With teams increasingly likely to be spread out across the country, managers are facing new challenges about how to keep team members connected and engaged. Here are five strategies you can use to ensure that geographically distributed team members don’t feel the distance.
Having a standing one-on-one call with each remote team member. Otherwise, because you’re not in the same location, you’re less likely to have regular communication; if you leave it to chance, you could end up going weeks or longer without actually talking. Even if it’s brief, having a regular time to touch base one-on-one will help both of you feel more connected – and you’re likely to come up with uses for the time even if you don’t think you’ll need it. (This is a great time to give input on projects, act as a resource, give feedback, and generally check in about how things are going.)
Have a standing team call too. Try to get your team all together on a call every so often, so that people can reconnect with each other and have an opportunity to talk as a group. Obviously you don't want to do this just for the sake of doing it, but you’ll almost certainly be able to find productive uses for this group time. For example, you might ask a team member to update everyone on how a project is going, or use the time for the group to brainstorm approaches to a challenge someone is having, or even have one team member teach everyone else a skill.
Make a point of developing personal connections. When you’re working in the same physical space as people, you generally get to know them on a personal level over time. Even if you’re not the most social bunch, you tend to learn about each other’s interests and hobbies, and often families and significant others, simply by sharing space and chatting in the kitchen or before a meeting starts. But when you’re remote, those personal relationships don’t develop as easily, if at all. That can matter because feeling a personal connection to colleagues can keep people more engaged and invested, as well as make them more likely to go the extra mile when needed. So take time to ask about how people are doing generally, as well as about people’s lives outside of work.
See part of your role as being to connect others on your team. When you’re managing a remote team, you’re at the hub of the wheel – you have some connection to each person on it. But, depending on the nature of the work they do, it’s very possible that your staff members know little about each other or what they do or how they do it. Make a point of spotting opportunities to connect team members to each other. For example, you might suggest that Jane pick Pedro’s brain about a project she’s working on because Pedro did something similar last year, or ask Lucy and Olive to work together on a project where they have complementary talents.
Think of creative ways to make people feel connected. For example, I once worked with a manager of a remote team who sent everyone a box of doughnuts on the same day, with a note saying “there are doughnuts in the kitchen!” as a play on what happens so often with teams who share a space. This same manager sent everyone a mini-bottle of champagne after the team successfully launched a major new product. Have fun thinking about ways to treat your team like a team – even though they’re spread out in different areas.
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