Tips for Distributed Teams

Megan Sumrell has 10 nice tips up on working with remote teams. I like that these tips include a softer side to the remote challenge. To them, I add a few fundamentals:

  1. Keep an open IM channel. One to one is great, but a team chat room is even better. Create a room that the team logs into at the start of their work day. This creates virtual co-location and a place where everyone can come to work. It also creates an “across the desk” ability for collaboration.
  2. Don’t forget the phone. IM is great for simple communication. The phone is still the next best thing to being there when topics are more complex. If cost is an issue, get the team on a free Internet voice service like Skype.
  3. Set up systems for measuring outputs. It is one thing to say you focus on it. It is another to effectively tack and hold everyone, in-house or remote, accountable to actual measures. I recommend using tracking tools like Rally, VersionOne, etc for remote teams. They can organize and track agile development and keep everyone up to date easily. On the down side, they are not as visual as task boards.
  4. Remember that when you are remote, manners still matter. Even simple IM hellos at the start of a day lend virtual humanity. Tone does not come across well in text, so be sure to check for it before blasting emails and IMs. What’s in your head may not be what comes across on paper.
  5. It is not just about coordinating tasks. Take time for leadership and social interaction with remote members as well. They need to know what is happening in the broader company. They want personal touch when they have concerns and questions. Make virtual time for this interaction as well.

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