Communication is the foundation of any company culture. Even as trust, respect, accountability and other crucial virtues underpin an organizational system worth emulating, communication will bind these hard sought characteristics and help ensure their traction develops and endures.
Global companies work hard at communicating fruitfully among their dispersed workforces, and the powerful effects of digital connectivity continue to fuel the influence of remote workplace environments on company structures. Now that the pandemic has grasped the world’s workforce and effectively created an endless combination of co-located, remote, offshore and hybrid workplaces among every size organization, communication is even more indispensable.
Communication allows organizations to overcome the geographic distance that positively influences time-to-market.
Without a substantive candidate base to draw upon, companies often find themselves in a bind when recruiting employees to fill highly specialized roles. Geography plays a significant role in this, as the most talented people usually do not live within commuting distance of the firm’s front doors. In the wake of COVID-19, the days--and expense--of offering to relocate those prospects is waning, and candidates are less likely to uproot their lives.
As a leader of a growing technology company, I experience this challenge when recruiting and retaining software developers. We have found that the better we communicate with our candidates and employees locally, remotely and globally, the more successfully we select engaged, talented staff and the more effectively we all operate; more efficiently and cost-effectively, too.
Remote teams deliver cost advantages through reductions in time-to-market. Considerable value is gained by accelerating turnaround time, and remote teams can be more quickly staffed with top talent without the restrictions of requiring them to operate in a single physical workspace. In this way, remote teams are assembled more rapidly, and their responsibilities are adjusted as the demands of the customer base ebbs and flow. With this infrastructure, accelerated customer timelines are acceptable and achievable, and this is a significant business advantage when competing for new clients.
The benefits are magnified when working on cutting-edge products or services, too.
By identifying, choosing, and assigning talents on-demand, the right talent is matched with the job at hand with precision. In the development of technology that my company deals with, this means team members can work on development, integration, testing, deployment and monitoring without the limits of regular workday cycles. In other words, enjoying co-located, remote and offshore workspaces creates a virtual 24/7 workday. Developments by teams in one time zone can be tested by others in different time zones and deployed by team members on the other side of the world if needed. This seamless integration of roles is attained without disrupting employees’ personal lives by mandating off-hour or overnight work times.
Companies can accelerate their timelines by swiftly assembling qualified, enthusiastic teams and synchronizing them to specific jobs. Reallocating talent to other responsibilities once initial needs are met offers tremendous cost advantages. This pace of team development with various skill sets assembled within rapid timeframes vindicates remote teams and their business value.
The Rule of Four
Operating a diverse, hybrid workplace applies the Rule of Four. Organizations that explore working with remote teams can use these best practices to determine whether the business is already capable of managing in a remote environment structure or if there might be room for improvement before implementing a remote option.
- Choose project candidates that will drive value in the short term. Use them as the viability test for remote teams. Beyond the immediate deliverables, this will also provide an early demonstration to senior management that remote teams will yield desired results.
- Initially assign remote teams only reasonably well-defined projects. Because these teams are new and likely unaccustomed to the business context, they can deliver sooner on lower-risk projects. The complexity of assignments can then grow.
- At the onset, the deliverables should be achievable within the team itself. In other words, the team should not depend on others’ roles that can adversely affect turnaround time.
- An in-house champion must be vested in making the project successful and remain closely involved. Incentivized to make the initial project successful, this advocate supports the team and is enthusiastic about its assignment.
The rule of four provides critical points to address to ensure team success. They are beneficial when working culture and processes are not yet established and still evolving.
Communications due diligence
Finding the right staff to serve remotely or offshore and setting a rhythm with them is crucial. It creates the ability to scale rapidly and cost-effectively. Whether offshore or local, hiring the wrong talent presents equally poor results.
With the right approach and methodology, offshore teams provide just as much output as local teams, sometimes more. The key to success while working in this structure is to rapidly establish a rapport with offshore team members. Leadership and team advocates should include them in all official meetings and gatherings. Being remote is not a free pass to skip these or defer catching up with one another. If they simply cannot attend, meetings should be recorded and viewed afterward as soon as possible.
Onshore teams develop rhythm, which should be expected of distributed teams too. It is vital to communicate early on what is expected of them, convey and demonstrate the business culture, and encourage an aligned team culture. The right talent will be clear on what they must deliver and do to keep them on track. The trademark to look for in dependable remote teams is their ability to achieve beyond the regular call of duty.
What managers must avoid is requiring repetitive communications to explain requirements. Redundant communication is frustrating and time-consuming. With the right talent identified and hired, such coddling or micromanaging would be resisted and counterproductive.
With communications vitality in mind, it is crucial to evaluate the organization’s needs before investing in tools to use extensively. Discovering only after implementation that the choices fail to deliver on necessary text, talk, streaming, presentation, and other features will spell disaster for both the team and company and result in lost productivity.
Communication and collaboration are cornerstones of distributed teams’ success. For example, managers will need dedicated effort to implement virtual alternatives to daily standups. Yet, identical to formal meetings referenced earlier, less formal but still essential gatherings should be recorded for offshore team members to view. A system to effectively respond and add input should be applied, too, to ensure involvement and positively influence decision-making. This will overcome problems with connectivity that can be an Achilles heel of remote teams.
Aids to development
Remember that communication tools are aids for developing, exhibiting, and sharing company culture, attributes, function, and more. Chosen and implemented with care, they will boost productivity. Conversely, if under- or over-utilized, they will hamper production. Ignoring channels or bombarding team members with repetitive messages will eventually distract or annoy team members, becoming counter-productive for employees regardless of whether they are local, remote, offshore or hybrid. This is true for live collaboration tools, too.
Resist measuring performance by the degree to which these tools are used. Remote teammates are juggling shifting professional and personal priorities just as local ones do. Be purposeful with company communication. Include written communication among the methods and hold it equally important. Employees may prefer it over other forms and excel at written input over speaking in group settings.
Ultimately, show a preference for video and audio sharing over emails, chats, and texts. It is vital to remember that remote teams have the same challenges as onshore staff. Experiencing the nuances that are communicated through audio and visuals can be critical. That context can be lost or more easily misinterpreted when sharing gets limited to just texts, chats, and other quick-response avenues, indeed as the importance of messages rises.
Being distributed presents challenges; adapting to faraway business culture and work etiquette among them. While culture demands immersion, over time, teams will reflect these characteristics. Similarly, the organization must willingly recognize its distributed team members' attributes and offer to the business, and the organization is wise to reflect those teams' best attributes.
Adopting this strategy will help understand how these influences apply to day-to-day communications and how the team bonds and works together. Over time, remote workers absorb and demonstrate nuances of the business headquarter culture. And vice versa. A purposeful, empathetic information flow effectively eases and removes cultural barriers between people across regions and countries.