How to be a better remote teammate
5 things we’ve learned thousands and thousands of times
At Gigster, we’ve created over 5,000 digital milestones around the globe. Our teams have worked on complex projects across multiple time zones, and many of us have never even met. We have different languages, different skill sets, and different favorite programming languages. So how do we make it work? Communication, strong processes, excelling in our zones, using the right tools, and having a little bit of fun. If you want to position yourself and your remote teams for success, put these suggestions to work:
I hear that!
Quickly establish your teams’ communication process so everyone can chill.
Ever feel like you are talking to a digital black hole? Communicating with a digital team can be highly unsatisfying if you aren’t sure that your message has been received. Does your coworker even know that you need him to send over those reports? Did your boss get that message that you’ll be joining the call? Be generous with your affirmative communication when you’re working remotely. A quick, “sure thing!”, a thumbs up on Slack, or a reply to tell your team that you’re “On it!” goes a tremendous distance in communicating that you got the message and are acting on it. Your coworkers will know that you’re a rock star because you’re paying attention, and they won’t have to worry when they need something from you.
Will the real roadblocks please stand up?
Use quick, well-run standups to keep everyone on the same page.
Teamwork is all about continuous problem solving, and when we’re remote, simple roadblocks and barriers can pile up, holding projects up by days or even weeks. Maybe you have a dependency that could be cleared up with a quick conversation, but is a nightmare to tackle by email. Or maybe you’re trying to understand a process that one of your team members is already an expert in. Instead of letting your team bang their heads against a wall, hold a 15-minute daily standup. Every team member can share their goals, what progress they’ve made, and if they have any barriers or blockers. This is a great chance to raise awareness over projects the team is tackling and the problems they might be facing. Quick side conversations can happen during the meeting, and if the standup starts to drift off-topic, schedule a time to tackle the new problem with the key stakeholders.
Build your Ocean’s Eleven crew
Get very clear on your goals, trust your team, then do what you do best.
Ocean’s Eleven — the original, the remake, and the sequels — are great examples of what happens when highly skilled team members work together with a high degree of trust to execute an ambitious plan. During the heists, each team member had an area of expertise, a clear understanding of their goal, and a commitment to getting it done in a specific and critical time frame. They worked in such perfect sync they could finish each other’s sentences. OK, so you won’t be robbing a casino. But the teamwork principle is the same. When working to pull off a complex project, the first crucial step is to create and effectively communicate a tight plan. Each team member needs a clear understanding of the overarching goal, and should have a good idea of their role in supporting a successful outcome. Take the time to ask questions, to think through the project, and to ensure that everyone has the right tools to do their job. The planning phase is arguably the most important, but the execution phase is absolutely the most fun. Experts produce great results when they get out of each other’s way and trust their team to deliver. Carefully build projects and opportunities so that you have the chance to get in your zone, and then get on with the plan.
Line up the right tools for the job
Set projects up for success from the beginning.
How do you measure team progress and performance when your team is literally all over the map? From Day One, it’s crucial to choose the technologies, tools, and processes that will create order and provide visibility from end to end. Whether your team is working on an agile project, managing a kanban style continuous workstream, you need clear communication, collaboration, assignment clarity, and progress metrics. So take the time upfront to select and set up the right technology, communication channels, and cadence. Then every team member will be able to work with complete clarity, and know they can always rely on their other team members.
You know how they work. Find out how they roll.
Have some fun with the people on the other side of the screen.
Take the time to get to know your remote teammates. Do their dogs want to play fetch in the middle of a standup? Do they have to share an office with a spouse who might forget to use a set of headphones? We’re all human, and the more we can relax, have some fun, and enjoy each other, the better teammates we can all be. While you’re waiting for everyone to join a meeting, take the time to ask about your coworkers’ weekends. Start a Slack channel to share recipes or to support each other’s side projects. Tell that Dad joke, even if you aren’t a Dad. We all engage better when we bring our whole selves to the office—so have some fun and bring your whole self to your home office too!
Chelsie works as a Network Product Manager and she runs an innovation and design strategy firm, hosting bootcamps to boost teams’ innovation capacity and creativity. She believes that the sky is only the limit if you don’t know about space, and that good design absolutely can solve the world’s most challenging problems.