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How to Collaborate Effectively if Your Team is Remote

Many leaders I’ve worked with lead remote teams. Although remote teams became the norm during the covid years, even before then it was becoming very common for teams to be geographically separated across the country and around the world. And even with today’s advanced technology, communicating with remote teams still has challenges so successful leaders must learn to collaborate effectively with their remote teams.

The process of having a remote meeting has certainly become easier. Remote meetings with video used to involve special (very expensive) equipment, a specific facility, and lots of patience. Things have definitely improved, but there are still issues to consider.

The Most Important Action You Can Take

The most important and effective step to make your remote meetings more productive is to have an in-person meeting. That’s right. I said in-person. True, with tools like Zoom, we have very good ability to connect and interact. However, watching each other in small thumbnails cannot provide the information people naturally, even subconsciously pick up when they are in the same room. Those essential non-verbal cues are mostly lost in a video call. I urge you to schedule in-person meetings. I know that can be difficult, especially if your team is in different countries. I often hear, “There’s no budget for that.” I suggest you plan for it in your budget. It’s that important. Even one meeting a year when everyone can get together is better than nothing. The interaction will make your remote meetings more productive.

Treat a Remote Meeting Like a Regular Meeting

That means

– Do a little planning. Write and distribute an agenda. Then stick to it.
– Respect everyone’s time. Start on time and end on time. For a remote meeting that means don’t open your meeting exactly on time. Open the session early and ask your team to log in 5 minutes early so you can take care of the inevitable connection problems.
– Don’t let team members monopolize the conversation or not participate at all. Everyone’s input is important.

Some Techniques That Will Make Meetings More Productive

– Have everyone keep their cameras on. You would not attend an in-person meeting with a bag over your head.
– If possible, have everyone remain un-muted. I find the process of unmuting tends to eat up meeting time and impede the flow. It may not always be possible because of background noise, but it’s worth a try.
– When two people try to talk at the same time, make a note of who they are and make sure you give them both time to speak. It’s easy in a remote meeting to lose track of who was trying to speak.
– Plan on accomplishing a little less than you might in an in-person meeting. There are always glitches and discussion just doesn’t flow quite as well.

Pay Attention to Time Zones

I was once required to host a meeting between a team in Germany and a team in Hawaii. I was in the central U.S. It turned out to be an impossible situation as someone always ended up at an inconvenient time. Schedule times that are least objectionable to all attendees. Or, do what I did and alternate so no one has to always have the bad times. I had to disregard my own time so that the other team members had the best schedule possible. That what leaders do.

Respect Cultures

A participant in one of my leadership development courses told of his challenges hosting regular meetings with his team in the U.S., a team in Germany, and a team in India. Three different cultures! He found these meetings more productive as he, and the other participants came to understand each other’s cultures and ways of approaching issues; especially disagreements. Learn about other cultures, but don’t stereotype. Although there certainly are cultural norms among the world’s nations, that doesn’t mean everyone from another country is the same. As always, you must get to know your team.

Final Word

Remote meetings are a good tool to stay engaged with your team. It’s important for you, as the leader, to understand the technology involved, at least how to most successfully employ it, and use it effectively. Get a good camera and place it correctly. (No one wants to spend an hour looking up your nose) Have some decent lighting so you don’t look like your filming a horror movie. Get a good microphone that clearly picks up your voice. If you are going to use other features of your on-line app, make sure you understand how it works. Practice.

And please, if you haven’t already; schedule that in-person meeting sometime soon.

Want some more tips on hosting meetings your team won’t hate? Get “Don’t Worry, You Can Do This.”

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