While working as part of a remote team gives you freedom in terms of where and when you tackle your tasks, the potential lack of group communication due to clashing time zones and the nature of remote work can make achieving any meaningful progress painfully slow.
The following guest post comes from Micah Mador, Engagement Manager at the Foundry Group:
After two and a half years of seeing various team members come and go, I’ve learned that the most important aspect of remote collaboration is the ability to work out loud.
What does “work out loud” mean, you ask?
For starters, it doesn’t literally mean speaking your work out loud.
In this article, I’ll pick apart what your distributed team needs to do to communicate effectively by breaking down the components of working “out loud” and explain in detail why you need to be doing just that.
What does working "out loud” mean?
Put bluntly, when a team works “out loud,” they’re using centralized programs and cloud storage to give a high level of transparency to what they’re doing. By interacting often with communication tools like Slack and using cloud storage to let everyone access their work, a remote team can make sure that everyone is up-to-date and on the same page.
For example, my marketing team at headquarters uses Google Drive to store all of our files, and they use Trello to organize our projects. By doing this, we can store everything we do in a shared environment that can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. The customizable permissions of Google Drive even let us block access to sensitive information (which is great when using virtual assistants who only need access to a small section of the team’s files).
For argument's sake, consider what working silently looks like: if everyone keeps to themselves and works in silence, the lack of helpful and transparent remote collaboration can leave workers feeling isolated, confused regarding expectations, scrambling to find necessary resources, and de-motivated to reach out through other channels of communication.
Okay, that’s the what of working "out loud."
Now here's the why...
4 reasons WHY your Team Needs Group Communication Tools
1. Everyone will know what’s being worked on
By communicating regularly and using shared group communication tools to store your work, you and your team automatically know what’s being worked on. Obviously, remote collaboration is handy for managers and higher ups, since it lets them see at a glance what’s going on while providing a kind of timeline that they can go back and check if something’s under dispute.
Remote collaboration also lets everyone on the team know that they’re not just working on something for the hell of it. Everything they do is visible to the team, and the extra remote communication will help them see where their tasks fit into the company and why those tasks are so important to complete.
Trust me, team members will work infinitely harder if they know why their work is important. Not only does this knowing make them feel appreciated, team members feel valued because they are not being sidelined with a bunch of menial tasks.
2. Accountability is higher
In the same way, since everyone knows what’s being worked on and who’s been assigned to what, each member of the team also knows who is being waited on for certain pieces of work.
This means that everyone feels directly accountable for their actions, which is a problem I’ve found with remote teams that often isn’t addressed. If nobody else knows your set deadlines then the only person there to keep you in line is, well, you. For some, that’s enough. But every single remote team member I’ve ever come across has found extra motivation from the idea that everyone knows what they should be doing, and how quickly they should be doing it.
After all, a little pressure isn’t always a bad thing. It helps keep you on track.
Even if nobody actually reminds you of your deadlines, often just sitting in the knowledge that they know is enough to get many people motivated to start their tasks, which in itself is the hardest part of any project.
3. Your success won’t depend on everyone being online
Remote teams truly live and die by their communication skills, especially when time zone differences are at play. We have employees in America, India, the Philippines, Latvia, England, Spain, and many other locales worldwide. The placement of our distributed teams can make co-ordinating everyone to a single goal extremely challenging. In short, the amount of wasted time just to have a conversation can be insane!
Communicating regularly through email and telephone can mitigate some of that issue, but consistently working via group communication tools is the only way to circumvent it entirely.
Emergencies happen and team members can be unavailable, but at least if you work out loud and allow team members on-demand access to your documents, the rest of your team will be able to pick up where you left off to avoid missing any deadlines.
4. Communication breeds culture and collaboration
Finally, the kind of constant remote collaboration that comes with working out loud is a fantastic way to encourage your company culture to grow. In turn, this growth fosters further collaboration between team members and your company at large.
Inevitably, the hardest part of remote work is the perceived communication barrier between the members. Unless you use video conferencing software to imitate the physical connection (or synchronicity) that a traditional office provides, you won’t be able to see each other. You'll want to set aside consistent, dedicated time for a team building activity to get everyone linking up and building a rapport.
Getting everyone to work out loud fosters a culture where your team feels comfortable reaching out if they need help with something, and both new and seasoned colleagues alike can be more easily brought into the fold.
Remote collaboration can be extremely productive and cost-effective for everyone involved. Employees gain more flexibility in the opportunities they can take, because they spend less time commuting and more time connecting with distributed team members.
Running a remote team doesn’t have to be a mess of wasted time and unexpected setbacks. By working out loud through group communication tools, and by saving work using shareable platforms such as Dropbox or Google Drive, your company can take the biggest problems that remote teams face and turn them into a strong backbone that allows your team to flourish.