Working Remotely : Maven Solutions

Practical Advice for Remote Teamwork

Sitting down with two dynamic women for their insights into working remotely as part of a global team, I had your typical list of questions and assumptions. Did your work-life balance improve when you stopped commuting? Even though you were working globally, was it less stressful to work remotely? How did it affect teamwork and productivity? I anticipated a discussion around self-discipline, boundary-setting and juggling different time-zones. All of this came up, but not in the ways I expected.

An evolving concept, remote work is becoming increasingly popular across different industries. As technology expands the borders of our global village, what used to be matter of simply working from home now means working with people across the world. Long commutes, office politics and set hours may be traded in for late mornings, a peaceful workspace and a flexible schedule. However, working remotely as part of a global team, which Bev and Belinda did, paints a different picture. The positive aspects they share are interwoven with the challenging realities of working remotely and the lessons they learnt along the way.

Working Remotely Doesn’t Mean Working Alone

Even though remote work can be isolating, it invariably involves interacting with clients, colleagues and other role-players. It’s seldom that one can escape the task of relationship-building, even if your office is a quaint shed tucked away in your garden. So be prepared to invest time in this. As Bev puts it, “Building relationships with people remotely is a muscle you need to flex. It requires more effort, but the relationships are more intentional.” The benefit of this is often a stronger foundation for teamwork, even when collaborating remotely.

Meeting in Person

A common thread throughout our discussion was the task of fostering long-distance work relationships. Both Bev and Belinda had the benefit of travelling to meet some of their associates across Africa, the Middle East and Europe. In contrast to those they couldn’t meet, these visits created a basis for relationships that would be easier to navigate once they were back in South Africa. Conversations about children or pets, sharing a meal together and hashing out the complexities of work in person allowed for remote communication that was more effective and more likely to be prioritised. As Belinda points out, an email from a colleague who’s essentially a stranger will seldom take precedence over business-as-usual. However, once there’s a face to the name and a personal connection, communication improves in terms of timeliness and understanding.

Working Cross-Culturally

It may require a greater investment than in your traditional workplace but making an effort to solidify relationships is worthwhile when working remotely. Understanding the customs and the infrastructure of the country you’re working with can help pre-empt language and cultural barriers as well as technical problems. Even when sharing an office, it’s a common assumption that the person you’re dealing with has the same resources and priorities as you do. This is seldom the case and perhaps even more so when working cross-culturally.

From a workweek that runs Sunday through Thursday to prioritising family-time over project deadlines, people’s schedules and work ethic will differ from country to country. It’s not necessarily wrong, just different. However, meeting important deadlines will inevitably be impacted. This has consequences all-round, which requires ongoing diplomacy, compromise, foresight and perseverance. Pre-empting such delays can go a long way towards minimising their repercussions.

Supporting Your Team

Finding common ground will serve relationships that need to be built remotely. This includes regular conversations on matters of personal importance. For some it may be family and time spent away from home due to project demands. For others it may be a hobby or interest that provides stress relief. Maintaining casual contact is as important as work-related communication and will prove useful when pressure mounts to meet targets.

Overseeing a team that worked remotely, each business analyst in a different country, Bev had to think creatively to ensure a sense of belonging and teamwork. She did this by pairing up and assigning mini projects to team members, allowing them to research and provide feedback to the group on a topic that was of interest to them and relevant to their work. This not only produced greater cohesion in the team but alleviated the sense of isolation that often accompanies remote work. She also made a point of finding out what motivates each person.

If you’re managing a remote team, acknowledging and supporting each one in ways that are meaningful to them personally can improve productivity and morale. This applies even if you are starting out as a remote worker. Prioritising relationships early on, appreciating cross-cultural differences and adjusting your expectations accordingly will create a solid foundation for sustainable teamwork.

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