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?

Related articles

photo courtesy: Roy Montgomery via Flickr

Video Chat A Must-Have Tool For Remote Managers

faceless manYesterday I came across a remote managers discussion thread.  One person new to remote managing was having trouble working with “faceless” remote clients.  Several respondents were rather unsympathetic to his problem, insisting that the loss of facetime shouldn’t affect his ability to influence and build rapport with his clients.

Maybe the nature of their jobs made face-to-face meetings unnecessary for them or maybe they’ve simply been working with the same people for years. But, virtual team studies have shown that face-to-face meetings are crucial for building team trust, especially in the beginning.  While virtual teams can be just as strong as face-to-face teams, it usually takes them more time (which they might not have) to learn to work together effectively.

It turns out, this remote manager wasn’t the only one who missed the interaction of face-to-face.  CEO Rae Hoffman-Dolan is just one of many managers who puts Skype video chats at the top of her list of “6 Must Have Tools For Managing Virtual Employees.”  Furthermore, a Microsoft Flexible Working report found that about half of their managers had issues with their “inability to talk face-to-face” with telecommuters.  (This was by far the most popular complaint, with “lack of focus” being mentioned by only 26% of managers.)

As a remote worker, I have to say the immediacy of “seeing” someone, makes a huge difference in communication and relationship-building. It really hit me on one occasion when a coworker IM-ed me to do something for her.  I more or less ignored the text at the time, shoving it onto my mental to-do list.  Fifteen minutes later she VSee-ed me to talk about the request. That video call made all the difference in making me remember and prioritize her request. Without seeing and talking with her face-to-face, I know I would have either forgotten what she wanted me to do or not gotten around to it until days later.  It isn’t that text communications don’t work, but rather they delay work that could be done more quickly because they usually make less of an impact and require more time to follow up and receive feedback.

As for relationship-building, it’s difficult to quantify, but especially for isolate remote workers like myself, seeing faces allows us to work more like human beings. Talking with people over VSee lets me feel like I’m not just talking with machines or a name on the screen, but with real people who have lives and personalities. It quickly clears up misconceptions that I sometimes build up about other people’s personalities or what they meant in an email. It keeps me engaged during a presentation or group discussion. It also makes me feel more productive and more connected to the group.

So just because you’re able to get by without “seeing” the people you work with doesn’t mean seeing faces doesn’t matter. It could just mean you’re missing out on the extra benefits of seeing face.

How important do you think video chat is for remote managers?

Related Articles

Follow us on Twitter (@VSee) and Like us on Facebook to hear about the latest from VSee!

photo credit: adapted from HaPe_Gera via Flickr

Four Best Practices for Keeping Your Remote Team Connected

Last week Slashdot had a post that was right up our alley: “Building the case for telecommuting.”  At VSee, we are building a video collaboration tool that allows telecommuters and distributed teams to work together as though face-to-face. We are also practicing telecommuters (almost everyone works from home) and regular users of our own product.  With 25+ people spread across the U.S. East and West Coast, Europe, and Singapore, these are some things we’ve learned about keeping our remote team connected over the years:

Using the Right Mode of Communication

Email, micro-blogging, IM, IRC (text-based chat cafe for programmers), video – we’ve tried them all :)  There isn’t a one size fits all. The modes vary in how asynchronous they are (email: asynchronous, video/IM: synchronous), how “lightweight” they feel (video: heavy, IM: light) and how much human communication bandwidth they offer (video: high, IM: low).  Knowing when to switch from one to another and not getting stuck in a sub-optimal mode of communication is key.  We’ve developed a sense for when an email thread or IM conversation has grown past its usefulness, and when we need to switch to VSee (video).  Used appropriately, video can really reduce conflict, promote understanding, and speed up decisions.  We usually don’t start a conversation right off on video, but on IM.

Using the Right Tools

Because telecommuting is still in its early days, we’ve often adopted tools which weren’t quite designed for the “remote work” use case.  For example, we’ve found that with Skype, one can’t have both video  and screen-sharing at the same time.  Furthermore, the screen-sharing quality is just not good enough for doing real work i.e. looking at code together. With WebEx, the video quality is again poor.  Also, the UX is optimized for webinars/presentations, not group collaboration.  VSee is our (ongoing) attempt to solve many of the problems w’eve encountered and to package group video and app- or screen-sharing in a UI that’s easy to use throughout a telecommuter’s work day.  It’s a free program, so please try it out.  We would love to get your feedback on how to make it work even better in the trenches.

Establishing Team Routines

It’s easy to get out of sync when relying purely on as-needed communication. We’ve found daily standups/huddles on VSee to be indispensable, even though they are brief.  There is something about seeing coworker’s faces that makes you feel more connected and human.  The way we do it, each team has its own daily huddle, but tech leads will often attend the huddles of other teams.  After huddles, people often break out into smaller groups to discuss issues in more detail, all of which happens quite seamlessly on VSee.

Don’t Forget the Importance of Team Bonding

Working remotely is still not the same as working in an office, and it does take a toll on certain aspects of your work and work relationships.  For instance, we haven’t fully figured how to allow ambient awareness which refers to the random ideas. conversations, and things overheard while sitting in an open work area, though micro-blogging, IRC and a culture of open sharing helps (i.e. every email list is open to all employees, and everyone is welcome to drop in on other team huddles).

We also do find it invaluable to create a family-like and family-friendly environment, such as getting everyone with their families together for fun activities (snow sports, wake-boarding) twice a year and encouraging team members located close to each other to meet up more often, or simply acknowledging and celebrating important events in people’s lives.

I hope you find VSee’s experiences helpful in building your case for telecommuting.  All the best to telecommuters old and new!

What’s a way you or your company have been able to make telecommuting work more smoothly?

Related articles

Follow us on Twitter (@VSee) and Like us on Facebook to hear about the latest from VSee!

photo credit: markhillary via Flickr

 

Telework Week 2012 Kicks Off Today

The 2nd annual Telework Week begins today and runs through March 9.

Telework Week was first held last year in an effort to encourage the policy, culture, and habit of teleworking.  Sponsored by Telework Exchange and Cisco, the chart below shows some of the environmental and work savings  from a single Telework Week. It’s also a great way to get the conversation going about implementing telework for yourself or your organization.  Telework Exchange has plenty of resources about getting started.

Btw, it’s not to late to pledge to telework this week!

 

telework stats

Figures from Telework Exchange

 

Follow us on Twitter (@VSee) and Like us on Facebook to hear about the latest from VSee!

Does Telecommuting Make You Invisible? – Part 2

While constantly improving technology certainly makes remote work and staying connected easier than ever, it’s still not the same as being there in person. The question is how much of a difference it makes to your standing in your company or your ability advance your career? In the previous post we talked about Camp #1 people like Deep Esophagus, who don’t think it makes much of a difference, although it does mean putting in extra effort to make sure you stay on everybody’s radar.

Seeing Is Believing

Today we’ll look at Camp #2 people, which seems to be the majority, who think that staying highly visible from a distance is the exception rather than the rule.  There is a nagging feeling that by not putting in regular face time you are relegating yourself to the edges of the picture. Indeed, Kurland and Cooper’s research suggests that Continue reading