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Collaboration Black Belt: The Secret Art of Managing Remote Teams

Photo of Holger Reisinger
April 15, 2014
Reading time
3 minutes

It’s the mother of all managerial challenges: the remote team. With team members dispersed all over the world, you must generate the glue to keep them – and the project – together. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? Nope! Here are three tricks that will earn you a “black belt” in remote team management. 

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Your best people are dispersed all over the world, and you have a complicated challenge to solve in a very short time. So, what do you do? Fly your worldwide team in at an immense cost? Use whatever (mediocre) local resources are available? Or do you take a leap of faith and create a “remote team” with your top people working from various locations around the world?

Logically, the latter solution is the best. You’ll be able to draw talent for your team from a larger, more qualified pool of candidates and break down geographical boundaries. It’s cost-efficient beyond compare, and you’ll be able to increase team member retention.

What’s not to love? I know, I know, the hurdles…

Seeing is believing

However, times are changing swiftly, and it’s about time for you to get with the program and overcome those hurdles. According to a survey done by Wrinkle software, 65% of all employees expect their company to go fully virtual by the end of 2016. The remote team is no longer an option but an everyday reality, and we all have to earn those black belts in a hurry. All it takes are a few tricks of the trade from someone who’s been there, done that, and ended up with the T-shirt that says, “I love remote teams!”

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But how do you make up for the disadvantages of the remote team model: the lack of face-to-face interaction? In other words, how do you compensate for the fact that people tend to orient themselves toward people in their immediate physical proximity?

  • Make it personal
    Invest the time and tools in developing your team’s spirit. Instead of shooting off a weekly “to everyone” type of e-mail, take the time to call each member of your team once a week: a “because it’s nice to stay in touch” type of call, not necessarily needing to have anything in particular to say. It doesn’t have to take more than five minutes. The important thing is that you create a sense of belonging and make each member feel special and interesting; you care! And it’s not just about the stats and numbers.
  • Make it virtual
    Instead of dropping off written memos or having conference calls, make it virtual whenever possible. Being able to actually seeing each other’s facial expressions can really help if you’re otherwise lost in translation; the facial expression can help anchor the meaning of the words and reveal the secrets to Swedish humor! You may not be able to give them a peck on the cheek, but sometimes that can also be a positive thing…
  • Make it social
    Stick to them like social glue. Remote team members don’t get to meet up at the office printer or by the coffee machine where, as we all know, many a creative idea has been developed. It’s your job to make up for the lack of small talk and co-create an informal “space” where you and your remote team members can hook up. Make it virtually social – have a Hawaiian shirt day, where you get to show off your cool prints or shorts. It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s informal and easygoing fun. You get the picture. But keep any cultural no-no’s in mind and keep your bare feet off the table.
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It’s what you call it

It’s time to kill the idea of “the remote team.” Team members aren’t necessarily remote just because they don’t rub shoulders. They are actually closer than ever before –always available for a face-to-face meeting on your smartphone, tablet, or PC.

So let’s skip the old terms and not call it anything but a “team” going forward. This type of working will be the norm or “business as usual” in the future. There’s nothing remote about that!

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