Remote Teams: 6 Crucial Tools for Success

Sail into high team performance with these remote-friendly tools

In 1965, Bruce Tuckman created the 5 stages of team development:

  1. Forming
  2. Storming
  3. Norming
  4. Performing
  5. Adjourning

All teams transition through these stages to reach optimal performance, whether they realize it or not — but some have it easier than others. For both remote and co-located teams, issues arise as they move through these stages. However, co-located ones have a distinct advantage: they create relationships quickly and are able to have water-cooler conversations to tackle issues. Remote teams, on the other hand, need extra care and guidance to maneuver through their work gracefully. We’ve found that we can reduce hangups and blaze into the Performing stage in no time, using these 6 Crucial Remote Tools.

Crucial Remote Tool: #1 Working Agreements

We enter the Forming stage: our team is meeting for the first time. Everyone is on their best behavior and getting the lay of the land. You might be asking — who are my team members? What are their roles? What is our project scope and timeline? Without the luxury of being in a room together, answering these questions is more complicated. We suddenly have the perfect opportunity to implement ground rules.

Enter working agreements! With working agreements, we can break down barriers, and determine how we want to work together, as a team.

Working agreements include items such as:

  • Ideal times to meet
  • Using video on calls
  • Penalties for showing up late to meetings (think singing a song or a dollar into the virtual coffee jar) — make it fun for your team to choose their own
  • Asking how team members communicate best

By setting agreements early on and getting team buy-in, we reduce confusion and assumptions. Team members will know what to expect of others and determine the best ways to communicate, especially when overlapping time is limited.

Crucial Remote Tool: #2 Project Workflow

Our second crucial remote tool is creating a project workflow. We enhance our daily communication by creating a common understanding of how work progresses through our project management tool(s).

As work begins you might find yourself wondering — When is this work considered done? Does my teammate know this is ready for him? What is my teammate working on today? Clearly stated workflows reduce assumptions, clearly communicate status, and allow team members to run with things while those on the other side of the globe are sleeping.

Crucial Remote Tool: #3 Creating Space for Conversation

Congrats! We’ve now come charging into the Storming stage. Pleasantries and excitement of a new project have faded. Those fun teammates might be annoying now. The weight of a deadline might be looming. Digging into the work means that conflict is sure to arise, and we must be prepared with a safe culture that allows for differing opinions to arrive at the best outcomes.

We need to be armed for the inevitability of conflict by creating spaces for conversation to ensure we fuel a healthy culture. By creating space, we allow for conflict or tension to release itself. The team has the opportunity to voice concerns and have them addressed.

Try creating these spaces for conversation:

  • Find time for work refinement allows the team to discuss plans of attack — how and when to tackle work before it has even begun.
  • Create space for team members to review each other’s work and provide each other with feedback. This helps to surface concerns on finished work before it’s delivered to a client.
  • Have cadenced retrospective time to support team members to anonymously give feedback on the project through its lifecycle. The team can also make suggestions for improvements to try in the future.

We need to be armed for the inevitability of conflict by creating spaces for conversation to ensure we fuel a healthy culture.

Crucial Remote Tool: #4 Making the Most of Your Face-to-Face Time

We’ve hit our groove: we have made it to the Norming stage. Here team members are noticing who the experts are and appreciating what others bring to the table. In Remote work, we are limited in our face-to-face time, so we better be sure to make the most of it!

How do we optimize meeting times? Let’s utilize our working agreements from earlier by creating stable meeting times with consequences for latecomers. Ideally, we keep consistent meeting times to allow everyone to come prepared and ready for active engagement. We ensure these sessions have agendas and review them regularly. Can topics be discussed more in-depth asynchronously? We get critical about sidebars to make sure the important topics are discussed first.

Try breaking the ice… every time. With a remote team, it is helpful to take the first 5 or 10 minutes of a weekly meeting to continue building trust with icebreakers. Whether a clean version of Never Have I Ever, a question of the day, or a weekend recap, these seemingly silly tasks can help everyone feel more connected and willing to reach out when they need help.

If you’re using Agile methodologies on your product/engineering teams, try tastycupcakes.org for some fun and engaging games.

Crucial Remote Tool: #5 Asynchronous Communication

Finally, we reach the Performing stage! We are in the flow and making significant progress towards our goal. It is time to optimize ourselves. Let’s make sure we utilize asynchronous communication to the fullest.

Asynchronous communication means coming in and out of the conversation on your own time. Jump into important topics when they come up and extricate ourselves — reducing noise — of those that we aren’t critical to.

Here are ways to take async communication to the next level:

  • Try chat or text-based check-ins (or standups) to let others know what you are working on throughout the day, in lieu of an actual meeting. Call out anything that might block progress. This allows anyone on the team to get support.
  • Use threads in communication tools (instead of DMs), so that others can clue into topics and engage when necessary.
  • Post summary notes from meetings with outcomes at the top, to give people information when they are unable to attend sessions.

Crucial Remote Tool: #6 The Exit Survey

The end of our project has arrived. Tuckman added the final stage, Adjourning, a few years after his initial 4 stages, because it is important to remember there is something for us to learn, even at the end of a project. The team has gotten to know and appreciate each other’s skillsets, reduced conflict, increased trust, and (hopefully!) delivered. This is an ideal time to learn from the successes and failures of our future projects through an exit survey.

Use an online survey tool with 5–10 questions, such as:

  • What was the most successful part of this project?
  • If you could change one thing about the project what would it be?
  • Were you comfortable talking with your teammates or managers?
  • Did you have clear goals and objectives?

This allows managers to get quick information on how to improve teams for even greater success next time.

We’ve covered how teams progress, and how these stages can be more challenging for remote teams. Using these 6 crucial remote tools, your team will be equipped to handle whatever is thrown your way, and achieve ultimate remote success.

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