Telecommuting, also referred to as remote work can introduce many unique challenges to remote team collaboration. In 2017 Harvard Business Review polled just over 1,100 people; over half (52%) reported that they felt their colleagues do not treat them equally when working remotely (Grenny and Maxfield, 2017). In addition, when remote members of a team encountered common workplace challenges, 84% said the concern dragged on for a few days or more, while 47% admitted to letting it drag on for weeks or more (Grenny and Maxfield, 2017).
Personally, I was once advised not to pursue marketing event management because, “I would be out of sight, and out of mind.” Ultimately I decided to follow that advice, and years later I have found myself telecommuting. Admittedly, there are constant challenges, but I have always found ways to succeed at working remotely. Here are five ways to increase remote collaboration.
Relationships are the essential ingredient to all successful projects. The chance to immediately develop a meaningful relationship with someone remotely is slim. Embrace it. Take a deep breath. Make time to get to know your people. If possible, use video conferencing rather than voice calls, because so much is said without saying anything. During your first conversion establish three rules:
- No talking about work
- No gossip
- No venting
2. Ask great questions and skip the awkwardness
Here are a few to get you started. Connect with them. What do they like to do outside of work?
Establish a connection based on common interests, and learn something new by asking questions. In an article by Alison Wood Brooks and Leslie K. John, they explain that “Asking a lot of questions unlocks learning and improves interpersonal bonding” (Brooks and John, 2018).
Learn about them. Who are their most important people? Carefully listen to learn more. Ask me about my family and hobbies; odds are, I will get engaged and start to share.
3. Be aware of what they prefer. How do they like to communicate?
People often have very different preferences in their choice of communication. For example, making actual phone calls is ranked fifth by millennials. Be direct and ask how they would like to communicate.
4. Be mindful. Where do they live?
Time zones and culture are so important; identify both early in your interactions! Quite simply, do not send an instant message to your colleague in Spain at 2 am. Be mindful. If you work at odd hours or your team is half-way across the world try to plan the timing of your requests via email properly. There are multiple top extensions out there if the scheduling feature is not built within the email platform. The takeaway message is to be mindful and avoid miscommunication.
5. Be present and visible
Be available. This does not mean you need to answer emails 24-7. However, prompt responses go a long way. Answering emails and messages in 24-hours is the right solution. If you cannot get to something, it is ok, but let the other person know to expect a delay.
Ask questions. If you don’t know where to take the conversation, ask a question. I was on a team meeting recently; my manager asked a question that propelled the conversation forward. Sitting silent on the other end of the line does not help anything, more than likely will hinder your relationships.
Get your face out there. Have I already said it? Use video conferencing for all calls if possible. Request a travel budget to visit your team for some in-person time. While you are there, don’t just work, organize fun activities and really connect.
“Even with more development in visual communication online, such as MSN and Skype, non-mediated face-to-face communication and interpersonal touch will remain important in developing long-term relationships and mutual support among people” (Lee et al. 2011). There is never a substitute for face-to-face interaction. Using these five tips can help you increase collaborative efforts between you and your remote team.
Brooks, A., & John, L. (2018). The Surprising Power of Questions. Harvard Business Review. 60-67, Retrieved from, https://hbr.org/2018/05/the-surprising-power-of-questions.
Grenny, J., & Maxfield, D. (2017). A Study of 1,100 Employees Found That Remote Workers Feel Shunned and Left Out. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from, https://hbr.org/2017/11/a-study-of-1100-employees-found-that-remote-workers-feel-shunned-and-left-out.
Lee, P., Leung, L., Lo, V., & Wu, T. (2011). Internet Communication Versus Face-to-face Interaction in Quality of Life. Social Indicators Research. 100(3):375-389. DOI: 10.1007/s11205-010-9618-3
Megan Russell, PMP, is an experienced project manager with a demonstrated history of working in the technology and online education industries. She has consulted in the past and is a subject matter expert specifically in digital project management, remote project management, and project communications. Currently, she works to develop and maintain the curriculum at LinkedIn Learning in project management, product management, operations, and leadership. She enjoys volunteering on various advisory councils and working in leadership positions on women and diversity first groups. Megan writes about customer relationship management and remote project management.