How Sam Really Failed on a Remote Team
August 15, 2017

How Sam Really Failed on a Remote Team

by Brian de Haaff

I am sure this has happened to you at least once. You are trying to solve a problem at work and need help from a colleague. So you send off a quick chat message. No answer. You follow up with an email. Still nothing. Hello? Is anyone out there?

This used to happen to me all the time. And that MIA co-worker was a guy named Sam. (I changed his name here to protect his identity.)

Absent co-workers are frustrating in any workplace. But for remote teams, this kind of “Where did Sam go?” situation can feel like an endless echo chamber.

Now I lead a fully remote team at Aha! — thankfully, we do not run into these issues often. That is because we have found there is one thing that indicates whether someone will soar or flop as a remote worker.

If you want to join a fully remote team, you need to be a super-responsive, super-clear communicator.

Teammates in different time zones, technology hiccups, and a heavy reliance on written messages — all have the potential to result in missed deadlines and misunderstandings. But you do not want to be the one creating barriers.

So whether you are already working from home or are considering joining a fully remote company, here are four ways to avoid communication fails:

Be present You should play an active — and meaningful — role in your teammates’ workdays. And you should do so without falling into the meetings-for-meetings-sake trap. So check in often with quick and purposeful communications. Acknowledge and respond to requests and assignments. This might mean scheduling a 10-minute check-in meeting or firing off quick status updates throughout the day. And if you receive a request from a colleague while you are busy elsewhere, just say so.

Be quick A recent study found that fast typists are more likely to emerge as virtual team leaders. And if you are on a remote team, you likely use a group messaging tool such as Slack or HipChat. So you are familiar with typing awareness indicators (“Sam is typing…”) that start and stop as you wait for a reply. I understand you want to keep your communications thoughtful, but you should also work on making them quick.

Be direct It can be harder to dissect nuance when you are remote. You cannot as easily read body language in a video meeting, and all those chat messages make detecting voice inflections impossible. In other words, there is no room for subtlety. So you need to be direct to be effective. Say what you mean with kindness and think about which channel is best to communicate your message. At Aha!, teams will frequently shift to impromptu video chats when live conversations would provide more value than rapid-fire instant messages.

Be spirited When you cannot be physically present to give a high-five or a word of encouragement, you need to take extra steps to show your team spirit. And contrary to what you might think, remote teams can bond just as well as their office-bound counterparts. Studies have even found that remote team relationships are just as strong as office-based ones. So show you are invested — whether it is sharing gratitude in that company-wide messaging tool or offering support to a teammate in need.

Your team will achieve the most when everyone is fully engaged — ready to share information, feedback, and updates.

So think about what your teammates hear when they call out to you. Is it a friendly reply… or radio silence? If the latter is the case, beware that your MIA status will soon cause concern like what happened to Sam. He eventually left the company.

Remote teams thrive off of constant communication. And you need all members present and accounted for.

What do you think is necessary for success on a remote team?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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