Four Crazy Tips For Creating Effective Remote Teams

extreme teamwork rodeo bull

Virtual teams are a very different breed of animal from traditional office teams. So it stands to reason that creating a virtual team with the same level of rapport and efficacy requires different measures or as iDoneThis CEO Walter Chen believes, it requires “extreme measures.” Here are his 4 extreme habits (via Jeff Haden and Inc.com) that will help you ensure success in your distributed team:

1. Share everything about yourself with your team.

When you’re co-located with your team you gain an incredible wealth of contextual information about your teammates just by being around them. While those details may seem superfluous or trivial, that richness of context breeds trust.

Drs. Pamela Hinds and Catherine Cramton’s research on virtual teams found that seeing how someone works in their context makes a huge difference in “greasing” the team wheels. VSee does this with virtual Daily Stand Ups. The Buffer team does this is by sending everyone home with a Jawbone UP that shares daily eat, sleep, exercise habits and having team members post what they’ve accomplished and what they plan to accomplish every single day.

2. Turn your webcam on–and leave it on all day.

How many times have you missed opportunities for spontaneous face-to-face virtual calls because you just didn’t feel like clicking that Skype, VSee, or Google video call button? Forget about making the effort to schedule a video chat. These are missed chances for serendipitous collaboration. Companies like Xerox-PARC and FourSquare make virtual face-to-face easy by having a all day video port hole in a main part of the office. This allows people from different offices to spontaneously say hello and have those important casual watercooler chats. You can set one up using VSee without any expensive Cisco videoconferencing equipment.

3. Wake up at 3 a.m. every morning.

Walter is serious about this one. Working in different time zones can really kill a team, especially if they have never met in person. The biggest problem he says are the “small frustrations and setbacks” that “accumulate and become hugely demoralizing.” With different time zones, a 2 minute answer can easily turn into a 2 day answer. This quickly builds up mistrust, a sense that the other party is unreliable, and delays to a project. In an Open Letter to Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, VSee’s Milton recommends having at least a 50% overlap in virtual team members’ work times. If you’re extreme, do like Walter suggests and go for the 100%.

4. Overcommunicate, overcommunicate, and overcommunicate some more.

When you work in a virtual team you lose the primary way you have communicated with people your whole life: face-to-face conversations. Without face-to-face access, communication often flags, creating inefficiencies or, worse, loneliness and disengagement.

The key takeaway here is don’t be an email-only communicator. Email is the lazy man’s way to communicate.  It’s easy, convenient, and non-disruptive, but it’s also the kiss of death for remote teams. It simply isn’t an effective collaboration tool on its own. In fact, the best communicators use multiple media channels to communicate the same message to their teammates. With so many collaboration apps these days, Walter encourages going crazy with the apps — the more communication tools your team uses, the merrier. At VSee, some of the tools we use are Chatter for watercooler talk, VSee video for group meetings and one-on-one video chats, IM for quick questions, and Asana for tracking group tasks. Of course, using the right communication tools for what you’re doing is also important. For example, making group decisions over email is a big no-no. However, that’s a discussion we’ll save for another post.

What are your crazy tips for improving remote teamworking?

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photo courtesy: Roy Montgomery via Flickr

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