5 Ways to Make Remote Teamwork Work

We all know how important teamwork is. Creating a team culture is vital to a successful company. I joined City Innovation Labs about 8 months ago. I knew that teamwork could be harder to cultivate when virtual meetings are the norm.

But, surprisingly, it is not hard. Every team member is invested in making sure that aside from regular get-it-done meetings – we have one on ones, personal development meetings, and a weekly catch-up to ensure we all have a grasp on what the team is doing and what the impact is on the company.

I was wrong to think that teamwork could not be nurtured in a remote work environment, it can – but you have to lay the groundwork to create a successful team. Most of the tips I’m about to share had been implemented by the time I arrived at CIL. If you’re just starting to work on a remote team or are thinking of starting a company that hires remote team members – these next 5 points are for you:

1. Stay Open-Minded

Open-mindedness is key to a remote team. It doesn’t look like a go-into-the-office job and it shouldn’t. Remote work can be solitary, so you have to operate a little bit differently to connect with your team. Set aside all your notions and pay attention to what is important to you and to your team members. For example, it is essential for me to hear personal stories and anecdotes from everyone. It helps me find more ways to connect!

2. Connect with Team Members about non-work things

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to get caught up in work and forget to ask personal questions. It’s perfectly normal (and encouraged!) to sit and chat with someone about how their weekend was, ask about their family and to connect over things that are unrelated to work. This creates a more functional and better-invested team.

3. Allow for non-work talk to make it into larger meetings

Allow time for banter in larger meetings. The meeting is personal and gets people ready to dive into the construct of the meeting. It is important that each individual has a chance to share and feel heard.

Celebrating small wins for each person is also key and something our team does on a regular basis. Continually connecting with your teammates and focusing not only on work achievements but on personal ones is valuable. Shout out accomplishments in any way possible! At CIL we do this through video chat or Slack communication.

4. Schedule personal meetings with co-workers that you work closely with

I bet you can sense a theme here. Creating a team is so much more than placing people in roles. It’s fostering a sense of connection. This can happen inherently in office culture but needs to happen virtually too.

Some of my best ideas have come from one-on-one meetings. Not only do they allow for greater brainstorming, collaboration, and feedback, but you get to know individuals on a deeper level.

At CIL we do this in a couple of different ways. One-on-ones are scheduled with people we work closely with. For me, I connect with anyone involved in our marketing efforts. We schedule meetings that highlight personal development. We each have a partner that we meet with weekly. This is the person that holds us accountable to our business and personal goals.

5. Plan a Team Week

City Innovation Labs planned a Team Week in August and invited everyone to Grand Rapids to spend a week brainstorming and collaborating away from our computer screens. In-person team weeks may not be possible for every team, but you can achieve the same thing remotely by planning a week in which team-building is the main focus.

Team week fostered team-building skills, innovative ways to keep the company top of mind through our respective roles and gave us insight into how everyone works. We learned the best way to work with each individual person and team. We presented ideas, went out for lunch and planned outings at night to really get to know one another.

It was only one week, but we learned a ton. We learned strengths and personalities, read body language and were able to facilitate conversations over a beer that we may not have had otherwise. Team week was a great way to connect on a deeper level and we all look forward to digging in again next year.

Bonus: Tools to Use on Remote Teams

We don’t use a ton of tools on our team. However, Google Hangouts and Slack keep us connected and allow us to talk and see each other on a weekly basis.

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