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6 Secrets to Running a Remote Team

6 Secrets to Running a Remote Team

leading a remote team during coronavirus
Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

Right now, most healthcare systems and medical groups are working part-remote and in-person. Having a workforce that is balancing remote and in-person resources can be even more challenging than having a 100% remote team!

Fortunately for you, QueueDr has been set up in this way for more than half a decade. I have compiled some of the top lessons I’ve learned along the way to help you during this transition. You won’t be remote forever, so here are some tips that can serve your team in the next couple weeks or months and maybe, just maybe, into the physical office.

1. Use emojis (and over-communicate)

I love emojis! I’m not alone– even the New York Times agrees. But, my first lesson for remote working is to over-communicate and emojis are a major part of this. In-person, you have the benefit of tone, hand gestures, and facial signals. On messaging platforms, you don’t. That’s why using emojis to convey tone is really helpful. What can be meant as a joke to one person, can be a source of tension for another. You might think that emojis seem “unprofessional” but you should squash that notion and learn to embrace them.

I’ve also found overcommunicating or overexplaining is necessary virtually. For example, asking someone to fill out part of a spreadsheet is easier in-person. It has context because of the timing of the request, hand gestures, and visual focus. Virtually, requesting a completed spreadsheet takes more words. Be specific with instructions because there is a lack of context. In-person you might say “can you fill out the email addresses for these people?” while moving your hands over the spreadsheet tab and pointing at the specific column. Virtually, you want to be more specific, “please fill out column C in the “Emails” tab for all the rows”.

2. If one is remote, all are remote

If one employee is remote, the entire team is remote. Apply this lesson when doing team meetings. Think back to your last team meeting. There were most likely a few people in the office and then others scattered throughout the virtual world. When you did the team meeting, were those people in the office in the same room?

Next time, make sure they are all in different rooms or in a room with a camera that can see everyone (some applications to help with this could be Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Go to Webinar). Otherwise, there is an imbalance. People who are in the same room may communicate non-verbally without even realizing it. Everyone else who is virtual will miss the cues. In addition, the virtual people will sense the imbalance and can grow to resent it. Put everyone on the same playing field.

This lesson was passed down to me by someone who runs a 50-person remote company. It is tough to implement for company-wide meetings for large corporations, but this rule is applicable to 99% of all meetings, regardless of company size. If one person is remote and everyone else is in the office, then those in the office should move to separate rooms for the calls. You’ll see a change in culture and knowledge sharing because of it. 

3. Use video whenever possible

Video is not a perfect replication for in-person — since you are utilizing telemedicine, you know this. However, video can help bridge some of the gaps between the remote and in-person teams. We utilize video for most of our meetings. It is not a requirement, but most of the team uses it. Video helps build team bonding and is more fun. It ensures everyone is focused and gives the added benefit of helping the team get to know each other. Surprise cameos by pets and kids are also a plus!

Sidenote– In these trying times and afterward, we should try to be more tolerable. Specifically, I’m talking about “interruptions” like dogs in the background of calls or kids walking through. These things are not unprofessional and, in no way, reflect a failure on the part of the person to keep his or her life organized. Most importantly, it is not reflective of how good someone is at their job. If we can create a work culture that lacks the need to feel judged or always apologizing for the background, we might be able to shift that focus on value creation and some humor for our colleagues.  (As I’m writing this, my dog is barking in the background)!

4. Form must match function

We use Slack for our daily chatting. We have different channels for each team and topic, with multiple products hooked into Slack to make it a one-stop-shop. Many of you use Slack or something similar (Microsoft Teams, Skype, etc). You most likely send significantly fewer emails and appreciate the faster responses. Our internal email volume is down 90%+ because of it.

The flaw in solutions like Slack is that the conversation is continuously moving. If you’re gone for 30 minutes, you may have missed something very valuable. To avoid this, we use email for important messages that we think the team will keep referring back to. Since our email usage is down dramatically, when we do send one, everyone reads it and recognizes its importance. 

We send internal emails about once a week or every two weeks. Our most recent email summarized how our customers have been dealing with COVID-19 and what their focus has been. This is an all-consuming pandemic, so it’s important for our team to know this and keep that information handy. 

5. Schedule time, but not too much

When transitioning from in-person to remote, it’s normal to wonder how your team is working and progressing. This fear leads many to overschedule meetings because, the thinking goes, in meetings you know employees are there. Virtual and in-person meetings have the same rules. Keep them small, focused, and short.

It is actually easier for an employee to not be paying attention virtually than in-person. By scheduling too many meetings, you may hurt productivity even more. We have weekly all-team calls, bi-weekly team-specific calls, and a weekly team hour (more on that below). We try to keep the meetings to 30 minutes. Smaller bite-sized meetings will allow your calls to be more focused. For example, our sales team does 15-minute role-play meetings which are quite effective.

Now more than ever when schools are closed and kids are at home or multiple adults are working in the same house, planned meetings can be helpful. Scheduling meetings creates more predictability to allow your staff to plan with their partner to watch the kids or who sits in the place with the strongest internet. Your humble author loves to do impromptu meetings, but they are a terrible idea right now. Predictability is a valuable trait for parents and those with home obligations. Be mindful of them.

6. Have fun

Once a week on Friday afternoon, we have a team hour. Everyone gets on video chat and unwinds.  If you’re in an office setting, the notion of water cooler chat or having lunch together is similar to our team hour.  During a time of isolation, our team hour is valuable for everyone. Remember, professionally and personally, people are suffering. Having a good work culture can be the bright spot that everyone needs right now.