Remote teams are becoming the new norm, especially for SaaS-based companies. Not only does this mean that money can be saved in not having to have large office space and the expenses that come with it, it also comes with a certain flexibility of life. At any given time, about a dozen of my coworkers are working remotely — some are in different time zones around the United States, others are in other countries. Working remotely comes with a territory of challenges and achievements that are rooted in trust.
Check out a few things I’ve learned along the way.
1. We Are All Becoming Radio Announcers
I’m not suggesting that radio announcers have an easy job. In fact, I think it’s just the opposite. Training your voice to be authentic and to keep an audience engaged takes work. Almost every meeting I have includes at least one, but, usually three or four remote people. Although sometimes we’ll video share, often we’re relying solely on our voices. Facial expressions, eye contact, head motion, and gestures are invisible. Then, there’s the additional distraction of being in another environment. When I’m working remotely, typically from a local coffee shop, I occasionally find myself observing people at another table, wondering whether the coffee machine is going to noisily grind beans, or whether I’m talking too loudly for others in the shop.
Regardless of our location, whether we’re in the office or working remotely, our voices are the baseline: they’re the consistent way we share that all other communication is built on.
2. We Have to be Intentional in Connecting
Working with remote teams — and working in an office where we’re on our computers 90% of the day — I find that we rely on, perhaps shy behind, our computers. From my desk, I can see every person in the office and, yet, I find myself pinging them online to ask a question. There are times where I realize it’s 3:00 p.m. and there are people in the office who I haven’t said hi to that day. It’s normal to be more connected to your immediate team or those you work with on a regular basis, even if they are remote; however, it’s equally important to be intentional about connecting with the other people — even if it’s just a hello.
We like to have fun in the office. Birthday celebrations, an afternoon game of ping pong, and team lunches are regular occurrences. These moments are a change of pace and they allow us to connect as people. Some of my most cherished memories are conversations around the table after a shared meal.
3. We Are Constantly Practicing Patience
When you’re working from an office and can see your coworkers, it’s pretty easy to tell who is working, who is taking a break, and who is thinking about what to eat for lunch or dinner. When you’re working with a remote team, there’s an added level of patience. I can ping my coworker online and ask a question. In my head, they are at their computer all day, working away without distractions or other work to complete. In reality, that’s not the case at all. They may have kids to pick up from the bus, partners or pets to care for, errands to run, meetings to engage in, or a multitude of other things. Expecting them to respond and have an answer right away is simply unfair. The same applies to those in the office; even though I can walk across the office and ask a question, I need to be mindful that they are in the middle of their work and might not be able to answer my question or fulfill my need immediately.
4. We Are Trusting Each Other
Whether the person is a regular in the office, works remotely a couple days a week, or comes into the office once a month, we are all trusting each other to get the work done. Your peak work hours might be 6am-11am and then 5pm to 10pm whereas mine might be 9am to 1pm and 3pm to 7pm. Whatever it may be, as a team we trust that the work will get done. This goes back to having patience and communicating when something needs a quick turnaround versus when a few days is okay.
5. We Are Accepting (and Embracing) Our Differences
Recently, we decided see if we could transition to solely using Slack for instant communication, image sharing and video chatting. We had been using a combination of Slack and Skype since the beginning of time which was causing some obstacles in figuring out the best way to communicate — we were paralyzed by all of the options!
As a team, we challenged ourselves to have a Skype blackout: one week of using Slack as our main form of quick communication. (During the blackout, I saw some people still using Skype…but won’t tattle on them…) Some of the team was relieved that communication was streamlined to one tool. Some of the team found it to be a bigger distraction. Slack can be used in a multitude of ways. There’s room for direct messages, group messages, general channels, and more specific channels. Not to mention the random channel, fitness channel, food-related channel, cute pets channel…the possibilities are endless and it can get pretty noisy. Once the blackout was over, it seemed like most people stuck to Slack and everyone was open to learning how to make it work for them. As we debriefed, some people explained that they need to be able to hyperfocus on their work and preferred using Skype for direct messages. We figured out a way to try to make it work for everyone, as a result.
This is just one example but as a team we embraces our differences — whether it’s Slack vs. Skype, music vs. no music, working from a coffee shop (as I’m doing right now) vs. the office, or something else.
We recognize that each person brings a different perspective to the table. This allows us to constantly learn from and teach each other, ultimately making for a stronger team.
How are you embracing differences within your team, both in-house and remotely?
From Screen to Shining Screen: 5 Things I’ve Learned by Working with My Remote Coworkers was originally published in ZerionCustomerSuccess on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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