This article was originally posted via Inc.
Virtual teamwork? If you'd asked me five years ago, I would have told you that was virtually impossible. Today, my education company has offices in New York and São Paulo, with team members stationed in California, Colorado, England and Rio de Janeiro. I'm both proud and invigorated by our global reach, but working across countries and time zones doesn't come without its challenges. With so many remote team members, there's more than just a remote possibility of employees feeling disconnected.
Taking time differences into account (and not to mention, cultural ones) is of the utmost importance, as is fostering camaraderie and cohesion. Here are some of the tools we've developed to keep our team feeling motivated and connected, despite the distance:
Schedule Consistent Check-Ins
When you have employees starting their days at different times and working out of different offices (some even from their homes), prioritizing tasks can be a challenge. How is everyone to know what's more important to accomplish in any given day or week? Inevitably, questions will arise that will interfere with a project's completion, but waiting for an email response can only halt progress even further.
For this reason, hold a daily check-in for all members of your admin team to recap the day before. Confirm there are no outstanding questions waiting to be answered, and establish priorities. Typically, a half hour is sufficient, but on Mondays, our team sets aside a full hour to plan ahead for the week.
However, meetings alone aren't enough; there also needs to be a shared system of accountability in place. We're huge proponents of the software Trello, which allows us to set deadlines and share tasks. While these daily meetings facilitate greater efficiency, they also create cohesion, providing a forum where we can catch up on our weekends and swap stories in real time. After all, who needs a water cooler anymore?
Expand Your Definition of Staff Meetings
Given the number of part-time employees on our New York team, we've become accustomed to staggering our in-person staff meeting schedules to accommodate as many people as possible. However, we learned early on that video conferencing remote employees isn't only impractical, it's actually unproductive (and awkward -- no one wants to be the person shouting "what?" in the background). This calls for a different system.
As an alternative, video presentations and comprehensive staff meeting notes facilitate more streamlined communication. When a remote team member has an exciting update to report, encourage your employees to submit a pre-recorded video. Otherwise, remote team members should appoint a member of the local admin team to operate as a proxy for any points they think are best discussed live. Then, at the end of the week, circulate staff meeting notes summarizing everything that was discussed so no one misses any updates.
Plan In-Person Sprints
As amazing as technology is, there are certain instances when old-fashioned face time really does beat FaceTime (or Skype, for that matter). With this in mind, we schedule quarterly visits with our remote employees and set specific goals for each trip.
We're also mindful of promoting overlap between these visits, encouraging our various team members to come together at the same time. After all, it's not just about our New York team connecting with our remote employees, but rather about each member of our staff collaborating with one another.
These in-person "sprints" are valuable for accelerating bigger-picture items, such as the transition to a new software or the launch of a product. Of course, these visits are limited in scope -- we can't ask our teammates to stay forever -- but they help to maintain motivation and ensure the successful execution of high priority tasks started in person. Holding monthly "big picture check-ins" to track the status of long-term projects will in turn serve to lay the groundwork for the next set of goals.
While collaborating remotely can present some unique hurdles, it's certainly changed the way our entire team thinks. As the leader of an education company, it excites me to say that I am perpetually learning from my teammates about different cultures, strategies for collaboration and opportunities around the globe.