Here at Thoughtworks and Mingle, we have several team members who work remotely, most notably our support engineer Sarah out of Austin, and our UX lead Jamie from Philadelphia. We also have many global colleagues. Here are some strategies we’ve learned about how to stay in the loop when you’re part of a co-located or global team.
Sign on first thing
First thing to do for the day: sign into Slack, turn on your “available” IM status in gmail or other IM platforms. Fire up the Skype and keep it on. In short, make yourself approachable.
Make sure your video/audio software works Whether it’s Fuze (pain to sign in) or Google Hangouts (buggy) or Skype, make sure your network is fast enough to handle it. This is your lifeline to the rest of the team: don’t lose it! For increased interaction, we sometimes keep our big screen office TV on all day while streaming live to our Austin office: spontaneous chats can happen virtually and organically, and just seeing your coworkers more helps create a stronger connection.
Audio is notoriously capricious during video conferencing: try some test calls with a friendly coworker to make sure both of you have the best possible set-up.
For calls, at least in the US, landlines still have the best connection and sometimes best audio quality depending on what other tools you use. If you frequently have trouble with calls on your cell, you might consider getting a cheap landline. As an added bonus, emergency calls made on landlines are often responded to faster than those made on cell phones.
Keep meetings brief and with fewer participants This will cut down on possible software glitches or dropped calls. Plus, who doesn’t love a shorter meeting?
Schedule one-on-ones with team members
You may not be able to make the team lunch, but you can still ensure you’ve not missed anything by scheduling weekly (or daily) one-on-one catch-ups with individual team members. Meetings are great for getting a broad sense of what’s going on, but one-on-ones will give you the details you need.
Ping people without hesitation, as long as their time zone isn’t wildly different from yours. If they’re truly unavailable, the worst they will do is ignore your communication for a while. Assume that an “available” status is accurate, and keep emails short and sweet to increase return rates. If you want more transparency, you can try a browser extension like MailCheck for Chrome that will confirm your email was received and will tell you when and if someone has read it. Extensions like this can also schedule your emails to sent at pre-determined times: so if you want your colleague in Chennai to get your email at the beginning of their day, you can make it happen.
Be kind when it comes to time-zones
No one wants a meeting at 6 a.m. or a video conference at 10 p.m. And yet, sometimes they have to happen. Encourage the office to think flexibly: could a recording be made of the meeting for you to view later? Can you call in audio-only so that you can stay in your pajamas?
Share your calendar
Sharing your calendar with co-workers can give them a better idea of the best times to reach you, and allows you to carve out “no meetings” blocks of time to really drill down into larger projects. Sharing calendars can also help make you aware of other teams’ local or cultural holidays and plan accordingly.
Engage in person when you can…
If your company has a few events a year where everyone attends, make sure you’re there. Check out conferences where you could spend some face-time with colleagues. If you are part of a remote team, visit other offices periodically to make connections and experience the local office culture. Or, your team can send an ‘ambassador’ from your office to work there for a few months to bring back insights.
…and socialize from afar when you can’t
Join the office fantasy football league. Donate to the charity they work with. Send your coworkers the occasional personal email, or tweet them. Be a person with a personality as much as you can, as long as it doesn’t become your main interaction with them. If you’re more technically-minded, you can even request to become a telepresence robot and roll around the office on your own.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.