Building up and supporting a high functioning team is hard, even when people are working in the same space and come from similar cultures. When they are located thousands of miles away and have different ways of working, miscommunications can ensue, and cooperation and engagement can deteriorate.
People rely on body language, and on all the other signals and conversations that happen in between meetings (what you see and hear being together in the office) to validate the meaning of messages they receive. Without those confirmations, trust and cooperation can erode. Clear processes and norms, a strong corporate culture, and opportunities for real time collaboration increase collegiality, build trust, and help avoid the rise of “us vs. them” perceptions.
To overcome the challenges of distance, Big Health encouraged all processes and decisions to be clearly documented, and put in place a variety of initiatives:
• In person summits every 6 months; quarter summits otherwise
• Two-day hackathons and fun days
• Weekly global team meetings, including a rotating spotlight on one team
• Bi-weekly “office hours,” open time to ask the CEO questions.
“ Keeping the culture of the team as one across the US and UK blindsided me; we spent a lot of time on the mechanics of being apart.” Peter Hames, Big Health
“ If you have to develop core values, source them from the people in the organization, not just the CEO or the senior leadership. If nobody knows these values, nobody lives these values.” – Colleen McGarity, Apto
Generally, invest heavily in communications technology. How effectively the team connects with others can single-handedly make or break a new office.
Be aware of what you want out of a communication/collaboration tool and use it for its discrete function only. Choose software that aligns well with your use case and culture.
For a summary of communication/collaboration software tools, download the Question the Questions report below and check out page 120.
* For a company moving to Silicon Valley, adopting the G-suite could be seen as best practice, since so many other companies and partners there use this software.
• Use live, collaborative tools wherever possible
• Make sure work processes, individual and collective, are visible and available to all necessary stakeholders
• Address tactical, task-heavy communication through collaborative software. Save check-in meetings, one-on-ones, project reviews and other meetings for addressing broader, strategic issues.
Time zone differences can be your advantage
Staggering work done by teams split across time zones allows you to minimize dead times and maximize collaborative efficiency. Employees shouldn’t feel obliged to work after-hours just because another time zone is doing so. This should be part of your company’s culture.
Develop an anchor leader within the remote office
Whether you choose one or not, a leader will emerge. So, it is prudent that the company choose, or risk the wrong person taking the role.
The anchor leader need not be a project manager, a formal lead, or even a more-experienced hire. This person must just be able to execute tasks effectively and challenge others to do the same.
Commit executive leadership’s time and efforts to the remote office
Commitment involves a mix of physical visits, prioritization in the executives’ schedules, and continued opportunities for the remote office to influence executive and company priorities.
Create social opportunities
Transferable social activities develop a singular team identity and foster the remote office’s sense of belonging. Also, companies can use technology to bridge the physical gap socially. Some companies have installed a virtual “water cooler” camera (on Zoom) in each office that allows employees to have organic, remote conversations. The general principle is that you should create virtual spaces for employees to congregate and chat without an agenda.
Resources and tips
- Global teams that work
- “ A remote team MUST have executive buy-in and participation or it cannot be a success.” – Joseph Dierking, Bexouce
- “ You have to hire a good country leader because the leader makes all the difference. That leader will know how to hire, when to communicate, when to travel to visit employees, how to engage employees. In other words, that leader will know what they are supposed to do.” – Shelly Duong, Mochi HR Consulting