The year 2020 will go down in history for many reasons, but one of the most lasting changes will likely be the rapid transformation that so many companies have made to relying on remote teams. While certain industries and companies had already been primed for this transition, others have been grappling head-on with the challenges of remote team productivity.
At Planview, we’re big proponents of remote work. Thirty-three percent of our team has been remote in recent years, and all of our products are designed to maximize remote team productivity. Here are some of the unique considerations facing remote teams that we’ve experienced and witnessed through our customers, with strategies and tips for overcoming them.
Motivating remote teams
One of the most unhelpful stereotypes about working remotely is that remote workers are less productive than their in-office counterparts. In reality, the opposite is often true: I’ve personally witnessed how remote workers are more likely to work longer hours, and overcompensate for the fact that they are not as visible as they might be in an office setting.
This makes it that much more important to make sure that members of remote teams are getting fulfillment out of the work that they are doing: That they understand how their work plays into the bigger picture, and that they are recognized for their efforts.
In his book, Drive, author and researcher Dan Pink explains that people are most motivated and perform at their best when their work enables them to experience autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Autonomy is our desire to be self-directed. Mastery is our desire to improve our skills. Purpose is our desire to do things that have meaning.
Although it might seem that remote workers inherently have more autonomy in their work, this may not be the case. It’s far too easy for leaders to assign tasks to remote workers without much discussion, making them feel like their role is simply to complete tasks.
We can also tend to over-rely on our assumptions about what skills people may or may not have, or what types of work they may or may not do, missing opportunities to encourage mastery or communicate a sense of purpose.
As leaders, it’s our responsibility to make sure that remote workers are included in conversations about what work to do, how it should be done, and to always discuss the why behind the work that the team is doing. Taking care to understand how people are motivated will help ensure that remote team productivity doesn’t suffer due to a lack of motivation.
Keeping teams aligned
Perhaps the greatest challenge with managing nationally or globally distributed teams is keeping those teams aligned, not just around day-to-day work but around big-picture strategy.
Co-located teams have dozens of touchpoints throughout the day to ensure that they’re on the same page, moving in the same direction, focused on the same goals, following the same processes. Distributed teams have to put intentional effort to recreate this level of alignment — but it’s not impossible.
The most successful remote teams work to maintain alignment by relying heavily on tools that serve as a “source of truth.” Enterprise Kanban tools are exceptionally helpful in this regard, creating a shared space for teams, leadership, and internal stakeholders to visualize, track, and manage work to ensure alignment with organizational strategy.
Kanban tools that allow teams to visualize hierarchical relationships are particularly helpful, because they help everyone understand how work is connected: Leaders can see how tasks roll up to strategic objectives, and individuals can see how their work contributes to the bigger picture.
Successful remote teams also rely heavily on documentation and transparency to ensure that they’re on the same page when it comes to processes, policies, and the work itself. Work management tools that would support this might include:
- Centralized overviews that give a high-level view of work, progress, and capacity, allowing team members to stay in sync
- Version-controlled document repositories to guarantee team members are always collaborating on the most recent document(s)
- Communication channels to proactively stay connected in the context of the team’s work
Additionally, high-performing remote teams hold frequent meetings (e.g., daily standups) to provide a space for any miscommunications to be aired out and mediated. The combination of tracking and managing work in a shared space, communicating with context, and relying heavily on documentation supports remote team productivity by keeping team members aligned and productive.
Creating systems of accountability
When we talk about remote work, the topic of accountability often comes up: How do we know people are doing what they say they’re doing? Leveraging purpose-built technology for tracking and managing work as we’ve discussed usually helps to alleviate those types of concerns.
Equally important, however, is the flipside of this: Making sure that remote workers are maintaining healthy boundaries, so that we don’t lose them to burnout. Just like proactive, intentional communication can help teams ensure alignment, it can also help to create systems of accountability. Some of this is cultural, but the right tools can certainly help:
- Using online calendars to set “working hours” so remote workers don’t feel obligated to attend meetings at all hours of the day
- Encouraging team members to collaborate in a single source of truth, in the context of their work
- Assigning deadlines to time-bound tasks (and visualizing all of your tasks on a Kanban board) to set expectations for when work will be delivered
- Periodically holding meetings to specifically discuss team communication habits and problem-solve any frustrations
- Respecting work-life balance, or better yet, work-life integration, to keep an open mind and provide flexibility for work delivery
- Encouraging team members to proactively communicate about scheduled time off and “hard stops” with team members
Optimizing remote team productivity starts with recognizing the unique challenges involved with remote work. For more insights on managing remote teams, watch our on-demand webinar: “Strategies for Thriving in a Remote World.”