Remote working in the charity sector – it’s about more than tech

How charities can ensure their teams successfully embrace remote working – and why it’s not all about technology

Guest Writer | 29th Jan 18

Ally Yates, author of Utter Confidence: How what you say and do influences your effectiveness in business, outlines 10 ways charities can ensure their teams can successfully embrace remote working – and reveals why it’s not all about technology

With keeping costs to a minimum being a priority for any charity, remote working has become more and more popular. It brings many benefits, including reducing the cost of office space, helping to attract higher calibre staff and facilitating flexible and part-time working.

But among these many benefits are also some challenges. So how do you ensure you’re getting the most from remote team?


1. Contract clear rules for working together

Clear rules help you get the work done more efficiently and effectively. At the outset, it’s useful to explore and agree how often you’ll connect, and for how long. Also, what happens in the space between diarised interactions? Establishing this clarity provides a drumbeat for your interactions which is overlaid by the percussion of appropriate ground rules: for example, everyone will arrive online on time; don’t interrupt the speaker. These are particularly helpful where people have different cultural expectations about what is acceptable.

As new members join the team it is worth re-visiting and re-evaluating the group norms. Are they effective? What more do you need to do to improve your ways of working?


2. Create a shared direction

A common sense of purpose and agreed outcomes are particularly important for a remote team where it’s all too easy for people to go off-track. It is helpful to define both what the direction is and what this means for each person involved in terms of tasks and deliverables. Use these as the basis for measuring your progress.


3. Build trust and familiarity

This is much harder to achieve when you are in one location, while your colleagues are scattered across five other countries. High performing teams treat trust-building as a priority, and with good reason. As human beings, we are pack animals with an innate need to belong.  To help you and your colleagues feel you are of the same tribe, or at least share some common ground, you can create some social time in your meetings, inviting people to share something of their personal and professional self. And, believe it or not, it’s the personal details that resonate most.


4. Share the airtime

Research by Jarvenpaa and Leidner found that high trust teams had “predictable communication patterns”, where the team members’ contribution levels were evenly spread. In managing the distribution of airtime, each team member has a responsibility to keep track of who is in (or out of) the conversation and to rectify the balance. Monitor the level of your own contributions compared with others. Are you taking too much of the airtime?


5. Share the lead

The more successful teams share leadership across team members, depending on where the relevant knowledge lay. In a well-managed project, each activity stream has a ‘single point of accountability’ (SPOA), an individual who is responsible for that strand of work. Allowing each SPOA to lead on his/her stream nurtures that accountability and often provides a development opportunity for a team member. If you’re a team leader, it’s important to remember you don’t have to hold all the cards in your hand: you can practice your skills of delegation and provide development opportunities for others.


6. Allocate roles

Meetings benefit from team members agreeing roles such as Chair, Timekeeper, Minute taker, a Scribe who is adept at using technology so that discussion points are captured for all to see, and a Knowledge Manager who acts as the team curator, ensuring all the good work is recorded, not lost. This can also be a useful reminder for everyone as to what needs to be done, by who and by when.


7. Exploit diversity

In almost any team you’re likely to have cultural, professional and personal diversity. High performing teams know the make-up of their diversity and work hard to leverage the value from the differing perspectives. And where diversity doesn’t exist (or more likely is less pronounced), they will create it.

Margerison and McCann’s work has found that high performing teams cover eight different team roles that each comprise a combination of types of work (e.g. upholding standards or creating ideas) and personal preferences (e.g. working with details, or requiring constant stimulus to keep boredom at bay). Covering all eight roles often requires members of the team to work outside their preferences. Working contrary to type means learning new behaviours and building different behavioural muscle, depending on the role you are fulfilling. Making the most of the diversity around you relies on your curiosity and willingness to explore rather than judge. As Ed Hess writes: “Ask to learn, not to confirm.”


8. Facilitate round-the-clock working

Many global virtual teams relay work around the globe from one time zone to another. Master your baton passing by providing a clear explanation of progress to date, suggesting or asking what needs to happen next, inviting and giving reactions, and recognising what has been achieved.


9. Value people’s contributions

Everyone wants to be appreciated and enjoys that dopamine hit. Regardless of whether you’re a team leader or a team member, you can notice what people have achieved, the effort they’ve made and the way in which they are contributing to the discussion. Showing your appreciation helps to accelerate the level of trust in remote teams, which is critical to successful working.


10. Team leaders facilitate in the meeting and guide outside the meeting

The larger your team, the more susceptible you are to fragmented, unclear communications. This inevitably has an impact on levels of engagement and the priority team members give to the work.

In between virtual meetings work with each team member to question, refine and develop their work. Wherever possible you can lead with questions, helping them to draw on their resources, extend their networks and learn from what has been achieved (or not).

Using your time well between meetings helps team members continue to generate and evaluate ideas, respond to each other and plan for the next session so that everyone is prepared, no one feels under pressure and everyone can make a contribution.



Ally Yates is an expert on behaviour analysis and the interactions that define us. She combines a deep understanding of people and how to achieve results, based on her many years’ experience working with large corporate clients around the world.