And with half the UK workforce being predicted to work remotely by 2020, it is safe to say that this isn’t just a fleeting trend, but the increasingly realised future for businesses around the globe.
Why? Because it makes good sense.
With remote teams distributed around the globe, larger businesses can work on projects around the clock, and the talent pool for potential employees grows exponentially. At its most basic, hiring remote workers simply saves on the operational costs of hiring office space and equipment.
But remote teams are not without their challenges.
If you’re managing a remote team, you need to figure out very early on how your team is going to operate. Obviously, the primary obstacle to overcome is distance. Even if your remote team is only 10 miles away, rather than 4000, the lack of consistent, if any, face to face interaction can be a huge hindrance.
Not only that, but remote teams may also face the following issues too:
- Coordinating across multiple time zones
- A lack of clear communication channels
- Building a rapport and creating a common culture
- Facilitating collaboration across different cultures
- Scheduling informal conversations or meetings over different time zones
Whilst these are problems that can greatly affect the management and success of a remote team, they are by no means insurmountable.
The Importance of Structure
For teams to learn how to communicate effectively, share work and facilitate the growth of a consistent culture between offices, you need to first implement a structure to universalise work procedures.
Project teams that embrace structure scale far more efficiently beyond a singular office, as the culture is already set up to fall in place naturally.
Whilst all project management methodologies practice basic tenets that can ground effective communication patterns over the the increasingly distributed team structures of today, your choice of specific project management methodology is important.
Agile Project Management and Remote Teams
Agile project development was originally constructed for teams that were located within close proximity, and placed an emphasis on face to face conversation as the most effective method of communication between team members.
So it may not seem like the most efficient method for managing a remote team.
However, despite the prevailing belief in the project management industry that Agile teams need to be co-located. There is significant evidence to prove that the highly responsive nature of Agile project management can be adapted to significantly improve the work of remote teams.
With the right implementation, the prioritisation of communication within an Agile framework can be translated to a remote team and serve to help teams negotiate a lot of the issues that can arise from remote working.
With the facilitation of a deliberate culture of communication through universal procedures such as “daily startups,” individual workers can remain in the loop without losing the autonomy, flexibility and trust valued in remote work. Productivity and teamwork is valued over time spent in unnecessarily complex email threads and update meetings.
But how exactly do you adapt Agile to manage a remote team?
Agile Strategies to Manage a Remote Team
Implement a Self-Sufficient Structure
With multiple remote teams, there needs to be a degree of self-sufficiency in how they operate. Each team should be wholly focused on developing a single part of a project, this minimises the amount of necessary collaboration with other teams that may be in disparate time zones. These teams are essentially autonomous.
With an Agile based communication strategy, meaning that teams will frequently share knowledge, support and maintenance becomes much easier. As teams frequently update each other with vital information, it makes it easy for another office to step in and resolve an issue if one emerges when a different team is offline.
Build a Rapport
Agile is a system that requires a solid rapport. As management, build personal connections with the people within your team and, as much as possible, in your remote offices. Positioning yourself as a colleague rather than a distant coworker boosts morale, increases accountability, and builds trusts.
Video conferencing alone can bridge a significant operational gap between teams, as it gives more of an indication of tone, voice and personality than endless email chains. Although it does have its limitations. Video conferencing itself only allows for small windows of communication, rather long term visibility.
To mitigate the artifice of video conferencing, try to cultivate a culture of natural daily stand ups and encourage your team to share forward looking insight - as well as necessary updates. Alongside building a trust between teams, building rapport enables individuals to place themselves within the context of a wider organisation.
And be fair when engaging stand ups across time zones, don’t allow your remote teams to shoulder the burden of unsociable hours.
Encourage a Collaborative Culture
Whilst a universal structure is necessary to improve measurability and uniformity across offices, a collaborative culture is much more beneficial than enforcing a conformity to headquarter culture across your remote offices.
Creating an “us vs. them” culture versus your remote and local teams is one of the fastest ways to facilitate poor project performance. Instead, find and then share successful practices across all of your locations.
Collaboration can be developed through the following:
1. Encouraging Over Communication
It is important to train your team to understand that when transitioning to, or working within, a remote working culture, that it is best to over-communicate - even if it feels unnecessary.
Within offices, decisions can often be made in informal team meetings, hall conversations and over lunches and this can be easily forgotten when working remotely.
If a decision is made, channels ought to be put in place for everyone in each office to be informed of what the decision is and why it was made. The minutiae of these decisions can be lost or glossed over in email chains. A content management system that can consolidate all the important information in an easily browsable database, with notifications and in-app chat tools can mitigate the amount of information lost between teams.
Encourage team members to share information proactively. Communicating daily and keeping to work schedules, can negate delays caused between team members working on outdated information or waiting on replies should an issue arise.
2. Being Clear in Your Definitions
Managing remote teams means that there is no space for ambiguity. Clarifying the definition of ‘done’ in regards to a piece of work on a project, is important to help build rapport and manage expectations.
Ensure that there are uniform standards in place across all remote teams, to make sure that all work is completed to proper spec.
3. Creating Universal Guidelines
Whilst Agile was originally set up for software development, and the guidelines dealt with bug reports and troubleshooting, the principle of creating a universally followed set of protocols across all workers and teams, makes solving potential issues in any industry far easier. A clear, identifiable set of guidelines means that any team, with the shared knowledge, can step in and troubleshoot without disruption.