It was around 2004 when we really started scaling up the use of our Nearshoring model for web development. We had already been running remote projects for over a decade at that point, and we had just bought a Nearshoring Development Center in Mexico and were scaling our development operation. As a Project Manager, one complex issue I always need to address is how a distributed team works together inside a complex process, like building software. We had our hurdles at the beginning, but with another decade of experience under my belt, we’ve developed some systems to ensure that projects run smoothly.
A few years ago, we had a big custom application development project for a major luxury car company. We needed to deliver our solution in 16 weeks and we were using a Nearshore Outsourcing model for development. As in all aspects of life, trust is a key ingredient. If your co-workers do not trust one another then it is going to cause a bit of a mess. And if your client doesn’t trust you, your stress levels can increase, especially when you’re on a tight timeline. It is hard enough to build relationships even when workers are all in the same place; even with team building exercises like office parties and office excursions to encourage teamwork and relationships. It’s quite another story to build trust and relationships between employees working so far away from each other– but we have a few ideas that we think may help:
1. Share Team Information
When we first enter a new relationship everything is so new and exciting, you can deal with your significant others annoying habits; in fact at this point in the relationship you find them endearing. Further down the line you want to rip your hair out but right now we are in what we call the “honeymoon period”. It’s the honeymoon period of a business relationship. It normally comes about when a team is put together and have to perform under a lot of pressure, people come in to the relationship with only positive thoughts and ambitions.
To encourage and foster the growth of new relationships, you should share the expertise and areas of competence of each different team member. This makes everyone aware and respectful of the talent they are working with–it brings about a mutual respect for each other.
2. Set Goals
It is always important to communicate what you want to happen. Make sure you are clear and concise with the parameters of the project so that everyone is on board.
Use S.M.A.R.T goals when codifying tasks: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Time-Oriented
This will help to keep everyone clear! Confused employees will turn into angry employees and then no one will want to work with each other and the trust will diminish. The office could turn into a scene from the Lord of the Flies! During status calls, when you’re getting updates from the teams, make sure each team member is specific with their tasks and that each task is measurable and has a due date. Keeping this in mind, make sure that you share results with the team. Positive results will keep everyone in good spirits, help build bonds and trust. Sharing negative results will also hopefully help to pull a team together in the fight to improve.
3. Be Proactive
This means don’t sit on your bottom and think that relationships and trust will just automatically happen between remote employees–because it won’t. You have to make it happen!
Take some time before a conference call to give your employees a chance to get to know each other. Talk about hobbies, interests, likes, dislikes, whatever! I know it sounds a little weird and uncomfortable but studies show that we are more likely to trust those that we have things in common with. Your team will soon look forward to these meetings and having a chance to chat to their new pal.
It takes more effort to build trust in a remote work environment but it’s not impossible. You just have to stay pro-active and communicate!
4. Determining if Perception or Performance is the Issue
Many times when the alarm bells ring and a full-on fire is declared, it ends up being more of a perception issue than a real issue. So, the first thing we want to ascertain is – IS the issue a perception issue or an actual performance issue? If this is the first thing you think of when an issue arises, it will help save countless hours of investigation and help sustain your team’s trust.
Remote Work Environments Need Trust
Focusing on these 4 integral components will help even a remote development team foster trust. With trust being the most important aspect of remote team management. If you already have a team and struggling with trust issues, try some of the suggestions above. It’s never too late to implement these tips and you will see that it really improves productivity within your distributed team. Like any long distance relationship, you need to work at it!