Aligning remote teams doesn’t have to be as painful as it sounds

February 20, 2024

I’ve spent the last five years working remotely, three of those leading a team who were all working from the same office, leaving me as the only one ‘joining the conference’ from the shoulders up.

Whether you’re in a startup or a multinational, the same thinking applies (same same but obviously a bit different).

Aligning a team when you’re all in the same room is hard enough, especially if you have new joiners, you’re a new team, or you’re trying to introduce new ways of working - you are herding cats. When you add a remote team into the mix, you’re herding cats in the dark. If you’re lucky, you might have a torch. 

If you don’t fancy herding cats, consider the following tips.

1. Manufacture the chat

As an introvert this one still terrifies me - I’m all good for small talk, thanks. But making time for chat is important despite the potential for awkwardness. If I bump into a colleague in the office kitchen I will gather some sort of insight about them as a person, their team or the project they are working on. This is useful. It saves time, emails and gets straight to the point. If you’re remote, it’s just you boiling your kettle.

Manufacturing the chat is even more important for founders and leaders.

Leaders typically do their best communicating when they don’t know they’re communicating.

Bumping into someone in the lift or the kitchen isn’t limited to the constraints of a formal presentation. You’re on your feet, being yourself, taking the opportunity to get to know something new about your colleague or what they’re working on, while they do the same with you.

2. Embrace the check-in

Micromanagers–no one wants to be one and no one wants to have one. But in our attempts to avoid the stereotype, we’ve swung the other way, leaving remote workers in the dark, often wasting time second-guessing the task at hand. As many as 7 in 10 participants of a hybrid work study said they wanted more daily or weekly check-ins than they were currently getting.

The key here is to see what works and up the frequency if needed. As a manager or leader, it’s not for you to micromanage, it’s for you to guide, course-correct, and then drop back if and when it feels right.


3. Keep painting the picture in your head

The frustration I often hear from leaders and founders is from feeling like their counterparts or team members don’t fully understand the big picture. And for the most part, they probably don’t. I’ve never heard of a situation where the problem was that people understood the vision too well. This is not a thing because leaders generally assume once they’ve communicated the end goal, then it’s the same crystal clear picture for their team.

The answer here is twofold:

First, use multiple means of articulating your vision. Scribble it down on a piece of paper, record a voice note, find an image that represents how you see it.

Second, repeat it at every opportunity (without being weird). For remote workers, this re-creates the ad hoc, spontaneous discussions you’d normally hear in the office. 

Aligning teams can feel hard because it is hard. There are a bunch of unknowns, you’re working with different humans, in different timezones, and you’re often limited to that tiny little square of their life.

Manufacture the chat, embrace the check-in, and keep painting the picture in your head. You’ll get where you’re going faster, no cat herding skills required.


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