As more and more teams have found themselves adapting to working in a remote environment recently, the spotlight has been on how to enhance virtual teamwork.

Working on a remote basis offers you the benefits of being able to tap into a wider pool of talent, work across different time zones, and reduce office overhead. But at the same time, you don’t have the same advantages that face-to-face communication can bring.

Is it possible to still engage teamwork and high performance remotely? Yes! In fact there are very successful businesses out there that have always worked on a remote basis (something that virtual administrative professionals are great at helping with). Here are some of our tips for enhancing virtual teamwork:

#1. Make the effort to engage as a team

When you work remotely, it’s easy to find yourself in your own little “bubble.” People often put their heads down and just get on with their work. In fact, some studies have shown performance and productivity can significantly increase among those working from home.

That’s great, but sometimes being in your own little work world is at the expense of engagement with the wider team. The highest performing remote teams do still tend to work well together and one of their strategies is to maintain engagement.

This might be via regular team startup meetings, or it might be through initiating team discussion in a Slack channel or similar. Even just getting to know people better outside of the work context helps to build more camaraderie. For example, by having a channel for casual chat where people might talk about their pets, families, hobbies and interests.

People will be more comfortable seeking out help from others on the team if they feel that they know them. There’s also a better chance you’ll hang onto employees who are engaged and enjoy the team!

In some of the more dysfunctional remote teams, we’ve seen things like new employees not being introduced to others, or just zero chatter among the team on a casual basis. It’s important to make the effort, and this often requires someone taking responsibility for engagement (something your AP can do!).

#2. Have the right tools in place

Virtual team work is impossible without the right tools in place to facilitate communication. When we look at the various types of channels you can use to communicate remotely, it’s important to acknowledge that each tends to be okay under certain circumstances.

For example, email is good when you have some kind of non-urgent update to get out. Most people will open the email eventually and get the message. However, email is not great as a conversation tool or as a channel for urgent messages. Inboxes tend to be so bombarded with messages that important emails can be missed, and as for back and forth chat, it’s just impractical!

The most successful remote teams tend to have the right mix of tools with a clear purpose. For example Slack is great for those urgent messages and can be divided into appropriate channels for ease of communication. Or, when it comes to messages about tasks or task assignments, project management tools tend to be the best way to keep all information regarding a project in one place.

Whatever combination you choose, make it clear to your team when and how they should be used so everyone is on the same page! Your AP is great at setting up systems like this.

#3. Make task assignments very clear

This is related to the last point about having the right tools for the job - without an intentional system, sometimes remote tasks can disappear, or miscommunications can happen where everyone thinks someone else is doing it.

Having a clear system for assigning tasks helps to avoid the “someone else will do it” scenario, and also helps to make people feel more comfortable that they know exactly what they’re supposed to be doing.

This is important for enhanced teamwork because you don’t ever want to be in the situation remotely where people have hard feelings towards others who they perceive aren’t doing their job. Resentments like that can fester and inhibit teamwork, only to find it was all a misunderstanding later.

#4. Be time-zone considerate with scheduling

If you have a team that is spread across different time zones, it’s important to treat them as a team and make reasonable accommodations for things like meeting scheduling. Let’s say you happen to be on the East Coast along with a handful of team members, but you also have people on Central and Pacific time. Making your meetings East Coast-centric may be an inconvenience, especially if you want 9am startups (6am Pacific!).

People tend to work better as a team when they feel that they are considered in terms of their own circumstances, rather than a sort of “hustle and just do it” attitude all the time. Find a time that will work for everyone without any particular team members constantly being expected to sacrifice personal time.

#5. Set ground rules

The best-performing remote teams tend to have a clear set of ground rules governing how the team operates. People need to have clear procedures, from who to go to if something needs escalating, to what the expectations are in terms of tasks and deadlines. You should also include in here which channels to use for types of communication. (Yes, we keep going back to communication - in a remote workplace, it’s one of your most pivotal aspects).

Ground rules should also include SLAs (service level agreements) in terms of how quickly messages should be responded to and when. You need people to communicate within a reasonable amount of time, but it’s still important to respect their personal time when working remotely.

For example, while remote work has made working from anywhere very accessible, a top struggle reported by remote workers is being able to unplug after work hours. Consider this when you set expectations - many businesses are now documenting rules about not communicating after a certain time on weekdays, or at all at the weekend. Be mindful of work/life balance.

How does this enhance teamwork? It’s about respect, really. People will feel much kinder toward their fellow team members if they understand the rules and realize that everyone is following them.

#6. Cultivate cultural and communication awareness

Cultural awareness is important in any workplace, but can have some added challenges when people aren’t working face-to-face. Many workplaces are now implementing cultural training so that team members are mindful of work styles, communication styles, cultural norms or traditions, and any assumptions that are commonly made.

In addition, communicating at a distance is often missing aspects such as tone and body language, which help to communicate most of the message in-person. It’s important that people understand how communication they might think is innocent can be misconstrued. For example, people who communicate in short sentences or with a dry sense of humor can be seen as terse or rude.

#7. Celebrate successes

Celebrating successes is a great way to unite the team around shared goals and excellent performance. It’s a way to say “we value you and appreciate all you do,” when you’re not there to say that personally.

How do you celebrate remotely? It can be as simple as shoutouts on Slack - people generally appreciate recognition. Or, your team might start some kind of tradition to celebrate team “wins.” Some companies send out coffee vouchers so everyone can meet on Zoom and have coffee together, for example.

Final thoughts

Working remotely brings several benefits, both for employers and team members. One of the common challenges is maintaining a high level of team work at a distance.

Your virtual administrative professional can help you to set up any of the strategies we’ve outlined here, giving you the best possible chance to engage your virtual team and improve teamwork at a distance.

Need a great virtual administrative professional to help keep your team engaged remotely? Talk to Worxbee about how we can help here.