The Surprising Truth About Remote Teams ... And How Remote Workers Actually Improve Business Productivity

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Recent research suggests that teams perform better when one team member is remote. Daniel Barnett, founder of business management platform WORKetc, talks candidly about how this research can help small business perform better and reveals his Top 5 Tips for Managing a Remote Team.

The surprising truth is that given the right tools, remote teams can out perform

WORKetc founder, Daniel Barnett, reveals that smart business owners are setting up remote teams with the right tools and systems to benefit from increased productivity.

“The research (O’Leary, M & Mortensen, M. 2008, Sloan Management Review) confirms what we have instinctively known for years and what smart business owners are already putting into practice,” Barnett said. “Take a person from your team, make them remote and productivity improves. But split that same team into different locations with multiple people at each location and you will see friction.”

The recent paper from O’Leary and Mortensen studied 62 teams of 6 members, divided into various combinations of remote groups. When just one person was remote, the entire team was found to be more disciplined in how and when the group communicated.

But switch around teams to include groups of remote workers and the team quickly becomes fractured with any gains in productivity quickly eroded.

“I’ve experienced this first hand working with our customers who manage teams working across different countries and time zones. Remote team members quickly become frustrated with even the simplest of activities such as sharing sales leads or collaborating on projects,” Barnett said. “When you have just 1 person in a remote location, including that person is a breeze. But when you have multiple people across multiple locations, then you need the systems and processes to make sure the group stays cohesive. It is a mistake to think that groups will thrive just by giving them a laptop and broadband”.

“The key to smoothing group fiction is to make sure all the business knowledge is accessible to everyone, all the time, in context and as self-serve. You want team members to get what they need, immediately, without having to send out annoying CC-all email. You want remote information captured and made available to everyone else,” Barnett continued.

“You can’t do this with email alone. You can’t do this with single-purpose web apps that do just CRM or Project Management. It is just inefficient to maintain multiple software tools with different data formats and multiple logins and let’s not even mention the expense.”

“What we are working on with our customers is a complete business management solution. We want to take some of the stress out of running a business by helping teams work better, together. This can only be done when you combine CRM, project management, invoicing in the single cloud application and make it a no-brainer to use,” Barnett said.

“We have a goal at WORKetc to use nothing but our own software to manage our own business – we want to be using WORKetc to manage all of WORKetc. And with six staff across three continents we know first-hand the challenges our customers face every day. When we make our software better for our customers, we also make it better for us. This is a great motivator!” Barnett concluded.

WORKetc’s top 5 tips for Remote Teams:

1.    Set up a weekly group phone conference but make this a fixed day and time that cannot be moved. Have your team put this in their online calendars as a recurring event. If you allow the day and time to be changed, then it will be a struggle setting it every week and eventually it will just slide. Use Skype - the quality (and cost) for a small conference is far superior to fixed wire offerings.

2.    Have your team write their own project roles and responsibilities and share this among the group. These don’t need to be essays, a single page of bullet points is sufficient. The goal here is for everyone in the team to know what their co-team members are responsible for. If everyone knows what I should be doing, then I’m going to be accountable. Keep these role descriptions in a central, online location where they can be updated and viewed by everyone.

3.    Capture everything and share everything. Remote teams suffer from an absence casual information exchange, general chit -chat. There is no water cooler banter or shared coffee breaks. Invest in an online system that captures information across each of your locations and makes that searchable online. You want a cloud solution that is available wherever your team is, without the hassle of managing your own servers or VPN’s. Make it easy for your team to share and collaborate on projects, sales, customer support and everything else.

4.    Automate and then automate some more. The more systems and processes you can automate, the less opportunities for tension to build within the group. For example, good online project management software will inform members when their contribution is required and remind them when it is overdue.

5.    Simplify and standardize throughout your team. Use Gmail for email; use Skype for phone and chat. Use a solution like WORKetc that combines CRM, project management, invoicing, reporting, document storage and customer help desk into the cloud solution. Having one system like Basecamp for projects, then Salesforce for CRM and yet another solution for invoicing means integration headaches, multiple accounts to manage, constant training for your team and ultimately extra cost.

WORKetc is a business management platform with the best of CRM, Project Management and Invoicing. Our goal is to help take some of the stress out of running a small business.

Reference: O’Leary, M. B. & Mortensen, M. (2008) A surprising truth about geographically distributed teams, Sloan Management Review, 49(4), 5-6.

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