10 Ways to Engage Your Remote Teams and Improve Collaboration

By 2028, 73 percent of teams are projected to have remote workers. Not only is this a staggering number, but it also signifies the rapid growth that remote work is going to continue to undergo within the next decade.

Remote work is here to stay, and with it comes many benefits. However, there is no denying that this component of the "future of work" is going to change how companies do business radically. It is also going to impact how teams will have to adapt to a new way of work.

One of the main ways that remote work will impact teams is the need for creative engagement strategies. How do you keep someone engaged who is a state or even an ocean away? This question is a prominent one that remote managers and leaders will have to answer within the next decade.

So, how is this new arrangement specifically impacting workers and their employees?

  • The growing need for online collaboration systems – With the emergence of remote work, companies like Slack, Google, and even Microsoft are experiencing an increase in usage and exposure. Today's remote teams need tools that allow them to replicate in-office processes. Everything from brainstorming sessions to weekly check-ins now has to happen on a computer instead of in-person. This situation has led to an increased reliance on digital tools as well as new and creative ways of using them.

  • The increased role of cloud computing – The day of the big box internal software solution is long gone (for most companies at least). Today, it is all about the cloud. Companies must ensure that data and documentation are accessible to everyone regardless of where they are working. The solution to this situation has been the emergence of cloud computing. However, it does bring up new concerns regarding security and data monitoring.

  • New rules regarding effective communication – Should you send an email or instant message? When should a video call replace written communication? How do we ensure everyone can get their questions answered when time zones are a factor? Remote teams are having to come up with novel ways of answering these questions while also ensuring effective communication doesn't fall by the wayside.

All three of these scenarios do not even scratch the surface regarding remote team engagement. However, they are some of the biggest concerns.

Still, the most significant change is keeping remote team members engaged regardless of where they are.

How can remote managers motivate and engage their teams when most of the world's workers are disengaged?

A solid remote team engagement strategy can ensure that a remote worker is making progress on that project, or understands the importance of collaborating with team members and even clients. The goal is not only to promote engagement but to also deal with the obstacles to participation.

Take a look at these common engagement hurdles:

  • Differing time zones and the issues brought on by not being able to overlap between them

Elizabeth, a graphic designer, and art director, works with individuals on opposite sides of the world:

I work long hours as my client base spans from Hong Kong to New York, so time zones are always on my mind! […] As my clients are global, I've had to get smarter about how I work and when. I adjust my schedule pretty much daily to allow for meetings and calls in other time zones.

  • The lack of varying approaches to communication, which is dictated by differing personalities at your company
  • Missing out on cues taken from face-to-face interactions and body language
  • Failing to use digital tools like video conferencing and video chat to conduct regular meetings
  • Feelings of isolation and a lack of personal engagement
  • Potential tech issues that can make communicating over video chat or collaborating with the use of a software system challenging
  • Knowing if individuals are genuinely focused on their tasks at home

Ayush, a CEO and remote team manager, discusses the potential challenges of ensuring remote team members are staying on task:

I believe that people looking to do remote work should not consider it as an alibi for lesser or less productive work. Sometimes I have found individuals who take up remote work opportunities so that they can do other household chores at the same time. That's not how they should treat it.

Ten Ways to Improve Remote Team Engagement and Collaboration

How do you not only prepare for these challenges but ensure your team thrives?

Take a look at these steps that can help you improve your remote team engagement strategies:

  • Invest in remote socializing and remote play – Allow colleagues to partner up to play games, solve puzzles, or participate in an immersive environment. There is a new wave of innovative companies allowing for remote workers to participate in no-pressure games and activities. Not only does it build camaraderie, but it can also take the place of in-person team building activities.

  • Use VR to engage virtual teams – Much like the emergence of remote play, VR can enhance your remote team engagement. Today, technology allows team leaders and remote team managers to create virtual office spaces so employees can still feel like they are interacting in a shared workspace. While some workers do enjoy working from home, others may want to have some reminder of the office space where they used to work. Providing this option could make employees feel as if they get the office experience without the commute (or cubicle).

  • Mimic in-office processes – Just because you are not in the office doesn't mean that you cannot bring the experiences online. For example, you can mimic the watercooler banter by having Slack channels for informal conversations. On the other hand, a video conference can be a moment for the team to have a working lunch. Take stock of what you used to do in the office and see how technology cools can make these processes happen online.

Haley, a vice president of operations, shares how her company allows her to socialize with her remote colleagues:

Working remote has allowed me to create much deeper relationships though; fewer surface 'hi, hey, and hello's.' We get randomly paired with other people on the team for 30 minutes every other week and get to know people on a totally different level than I have in any office environment.

  • Make video calls a priority – You may not be able to ensure regular and physical communication, but you can do the next-best-thing, a video call. Having face-to-face contact can considerably increase engagement and socialization. It also allows you to better read visual cues as well as body language. As a result, you can focus on what your employees are really trying to convey in their communications. You can also use video chats to allow employees to have informal conversations, or collaborate on a project in real-time. There is something impactful about putting a face to a name. Your remote team engagement strategy can significantly benefit from this.

  • Have regular meetings – There is a fine line between having productive meetings and scheduling discussions that interfere with crucial processes. However, if you balance a mix of efficiency and strategy, regular meetings can be an asset to your employees. So, be sure you regularly schedule times for your team to meet to discuss upcoming projects, what they are working on, and any questions they have. These are times for you to see where they are, and ensure everyone is on the right page. These can be 15-minute check-ins each day, or a 45-minute standup each week. Decide on the meeting times that work best with your remote team, and include them in your weekly processes

Josephine, an integrated content producer, discusses how regular meetings with her team help her move through her day:

We do daily standups, which allows me to think about my tasks for the day. Presenting it to the team helps.

  • Plan physical meetups – The point of remote work is obviously to work remotely. However, it can be beneficial to see where you can incorporate some in-person work activities. Do some of your employees live in the same location? Work with them to set up times for them to meet and work together (if they so choose). You can also sponsor your remote team members to work at a coworking space. Lastly, some remote companies set up annual retreats. See if something like this is a possibility for your company. If you do decide to plan a yearly retreat, don't feel pressure to set it up at an exotic locale. It can be at a low-cost location that is an equal distance to those on your team.

  • Have stellar onboarding – The remote team engagement process starts with the first interaction you have with a candidate. From the interview to the offer, you are giving a potential candidate a look into what they can expect. As a result, many individuals decide whether they want to stay with a company because of the employee onboarding process. So, be sure to create video conferences, offer real-time tutorials, and set up Slack channels to orient new employees to the company in a way that is informative and engaging.

  • Establish a company culture open to feedback – Employees feel engaged when they think they can be honest about the work environment, and If employees feel that their opinion matters, they will feel more invested in their team and the company as a whole. Therefore, it is crucial to understand that the entire team can benefit from having a company culture where honesty, transparency, and feedback is embraced. So, please make a point to ask for feedback (whether through meetings or surveys), listen to their opinions, incorporate it when you can, and set up weekly meetings and check-ins.

  • Allow workers to be honest about their needs – One employee may need to finish up by 5 pm their time to spend time with family, while another may like to work during the evening so they can sleep later the next day. Understand the needs of your company's remote workers, plan around them, and set boundaries about times they do need to be available for regular meetings and tasks.

  • Invest in the right tools – Good collaboration tools can make communication and delegation much more straightforward. Here are a few to look into:

They either facilitate collaboration, make communication much more straightforward, or make it easier to delegate tasks and monitor progress. When remote employees know that they have a way to track their progress, see what others are working on, and quickly find out what tasks to work on next, they can more easily stay the course. These tools also allow workers to seamlessly bounce between objectives and flow right to the next ones.

You don't have to re-invent the wheel when it comes to fostering remote team engagement. It is all about setting up processes that allow your remote team members to feel they can seek help when they need it, and communicate their needs. Even if you can only implement one or two of the tips above in the short-term, you are bound to see an uptick in remote team engagement and productivity.

Some Additional Tips

  • Have your employees take a personality test to understand the nuances concerning how they communicate, and what they need within your distributed team.
  • Understand the differences in how introverts and extroverts communicate.
  • Have a remote work policy that includes time expectations, preferred tools, and other relevant information.
  • Embrace new technologies that can improve your team communication. Do you need a more intuitive collaboration tool, or would a VR office make a positive difference? See about incorporating these tools into your workspace.

Lily, an entrepreneur building a VR conferencing tool for remote teams, already uses these systems to help facilitate workplace interactions with her team:

We put our heads together and developed rumii, a multi-platform meeting, and an education app. It's an immersive environment which brings together the best of working in an office while being remote. We, ourselves, are a distributed remote team. We meet up in person every few months, but the rest of the time, we meet in rumii and VR."

  • Consider hiring a "Head of Remote." This role is an emerging one where a professional is in charge of taking care of the logistics of remote working and engagement. This person can also act as a liaison to ensure remote workers are getting the help and resources they need.

You Can Create an Exceptional Remote Team Engagement Strategy

As stated earlier, most of the world's employees are disengaged. This task becomes even more challenging when remote work enters the mix. Connecting employees all over the country—or world—can feel like an overwhelming challenge. Fortunately, the tips above can help you develop a remote team engagement plan that improves morale and productivity.

For first-hand accounts on managing remote teams, check out our other interviews on the topic.

Lastly, if you are still on the job hunt to join a remote team, check out the RemoteHabits job board.

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Posted on November 25, 2019
in Uncategorized

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