How to Keep Your Team Engaged Across Time Zones

    Managing a dispersed team can be tough enough, but directing a global workforce adds several layers of complexity. To keep everyone on the same page, you need to navigate a variety of obstacles which may include multiple time zones, diverse languages and disparate technologies.

    Beyond logistical issues, when people are not co-located, challenging circumstances can arise. For example, how do you facilitate a better understanding of culture and context? What can you do to develop a more cohesive team? How do you manage distractions?

    Good communication is key, and experts say the following best practices for team building can help you succeed. Don’t forget: Today’s communications technologies, such as web chat and video conferencing, also help you create a virtual workplace where team members can actually bond and build relationships.

    As you aim to create stronger connections, these four strategies can help you get your team to gel.

    Schedule Regular Meetings

    This may seem obvious, but when information isn’t shared consistently among team members, it can lead to mistakes or delayed projects. That’s one reason it’s imperative to schedule regular meetings. But it also presents an excellent opportunity for team building.

    When team members are located in the same place, it’s easier to build camaraderie, as they see each other regularly in the hall or cafeteria. But solidifying a group is more difficult when people are dispersed across different time zones and different cultures. A standing meeting not only keeps everyone focused on common goals, but also provides opportunities for the team to converse and get to know each other.

    Meet Face-to-Face Often

    There’s an old adage people use when they finally see the person they’ve been conversing with over the telephone, email or social media: “It’s nice to finally put a face to the name.” And it’s true: Being able to look your collaborator in the eye – even virtually - fundamentally changes a relationship’s dynamics and a stronger connection develops. Budgets may preclude in-person meetings, but video conferencing has a similar effect and can help your team establish stronger rapport.

    There’s Value in Chit-Chat

    Small talk often doesn’t get the credit it deserves. While light chatter at the beginning of an audio or video conference may seem like a distraction, it’s often the opposite. As Heidi K. Gardner and Mark Mortensen point out in the Harvard Business Review, we’re “social animals who leverage our knowledge of others to effectively collaborate” and personal chit-chat creates “shared experiences that increase the feeling of a shared we.”

    So embrace it. Start your meetings by asking team members about recent vacations or for news of their family. This will help them find common ground more quickly. Gardner and Mortensen also suggest virtual tours to help team members learn about each other’s work environments. This gives everyone both a sense of place and an understanding of potential interruptions that may arise during calls.

    Foster Water Cooler Conversations

    Some of the most innovative ideas come from casual social conversations. Even though your team is virtual, be sure to set up the equivalent of a water cooler, where team members can hold ad hoc meetings and brainstorm. Encourage liberal use of web chat among your team as well as impromptu video calls to work through challenging problems.

    Your team may work at a distance, but it can still be close. These methods can help you bridge the gaps and build collaborative working relationships.

    ShoreTel’s unified communications solutions are built to bridge gaps and make teams more productive. Take a look at our collaborative communications tools.

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