Teams and time zones: the new challenge
With the rise of the Internet and English as a common language came a new category of workers. One that is not interested in building a career inside one company or work for one employer, but rather thrives on diversity and looks for a varied range of activities.
It is the age of freelancers and remote teams, as many in the web/app development, graphic design or digital marketing, to name a few sectors, have traded the 9 to 5 for self managing. A world that comes with many advantages for companies, but also with some challenges that managers are just learning to handle.
Sure, companies now have access to the top of the class, no matter the side of the world, without having to deal with relocation or legal complications, and, let’s be honest, at sometimes half the costs. And with all the technological innovations in web apps, smartphones and higher bandwidth, working remotely and having a 24/7 connection has never been easier.
But managers of freelance teams, as well as remote teams for that matter, find that the lack of face time between team members, not only for questions and clarifications, but also for plain water-cooler socializing, sometimes leads to feelings of isolation, lack of motivation and wandering away from the team’s objectives.
However, when dealing with a team of freelancers or remote employees of the company, there are three principles to making the team work:
- Choose your people wisely
Online recruiting is not as easy as face to face recruiting, but Skype calls and video conferences should strongly show that the future team members are open, self-motivated above average, that they are results-driven and that they have good communication skills. That is, aside from the hard skills that are required for their role.
- Plan and organize
Being in different parts of the world and on different time zones than your team, you need to establish ground rules for interactions, to set clear expectations and to define precise goals for the team and for each individual. It is a tough schedule to handle, but remote workers need to know exactly what and when is expected of them, especially when it comes to freelancers, who work on different projects at the same time and might lose focus when lacking specific instructions.
In order to keep the team members from feeling isolated, forgotten or demotivated, you need to create good, open communication channels. Establish recurring phone time focused on feedback about performance, check in periodically to see how the team is doing and whether they are on track with their goals, and from time to time set up team meetings, accommodating (almost) everyone’s schedule, for a little bit of team building and virtual-bumping-into-one-another. Depending on the length of the project you are working on, a virtual office might also be a good idea.
As the rule of “everything changes” goes, there are no universal truths to making it work, but rather experiments for finding the right mix. Successfully handling office dynamics is no exception and working with freelancers and remote teams just added a new level of difficulty to the task. Nothing that can’t be done, right?