Leadership can be challenging enough in person, but trying to lead a group of people remotely presents additional unique hurdles. Specifically, communication is often quite a different animal. You won’t be talking face to face much… if ever! However, it’s not impossible to keep everyone on the same page and moving forward if you adapt to the avenues of communication available to you.
The following methods of communication are those I most commonly use for remote projects, including specific aspects I find useful about them. Most methods require internet access, which your team is hopefully equipped with.
It’s a good idea to poll the team to find the most appropriate IM program for your group, as everyone tends to have preferences. Encourage team members to keep their IM client open while they are at their desk so it’s easy to reach them.
Skype IM has proven to be very useful for teams I’ve worked with, since it also doubles as a log. We start a conversation and add team members, so even if someone isn’t present when a discussion is happening, they can read back through it when they return.
Sure you’re not physically meeting, but getting everyone together in one virtual space at a regular time definitely helps keep the team communicating. Many times meetings end up being the stage for problem-solving, such as addressing current issues or strategizing about how to tackle future ones.
Even if some meetings don’t have a strong objective, it’s still useful to get your team together. In the absence of immediate issues, meetings can serve as a refresh time for motivation, recap of upcoming deadlines, or critique of work in progress.
It’s helpful to post meeting notes for your team somewhere, too. Even if you log everything, simple notes are always faster. Teammates who missed out can see what was covered at a glance!
Depending on the project, you may consider weekly emails detailing progress and news, or simply opt to email people when there is a specific need, such as a new task.
It’s often helpful to build several groups or lists in your contacts: an all-inclusive list of your full team, as well as lists for your specializations, such as art and sound. By categorizing your correspondence, you’re less likely to burn your team out on emails. They’re able to quickly receive relevant information on their tasks without sifting through extra text.
Wikis and Docs
Whether you maintain a wiki or use something like Google Docs, online documents are the easiest to update and reference. Many document tools also keep a revision history, which is very handy!
A contact directory document has become a standard practice for remote projects I’m on. All team members fill in their various bits of contact information, including time zone and whether or not they can receive text messages.
Be sure to clarify in advance which team members you can text. Whether or not texting is an appropriate method for regular communication depends on your team, but texting can be a useful way to reach someone in a pinch. For instance, if a simple detail needs clarified, you can simply shoot a text message out to get a prompt answer, even if the teammate in question is away from their desk.
Things like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc. are helpful ways to stay connected with your team. You don’t have to constantly interact directly, posting weekly pictures of kittens and so forth, but it helps paint a better picture of what’s going on in their lives. For instance, if a team member has a family emergency you’ll know why you’re having a hard time getting a hold of them. When you don’t have casual down time in an office or academic setting, social media can help fill in some of the gaps in your social awareness.
While I certainly haven’t covered every method out there, I hope this has given you some ideas about how you can stay connected to your remote team and keep everyone moving towards the same goal. I welcome and look forward to additional ideas in the comments section below!