When you work with a remote team, it can be easy to forget about the power of communication. You might think that when you are not face-to-face with your coworkers, it's ok to skip a few steps and streamline the process.
However, this is not true.
In order for good communication to happen, there has to be an agreement on what kind of behaviors and values will show up during the conversation. Many teams allow that agreement to be implicit, something that gets established over time based on the norms of the organization.
A more effective approach, though, is to state upfront how you want your remote team to run.
This article will give you some insight into how to avoid miscommunication by creating a team agreement: a basic set of expectations for how to work together with your remote team.
Definition: A team agreement is a set of values, principles, or behaviors that we use to improve our communication and keep each other accountable.
Step 1: Decide what behaviors and values to embrace.
The first step in creating a team agreement is to define what kind of behaviors and values you want to show up when you work together. It's important that this be an ongoing conversation, not just something you do once at the beginning of your remote journey.
Step 2: Determine consequences.
Once you have created a list, the next step is to figure out how this agreement will be enforced.
The team can decide that if someone breaks one of these guidelines they are removed from the call until they apologize and commit to not repeating it again. Or perhaps there are consequences associated with breaking agreements, like having to share your point of view last during the next group discussion.
Step 3: Save and share your team agreement doc.
Team agreements should be something that you treat with respect and care, which means you need to make them visible. That way it's easy for anyone at any time to see what the team agreement is and how they can contribute to upholding it.
Step 4: Work on our communication skills.
In order to have a strong team agreement, you also need great communication skills. This means being able to do things like listen and understand what the other person is saying without getting too attached or defensive about it.
Gather the team and have everyone commit to improving communication skills.
Step 5: Copy this team agreement template and make it your own.
Below is a sample team agreement that you can use as a basis for your own agreement. If it's still not clear what a team agreement might look like, this example should help you understand what it is.
(Btw, some people also call this a "working agreement", "team protocols", or "remote work contract".)
Team Agreement Template:
Our team agreement is to show up with respect and kindness towards each other.
When someone says something that triggers you, try not to react right away. Instead, take a deep breath and use your words in the moment rather than lashing out at them later on. Be aware of what's happening inside you when it comes to reacting.
If we disagree with someone, we will ask for more information and they can do the same in return. We try to listen deeply so that everyone's perspective is heard before making a decision together as a team.
Disagreements are not personal attacks on each other or our work ethic—it simply means one person has a different perspective than the other.
If we make a mistake, we own it and take responsibility for our actions instead of pointing fingers at each other or trying to find someone else who is responsible for what happened. We learn from mistakes rather than hiding them away because they are uncomfortable feelings. And if needed, we will let everyone know what we are learning next time so that it doesn't happen again.
If someone feels uncomfortable participating in a project or meeting, they can say no and not feel bad about it. It's ok to take care of yourself first before helping others out. We encourage everyone to set boundaries for themselves if needed whether that is saying "no" to a request or setting limits on how much they commit to something.
We agree that if we see someone else not living up to these agreements, we will lovingly hold them accountable and encourage them towards better behavior.
If you need support from your teammates, please let us know as soon as possible so that we can work together towards a solution.
We agree to check in with each other when we feel like something isn't working and discuss what the root of the issue is together. And then decide how we can resolve this so that it doesn't happen again.
Where Next? Sync vs. Async
Now that you have your team agreement in place, your communication values are clear for the team to see. However, another equally important question remains. How are you going to communicate? It may seem obvious at first: you'll have meetings, send emails—do things the way they've always been done. But that would be a mistake.
A better solution would be to consider synchronous vs asynchronous communication, and when to use each.
(Hint: Async is great for remote teams.)