Making Remote Teams Productive

Posted by on Feb 14, 2014 in Featured, Individuals, Miscellaneous, Organizations, Women | 0 comments

Hands of businessman and worker holding heart-shaped  Earth

Teams are the moving parts of larger organizations. Today, more than three quarters of knowledge workers do their work always or frequently in virtual teams.


Global companies want to bring skills and knowledge from all over the world to bear on a project. They cluster many experts and support staff in “centers of excellence” where they have the support to be most productive. This lets the company tap global expertise to meet any challenge. Workers based in a center of excellence usually participate in several virtual project teams, without travel or relocation costs. But there are problems.

Distance makes things harder because it demands that a team member has to make a special and specific effort to communicate with another team member. Most often the communication is via email or voice, and not face-to-face. This applies to even small distances.

Language differences are obvious and it requires more effort to communicate effectively. But cultural differences can go unnoticed until they undermine productivity and cohesion.

Let’s sum up the challenges. It’s hard to get a team of people who all work in the same place to be successful. Everything that makes things harder makes it less likely that the team will succeed. But some teams do.

Every company and every person has seen teams that do great work and have high morale. What are they like?


Great teams are highly productive and have a lot of social cohesion. Those great teams have three characteristics that set them apart from the rest.

Great teams coordinate their work well. This is vital. Virtual teams with strong processes to coordinate their work could outperform co-located teams with weak processes. 

Great teams communicate well. Team members know what they’re expected to do and what other team members should be doing. They can get help if they need it.

Great teams provide social support to each other. Teams are not machines, they are social systems.

That’s what great teams look like. Now, what can you do to make them productive?


Start by picking the right people for the team. Obviously you will pick people with the right mix of skills. Not so obviously, you should also pick people who can work well within the team.

Develop effective processes. Strong task processes are vital to success. Programs such as Basecamp that allow team members to coordinate activity and discuss issues no matter where they are can help keep day-to-day operations on track. Regular one-on-one meetings with team members help make sure that each one understands their job.

Use technology effectively. The vast majority of people on virtual teams communicate using email and phone. Meetings are often conference calls. The Unify survey found that only about a third use video but almost three quarters of respondents said that using video would make teamwork easier.

The cost for video is now feasible for most teams. Laptops come video-capable and increased bandwidth has made video connections over the net cost-effective. Online meeting services use video and also make it easy for teams to work together.

Provide social support. Team meetings are one of the key drivers of cohesion and social support and technology makes them possible.

Have regular meetings. Weekly seems like a good frequency. Enforce a “no multi-tasking” rule. Include a time for personal and work sharing at the start of every meeting.

Celebrate together. When you reach a milestone or accomplish something significant, have a short meeting to celebrate. Celebrate individual team member achievements, too.

Great teams have always had coordinated effort, good communication, and social support. Distance makes that harder to achieve. But, you can create great virtual teams that are top performers.


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