A Lack of Collaboration Could Be Your Remote Team's Downfall

Business.com / Business Solutions / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Everyone in your organization has a contribution to make. Your employees are your biggest assets, so use them wisely.

Everyone in your organization has a contribution to make. Your employees are your biggest asset, and you can unlock unrealized value by tapping into the creativity and expertise that resides within. 

There are many clichés about team collaboration in the workforce. Unfortunately, hiding beneath the feel good catch-phrases lies much risk. Remote teams in particular are often unable to collaborate effectively, and that can be damaging to your business. 

Let’s start with a common scenario that we often see. When you started your company, you had a liberal telecommuting policy and as long as everyone got the job done, there were no complaints. Over time you added remote workers to your payroll. As your company grew it was hard to find local talent, and it was cheaper (yes, let’s not pretend this is not a factor) to hire workers overseas.  

Let’s fast forward. Today you have programmers in India, engineers in Israel, UI/UX in the Philippines and marketing in the U.S. (working from home). You may have a good business with great products and revenue, but along the way you probably cut corners by creating a distributed work structure. In the long-term, if you underinvest in creating a collaborative culture your long-term growth could be impacted. In today’s market, “long terms” happens faster than you realize.  

What is stopping your virtual team from collaborating?

Creating a collaborative work culture does not happen on its own. It requires an investment in time and resources, and it’s the line item on the budget that is often the first to be cut.

When you hire people from different cultures and countries, but everyone works in the same office, a melting pot of sorts is created. However, it is much harder to create a “virtual” melting pot where people primarily communicate via email and not everyone speaks the same language. You don’t get the benefit of reading non-verbal cues and body language when the only way you get to know your colleagues is via a weekly conference call or Skype session.

The risk here is creating an organization where everyone works in their own silos. In the short term, this works, but in the long term you may have a harder time staying competitive and offering innovative solutions to your customers. 

What is the solution? 

Based on my experience, the most important place to start is with the realization that you have a problem. In other words, if your remote marketing and development teams cannot collaborate on new products, then you need to rethink their respective roles in the organization.  

It is OK to hire people overseas to save money. Perhaps you are lucky and find remote workers that are flexible and culturally sensitive enough to work with team members across borders and nationalities. But if that is not case, don’t try to create a collaborative culture unless you are going to invest in their development. If you cannot afford to have an in-person project meeting, then you need to consider limiting the role of remote workers.

Finally, don’t “overdo” collaboration. When people work in close proximity it is much easier to solicit feedback and crowdsource ideas informally. However, when you assign a task to a team member that is out of their comfort zone, you may create unnecessary tension within your group. For instance, if everyone is in the same office it is acceptable to ask for everyone’s opinion on an creative ad copy. But if you hire a graphics designer in the Philippines to support your design team, don’t expect him to become a copywriter. You hired him for a specific task and it is unrealistic to expect him to create value for the wider team or organization. 

It would be great if there were a shortcut that could make collaboration easy. Unfortunately, the collaboration tools on the market mostly just speed up communications without changing the underlying team dynamics. You are probably saving money by hiring remote workers, but unless you are willing to re-spend some of the savings, don’t expect too much collaboration from your remote virtual team.   

Photo credit: Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock

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