My 5 Best Practices for Empowering Distributed Teams

This isn’t actually Stanley. This photo came from iStock, we don’t actually know this man.

Businesses — of the entrepreneurial and modestly-sized variety — have all the tools we need to communicate effectively with our teams and clients, to produce excellent work and motivated teams.  Online collaboration tools, at our fingertips, leave ‘no excuse’ for communication gaps.

Or do they? While it can be cost-effective (and contribute to work-life balance, if you make it!), managing a remote team with distributed work tasks can be challenging. How do you enable creative and innovative collaboration, WITH good quality control, but WITHOUT onerous processes across too many channels?

I’ve had many (many?) years of experience leading and coaching remote teams (creative and technical, data-oriented teams I might add), and have tested out many communication and project management tools and platforms. I want to share a few key ways — digital and otherwise — that can empower distributed teams to be the best they can be …

Disclosure: Neither I nor Wellspring has any vested interest in any software or other product noted here. None.

  1. Use an Integrated Project Management and Communications Program

There are plenty of these programs to choose from, such as Basecamp, Teamwork, Slack and many others … They can help connect your team, set task priorities and ensure everyone knows who’s responsible for what. Each product has its own strengths and gaps. Make sure you know what features you need—and which ones you don’t — so that they don’t end up being more time-consuming than helpful. Do the research and ensure your team members are part of the decision process!

  1. Face Time is Essential

And no, I don’t mean on your iPhone. Plan ahead with your team and set days to meet and work together in person — let’s call this Human Time. It will increase your productivity, build and solidify relationships and help you better understand how each person works and thinks. Human Time can be especially helpful when brainstorming big concepts and creative ideas. Key point: it needs to be helpful so I always pay attention to individual team members’ schedules, and especially, commute time. (If there’s a really bad travel day because of weather or whatever, I reschedule to be respectful of time and unnecessary stress!)

  1. List Priorities, Talk About Them and Follow-up Regularly

When working with remote teams including freelance contractors or partners, conflicting and busy schedules can make meeting deadlines a challenge. Ensure you clearly discuss and confirm priorities for each team member, with specific deadlines. Everyone needs to know what they’re supposed to be doing and when, who can support them and the most efficient ways to get their tasks done. Be sure to share the happy consequences of getting it done ‘right and on time’ and the unhappy consequences if commitments aren’t met.

  1. Don’t Be Afraid of the Telephone

When did the sound of another person’s voice on the phone become so scary and something to urgently avoid? Picking up the phone is a fear that lots of people just need to get over! The phone remains personal; it’s the best way to quickly connect to prevent and solve problems, to enhance relationships and short-circuit digital communications that are being harmful rather than helpful.

That being said, you can still embrace the use of communication channels that make the most sense for your team — say texting your millennial intern even when you’re a grown up, like me. But if something is urgent, or needs more brains to get something right, don’t be afraid to pick up the dang phone.

  1. Allow for ‘Fun Time’ in Communications

It’s why most project management programs allow you to send emojis and GIFs in your conversations – adding some fun to some very long days. Just because some of your team is working remotely, that doesn’t mean there isn’t time to be human and have some non-work related conversations. One trick I try when things get crazy busy is no matter how you’re communicating with someone, pretend you’re talking to them in person. Have conversations, ask about their days, and above all, loosen up and let everyone’s sense of humour shine through.