Working With Remote Teams: How to Keep Projects Moving Forward From Afar

Working with remote teams can be a challenge, for many reasons.

The setup is ripe for miscommunications, misunderstandings, and misfires on project outcomes.

Add multiple timezones into the mix, and things can get real interesting real quick.

Tips For Working With Remote Teams

Here at Command Media, we were perfecting our remote work setup across timezones long before COVID-19 forced much of the rest of the world to sink or swim in the sea of detached reality.

We regularly tweak our processes to suit the needs of our clients and our team, but the core concepts have remained intact over the years and are key to the success of every project we undertake.

We’ve learned these valuable lessons through trial and error, and we hope they will help you achieve consistent success with your projects.

So here are our top recommendations for managing projects, and people, in different timezones.

Establish Clear Expectations For Remote Project Teams

This one is important for all projects, regardless of the project team’s geographic locations.

“How will we define and measure success on this project?” is a crucial question to get answered right off the bat, to ensure you are solving the correct problems and producing the expected results.

When you’re working with remote teams, and particularly with individuals in different timezones, it’s even more important that everyone has a clear understanding of expectations from the outset.

How To Properly Set Expectations For Remote Projects

We like to make sure these expectations are communicated and confirmed during a kickoff call before project work begins.

Given the nature of working across multiple timezones, real-time communication can be tricky to pull off regularly as the project progresses.

So in order to keep those expectations top of mind for everyone on the team, consider weekly reminders via email or chat, and make sure any project tickets spell out and clarify requirements and expectations consistently and clearly.

Asking individuals to explain their understanding of the project’s expectations can also be helpful and provide you with an opportunity to course-correct as needed.

Choose Mindfully With Long-Distance Communication Channels

Whether it’s a team member in another timezone or a coworker sitting right next to you, it’s important to consider the appropriate channel for your message before attempting to deliver it.

What does that mean, exactly?

Communication channels are the various methods available for communicating with another person.

Think chat, phone calls, emails, video calls, in-person meetings, hand-written notes, parchment tied to the leg of a carrier pigeon.

The communication channel you choose should fit the message you want to convey.

It should also fit the preferences of the receiver.

Why Are Communication Channels Important in Remote Work?

Everything related to communication takes on heightened importance when you’re working remotely or with remote teams.

But the truth is, most people don’t spend enough time considering the channel before trying to deliver the message.

For every channel we choose without even thinking about it, there is another we tend to stumble over.

  • For example, you wouldn’t send a letter through the postal service alerting your neighbor that her house is on fire.
  • And hopefully you wouldn’t call your coworker at 2 in the morning letting them know next month’s sprint call has been pushed back by 30 minutes.
  • You also wouldn’t email a coworker or project stakeholder with a crucial update if you knew that person didn’t consistently check email.

Fires notwithstanding, selecting the proper channel consistently requires a little bit of thought and knowledge about the other person’s communication strengths and preferences.

So make sure you choose the appropriate communication channel for the message and for the individual.

Some examples you might run into during your projects include:

Explaining Complicated Project Details

Chat or text message might not be the ideal space for convoluted information, particularly if you find yourself writing many long paragraphs to get the point across.

Email is often better for long-form communication, and better yet might be following it up with a phone call so you can ensure the receiver understands everything and has a chance to ask clarifying questions in real time.

Having Difficult Or Contentious Conversations

We’ve all been there: A chat exchange suddenly gets a little heated, or an email thread starts to wade into contentious territory.

Or perhaps you need to provide some critical feedback about a recent deliverable.

These are scenarios that require mindful communication, starting with choosing the proper channel.

Text, chat, and email are often not the best choice for difficult conversations.

Phone calls are an improvement, but video would really be ideal if an in-person meeting is not an option — and since you’re communicating across timezones, it’s most likely not.

We lose some of the nuances of communication the farther we get from being face to face.

For example, text and chat completely remove the tone and empathy available during a phone conversation. Our voices help us convey message and meaning in ways that are hard to replicate in writing.

But phone calls without video leave out the facial expressions, body language, and hand gestures that can really enhance our ability to understand and be understood.

Sending Quick Questions And Updates

Text and chat messaging can be more than sufficient for sending off brief updates, setting up meetings, or asking simple questions.

When it’s a simple message, use the simplest option.

Just as you don’t necessarily want to handle a difficult conversation via text message, you also don’t need to schedule a video call for every straightforward request or quick question you might have.

Conclusion: Successful Remote Teams Prioritize Communication

Communication is a topic that comes up a lot when we talk about project success for remote teams and varying timezones, and for good reason:

Communication can make or break a project.

Most struggling projects that we encounter or jump in to help fix have some sort of communication problem, either ongoing or during the crucial planning and setup phases.

Or both.

Everything we’ve discussed in this article — from establishing clear expectations to choosing the ideal communication channel — is about communication.

That’s really the bottom line when it comes to achieving project success with remote teams across multiple timezones:

Prioritize communication.

  • Make sure you communicate expectations to your developer, your stakeholders, your project sponsor.
  • Encourage those individuals to communicate with you if they have questions or need clarification.
  • Choose the best communication channel for the message you want to deliver.
  • Be mindful of what you’re sending and of how it’s being received.

Do that consistently, and you’ll create the ideal environment for consistent project success.