The ‘remote team’ can often feel like far-flung islanders, with their own laws and customs. But teams do better when they are unified. How can we integrate offsite and onsite teams?

Remote work is here to stay as workers benefit from improved quality of life and employers enjoy the ability to hire the best talent from anywhere in the world. But some workers will always be office-based, so how do we ensure that everyone on the team can be at their most productive? Here are three simple tips for integrating offsite and onsite teams.

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If one person is on a video call, everyone is

Tempting as it may be, avoid the tendency for the office-based staff to gather in a meeting room for a video call with members of the remote team. This instantly puts remote workers at a disadvantage. They struggle to hear what’s being said, may not be able to see visuals shown in the room and will miss non-verbal cues shared by those in the room. They will quickly feel excluded and unmotivated.

Instead, send everyone back to their desks and have them all join the video call. This puts everyone on an equal footing and ensures a quality experience for all. People can screen-share to include extra material, while side conversations are less likely to break out and disrupt the overall flow.

Where possible, have a remote team member lead the meeting. This ensures that everyone understands they are an important part of the team, no matter where they are. In fact, Darren Murph, Head of Remote at GitLab, argues that companies should go beyond making video meetings default to remote and have every process default to remote.

Share knowledge constantly and prioritise remote workers

There is no doubt that working in the same office has benefits. Remote working gives access to a broader range of talent, allows people to work when they are most productive, and is inclusive for those with chronic health conditions, disabilities and caring responsibilities. But it is hard to replicate when one person in the office has a question or a sudden idea and begins an impromptu whiteboard session.

When that happens in the office, it creates information that isn’t available to the remote team. That slows down the team as a whole because some members lack the latest information. Therefore, teams should deal with these situations by getting information into their remote tools as quickly as possible, for example by taking photos of the whiteboard and posting it to Slack.

In an environment where every process defaults to remote, however, these sessions would begin on digital whiteboarding tools, allowing anyone to join the collaboration, whether they are based in the office or remotely. This makes it especially important to ensure that everyone is trained on the tools available. Everyone knows how to use a physical whiteboard and a marker but the digital equivalent might take more time, which is why the physical version can be so tempting. The whole team should know what each tool is for, as well as how and when to use it.

Stop calling people remote

So far we’ve been referring to the “remote team” when talking about off site staff. Did you notice the effect that has? It subtly creates the impression that there is a remote team and an “actual team” and that they are two separate things. Read the above again, if you have a moment, and pay attention to the picture created in your mind with each description.

Every time we create the implication that the remote team is something different from the actual team, we add a metaphorical brick to the wall between onsite and offsite workers. This leads to proximity bias, when those working onsite get better treatment than the rest of the team. That creates resentment and eventually the offsite talent will quit.

You might think that this doesn’t apply when you have a team with no onsite members. An entirely offsite team that works on its own projects can still be excluded by describing them as “the remote team”. In fact, in some ways it can be more exclusionary because it makes those workers feel like an island, separate from the corporate mainland and not at all integrated.

Changing the language we use seems trivial, but subtle changes in how we describe and address people can make them feel included and valued – and it can shape how we think of them too. Avoid using language that suggests there are two teams instead of one, and correct anyone who does the same. Make sure everyone understands why you are doing it.

There is no overnight fix for the onsite-offsite divide. Teams are still getting used to coordinating among members in multiple locations, but implementing the steps above will help to speed that process.

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