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How to Cultivate Productivity in a Distributed Remote Team

“Rewarding Reads” is a space for articles and personal essays meant to be thought-provoking and informative for human resources professionals, from sharing the “human” perspectives on workplace issues to book reviews of business titles we find inspiring. Have an essay or blog post to share? Contact us at workspan@worldatwork.org.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, many companies were faced with the prospect of working remotely. For those among us who already had experience with remote work, this was a less challenging transition. Others have faced what is undoubtedly one of their biggest modern-day challenges.

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When you’re used to working with people in the same office, and when you’ve established certain routines that help you do your job well, having to completely shift the way you do things can be an incredible shakeup. However, remote work has been on the rise for many years; long before COVID-19’s arrival. Even if the world goes “back to normal” in a year, remote work is very likely here to stay — especially as more businesses have become aware of both the benefits and the challenges.

Let’s explore how you can ensure productivity in a distributed remote team, pandemic or no pandemic.

Clear Communication Is Vital
When everyone is sitting in the same building, it’s easy to walk over to someone’s office and ask questions face-to-face. It’s easy to determine how someone is feeling or whether they’re under more stress than usual simply by looking at them. In a nutshell, it’s much easier to gather and communicate all kinds of information.

When working remotely, no matter how often you communicate via video call, a lot of this information gets lost.

To mitigate any possible setbacks of the lack of face-to-face communication, the first thing you need to focus on is clearly communicating:

  • Everyone’s roles and responsibilities,
  • The boundaries of communication you would like upheld, and
  • All of your expectations from everyone, in every regard.

Create a file for each member of your team and write down their unique responsibilities. Define everyone’s roles and define the relationships within smaller team units as well as the larger team as a whole.

Once you’re clear on these roles, communicate them with your employees — individually, one-on-one and as a group. After all, well-orchestrated teamwork means that all team members are attuned to each other’s processes. Make sure to address any questions that arise — your team might point out confusing regulations or irregularities you haven’t noticed.

Some other important information you should put in writing are working hours. Remote workers don’t actually need to work the nine-to-five. But having everyone online at the same time makes communication easier, so make sure you do set some working hours, and let everyone fill out the rest of their schedule.

Processes and Systems Are Your Best Ally
Just like you need to define roles and expectations, writing down all of your processes and enforcing systems that make sense for your team should be at the top of your to-do list.

Having a set of documents (rules of conduct, if you will) written down and readily available for everyone will save a lot of confusion and a lot of unnecessary questions. Ask your employees to take part in defining these processes. After all, the goal is to improve their productivity, so they’re certainly the best source of information on that topic.

Enable Adequate Flexibility
Encourage each individual to work in a way that meets their specific needs. You will need to take two distinct things into account here: what someone needs to be doing, and how they prefer to be working.

Think about the makers and the managers in your team. And more importantly, think about the people who need to play both roles. Consider how their schedules and their flows are disrupted by the agendas and schedules you are setting. Then, work on finding a solution that allows your makers (your creatives, in other words) to have plenty of time to work their magic without having to pop in and out of meetings.

Give Praise Where It Is Due
Providing adequate praise when you don’t actually get to see each other face-to-face is often the main challenge of working with remote teams. You may find it more difficult to assess how well someone is doing, and that might trigger a whole host of other challenges.

However, this is where your goals, roles and processes come to the rescue. If you have clearly defined what the milestones for success are, you will know when someone has hit them and whether someone is regularly going above and beyond.

Jump on a call with a team member or send an email to tell them they’re doing a great job. Don’t forget to also offer praise publicly. The goal is not to foster a competitive spirit, but rather to foster a community of individuals who are creating and celebrating success together.

Make Everyone Feel Valued
Another downside of remote work is feeling underappreciated and disconnected from the company and colleagues.

While this can’t be completely solved, what you can do is emphasize the value of each individual and their contribution, and truly make everyone feel like they are a part of the community.

Get everyone involved in making decisions. Maybe not the largest and most far-reaching decisions, but the day-to-day operations, ideas and solutions to specific problems. Ask people’s opinions, and actually listen to them.

Encourage Health and Wellness
Working remotely often means presenteeism, staying up late, working odd hours and facing interruptions you wouldn’t normally face in the office.

Some remote employees will find establishing work-life balance more challenging, which is where you can step up and help. Genuinely encouraging employee well-being will help make them healthier and happier, and consequently, more productive.

Talk to your team about their sleep and wake-up habits, and connect them to the way they feel while working. They might be surprised to learn that they can impact their mood and success rates throughout the day just by changing their morning.

Talk about de-stressing and the importance of taking time off, even when things are hectic. A lot of remote workers forget they need to take time out of their day for themselves, but by making well-being a part of your remote work policies, you can make a lot of headway in that particular department.

Have Fun With It
Finally, a key piece of advice for you here — have fun with remote work. It may be a novelty for some, a reward for others and just business as usual for others still. Either way, being able to work remotely and do things on your own terms is an incredible way to work. Gone are the days of routine and boredom.

Embrace all the opportunities this way of working offers and encourage your team to do the same.

About the Author

Travis Jamison is the founder of Smash.vc


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