Distance is no match for these remote team huddle strategies

The sudden shift to a remote office left many teams scrambling to maintain communication, productivity, and harmonious company culture. Lack of team structure can disrupt workflow, or worse, breed distrust. We quickly learned physical distance can be difficult, but emotional distance can be detrimental to a team’s morale. Gradually, remote offices assembled processes and implemented thorough procedures. Our community of facilitators stepped in to address immediate needs and support transitions with proven approaches to leading virtual teams. Yet there is an element of office work culture that organizations often struggle to adapt to in a virtual setting.

Leaders and facilitators must develop a substitution for the daily in-person interactions that build rapport and support a team’s feedback loop. 

But how do you have watercooler check-ins without a watercooler?

One proven way is through remote team huddles. There is a blurry line between team meetings and team huddles. While the definitions may vary across companies, at Voltage Control, we’ve outlined tried and true best practices for effective meetings. Meetings should include a purpose, an agenda, and a clear and tangible “prototype” or idea to flush out. Huddles, on the other hand, have a looser and less formal structure. While more succinct, if done correctly, huddles still encourage collaboration as well as provide a needed layer of accountability. In either case, we believe companies should not have a meeting for the sake of another meeting.

Before you send out that recurring invite to your team, here’s a look at what to do and what not to do when planning your next remote team huddle. For more advice, Voltage Control offers a weekly facilitation lab that hosts a community of facilitators who span skills, styles, and systems. The free workshop offers a safe place to explore, adapt, and practice facilitation approaches and methods.

Don’t overshare. Do have an agenda for your huddle.

Huddles offer teams a space to present challenges and seek input from team members. But this is not a free-for-all discussion. Just as you would have an agenda for an effective meeting, facilitators should also have an agenda for team huddles. The abbreviated agenda usually covers each team member’s current priorities and any issues they’re facing.  Shared tasks and initiatives should be unique and cover specifics. Huddles are not repetitive dialogue in which team members share their ongoing daily or weekly responsibilities. Instead, they should include special project updates or notable undertakings. This ensures that projects move forward and team members are supported if they’re feeling stuck. Without an agenda, you risk aimless conversations that don’t pertain to your team’s overall objectives.

Don’t pick a random timeslot. Do be strategic with scheduling, carving out times that work with your team dynamics.

Scheduling conflicts is one of the biggest hurdles when planning huddles. Optimal days and lengths look different for every team. Some teams need 15-minute huddles every afternoon while others need 30-minute morning huddles once a week. One option for teams that enjoy working alongside each other is to run a group call in the background during the workday. If someone has a question that doesn’t feel worthy of an entire email or just wants to have a quick chat, all they have to do is speak up. You may even find that your team works better with asynchronous huddles utilizing technologies such as Slack or Asana

To better identify what works best for your team, start by reviewing time zones and current schedules. Repetitive huddle allotments help team members ensure ongoing availability. Keep in mind that the huddles are designed to solve challenges, not be a challenge to attend.

Don’t ignore KPIs. Do encourage transparency.

Huddles are great for team building, but they should also keep team members aware of target objectives. This is an exceptional time to share metrics, KPIs, and project progress. Transparency here is key and will eventually boost performance. By discussing and addressing challenges in a group setting, individuals are more likely to take initiative in finding a resolution. If progress toward a specific goal is far off, that may be a sign that efforts or goals need to be reworked or redirected. Keeping everyone informed on one another’s project status will build a united front. 

Don’t ignore feedback. Do think about relationship building.

An important aspect of any meeting system is to collect feedback from all participants. Involving your team members’ feedback allows you to make necessary adjustments to your huddles. These continuous updates will improve participation and foster alignment. Incorporating feedback is also important in building genuine trust. Trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship. The biggest benefit of remote team huddles is cultivating and maintaining relationships even from afar. Listening to what your team requests and how they want to stay connected will only strengthen your bond. In our indefinite virtual workplace, this is a comradery you will want to continue to build.

Don’t think traditionally. Do get creative.

A decade ago, we could have never predicted the massive move to remote work. As organizations continue to develop innovative remote solutions to increase productivity, the traditional office appears more and more obsolete. Now is the time to think creatively about huddles. As mentioned prior, huddles don’t have to be designed in a specific format. Therefore, you can add elements to simulate an in-office experience. For example, the team can listen to a shared radio station such as JBQX.

Aside from apps, extensions, and plugins, additional elements that you could incorporate into huddles include personal announcements or achievements. Some team huddles include attendees sharing their current Netflix obsession or a favorite condiment they can’t live without. If you do include these personalized touches, be sure that they are part of the agenda and work within the brevity of the huddle. The point is this: adding these creative thoughtful details will keep your virtual team engaged and motivated.

Remember, it can be lonely out there.

Come to find, working remotely isn’t as marvelous as many would have thought. It can be a lonely experience, especially if you’re accustomed to a highly collaborative in-person work environment. It’s easy for team members to get stuck on an issue or lose sight of the big picture. You need strategies that pull everyone’s attention back to your overarching goal and feeling part of a team. Remote team huddles will ultimately keep your team better connected and establish a virtual work environment everyone can rely on. 

Whether you’re still adapting to a virtual workplace or you’re looking to swap ideas on the future of virtual facilitation, be sure to join our weekly meet-ups every Thursday, 1 – 3 p.m. CT, where the industry’s top facilitators are available to help you.