Close Together, Miles Apart – Managing Teams Across Locations
Ever thought about what it’s like to manage teams located in different places? Two of our platoon managers share their experiences with us.
With today’s technological advances and the increasing value of people’s skills regardless of location, teams are becoming more spread out across geographies while still being unified in their goals.
In the world of work, there’s a new reality in town. Years ago, teams and managers would normally work in close proximity to one another within the same office. However, with today’s technological advances and the increasing value of people’s skills regardless of location, teams are becoming more spread out across the world while still being unified in their goals.
So, what is it like to manage a team if not everyone is physically present? We spoke to two of our platoon managers who are responsible for teams located in different cities and even countries! Read on to discover the challenges this practice brings and what these team leaders see as important to keep their teams motivated and bonded together despite the distance which separates them.
The challenges are very real
Ricardo Jesus and Diana Gomes, platoon managers at Critical Software, have been managing teams scattered across different cities since 2018. Their teams are spread across Portugal, from North to South, and at certain points were also located in different countries. However, the lack of physical closeness didn’t stop them from doing well!
“Communication is definitely the biggest challenge. It’s not as easy to communicate because we’re not there, face to face. Reaching everyone is hard, though still attainable,” explains Ricardo.
“The distance between people demands more effort to improve relationships between team members and avoid misunderstandings when passing on information. Poor communication can also lead to lower motivation, for instance if someone feels isolated and misses having a teammate sitting next to them,” Diana adds.
As you may be facing similar challenges, especially now in the era of COVID-19, Diana and Ricardo kindly shared some secrets on how their teams continue to thrive despite being scattered across Portugal (and the world!):
Make use of your online chat channels as much as possible. Ricardo suggests: “Create different channels for the whole platoon and for projects, like a general chat, infrastructure, announcements, random conversation, ceremonies, etc.”
It’s also important to make sure you start each day by posting a ‘good morning’ message on one of these channels, letting people know you’re present and ready for whatever challenges the day has to throw at you!
Do use your webcam! Eye-contact is extremely important, whether you’re sitting next to each other or on opposite sides of a screen, so don’t be shy and start turning on your camera for every meeting.
It’s also key not to forget informal moments. Teams can host coffee breaks online where they all have coffee together as if they were together in the same room and chat about other topics other than work. Add some extra time to a team meeting or organise an entirely different event. Always try to host the event at the same time and on the same day each week as this will mean people can organise their schedules more easily, as well as potentially improve attendance.
At a distance it can be easy to miss small signs that denote stress, demotivation, or other negative thoughts and feelings. Diana and Ricardo recommend frequently assessing the mood of the team. At the start of each meeting, it’s important to keep track of how people are feeling by talking regularly with team members. One way this can be done is by setting up quick polls to gauge everyone’s feelings to be taken as part of each team meeting.
Exploring different channels
Being informed about what is happening around us and understanding how our work contributes towards the bigger picture can help keep teams engaged. Although you can use meetings and chats to share exciting news, why not try some new channels too? Have you considered sending out newsletters to keep everyone in your team, department and company updated?
When suitable, old fashioned teambuilding events, or just the opportunity to spend a few days working side-by-side on the same office, can go a long way. As Diana explains: “It’s an opportunity for people to get to know each other better and make communication easier. Of course, a teambuilding event is much better as it allows you to gather everyone together. Still, gathering fewer people also has its worth. For instance, if you visit an office where much of your team is based but you don’t normally work at yourself, why not take your team out for a lunch together?”
Find the right tech
Ricardo raises another challenge… finding the right tech! As he points out: “For example, if you’re in a brainstorming meeting and need to lay out your ideas on a white board, the online alternatives may not be as adequate as one might think at first, and ideas might not be communicated as clearly as intended.” Take your time to find the most suitable technology, the one that adapts to your processes and needs and, preferably, doesn’t require much training. You will learn there are quite a few solutions out there - some are even free!
Distance isn’t always bad
Distance often makes people miss each other far more than if they’re together every day. This happens in the workplace as well, as Diana explains: “Distance makes teambuilding events a lot more significant and special. Some people who belong to the same team may never have met in person before and it’s a beautiful moment when that finally happens.”
Plus, working with teams spread across different cities means that information about projects and the culture of the company and teams can reach a lot more people, meaning the message is likely to get across to many more people than if the company/team was operating in one place alone!
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