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Keeping Remote Teams Engaged and Accountable

Gayathri Kher
Co-Founder & President

This is a good time for associations to look at their project lists and re-prioritize projects that were tabled due to all-consuming events, staff bandwidth, and travel.

Many of you may be grappling with how to keep teams productive, accountable, and engaged as we all adjust to the new normal of fully remote work.

We asked our President and Co-Founder, Gayathri Kher, for tools and techniques she and fusionSpan use to keep performance optimized when teams are remote.

Here is what she had to say:

“First and foremost, as leaders we have to change the narrative for our organizations. This is not a ‘work stoppage.’ This is an opportunity. Again, in bold. This is an opportunity.

We can change the thinking for our teams. As leaders, we set the tone for whether this is a time to rally and accomplish more together, or whether this is an extended vacation filled with fear and risk.

This is a good time for associations to look at their project lists and re-prioritize projects that were tabled due to all-consuming events, staff bandwidth, and travel.”

Here are some tips for accomplishing that:

Make yourself available

fusionSpan’s team is a blend of onsite and remote members, so we are lucky to have a remote work policy in place with well-defined rules of engagement. It is very easy to get “stuck” when you cannot get a quick answer by walking over to your colleague’s desk for an in-person conversation. Some team members are more insistent and resourceful than others. Make it clear that getting “stuck” is not an option. Consider keeping a short period of online time for questions and answers. We call those Office Hours at fusionSpan, just like you had in school. During this time our lead team members answer open questions via an standing Zoom meeting.

Try that as a manager as well. Think of it as being the time your door would always be open and gives you the opportunity to ensure your team members are happy and productive.

Use project tools for transparency

Even if you have never used them before, start now. There are a plethora of easy to use (and even free) tools out there. Consider Asana, Basecamp, or Trello for starters. Make sure there are rules of engagement defined for each toolset. For example, Slack is to be used only for quick communication and not to be used to assign tasks.

These above-referenced project tools have drag-and-drop interfaces where you and others can create deliverables and move them to different stages of completeness. Use these as a visual for checking in with staff.

Staff members can see the progress others are making, assign someone else a task once their part is complete, and keep track of deadlines.

Use video for calls and collaboration when possible

fusionSpan has a “video ready” policy for all staff. That doesn’t mean we have to be ready for a photoshoot, but it means that we should be on camera for every meeting and ready to share our camera and screen at any time as needed.

While not everyone might have a camera, it is very important to see folks face to face. We also find that this increases accountability. It can be easy to push comments back and forth in the void of email or instant messaging. Video increases accountability and can help you identify team members who may be struggling.

Have clear deadlines and expectations daily

The recent shift related to COVID-19 forced a lot of remote work before organizations were ready. This is a critical time to develop new habits if they do not already exist and to stick with standing obligations when at all possible.

Keep your meetings whether internal or external, if at all possible. Keep the same work schedule and, if not, have a documented work schedule with your team. For example, in this particular circumstance team members may be trading off childcare with a spouse or working earlier or later than usual. Try to get a sense of when and how much everyone can work and ask them to keep you updated.

Start and finish your day by checking in

We check in every day with every team. Every single person who works for fusionSpan on any project on any continent checks in daily. We follow an agile methodology whereby we talk about three key things:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What will you do today?
  • Are there any impediments in your way?

Here is the key. Do not use your larger check-in to problem solve. Use the check in to pull together the right groups to solve any impediment (blocker) that came up. Otherwise, you’ll all sit in unnecessarily long meetings and lose engagement.

Make sure team members are coming to that meeting prepared. This check IN is not a check UP. You don’t want to get the to-do list from the team. You need to know what should be elevated for discussion to keep work moving.

Finally, Gayathri shared a few of her favorite work tools when we asked, “What could you not live without for remote work?”

Productivity & Collaboration Tools our team cannot function without:

At the end of the day, the goal is to keep your team running as normal as possible. Try a new tool or even a fun employee team building exercise. Slack even has plug-in’s like Donut to schedule “virtual coffee breaks” for teammates. As we miss out on those face-to-face encounters and interactions in the office, it is still important to foster a culture of caring among your organization.

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Rebecca Breeden

Becky is the Director of Digital Strategy where she works with clients to transform their thinking and approach to digital spaces. She is a long-time technology and digital strategist in the nonprofit community. Becky is a graduate of the University of South Carolina with a BA in Journalism. She relocated to the DC area in 1999 when she became the director of communications for a major association management software firm. Becky lives in Silver Spring with her husband, two children, and a menagerie of pets. She is a volunteer on winter weekends on the National Ski Patrol at a resort in West Virginia.
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