Executive Leadership Coaching

3 minute read

Ask Spinnaker: How Do I Build a Thriving Remote Team?

Nov 5, 2018

Written by: Shawn Sweeney

Got questions about trends, insights, and challenges related to Spinnaker’s areas of expertise? In this regular blog, we’ll tap into our Spinnaker team of experts and do what we do best: Roll up our sleeves to find you the answers you need. In this installment of our “Ask Spinnaker” blog, we’re tackling a question that’s also personal:

Question: How do I build a thriving remote team?

Chris Landrum, Spinnaker Principal:

We not only hear this question from our clients, we live it every day. Spinnaker’s team of experts is built based on talent, not geography. We also serve clients all over the country, often placing our Spinnaker experts on site to fully immerse themselves in the project and the business.

We’re not alone—and neither are you. According to Gallup and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 50 percent of Americans are involved in remote or virtual team work. A remote team can take many shapes, including multi-site locations, contractor relationships, work-from-home and flex approaches, and sometimes all of the above. As our global and digital economy fuels the growth of working remotely, we continue to look for ways to build strong, thriving remote teams who are productive, engaged, and connected to one another as well as to company leaders.

So how do we build a thriving remote team? Based on our experience—with clients and within our own company—there are 5 key components to creating a successful, thriving remote team:

  1. Build Rapport. It sounds like a no-brainer, but when the proverbial water cooler does not exist, you must be intentional about building rapport among your remote team. It’s essential to building trust and building relationships. Encourage small talk in meetings—when appropriate, certainly not in a hair-on-fire situation. Make check-ins a priority. Create ways for your team to share and connect, like with an employee newsletter or weekly team round-up that includes milestones and tidbits about life outside the project. Ask questions that show you care, about your remote team’s interests, morale, family, workload, sports team—then follow through by sending a message when someone’s team wins the World Series, or a link to an article to help them with a challenge or goal. Finally, as appropriate, always recognize birthdays and other special events like hire date anniversaries and key project successes. Make it public and involve the remote team when you can, especially for project praise.
  2. Balance Communication. It’s easy to fall into the trap of over-communication, and that creates information overload. Experiment with what works best for your remote team. Resist the temptation to share the same information in different ways—the result is fatigue and frustration. Some information is best for email. Some things can be shared on chat programs like Slack—which is also more interactive. Leverage project management tools for task management and to organize and access information. Up the ante with video conferencing instead of conference calls to make communication more personal.
  3. Plan Meetings. Yes, more meetings! When you can’t pop over to someone’s desk, you have to make meeting time a priority. Find a rhythm that works to connect your remote teams to you and to one another to stay engaged. A daily 10-minute call-in. A weekly check-in. Include regular all-team or all-hands meetings to keep everyone on the same page. Don’t forget to take the pulse on how it’s going. If staying connected is impacting productivity, consider how you can make adjustments to achieve both.
  4. Connect In Person. Bona fide face time is valuable for strengthening relationships and connectivity, as well as boosting morale. Get your remote team together in person as often as is practical, to build team bonds and give everyone an up-close and personal dose of company culture. That could mean bringing folks to the main office, or getting everyone together for an off-site. As the team leader, make it a priority to visit your remote team as well. Make sure everyone feels important and recognized.
  5. Be Respectful. This is critical. Vary meeting times to give a nod to everyone’s time zone and responsibilities. Set expectations about response times and “after-hours” communication. We like an example from Merck, which created acronyms for digital communications like “Four Hour Response (4HR)” and “No Need to Respond (NNTR).”  Be clear about availability. It goes without saying in today’s diverse workplace we also need to be respectful of individuals, including their values, religion, culture, and more. This idea was recently shared by the Forbes Coaches Council in an article titled “15 Best Ways to Build a Company Culture That Thrives,” and we agree wholeheartedly.

What else are you doing to build a thriving remote team?

We want to hear from you! Got questions about trends in your industry? Want to know more about best practices in a specific area? Need advice about a challenge you’re trying to solve? Send your questions to info@SpinnakerConsultingGroup.com, or post a question for Ask Spinnaker to our LinkedIn page by tagging us at @Spinnaker Consulting Group LLC. We look forward to rolling up our sleeves to find you the answers!