Up until COVID-19, working remotely seemed like a pipe dream. But, this global pandemic leads to social distancing and stay-at-home orders that gave businesses no other choice. Because your team couldn’t come into the workplace, they had to work from home.

The thing is, even before 2020, remote work was becoming increasingly popular. In 2019, UpWork even projected that 73 percent of all teams will have remote workers by 2028.

And, it’s easy to understand why. Companies can tap into a larger talent pool and save money on expenses like offices. For employees, they enjoy not having to commute and the flexible schedules.

The isolation, lack of in-person collaboration, and home distractions can also make productivity a concern. If you’re in this position, then give the following 7 techniques a swing to build a more productive remote team.

1. Study past performance, then trust it.

“The first thing leaders and managers must do is ditch their trust issues,” advises Adam Hickman, Ph.D., Content Manager at Gallup.” If this is something that you’re struggling with, try using the following exercise;

  • List all of your team members on separate pieces of paper.
  • Next, create two piles: “trust” and “don’t trust.”
  • Each piece of paper is then placed into one of the piles.
  • “Regardless of which pile a name lands in,” Adams suggests asking, “How did this happen?.” From there, “lean into exploring your answer.”
  • “Study how you’ve been involved with each group — those you trust and those you don’t,” he adds. “Being aware of whether you have or have not helped a team member should come before faulting the individual.” As the leader, you’re “accountable for and should take ownership of both piles of paper.”

“As is the case with any relationship, a lack of trust in your employees can lead you to become a pesky micromanager,” Adams states. “The type of manager who questions people’s every move and focuses on what’s going wrong, which can perpetuate a cycle in which your team does the same thing to others in your organization.”

Instead, review and study their past performance. It won’t magically solve all of your trust issues. But, it’s a great starting point in helping you uncover the intrinsic motivation of each individual.

Moreover, this can clue-you-in on when each person is most productive. And, you might able to pick-up on any unique strengths and contributions they’ve brought to the table.

Don’t have past data to rely on? I suggest going forward; you prioritize one-on-one time with each team member.

2. Have them track their own time.

Speaking of trust. Do you know how you can quickly erode that and morale? By using employee monitoring software.

To be fair, 72% of employees have reported that this doesn’t affect their productivity. However, if your tracking your team’s activity without letting them know and providing a valid reason, they can become skeptical.

For example, you may need to track time at work to increase payroll accuracy, know who took what days off and when, and letting you know when they’re actually working. It makes it easier to record the hours your employees worked to abide by Department of Labor laws.

Instead, focus on the quality of their work as opposed to the quantity. You should also look at factors like if they’ve met deadlines. And, most influential of all? Encourage ownership.

Granting autonomy is a surefire way to boost trust and motivation. It also encourages accountability. And, it allows you to check-in without being overbearing.

To make this work, however, you need to clearly communicate your goals and expectations. And, you can encourage them to work when they’re most productive. If they don’t know their most productive work time, suggest that they use tools like Calendar, RescueTime, Clockify, Toggl, or a good, old-fashioned time-log.

3. Choose the right communication style.

Even if you were physically going into work, emails, texts, direct messages, and phone calls were leading distractions. Now that WFH is more prevalent, you can also toss in team collaboration platforms and video calls from Microsoft Teams and Zoom.

More concerning? We’re expected to “always” be on. You might be lying in bed just about to drift off. But, if you received an email, the sender is expecting an immediate response.

Having a surplus of communication and collaboration tools is great. At the same time, you don’t have to collect them all. We’re not talking about Pokemon here.

Instead, limit the tools that you’re using. Besides decreasing distractions, it prevents everyone from bouncing back-and-forth between tools. And, it can also help avoid information overload.

Furthermore, make sure that you set an example on communication etiquette. For instance, on the weekend, don’t share files or send work-related messages. Throughout the week, only correspond with them during working hours.

But, here’s a minor conflict. Your remote team may be working at various hours. The quick fix here is to share a team calendar so that you can see when they’re available and when they’re not.

4. Determine degrees of interdependency.

“Effective teams don’t just happen — you design them,” writes organizational psychologist and leadership team consultant Roger Schwarz for HBR. “And two of the most important elements of that design are;

  • The degree to which team members are interdependent — where they need to rely on each other to accomplish the team task.
  • How you’ll actually coordinate that interdependence.”

Where there “is insufficient coordination, team members have difficulty getting information from each other, completing tasks, and making decisions,” explains Schwarz. “If there is more coordination than required, team members will spend unnecessary time and effort on tasks, which slows the team down.”

What about interdependence? Highly interdependent team members may not fans of coordination — particularly team projects and meetings. But, for others, granting too much interdependence could give the impression that their colleagues seem uncooperative.

To solve this quagmire, design the interdependence first by identifying three tasks of interdependence;

  • “In pooled interdependence, the team accomplishes its tasks simply by combining everyone’s separate efforts,” states Schwarz.
  • With “sequential interdependence, your team members rely on each other in predictable ways for the flow of information, work, and decisions.”
  • And, in “reciprocal interdependence, your team members are sequentially interdependent, but in addition, work back and forth.”

Knowing these degrees of interdependence will guide you in setting goals. Additionally, it will ensure that you select the right coordination.

For remote teams, you might want to make work more visible. To make this possible, utilize business management and team software. These tools can keep everyone in the loop regarding who’s working on what and how far along they are.

5. Build camaraderie.

A major challenge with remote teams is fostering a connected culture. After all, you aren’t literally working side-by-side or bumping into each other during a coffee break. You also aren’t eating lunch together, participating in meetings, or engaging in team-building activities.

It is still possible, however, to build camaraderie with your virtual team. For instance, you schedule virtual lunches or plan after-hours events like a video game tournament. Other ideas would be planning a fitness challenge, create a virtual breakroom, and use gamification in their work.

And, if you have a video call scheduled, open it up a couple of minutes early. Hopefully, this gives early arrivers a chance to partake in a little informal chitchat.

6. Address security issues.

“Cybercriminals are switching tactics and exploiting COVID-19-related fears among the population,” notes Deloitte. “As a result, working from home is becoming a gateway to new forms of data theft.” In fact, “One-quarter of all employees have noticed an increase in fraudulent emails, spam and phishing attempts in their corporate email since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.”

If not careful, this could interrupt everyone’s productivity. A virus, as an example, could cause your computer to run slower. More damaging, it could result in identity theft or the loss of valuable company data — which may take months to repair.

If you haven’t done so yet, help your team strengthen WFH security. At the minimum, this should cover the basics like verifying emails, encrypting essential documents, and ensuring that their WiFi network is secure. You may also want to provide your team with company-issued laptops so that they can manage security updates and patches.

7. Don’t neglect the needs of individual team members.

I mentioned this earlier. But, you need to spend time personally with each team member. But, let’s be real, that’s not always feasible.

You simply may not have the time to grab lunch or have a 10-minute phone call with each and every one of your peers. Moreover, it may difficult to pindown a good time to meet — what with time zones or juggling responsibilities like homeschooling kids. And, you probably can’t meet in-person until this whole pandemic gets under control.

There is a silver lining, though. With tools Kudos, Motivosity, and Officevibe, you can conduct polls and surveys. Your team can also leave anonymous feedback so that they aren’t afraid of repercussions.

After gathering this information, you can take action so that everyone feels like their voice has been heard. In return, morale and engagement will improve. And, that will drive productivity.

Image Credit: cottonbro; pexels