Closing the Geographical Gap: How to Connect Remote Teams
July 23, 2020
While remote working arrangements has seen recent widespread adoption, they have been a staple with many companies and teams with talent across the globe.
Team-building with employees based in different regions can be tricky. One of the things that managers of high-functioning global teams prioritise is creating a sense of belonging for people regardless of where they are based or even what their cultural background is. They recognise that communication channels are not just to carry out job functions but to build social cohesion and authentic connections among team members.
Here are some ways that HR practitioners and team managers can lead the way in closing the geographical gap for remote working teams.
Adopt a remote-first mindset
To first get in the right frame of mind, we’re taking a page from remote-first companies. These companies have very different processes from office-first companies. Everything from the hiring process to daily practices are designed to give equal ground to all.
For example, there are no unspoken privileges for those in the office versus those who live far away. All employees are given equal respect and access to managers regardless of their location. While it is not necessary to do a complete overhaul of how your company operates, adopting a similar egalitarian mindset towards basic management processes is a great start for keeping unity among remote teams.
Take time to understand culture
Teams that consist of people from different cultural backgrounds can make for great team dynamics. But it takes effort on the managers part to encourage a shared team culture that respects and appreciates what each culture has to bring to the table when it comes to working style.
As a manager, taking time to understand the culture of your team members will help you understand what matters most to them without stereotyping. Schedule a casual lunch or coffee session over Zoom (where you eat together if you’re comfortable with that) and get to know them individually. Culture also refers to the family culture and upbringing of a person.
This will take time, but will definitely help one to understand where the other is coming from when communicating or resolving conflict.
Give people a voice
Even if everyone is new to each other, one way to make it more comfortable for people to contribute to a conversation is through using tech tools.
Pigeonhole Live's Q&A tool, for instance, can help crowdsource questions for the meeting moderator to address. This is especially helpful for individuals who come from certain cultures that don’t encourage questioning someone in a higher rank from theirs.
Set expectations for communication
Communication is verbal (what you say), paraverbal (your tone of voice), and non-verbal (your body language, facial expressions, and response time). A lot more attention and meaning is given to the last two and can be interpreted according to each person’s perception and cultural background - especially if language is a barrier.
To help your team connect better during video calls, set the ground rules first. Explain that some basic effort on everyone’s part is needed such as keeping your video camera on throughout the meeting, focusing on the person who is speaking at all times instead of multitasking, and just being more responsive in general. Then make these habits a common practice for all meetings.
Use meetings to meet and get to know people
When “efficiency” is a popular thing to celebrate and strive for in the work context, it can be easy to forget that meetings are for meeting people too.
A great way to enable your remote team members to really meet each other is by including a short ice breaker or an ongoing team bonding activity during your meetings. Pigeonhole Live’s Quiz tool allows you to run fun quizzes that could be themed according to shared interests. It comes with a leaderboard function so you can also keep scores over a period of time and reward the top three scorers at the end of that season.
Factor in different timezones
This is a tricky one, but important to address so that collaboration runs smoothly. A quick way to do this is for the whole team to adhere to the timezone of the majority (or the manager’s). For much bigger companies, employees in the same (or similar) time zones could form working groups to stay in touch with.
People will naturally get to know people in their own groups better than others, but that connection is powerful in fostering a sense of belonging to the company at large.
Keep and share records
Not working in the same office may also mean that everyone might work according to their own time and schedule online meetings that clash. If you were in the same office but had to miss a meeting for another one, it's easy to quickly catch up with your colleagues on what you missed over lunch or at their desk in person. Harder to do when most of the team works remotely and at slightly different times.
HR managers can make it a company-wide practice to video record every company meeting or virtual town hall and have it immediately uploaded to the company intranet so people can watch it in their own time. You can also use a subtitling translation app to translate the content of the video for team members who speak different languages if needed.
These are just some ideas to help you start but remember to find what works best for your team. It might take a bit of trial and error as humans are naturally complex beings, but as long as your team knows that you care about them, that makes all the difference.