Building a great remote team is just like building any other team: you need diverse skills, hard workers, good communicators, a development program, the right tools to implement the right processes and a healthy company culture. Easy, right? Phew!
But while the very nature of remote teams might seem to present a special challenge, growing a remote team requires the same team building skills you’ve already honed with just a slight change of perspective. In other words, you’ve got this. You just need to adopt a digital and remote-first attitude.
Communications Is Key
As with any team, good communication is what keeps a remote team working efficiently. When it comes to a remote team, chat and meeting tools are a must. Best in class tools make communication easy and appealing, removing rather than adding barriers between team members.
Workplace chat and collaboration tool Slack continues to dominate among small and mid-size businesses, in part thanks to its ever-growing suite of pre-built integrations. Combine Slack with Google Drive, Trello or any of a thousand other productivity and collaboration apps to create workflows with your team’s specific needs in mind. If your team really values connecting face-to-face, try Discord a team chat app designed for gamers but suitable for all kinds of teams. Discord is similar to Slack in almost every feature, except that it prioritizes voice and video chat and makes them available at its lower pricing levels.
Make a Personal Connection
Just like other aspects of managing remote teams, you can use your existing skills to build real connections with your employees, so long as you reframe them for a remote-only context. Obviously you can’t have impromptu lunches, or take them out after work for drinks but there are plenty of other ways to build relationships.
Start by creating a communication schedule. This could mean regular check-ins, scrum calls, or all-hands weekly meetings. Scrum calls are most effective in small, focused teams that are experienced in scrum development style. All hands meetings can be a great way to deliver messages to a large group, and allow some discussion, but can feel too formal in small groups. Just what your communication schedule looks like will depend on the size and nature of your team, but the most important part is that you make one. Communicating regularly with your team is the bedrock of those relationships and can’t be neglected.
After creating an ongoing communication schedule, look for ways to communicate with your team outside of it. If you’ve implemented a team chat tool like Slack or Discord, participate in the off topic channel to learn about their interests and get a sense of overall team sentiment. Make a point of having video chats with your team members when you can, and where possible, look for opportunities to meet them in person such as conferences or yearly meetings.
Finally, set reasonable office hours for your remote team. Not only does this ensure that your team aren’t overworking themselves, it maximizes your opportunities to connect with them.
When it’s time to grow your team, think big. The best part of remote teams is that location is not a factor in your talent search. Whereas with an in office team you might lose out on top talent due to distance or a difficult commute, remote work eliminates those issues. Reconfigure your talent search to a global effort to find the best fit for your job order, no matter where a candidate resides. Your remote team might be composed of a core group of local remote workers and an auxiliary team spread out across the globe. Or it might be a team of digital nomads, never putting down roots in any one place. When it comes to remote teams, the possibilities are endless and you should take advantage of that.
Partnering with a professional employer organization allows you to engage international remote workers long term and provide them with the same kind of benefits your local remote team enjoys. If contractors aren’t a part of your team makeup, a PEO will allow you to take advantage of global talent trends while also enjoying an employer-employee relationship with people outside of your jurisdiction.
Invest in Creating a Great Team
Teams grow when you encourage them to. Investing in the personal growth of your remote team is just as important as investing in the right tools and digital infrastructure. A learning culture is one where improvement and exploration is valued at every level and in every part of the business. Being open to change and new ideas demonstrates your interest; materially investing in team development demonstrates your commitment. Both education subsidies and on the job training programs are proven ways to motivate employees, instill loyalty and increase job satisfaction.
Encourage a culture of continuous learning by making educational and accreditation support programs available to your team, collaborate on learning plans for employees who want to upskill their way into a new role on the team, and create a space where team members can freely exchange ideas and share interesting and relevant reads.
There are many ways to approach team development, and any one of them might be the right way for you. The important part is to recognize the importance of your team and invest in them.
Use the Right Metrics
Even if you set working hours for your remote team it may be difficult to get a sense of how much time they’re spending on task. While there are plenty of time tracking tools designed with remote workers in mind, we don’t recommend them. It’s not that these tools aren’t up to the task; it’s that you don’t have the right task in mind. Instead of worrying about how much time your team is spending on specific tasks, focus on ways to assess their overall success.
Remote workers have far fewer distractions than in office workers and tend to be more productive throughout the week. But because they are working remotely they may choose to structure their working time differently than your in office team members. Once you set expectations around working hours, communication, and job parameters, you should trust your remote team to get the job done and manage their time as they see fit. Look for tools that allow you to set expectations and measure results. For customer-facing roles a collaborative ticketing system gives you a clear picture of how productive and effective your team is. Project management tools like Trello or Asana are a good fit for any team working on multiple projects with complex task lists and timelines.
Finally, get old fashioned by instituting a formal feedback system. This could consist of yearly reviews, regular check ins, or self and team assessments – no one system is perfect for all teams. Setting clear expectations against which you can assess performance is the necessary first step for instituting any workplace metric, and encourages employees to create concrete goals.