39 time zones. 194 countries. This is the new world of remote work, and it’s a world of opportunity. The benefits of tapping into a global talent pool and reaching customers around the world are tremendous, but coordinating remote, global teams also poses a new set of challenges. These are the tools and practices we’ve found that make coordinating a remote, global team really work.
When it comes to tech, don’t get lost in the tool shed. There are four fundamental functions a remote team needs: scheduling, editing, communicating, and coordinating. For each of these, there are high quality, low cost tools available.
It really is five o’clock somewhere (if you know the country song), and this is a challenge when scheduling a work call. Cross checking time zones can eat a shocking amount of time, and it’s frustrating when someone gets confused and misses the call, or shows up at the wrong hour. Remote teams need to find a time, lock it in, and be on time, whatever that means locally.
What to Use – Our favorite tools for scheduling are Google Calendar, Calendly, and Timezone.io. With Google calendar you can share your team members’ calendars to see availability and schedule in one place, then take advantage of customizable, automated reminders to be on time. Also, most team members already use it personally, which makes adoption easy. Calendly is an excellent add on to Google Calendar. It automates booking calls between two people, making scheduling a streamlined booking process instead of a time consuming back and forth. The premium version also handles group scheduling. Finally, Timezone.io is useful for visualizing team members across time zones and quickly homing in on times that work for everyone.
Creating, editing, and sharing information is critical, yet lost file and version control nightmares are all too easy to fall into. Remote teams need information to be accessible, up to date, and editable 24/7.
What to Use – Once more we turn to our trusty friend, Google. Google Drive’s suite of tools has good basic functionality, and a world of possibilities if you get into scripts. Real time editing and change histories are superb and a must for remote teams. The only drawback is that controlling access through sharing settings becomes challenging when teams grow beyond five to ten people.
This is hard enough in person, so when remote how do you maintain quality communications and avoid 1,000 unread emails staring you down from your inbox? To collaborate effectively, remote teams need light, fast, versatile communication channels.
What to Use – Over all, Skype and Slack are both excellent. Their core functions of messages and calls, organizable by groups and topics, create the needed space for communication. Using international service providers like these also removes the complexities of cross-border phone calls.
Who’s doing what? What’s due when? These are important questions to answer, yet a study by Gallup found that half of employees don’t know what is expected of them at work. Remote companies can change this statistic by using what we’re good at: connectivity through technology.
What to Use – There are many good tools available for coordinating work. Trello is among the best, and especially useful for managing individual tasks. Asana is another good choice. However, this isn’t rocket science. A well-organized spreadsheet will do the trick. Spreadsheets are particularly useful for mapping strategy at the macro level, scoping out big goals, and outlining resource allocation.
Ultimately, our tools are only as good as how we use them. The success of a team comes down to how well it’s members collaborate together. At the heart of effective collaboration are accountability, culture, and diversity.
Teams must always be alert to work falling through the cracks, but remote teams don’t have cracks for work to fall through, they have all of cyberspace for them to get lost in. Leaders may find themselves spending most of their time chasing down other people to get things done.
How to Do It – We can bridge the gap by distributing and tracking accountability. Break big goals down into bounded pieces, and pieces into specific tasks. Make it clear who has ownership of what, and make this visible so that accountability is socially reinforced by the entire team.
People aren’t machines that turn on, do work, and turn off. We ask ourselves “why?” Why are we alive? What is our purpose? Why are we here? Weak teams come up with feeble answers like “because it’s our job.” Strong teams, however, are held together by their answer to these questions.
How to Do It – First, the team needs to define who they are and why they exist. Then they need the space to create their culture, and a great way to do this is by opening both formal and casual communication channels. A growing body of research into communication and productivity has found that teams use markedly different communication patterns to achieve different goals. For example, when executing a plan, successful teams communicate up and down in a linear hierarchy. However, when creating something new, successful teams switch to communicating in a matrix. In a remote environment, you need to make sure you have the tools and systems in place to allow for different types of communication. Set up formal channels for moving work forward. Keep them formal and use them to share important updates, deadlines, specs, etc.. Set up informal channels for your team to connect, brainstorm, chat, and cultivate their culture.
Research repeatedly shows that diversity makes teams more effective. Global teams have access to a tremendous level of diversity, but this can also cause conflict.
How to Do It – There isn’t a simple or easy set of steps for how to embrace diversity, but it boils down to this: be open to and respectful of differences. This includes differences of opinions, approaches, contexts, and needs. What you must not do is elevate any one way of being over another. For example, take holidays. Different countries have different holidays of varying importance, normally rooted in local culture. So how do you celebrate? Instead of giving the entire company specific holidays off, you can give all team members more days off and let them allocate them for their own cultural holidays. (Set up a holiday calendar so that you know when people are away.)