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Business Process Management Business Systematization

Why Your Remote Team Will Fall Apart Without Processes

There’s a psychological theory developed back in 1895 that still holds true today that can help explain why remote teams fall apart if they’re mismanaged. It’s called deindividuation, and states that when groups of people can’t be identified in a group, they’re more likely to misbehave, e.g. cause violence, riot.

To put it in the words of Gustave Le Bon, the psychologist who first theorized this, “a loss of personal responsibility in crowds leads to an inclination to behave primitively and hedonistically”.

Bear with me…

This might sound like a long shot, but it holds true for remote teams, too.

In an office, everyone is held physically accountable for the work they do. They’re a tangible employee in a building, being actually overseen by other people. In a remote team, everyone’s just an icon on Slack, an email address, or a source of app notifications. If team members feel like they can get away with not communicating, not keeping their team updated, and not getting work done, they’re much more likely to.

And that’s why remote teams are fragile. This is a shame for businesses who can’t manage them because 77% of remote workers are more productive than their office counterparts, and get more done in less time.

In this article, I’ll look at the problems that come along with having a remote team, and go through some methods for solving them.

Problem #1: No accountability without remote team processes

In an office you keep your team updated naturally by chatting how work’s going on the way to lunch, or just mentioning your progress while you have a coffee break. However, many remote workers report feeling isolated, which is part of what creates a lack of accountability, causing teams to go silent and work to start slipping.

How do you solve a lack of accountability?

At Process Street, our remote marketing team has several channels of communication and policies that mean we always keep in the loop:

  • A group Slack channel
  • Trello card comments
  • Two short meetings every Tuesday and Thursday

It’s enforced that all work-related conversations amongst the marketing team must go into the group chat, creating an activity log of work and information. Any task being discussed must be presented alongside a link to its Trello card, and it’s expected that all Trello cards will be commented on whenever progress has been made.

During the meetings, we present our Trello cards to each other for review as proof of work (plus an activity log recorded in Trello/Slack), and go through the tasks together.

This approach leaves absolutely no room for a lack of accountability. If team members aren’t working on their tasks, it’s totally obvious because there will be no record of it.

Problem #2: No centralization of information without remote team workflows

With your whole team collaborating over the internet (without opportunities just to look over their co-worker’s shoulder) it can be a pain to share information if it isn’t centralized. It’s an obvious problem for businesses since some of the biggest software companies — Dropbox, Box and other document management systems — were created purely to solve it.

How do you centralize information?

One of the main ways to do it is to make sure you’re working entirely on the cloud. We’ve written about all of the SaaS (software-as-a-service) products we use together before, and it made me realize how stuck we’d be without live collaboration and the ability to store information in the best, most easily accessible places.

As I said in the solution to problem #1, everything can dumped into a Trello card. Trello cards can hold links, attachments, images, and even spreadsheets, so there’s no excuse for not centralizing information when it’s that easy. For documents, we use Quip and Google Sheets, ensuring we can always access what we need, no matter where we are.

Get information centralized by enforcing all work-in-progress task material to be uploaded to Google Drive or Dropbox, or dropped into a project management app like Trello or Asana.

Problem #3: No teambuilding without remote planning

Building camaraderie through direct messages is easier than before thanks to the prevalence of emojis, gifs, and other just-for-fun things, but it’s nowhere near as easy as when you’re face-to-face.

You might get invited to a get-together after work if you’re in an office, but that’s not the kind of thing that’ll happen in a remote team, and neither will natural team-building.

This could mean that team members are shy, uncommunicative, or less productive because they feel isolated.

How do you improve remote team building?

The ways that have worked in our remote team have been have:

  • gaming tournaments (playing the card game Hearthstone against each other to win a prize)
  • sharing videos, movies, and music (we will share weekly recommendations, such as guilty pleasure movies, music to help focus)
  • having a general chat channel (a work-unrelated channel for water-cooler style conversation)

If those options don’t suit, you can also try this list of team building activities for remote teams.

The long-term solution: Agile process management

All three problems explained in this article are caused by a lack of communication, policy, and process.

As Atul Gawande explains in The Checklist Manifesto, key aspects of how we get work done can be overlooked without a process, and policy to enforce it.

When we look closely, we recognize the same balls being dropped over and over, even by those of great ability and determination. We know the patterns. We see the costs. It’s time to try something else.” — Atul Gawande

Remote teams are susceptible to disconnection, deviance from process, and an attitude of unaccountability.

As Gawande says, and as we’ve found in our time building process software, the solution is strict regulations and processes that enforce the centralization of information, encourage communication in open channels, and actively build culture.

It doesn’t sound as appealing as letting a strong team grow organically, but it’s a lot more likely to work.

Resources to help you get started: Your remote team processes!

Below are some public Process Street templates and then a whole load of really useful blog posts they’ve published too, to help you get started and systemize your remote business!

Process Street remote team processes

Remote team blog posts about remote work processes

I think this is a pretty complete round up! If you have any other recommendations or resources, leave them in the comments below!