For many people, the flexibility of working remotely is one of the greatest innovations of the digital era. It opens opportunities many of us might not have otherwise. But it’s not just workers who benefit; using remote teams offers many benefits for businesses of all sizes as well.
The pros and cons of having a remote team are covered in depth in plenty of other places, so we won’t do that here. We know that they offer increased diversity, talent, and productivity. We also know that there are potential pitfalls, such as security concerns, personal distractions, and a weaker company culture.
Today we want to talk about the importance of face-to-face meetings for remote teams like ours.
Sometimes it’s as simple as meeting over Zoom or Google Meet regularly to connect and brainstorm. But in-person meetings are even better.
Several of our team members live close enough to one another for weekly co-working meet-ups. These meet-ups allow them to collaborate in person on a regular basis.
For those of us who are more isolated, this happens through bi-annual retreats. Retreats are an opportunity for leaders to remind their team of the company’s vision and core values, to connect on a deeper level than happens via Slack or Basecamp, and to brainstorm in person.
1. Create a strong company culture
A strong company culture contributes to a better working environment, happier team members, better idea sharing, and more. It’s hard—though not impossible—to develop that without face-to-face meetings. Remote team members are often heads down doing their own work and less likely to bump into one another in the hallways.
What is company culture? Your company culture includes things like how you celebrate wins, how you handle disagreements, the way team members communicate with one another, your commitment to integrity, and so much more.
This can be communicated in emails and through Slack messages. (As the newest team member, I can attest that Agathon has developed a strong culture through Slack.) But as with any area of life, walking the walk is more important than talking the talk. This happens more easily in-person.
2. Strengthen relationships between individual team members
It can easy to forget that your coworkers are real people if there’s not an outlet for sharing personal stories, joking around, and having fun.
While it might seem superfluous, having fun together is just as important for building strong relationships among coworkers as it is for friends and spouses.
You can, of course, have fun together through Slack, Zoom, or whatever channel your company uses to communicate. The team at Agathon regularly participates in puzzle challenges, and some of our team members are fairly competitive. Often these become studies in hilarity as we work together to solve obscure puzzles.
Laughing together online is good. But there is something about laughing, eating, and doing hard things together in person that strengthens those bonds in a different way.
3. Better ideas with “blackboard sessions”
Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators traces the history of innovation from the days of Charles Babbage’s difference engine through the invention of the digital computer and on through today. One theme that emerges time and time again is the power of getting people together in a room to share ideas and brainstorm together.
Walter Brattain, one of the inventors of the transistor, referred to these as blackboard sessions, where “one person’s remarks suggest an idea to another.”
This is an area where video calls can stand in the gap for in-person meetings. Teams can learn to communicate by video as they would in person with practice and commitment.
Seeing other people face-to-face helps you better read their facial expressions and body language. This is true even over video. It also makes it easier to push back on one another’s ideas to fight for the best idea. And it speeds up the give and take of ideas during brainstorming sessions.
We know that in-person meetings aren’t always possible for remote teams. Video calls can help strengthen the culture and connections of remote teams who aren’t able to spend time together in person.
But if your company has the opportunity to meet in person, take it! It can have a huge impact on your company culture, collaboration, and idea generation. There’s something magical about getting people in the same room together; nothing replaces that personal connection!
We know because we’ve seen the power of these face-to-face meetings ourselves!