How to maximise remote teams

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In a lot of industries the traditional 'office' is a thing of the past. More and more, the concept of employees working together from different cities (often scattered across the globe), is becoming the norm.

Similarly, clients are now choosing to work with businesses located in a different city, province or even country, as communication and travel is easier than ever.

This concept is also true of the Yellow Door team and client base. Although our main office is situated in the heart of Cape Town, we have team members, partners and clients based in Knysna, Harare, Victoria Falls and London.

Since our inception in 2014, we have chosen to work as a distributed team as we believe we’re a stronger team for it! We hire and collaborate with the best people – regardless of their location.

I for one, am based on the Garden Route and have been working for Yellow Door remotely for almost six years. That said, I haven’t spent more than five full work days in the Cape Town office during this time!

Over the years we’ve learnt many lessons on how to optimise this work set-up to ensure optimal productivity, team wellbeing and client satisfaction.

Here are five key lessons we’ve learnt:

  • Stay clear of information silos

It’s natural for team members who work in the same office to share information more easily. They attend meetings in person, work side by side and share the same water cooler.

However, if you’re not very deliberate and strategic in making sure the bigger team is always kept up to speed, information silos can form. What becomes common knowledge in one location, might not even reach other locations or individuals. This can lead to confusion and frustration on large projects that include the greater team.

We’ve worked hard to counter these ‘information imbalances’ through the use of Google Drive, and putting weekly rhythms in place to make sure everyone is up to speed with the latest developments of each project or client.

On the flip side, we’ve often seen the benefit of a fresh pair of eyes or a new perspective on a project from remote team members who weren’t able to be in a meeting. For example, Emma or Dom often ask me to audit a website, or give input on a draft strategy document.

2) Avoid inbox overload

As not all team members are in the same office to simply pop over and ask a question, the temptation is to revert to writing a ‘quick email’. These however, fast accumulate, and lead to overloaded inboxes!

To save the time that goes into responding to each of these ‘quick emails’, we use a communication app called Slack. Each of our services has a dedicated channel and it allows for quick and efficient correspondence, which also centralises all information. It also kills the ‘I’m sure I sent it to you’ elephant in the room.

Although you address a specific person, all team members see the communication and account managers are ‘CCed’. This has made a big difference in preventing information silos.

All task allocations are also made through the task management system Asana. Once completed, the person responsible simply clicks ‘task completed’ and the manager is notified without any manual, time consuming communication.

3) Clarify work hours, time zones and availability

Working across international time zones and different work capacities can be a challenge for even the most organised team manager. It requires a lot more forward planning, anticipation of possible curve-balls, and making sure lead-times are achievable.

Post everyone’s availability, time zones and daily ‘office hours’ in a central place for easy reference.

We also make use of a time tracking app, called Harvest, which monitors time spent one each project and client. This is especially helpful for those team members who have limited allocated hours per month, and to make sure we stay on budget for projects.

4) Build ONE team

Make sure that it never becomes ‘them’ and ‘us’. Ensure that unity and a sense of being part of one core family is at the heart of your team’s culture and values.

Regularly create the opportunity for team members to give feedback both formally and informally in order to pinpoint any pressure areas. Also clarify each team member’s responsibilities and expectations in relation to other team members, as this goes a long way in preventing misunderstandings.

Similarly, create regular opportunities to ‘touch base’ with your clients (over and above status meetings) to ensure that they are satisfied with your offering and are well serviced by all team members.

5) In it to win it

Keep the goal of ‘winning’ as the core, unifying focus of the entire team and always clarify ‘the win’ for each project.

Each person should aim to ‘win’ personally, by developing their skill set and

delivering excellent service. The team should aim to ‘win’ collectively by providing a top-class end product or campaign, and the client must ‘win’ by seeing real results following the implementation of our work.

This central purpose keeps the distributed team connected and unified, especially on complex, long-term projects.

In summary, working as a distributed team with distributed clients is a concept that will only become easier and more prevalent going forward. And although there is already a higher level of understanding for this work arrangement than 10 years ago, business owners will always have to be intentional and front-footed to keep their team unified in more ways than their email signature.

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