Nerd Guru

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Monday, April 09, 2007

How do you optimize remote teams?

The good folks over at Web Worker Daily had an interesting article on Friday regarding remote teams, entitled How to Start Your Remote Project Team off on the Right Foot. The main point of the article is that you need to set up the parameters under which you will operate and how you will use the tools at your disposal so that everybody is working the same way. It also covers some things about meeting logistics, which I've written about in this space before too. While all these things are true of all teams, when you are geographically distributed, it is even more important to insure maximized productivity.

I replied in a comment to this article and focused on the challenge of building synergy in a remote team:

Great tips all. Making sure everybody understands how the team will be using remote tools helps insure consistency, certainly.

I’ve found that with remote teams that, in addition to taking the time to make sure you are all working within the same parameters, it pays to build in some “friendly time” too. Since you aren’t sharing the same physical work space, you have to simulate those water cooler type “So, how was your weekend?” conversations that won’t otherwise happen. That sort of thing builds synergy among teammates and build familiarity you might not otherwise get. If everybody knows you have a sick relative, for example, they’ll cut you some slack when you’re late for that 7am meeting since everybody knows you were probably up all night helping someone close to you.

I’ve seen a couple of things work well, icluding a rotating “show and tell” time the first 15 minutes of the weekly staff meeting. Somebody presents something going on in their life that interests them whether it be a hobby or vacation photos. I’m always surprised at how much side chatter that creates and discovery among people that they had something in common with someone else that they otherwise wouldn’t have known about.

Also, remote teams don’t typically get together for traditional team-building activities since they are so geographically distributed. You have to be careful to not let it get out of control, but but a lunch hour network video game session can help with that. Driving games, which even non-gamers can relate to, that let you split up into teams and play cops and robbers types of things can get pretty competitive and build camaraderie. It’s not quite the same as running that dreaded survival rope course out in the woods somewhere, but it’s as close as you can get with people separated from each other.

What about you? How do you optimize remote teams? What pitfalls have you seen and learned to avoid? Use the comments to share your best practices from working on remote teams yourself.

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posted by Pete Johnson @ 1:48 PM   0 comments links to this post

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