If 80% of communication is non-verbal how is it possible for remote teams to communicate effectively?
The research on the percentage of communication that is non-verbal is far from clear however there are undoubtedly important skills for the effective remote agency team manager to develop.
What is most likely to be lost in moving from office-based teams to remote working is noticing the body language, for example, how someone arrives in the morning and interactions between the team members in the kitchen. We all take an intuitive or empathic read of body language often without even being conscious of it although it will certainly inform our understanding of the team’s dynamics.
Team leaders need to be aware of this and find other ways of tuning into this individual and collective body language when their team members are not in sight.
Here are some 10 suggestions for leading remote agency teams:
- Provide leadership. Be realistic about the obstacles to be overcome but inject energy and confidence that, with the team’s support, remote working will be successful. Lead by taking the time to maintain a connection with, and be able to clearly describe, the agency’s purpose and goals and how the team contributes to this.
- Allow enough time for transition. It will also take time to figure out what the change to remote working means for the team in not just productivity terms. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that productivity can improve but the downside is a sense of disengagement and isolation can creep up on some individuals.
Pay attention to their energy and engagement levels and promote opportunities for individuals to collaborate, and to be creative and innovative.
Team members will benefit from being reminded of the value of quality thinking time. Encourage them to start planning each day ensuring there is sufficient time for quality thinking time and not being a slave to their email; the inbox is not a to do list.
- Ask some questions. Do the team members need to know each other better in order for them to collaborate in this new way of working? Keep a close eye on the energy of the team and whether it needs a morale boost of some kind?
Are there any conflicts between team members and do some individuals hold back the team in moving forward when they are working remotely?
- Set expectations for deadlines, goals and how they are measured. Track how long tasks are taking now that you are working remotely compared to in the office. If you feel that people are falling behind and are not communicating it, they may be struggling to adapt. Offer to help. It is an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with them
- Help your teams to prioritise. Ensure your team have the most up to date framework for the client’s goals and timelines. One of the most common mistakes is that individuals do not ask enough questions and are working on assumptions.
Do they need more help with this? This is especially important in the early stage of transition to remote working as teams may struggle without their usual processes and daily meeting that usually guide the decisions that they make.
- Trust needs to be practiced and genuine (particularly when remote working). Trust will be more vital than ever when individuals are not walking into the agency each day, with everyone around to reinforce the culture and how to behave. In order for trust to be genuine resist the temptation to double check everything.
Some individuals will be more productive some will be less so. Regular one to ones with each individual are essential to keep a finger on the pulse of the team. How to ensure the team is functioning between themselves can be more challenging. This can be achieved by moving around the responsibility to deliver projects so that the process and how the team members interact can be observed. Encourage transparency and seek honest feedback in the one to ones to identify where the problems lie. Use this positively to identify what type of support or change needs to take place to improve. The team leader needs to model transparency and honesty through the way they behave. A ‘do what I say’ rather than ‘do what I do’ approach will not instil trust.
- Be collaborative in agreeing favoured communication platforms for each regular report or message. This HBR video reminds us that communication style and frequency need to be explicitly agreed within the team.
- Ensure that technology and HR are providing the necessary tools to track and ways of working for each team. There are three elements of technology that are vital in supporting remote agency teams. These are communication, file organisation, and project management.
Communication – Slack Instant messaging is a cornerstone of modern business. Email is not convenient for conversations, and less so for sharing files. Slack users can make unlimited “channels” for specific teams: creative, account teams, media, management, and the Friday Beer Club can all talk freely without distracting anyone else.It’s also packed with integrations with apps like Google Drive, so sharing files and updates is easy. For daily communication and sharing updates, Slack is first class.
- Communication – Zoom: Skype is a bit of a disaster. I have never had a seamless business call on Skype. Gotomeeting also has disadvantages. Having tried them all Zoom is the kingpin of video calling. Unlimited participants, sharing screens, excellent quality – it makes global meetings genuinely simple and even the free plan can support up to 100 participants on every call!
- File organisation – Google Drive or DropboxGoogle Drive : Google’s overarching suite of cloud-based business tools is called G-Suite – it’s excellent. But within this, Google Drive itself is a great business tool for agencies.Everything you can do with Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and the other ones) you can do with Google Docs. It’s also much more intuitive and easy to use. Collaborate easily, share everything, and store it all using Google Cloud. For managing files and creating content, it’s exceptional. Google Drive is also free for anyone to use!
- Dropbox: Accessing Dropbox is very easy and flexible, thanks to all the options it offers. You will need to pay for enough storage for agency style usage, so it will be more expensive than Google Drive.
- Desktop access—Dropbox offers a downloadable application that allows you to access all your files and folders directly from your Windows PC, Linux, or Mac, even when you are offline.Online access—if you are out of the house and using other computers, you can easily get a copy of your files by going to the Dropbox website and logging into your account.
Mobile access—sometimes, we just can’t find any computers to use and get our important data. You can log in from your mobile device and access your files via the Dropbox app.
Project management – Trello, Asana, Basecamp, Workzone, Workbook
There are a large number of software solution options for agency project management. Each has their own strengths that might make it suitable for your agency. The important thing is that you ensure that everyone knows how to use it, and that everyone is using the same system.
Dedicate time to virtual team bonding and maintaining social connection with your coworkers
With the transition to remote work, it’s not uncommon for agency teams to feel disconnected when they are physically separated from the people you’re used to seeing face-to-face every day.
Just because you are physically separated, doesn’t mean you can’t maintain your relationships and your sense of belonging. This is a vital part of any agency’s culture. In fact, the desire to connect in meaningful ways is a critical human need – which is all the more reason to make time for it.
Consider the following ways to create team bonding moments remotely:
Schedule a virtual happy hour and bring your team agency together over a glass of wine and a video chat at the end of a long week.
Have a yearly bonding session where your teams get to share their successes and develop deeper human relationships. One of the great virtual agencies, SmartBug Media runs a yearly get together called SmartBugapalooza (https://www.smartbugmedia.com/smartbugapalooza-leadership-and-development-conference), which is the highlight of the year for all agency employees.
Use the Donut feature in Slack to easily match with new team members for weekly virtual coffee chats, or create Slack channels to encourage personal sharing. For example, create a #wfh channel as a place where you can share tried-and-tested tips for working from home from those who do it all the time, or funny outtakes from your new office set up, or a #photooftheday channel as a place to share a photo connected to a different theme each day.
Maintain employee resource groups that bring people together over a shared interest and keep up your regular meeting cadence – just do it virtually.
Carve out a few minutes of your call agendas to let team members share personal updates.
Encourage your teams to consider how working remotely impacts their wellbeing and fitness. Staying sane if you are at home for extended periods needs to be actively prioritised.
It’s easy to become sedentary when working from home. People using public transport for long commutes may be doing five to ten thousand fewer steps a