five specific things you can do to stimulate collaboration on your remote teams.
Keep Goals at the Forefront
For a variety of reasons, when people are working from home they can lose sight of the big picture for both their work and the overall goals of the organization. As a leader make sure you continue to connect the dots between people’s individual work and the work of the larger team. The more people see how their daily work connects to something bigger and how it helps others on the team, the more likely they will be to collaborate with their teammates. While always an important part of the leader’s work, it takes a higher priority when leading a remote team.
Maintain Interpersonal Relationships
Everything else being equal, when people know and like each other, remote collaboration is more likely to occur. And the longer your team works remotely, (especially as you add new team members who never worked together in-person) the harder it may be to maintain interpersonal relationships. For these reasons, as a leader you must promote, encourage and find opportunities to allow relationships to grow. Yes, you need strong relationships with your team members, but you need to encourage everyone to stay connected to each other.
You can do this through planned activities during meetings, supporting and encouraging people to make time to visit with each other online (why can’t you have virtual coffee, much like you did in the office?). Model and reinforce the need and value for interpersonal connection and you will support better remote collaboration.
Like relationships, trust can wither in a remote working environment, but it doesn’t have to. Give people more chances to work on things together – trust will build along with the collaboration. As you keep the whole team on a common purpose (back to our first point) you build trust as well. These are just two examples of things you can do as a leader to nurture trust, and therefore improve the environment or remote collaboration.
Just because people are working from home, doesn’t mean you can’t expect them to engage with each other. One part of the collaboration puzzle is to make it a part of the job expectations. When people know that you expect them to engage, work together and collaborate, you improve the chances that they will. Again, even if people naturally want to collaborate, when they work inside their own four walls and never see the other members of their team, they will naturally become more insular in their focus. Your clear expectations that work success includes collaboration will help overcome that tendency.
Use Technology More Effectively
Much could be written here too but let me share two specific points. Get people using their webcams, and not just when they are on a team meeting. Seeing each other on a webcam isn’t the same as being across the table in-person, but it is the next best thing to being there. When you work on your webcams you improve relationships and trust too. Ensure that everyone on the team is using the same tools for the same purposes. Every technology adds friction to collaboration (when compared to being in the office and having face to face conversations), so make sure people are using the available tools well and you will be supporting remote collaboration.
Remember that if people aren’t collaborating currently, it doesn’t mean they can’t or even that they are resisting collaboration. When you do things like we’ve discussed here you help facilitate the collaboration naturally. While you may have to work at it harder, you can create remote collaboration to rival any in-person team
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