Remote Work Requires a Change in Mindset

March 8, 2018 by Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin

Remote work is here to stay.

I don’t think anyone is questioning the value that you can get from working on a remote team. The benefits are clear, but, for me, one jumps out: I can get the right resource for my team, wherever they happen to be based.

However, working in a remote team is different to working with the same people in an office environment. It requires a change in how you think about work and how you think about sharing your work with other people.

A shared mindset, or attitude, will help draw your team together. And believe me, it is different for those working remotely to those who park their cars next to each other every morning. You have to work to create the outlook you want your team to have. It’s definitely part of building a successful team culture.

Here are some tips on how to do it:

There’s nothing more important than trust in a team, especially a virtual one. When you can’t see what your colleagues are up to, you need to have confidence that they are doing their work. Otherwise, at the extreme, you start to believe you are the only one contributing to the company and that sets up barriers that can take a long time to break down.

I have seen this once. It’s damaging.

Give people time to share what they are working on and celebrate progress together. While many virtual teams don’t have rules around working hours, there is an inherent trust that you are doing your job.

At the end of the week (or the middle, or whenever) you need to be able to show that you have made a contribution. So does everyone else. Make that contribution visible. This celebrates what your team has achieved and also highlights people who aren’t making such a large contribution. As a manager, you can then quickly step in to help, reassign tasks and align the team again before any feelings of distrust creep in.

Related: The 5 Truths of Project Leadership

Trust happens more slowly in a virtual team. You have to work to earn the respect of your colleagues and their trust in your abilities and your productivity. There’s a bit of faith involved: you simply have to trust that they are as committed as you are and not spending all day watching Netflix. But once you’ve got the trust there, you will know that your team has your back.

When the foundation of trust is there, it can help a virtual team to fly. It’s an amazing feeling.

I don’t just mean have virtual team meetings on your project. I mean make a regular schedule for them.

Create the expectation that every Tuesday afternoon you all get together in a virtual meeting and update each other, review progress or whatever. Part of your mindset as a team is coming together on a schedule.

It makes meeting up predictable and people get familiar with the format of those calls. That’s a way to create a meeting culture on your project, and in my experience it also means that people are more likely to call each other outside of those set times as well.

Collaboration doesn’t simply happen. You have to invest in the right tools that will underpin your desire to create a team culture that is productive and that delivers your project in the way that you want. Even if you think your mindset of the team supports virtual work, they still need the tools to do their jobs. If you don’t provide the basics, the mindset of the team will never be what you want it to be.

You might need something like Slack. You might need enterprise grade project management tools that have document sharing built in. You might need something else.

Whatever it is that your team needs to be able to do their job and work together effectively, that’s what you need to get. Spend some time together as a team working out what that tool set might look like, and then invest in it, and the training to go with it.

Too often, new starters are given a laptop and a phone and told to get to work. They might have long and detailed conversations with one or two other team members who are instrumental in the tasks they are doing. But overall, they aren’t introduced to everyone in the team from Day 1.

I think that’s a mistake. Introductions to everyone should be part of your onboarding, and this is even more important with virtual team members. Schedule a 30-minute meeting with them and everyone else on their project or team, even people they might never have a personal need to work with.

Part of a successful work culture is knowing who you can call on when there’s an issue and if you haven’t met them, that can be difficult.

Related: 5 Strategies for Managing a Growing Team

It’s also not helpful for creating the right mindset in those new starters. Being with people who share the ...

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