Remote team culture: building distributed team synergy

RealtimeBoard Team | 7 min read

Do you have to message a “good morning” to your co-workers instead of meeting them at the coffee machine? The growing number of distributed teams has undoubtedly changed the way we work together. Advances in technology and communications have moved teamwork from the boardroom to the cloud.

Distributed team members do important individual work across continents and time zones, but a higher level of innovation and productivity is achieved when teams are focused on organizational goals and excellent communication. This requires a commitment to developing a culture suited to these needs.

Barriers to remote collaboration disrupt synergy

In a world that moves between and among onsite and online existences, the value of a supportive culture cannot be underestimated. Such a culture cultivates great synergy between team members.

What is synergy? We believe it is 1 + 1 = 3. In other words, with healthy synergy the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

In a distributed reality, synergy can be impeded by inherent barriers to remote collaboration. Unclear processes, decreased engagement and failed team building can reduce everyone’s potential contributions. Team members can end up spending time dealing with the challenges of remote work instead of working as a united and synergetic team. Here are three critical barriers that can limit your team’s potential:

Missed opportunities

Working remotely shouldn’t be an excuse for delays or missed deadlines. According to statistics generated by TINYpulse, remote workers need to have sufficient regular contact with their direct supervisor in order to work effectively and meet deadlines. Distributed teams must overcome challenges in location and time zones in order to meet deadlines and take advantage of opportunities.

Ineffective processes

If the goal is to create a community based on teamwork, functioning processes and tools need to be put in place. Despite the need for flexibility in a remote team culture, a reliable process for communication and collaboration is required. With a robust toolkit, the entire team can collaborate effectively, using processes already laid out in the tool.

Failed team building

According to the TINYpulse report, 27% of respondents reported having experienced a work-related problem because they weren’t in the same place as their team.

Building a cohesive team that feels “real,” even if they are far apart, can be challenging. How can you really bring teammates together in a virtual world?

You need vision, commitment and clarity to overcome these potential barriers, but by merging three important aspects of remote collaboration, it can be achieved. To take a closer look at how an organization can successfully interweave remote collaboration into the culture, let’s define those three aspects and specify how they overlap.

Three building blocks of distributed team synergy

To create synergy and the culture to support it, three circles of logic must intersect. When this is achieved, ineffective processes, missed opportunities and failed team building are no longer barriers to success.

Team Synergy

A great organizational culture cannot flourish without common goals. Organizations are typically created to solve challenges by creating great products, services and customer experiences. The overarching solution developed to solve a given challenge is the common goal. Losing sight of a common goal or the failure to communicate it can lead distributed teams off track.

Hence the need for valuable discussion.

“Can we talk?”

Streamlined communication processes and a culture of open communication make discussion possible and allow teams to share, collaborate and agree on goals for the organization.

So, where can distributed teams align on an appropriate level? In one shared space! Your team may be all over the map, but your organization needs one home. Let’s call this a shared space.

Let’s take a closer look at the intersections of these three areas.

When words become action

Question: Why does the organization exist?

Answer: To achieve specific business goals.

For teams that work remotely, it is critically important that they understand this concept; their individual work supports the ultimate goals of the organization.

Distributed teams that fully embrace the organization’s goals are more invested in the outcome. This leads us to the importance of meaningful discussion – in essence, an invitation for your distributed team to join in.

The culture and mood of the entire organization suffer when there is a gap between the goals and the outcomes. This is where goals and discussion should meet. Valuable discussion is necessary for aligning goals and setting expectations.

Goal Alignement for Distributed Team Synergy

By merging valuable discussion with goal setting, organizations can align their strategy. Having achievable goals and deadlines encourages efficiency, quick turnarounds and success, thus overcoming the barrier of missed opportunities.

What are we trying to say here? Everyone in the organization really needs to “get it.” People need to be talking, not just toiling away. The outcome of valuable discussion will break down barriers and increase success. Now, where should this all occur?

Finding synergy in an online shared space

The ability to find synergy and build a corporate culture with teammates around the world requires a dynamic, online solution. The tools of an online society are shared spaces where collaborators can meet, discuss and share ideas, work and data.

When team members can update projects, upload work and leave notes for co-workers as the sun makes another trip around the world, a shared space becomes a living, breathing environment, teeming with activity 24 hours a day. More importantly, in a virtual “shared space,” distributed teams bond and form a shared understanding and mindset more quickly.

When a team is working together, they all need to be on the same page. Each person on a team might believe they understand how their work contributes to the final goal, but when you bring everything together, it can become clear that people’s understandings differ.

One more synergy building block needs to be added to ensure shared understanding a shared space.

Shared understanding

A shared space should be more than a meeting room; it must include flip charts, chats, screens and online whiteboards. The tool of choice needs to support a common language, which is a combination of visual and spoken communication and file sharing.  

One example of a tool for streamlined processes and communication is an online whiteboard. This tool is far more than just a blank surface on which to write and draw. It allows all team members to collaborate in a visual space in real time, just as if they were in the same room.

A robust online whiteboard can provide a shared space that eliminates the three barriers in the following ways:

Structure

By providing a structure for activities, an online whiteboard lets teams enjoy greater engagement. Your team never has to search for a lost email or request a file again. Simply by providing a consistent structure for the organization, a shared space can drive synergy by facilitating a common process.

Uniformity

It can be frustrating and intimidating to learn a new app or adjust to a new meeting template depending on your latest project assignment. Life is easier for everyone when they can use one, familiar shared space that provides uniform templates and a certain comfort level for the team.

Meeting Tools

What’s the call-in number and who sent it to me? In a shared space with cutting edge meeting tools at your fingertips, co-workers can collaborate with ease, making discussion simple and providing the means to take advantage of unique opportunities.

Communication Capabilities

Shared spaces can provide communication processes that supersede language barriers. Using reliable approval processes and universal communication indicators, like smiley faces, voting capabilities or even a thumbs-up, everyone can work together easily. This is ideal for team building!

Project Management

Move project management online where everyone can see the big picture of a project and status updates. By integrating project management into a shared space, goals can be easily achieved and deadlines met.

Having one robust, shared space helps drive engagement, encourage team building, aid communication and create a collaborative environment that builds that desired team synergy.

Streamlining remote collaboration

When a team has aligned its goals and reached a shared understanding of how it can all be achieved, it’s time to get to work. The ability of the team to work together synergistically helps achieve goals and surpass expectations. At the intersection of a shared space and understood goals, an additional team synergy building block evolves effective collaboration.

Collaboration in Remote Team's Culture

A common complaint for organizations with distributed teams is that remote workers feel disengaged from the team. At the onset of this discussion, the failure to bring teammates together in a virtual world was mentioned as a potential barrier. To ensure that everyone is on board, distributed teams must feel like they’ve been invited to communicate and collaborate in the first place.

You can encourage collaboration for distributed teams by using options such as these:

Valuable discussion options for distributed teams

Messaging Slack or similar apps can provide important, quick communication.

Verbal Sometimes you just need to talk. Turn on the camera or pick up the phone and talk to the person about what needs to happen.

Visual Cues Odds are, I am never going to learn Russian, and you might never use that Rosetta Stone for Mandarin. But that’s okay. Visual cues can be cultivated online and are just as valuable as words (sometimes more!).

Remote Meetings Remote meetings can really rock online. Shared spaces with cutting edge tools and built-in facilitation capabilities can make the most of teams with precious time.

Team retreat Nothing can replace face-to-face communication. Team retreats can help build a united distributed team that feels “real.”

Distributed team synergy isn’t optional

In order to achieve your business goals, your team has to work well together, and as more and more teams enter the remote workspace, managing distributed team synergy is becoming a critical necessity. Along with the benefits of greater flexibility and highly skilled workers from around the world, distributed teams also present potential pitfalls. Missed connections can result in missed opportunities; ineffective processes can lead to inefficient work; and failed team building can be toxic to collaboration.

To effectively create synergy in your remote team, start building a collaborative culture by clarifying common goals, facilitating valuable discussion and bringing more accessibility to your shared spaces. The thoughtful intersection of these three essential building blocks will ensure that your remote workers feel like valuable and important members of the team, helping your organization achieve – and even surpass – its goals.

Get started

Any organization can create a wonderful culture and find synergy with remote workers. In fact, we think it’s a requirement. Is your organization prepared?

Start now by taking a close look at how your organization’s goals, discussions and shared spaces operate and interact. Define each of the three circles of logic and try to locate weaknesses and strengths.

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