What Can Google Teach Managers About Building Remote Teams?

As more teams become remote, managers have to learn to adapt
As more teams become remote, managers have to learn to adapt
Image Credit: Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

Managers are starting to realize that more and more often the teams that they are managing are not always going to be collocated. This means that they need to understand how to use their manager skills to deal with the challenges of a virtual workplace. This is not an easy thing to do and most of us don’t have any manager training on how to accomplish it. Managers need to learn how to build relationships with colleagues they’ve never actually met, work across multiple time zones, deal with technology that doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, etc. If they end up handling any of these key items incorrectly then any of them can sabotage their team’s chances at success.

The Challenge Of Remote Teams

Let’s face it. We all need some help in making this remote team stuff work out correctly. The good news for us is that Google has the same problems that we have. Google has 100,000 workers spread over 150 cities. In more than 50 countries. On five continents. The neat thing about Google is that when they have a challenge, they collect a lot of data and then they study it to find out what they should be doing. In this case, Google spent two years studying more than 5,000 employees. They measured such things as well-being, performance, and connectedness and came up with recommendations on how to keep things consistent, even if your team is spread out across the globe.

From a manager point-of-view, the folks at Google discovered a few things that are good news for us. One thing that they learned was that there was no difference in the effectiveness, performance ratings, or promotions for individuals and teams whose work requires collaboration with colleagues around the world. This was in comparison to Google employees who spend most of their day to day working with colleagues in the same office. The study that they performed revealed that well-being standards were uniform across the board as well; Google employees or teams who work virtually find ways to prioritize a steady work-life balance by prioritizing important rituals like a healthy night’s sleep and exercise just as non-distributed team members do.

From a manager point-of-view, this is all good news. The reason that you should be pleased to learn about these results is because remote work has the potential to greatly lower costs for your business, while increasing employee happiness. However, managers need to understand that reaching the full potential of remote work doesn’t come easy. Managers need to understand that remote work makes it more difficult to establish connections with colleagues. Simple things like it takes extra brain power to schedule across time zones, can also create challenges.

How To Make Remote Teams Work For You

The first thing that managers have to do is to take the time to know the people that are on your team. Managers need to understand that employees value managers and colleagues who care about what happens in their lives outside of work. What this means is that instead of jumping right into an agenda, allow time at the beginning of a meeting for personal conversations. Doing so can help build connections and establish rapport. Getting to know your team also includes knowing what their meeting schedule is. Most people would opt to have meetings on certain days, or certain times of the day. You won’t know unless you ask.

Managers of remote teams also have to set clear boundaries. Managers already know that norms set clear expectations for how your team works together. However, they’re often assumed rather than explicitly stated, leaving opportunities for confusion when dealing with remote teams. Instead of making assumptions or leaving things to chance, clearly communicate guidelines regarding the following three items: (1) Communication (e.g., answering emails/pings off-hours, expected response times, information-sharing across time zones), (2) Meetings (when team members should and shouldn’t join meetings off-hours), (3) Schedules (personal time, vacation, etc.). The more you can include your people in developing these norms, the better.

Finally, managers have to find the time that will be required in order to forge strong connections with their team members. Let’s face it, to build trust and connection with your colleagues takes effort. This is even more so when those colleagues are hundreds–or even thousands–of miles away. Managers need to make an extra effort to connect on a personal level. This can be as simple as picking up the phone or sending an instant message to ask about their day or weekend plans. Use one-to-one meetings to discuss team member’s experience, and how you can better support and include them.

What All Of This Means For You

In the end, managers need to remember that for all the suggestions in the world, there is simply no replacement for in-person interaction. So, make sure to arrange opportunities to bring the full team together in one location as often as you can. Managers need to make these meetings special, celebrating the team and its hard work and doing some team building. For anyone who absolutely can’t make it, invite them to connect virtually and do what you can to make them still feel like part of the occasion.

Never underestimate the role you play as a manager. The Google study revealed that managers who were leading by example and making an extra effort to get to know distributed team members were extra impactful. It turns out that a little rapport goes a long way. Managers need to remember that the most efficient way to get a job done is not always the best way to get it done–and this applies even more so in the virtual workplace. Take the time and invest the resources needed to take care of your team, and you’ll start to unlock the true potential of remote work for everyone.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: If a member of your remote team starts to cause problems, what is the best way to deal with them?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As though managers didn’t have enough to do, now it seems as though our teams are starting to become more spread out. Once upon a time we would have team members who would work from home perhaps once a week. Now we have team members who are always working from home. In fact, we may have team members who are remotely located in foreign countries. Somehow we have to take this spread out group of people and come up with a way to get them to all work together. We need a plan.