Remote team working is part of the fabric of everyday life in many organisations today, but how well do they perform?
I expect that most people reading this article will have some experience of working in one or more remote teams and an increasing number of you will invest more time working remotely than face-to-face with your colleagues, clients and partners. Remote working has become a necessary and important fact of modern working life as our organisations become more geographically dispersed and operations become globalised.
The more important question now becomes ‘how effective are we at leading, managing and participating in remote or virtual teams?’ Well, Google has undertaken some extensive research to try and answer this question. Google has nearly 100,000 workers spread over 150 cities, in more than 50 countries, on five continents; and consequently, remote working and virtual teams are a critical aspect of work-life and performance for Google. Google's People Innovation Lab (PiLab) spent the past two years studying more than 5,000 employees. They measured well-being, performance, and connectedness (among other things) and came up with recommendations on how to keep things consistent, even if your team is spread out across the globe.
As with many things, the recommendations are not rocket science by any means, but they are simple matters that can easily get forgotten in the technology-enabled world of virtual working.
Firstly and encouragingly though, they were able to report that "We were happy to find no difference in the effectiveness, performance ratings, or promotions for individuals and teams whose work requires collaboration with colleagues around the world versus Googlers who spend most of their day to day working with colleagues in the same office," writes Veronica Gilrane, manager of Google's People Innovation Lab. "Well-being standards were uniform across the board as well; Googlers or teams who work virtually find ways to prioritize a steady work-life balance by prioritizing important rituals like a healthy night's sleep and exercise just as non-distributed team members do."
However, behind this positivity, they also identified two important and common challenges for virtual workers. Firstly, many people interviewed in the research commented that they found it much harder to make connections and build relationships with their remote colleagues. And secondly, problems with technology can really get in the way of having meaningful meetings and conversations with frequent comments about issues with glitchy video or faulty sound.
Dealing with these and other challenges with remote teams comes down to working through established leadership and management principles but adapting them to the virtual world which demands the use and application of emotional intelligence. In fact, Google recommends three important points, as follows.
Get to know people – we are all social beings and we work best when our managers and colleagues know us for who we are out of work as well as who we are in work.
Set clear boundaries – this is about focussing on the cultural norms which are often left implicit and need to be more explicit when it comes to virtual working. What are the expectations for answering emails and messages out of hours? Which meetings are people expected to attend? How do we manage holidays and other times away from work? Setting boundaries that allow a good work-life balance is even more important for virtual workers, especially when working across multiple time zones.
Forge connections – building a level of trust and comfort with colleagues takes effort, and even more so when working remotely. You need to make frequent and conscious efforts to connect on a personal as well as a business level and to use the phone, messaging as well as some meeting time, to do this regularly.
The team leader or manager is the pivotal person in bringing this all together. "We found managers leading by example and making an extra effort to get to know distributed team members can be extra impactful," writes the research team.
At Course-Source, we have a number of courses designed specifically to support virtual teams and virtual working, why not take a moment to research and evaluate the value of these courses to your remote workers?
View our Virtual Working Course Titles here