Building effective collaboration — Creating an environment to create innovative, collaborative ideas can be tricky when managing a remote team. However, setting the space for focused co-working, leading with strong communication, and holding and guiding space goes a long way to create an effective and enjoyable environment.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jo Gifford.

Jo Gifford is an author, podcaster, content creator, project manager and team member for multiple global agile teams. She helps founders and CEO’s develop content that creates change.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

I have been using content to create change for a very long time.

As a Senior Designer and Design Manager, I created, executed and managed concepts to sell products, ideas and lifestyles.

As a writer, I have written for some of the best known lifestyle brands and names to create communities, encourage sales, and establish identities.

As a blogger I have been part of movements to incite healthy eating, fitness and wellbeing, and been a voice for women with postnatal depression and chronic illness, women entrepreneurs building a business around families, and a vocal advocate for working to our unique brilliance and strengths.

As a project manager and content development lead I have designed and created conversations for cybersecurity, Fintech, fashion, the AI industry, and leadership development organisations.

Content gives us a voice.

It invites conversations, sparks movements and communities, builds platforms, facilitates missions, and creates change.

I am an author, podcaster, writer, project manager, creative thinker and prolific human connector.

I believe that human connection in teams is so important, all the more so when working remotely.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Managing remote teams has been part of my remit for many years. One of my favourite moments was hosting a remote team call having just returned from a morning rave — I was still dressed in my dance gear and covered in glitter. It certainly broke the ice!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Working remotely invites all kinds of funny situations to occur. One of my favourite moments was my Bengal cat making himself known during a livestream, throwing objects off a shelf to land (painfully!) on my head! It certainly shows that we are all human, and I learned to embrace whatever happens and roll with it. Being “professional” goes way beyond looking professional, which isn’t always possible when working from home.

What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

I think it’s crucial to make time for human connection and conversation in a team. It makes it easier for team members to articulate what they may need to thrive, and it also builds camaraderie and a sense of belonging and enjoyment. Allow space for the human-ness to exist alongside the work chats and tasks. In challenging times, we need “water cooler” talk and a supportive environment all the more.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

I have managed remote teams for agile projects for about 10 years.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

1. Building effective collaboration
Creating an environment to create innovative, collaborative ideas can be tricky when managing a remote team. However, setting the space for focused co-working, leading with strong communication, and holding and guiding space goes a long way to create an effective and enjoyable environment.

Using apps like helps to make collaboration real-time, visual, and fun.

2. Managing Overwhelm
Overwhelm can really quickly escalate with a barrage of messages, emails, and project communications.
Setting clear parameters for the team to communicate with concise information helps everyone stay focused, concise in their communication, and goes a long way to reducing fatigue and overwhelm.

A fun and effective way to do this is to invite responses to a concise check-in, whilst also inviting a personal, creative response. For example, checking in with an end of the day round-up in Slack using clear, concise terms, and a random fact about you.

3. Setting the Pace of work
When teams are working remotely, it is crucial to set expectations around the pace of work and communications on progress. Ensure that all team members are clear on the expectation (for examples, stand-ups are at 9.30 am daily, and report back in by 4pm with your end of day update), and include humor and personality in the ask for updates — after all, it doesn’t need to feel like a chore to do the work we love!

4. Creating space for and embracing different personalities
Allow space for different ways of processing and sharing information on a remote call. Some team members may be able to share concise updates easily, some may need to verbally process or take longer to share what they need to in order to feel heard. If time is tight, it can be tempting to rush people along, but holding space for a thinking environment can yield greater ease and productivity.

5.The Motivation Challenge
Staying motivated when working remotely is really important. Encourage your team to make space for self care, creative time, and exercise. After all, the best talent is worth keeping, so help them to stay well, excited and inspired by creating a culture that actively encourages time out.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

Giving constructive criticism remotely can be difficult. Where possible, invite your team member to a short meeting or call. Share with them several examples of things they have done that are going really well, that you are pleased with, and the company values. Set the space with clarity but also compassion to give feedback, and make sure your team member has the opportunity to ask questions and discuss your comments with you.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

Where possible, jump onto a call with any team member rather than sending an email where constructive feedback is needed. However, where that’s not possible, ensure you feed back positive traits and behaviour alongside areas that need improvement.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

A potential obstacle is feeling isolated, and missing out on the office camaraderie.
Offer some real-time co-working sessions on Zoom for those who need connection, or make space in the diary for team members to have a coffee chat in the day to keep the team spirit and connection up.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

Creating a culture that actively encourages time off, exercise, creative pursuits and articulating what you need to thrive will help to build an empowering work environment. Make space for your team to chat about their out of work pursuits and hobbies, and encourage them to try new things and to stay active and well, especially during lockdown or challenging times.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to create a love bomb movement, where every day you send a love bomb message to someone to allow them to feel seen and heard and loved, and you receive one back

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.” Brené Brown

This quote reminds me that we are all human, we will all fail over and over again, and we are all doing our best with what we have.

Thank you for these great insights!

Author Jo Gifford: Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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