How to Transform Remote Workers into Collaborative Teams

Perhaps one of the largest problems effecting businesses large and small today is developing processes to unify a remote workforce. According to a recent Ipsos study, approximately 17% of global workers are telecommuting on a “regular basis.” With a growing population of non-traditional office workers, businesses are capitalizing on the many benefits of telecommuting, like enhanced productivity, reduced costs and modern work culture. Yet, the struggle to create a virtual work environment that fosters collaboration and creativity continues to be a pain point for companies everywhere. So how can you transform remote workers into collaborative teams?

Communication, communication, communication.

In a 2010 Workplace Psychology article, Steve Nguyen lists eight common problems faced by teams:

1. Absence of team identity

2. Difficulty making decisions

3. Poor communication

4. Inability to resolve conflicts

5. Lack of participation

6. Lack of creativity

7. Groupthink

8. Ineffective leadership

With remote teams, many of these issues stem from a central focal point: you don’t “work” together. And this new way of working causes strains that cause these eight problems to crop up more frequently within the telecommuting population. Regular PGi telecommuter Lea Green wrote, “I soon realized that working apart from my officemates for a solid week caused me to feel isolated, out of the loop.” Green, and many other telecommuters across the globe, solve this problem with active communication plans.

Create a communication plan:

  • Setting the tone for your remote, collaborative team is vital. In a study by Organization Science, leaders with exuberant, positive and motivation first messages set the tone that lasts throughout the team’s existence. After that first message, make sure your tone continues throughout every team communication, whether it’s a “How are you doing” to “Deadline approaching on XYZ project.”
  • Collaborate with your team and team members for group and individual communication plans. Read this Learning Space article, How to Telecommute and Manage Teleworking Employees, for collaboration tips and even a Communication Style quiz to help you development tailored communication plans for your team.

Tear down the social barriers.
The most effective, productive teams — office or remote — build strong trust bonds that extend beyond the purely business realm. In your very first communication, establish that you’re interested in your remote workers beyond their tactical use. By helping them feel like a human being, not just an email address, you connect your virtual workers with you and with each other.

Great tools for social communication:

  • iMeet video conferencing: Collaborative meetings technology that enables meaningful, human collaboration online with up to 15 webcams, interactive video streaming, social media integration, collaborative note taking, screen share and more. Try it free for 30 days.
  • Instant messaging: While IM could potentially be disruptive to the flow of work, encourage your team to have IM “open office” hours, where they can chat freely with the rest of your team.
  • Social media outlets: In this Learning Space article, Team Building Tips to Improve Collaboration, Innovation and Productivity, learn how social media enables your team to connect and build trust beyond the “office.”
  • Intranet: PGi recently shared the benefits of its global social business tool, PGiLife, an employee-only website built with all the tools needed for online collaboration — discussion forums, document collaboration, internal blogs, HR updates, product management and more. To read their story, click here.
  • GlobalMeet web conferencing: Want to go the traditional communication route? Try GlobalMeet, which takes old-school web conferencing into the modern era with social, easy to use features like Auto-Connect audio (phone, mobile or VoIP), active talker webcam video, one-click screen sharing and great polling features. Try it free for 30 days.

Encourage productive downtime.

One of the dangers of remote work is what I call tunnel vision. You’re sitting at home alone with nothing but your laptop to keep you company, and you can find yourself sucked into spreadsheets, PM tools, Outlook and work, work, work. No lunch breaks, no Happy Hour. These office traditions are known for sparking creativity and innovative, and it is incredibly important that you encourage this “productive downtime” within your remote teams.

Ideas for remote team building:

  • Coffee shop meetings: With our huge global WiFi network, your workers can pretty much go to any neighborhood coffee shop and connect to your online meeting. Schedule “coffee meetings” and send your workers gift cards so they can share a cup of Joe and brainstorm outside the home office.
  • Rent-an-Office: If you have teleworkers within 3-hours driving distance, encourage them to meet once every month and spend a few days together at a coworking office. These spaces are designed to be temporary homes for digital nomads and teleworkers, so just rent a couple spots to foster collaboration and trust among your team members.
  • Hashtag Party: Twitter is fantastic for building a back-and-forth conversation on any given topic, also called hashtag parties. Start one with your team members to create an ongoing brainstorm session — just remember that it’s public, so other people can see and interact with your brainstorm.

Collaborate, rinse and repeat.
Not every communication plan, social tool or coworking space will work for your team — set this expectation with your team from the very beginning. Collaboration happens when every team member respects and trusts their coworkers to bring in new ideas, hold their own weight and be excited about the tasks at hand.
These ideas are a great start to building a remote team that holds positive collaboration at the top of its priorities. What ideas have worked for your remote team? Anything that fell flat on its face?