Jul 22

A Guide to Building a Remote Team: 5 Essential Tips

The Future of Work

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Whether your organisation has made the active decision to have remote teams, or whether it happened unintentionally (perhaps due to the pandemic) the benefits of remote work are evident - for both employees and employers.

Research shows that over 80% of remote workers are less stressed than in-office workers. Productivity and efficiency levels also increase when employees work remotely. Having remote teams can build a more efficient, productive and healthy workforce as well as attract younger talent as millennials and Gen-Z prospects prefer the opportunity to work remotely*.

Building in-office teams can be a challenge, however building remote teams can be even more so.

Here are 5 Tips to consider when building a great remote team:

1. Decide on your Remote Model

There are many working models - from not remote at all to completely remote. A company’s choice of model shapes how work is done. Be aware of the inherent characteristics of each model and consider which works best for your specific organisation.

See the below 3 examples of remote-working models and their subsequent pros and cons:

A Guide to Building a Remote Team: 5 Essential Tips 1

✅ Great to establish a strong company presence in multiple locations

✅ Easy hiring and mentoring

🚫 High expenses (office rental, electricity, HR, etc.)

🚫 Low access to global talent

🚫 Prone to becoming “separated offices”

✅ Good option to trial remote work

🚫 Can be difficult to engage satellite workers

🚫 Less sustainable in the long-term

✅ Low turnover rate

✅ No commuting

✅ Access to global talent

✅ Simple set-up when processes are in place

🚫 Requires more selective hiring

🚫 Requires more effort to create culture, engagement, etc.

2. Use Documentation

Having documents that provide everything remote employees need to know about the company saves time when onboarding new team members and even when seasoned employees need a refresher. GitLab, the world's largest all-remote company, stores each department and team's goals and KPIs in a clearly documented handbook for visibility across the company to ensure transparency around what each team is accomplishing*.

Documents, like Google Docs, can also be used for documenting discussions, decisions, and actions. Everyone in the “meeting” can add notes and brainstorm. This method retains context for comments, discussions, and ideas, even if someone wasn't present for the original conversation.

Documentation helps with transparency, which is critical to remote work. In-office decisions are often only made by employees who were present in a meeting and those who were not present missed an opportunity to offer different perspectives. By documenting everything online for all to see, all employees are included in the conversation.

3. Communicate – always

Like any functioning relationship, communication is essential. It can be more difficult when everyone is remote. Luckily, good communication can be established through a combination of tools and processes.

Videoconferencing allows for more connective experiences than phone calls by allowing colleagues to see each other and observe body language. Many companies have a strict "camera on" policy to make up the lack of “face-to-face” experience when working remotely.

Slack and other collaboration software makes regular and often informal, communication easy and efficient with their desktop and mobile apps. Encourage remote employees to over-communicate and be more explicit with their team.

Proper processes are the foundation that sustains good communication. Leaders must clearly define communication protocol and set expectations for when remote workers must be accessible and on which medium (Slack, Microsoft Teams, text, phone, etc). As great as technology is, it is useless unless employees use it unreliably.

4. Encourage Deeper Connections

As humans, we need connection. When managing a remote team, it is important to take every opportunity to foster real connections.

Creating authentic, interpersonal connections is a big challenge in a distributed environment. Consider creating team rituals that help each person get to know each other."

Niki Lustig

Director of Learning and Development at GitHub

Lustig suggests starting both one-on-one and team meetings by checking how each person is doing. She encourages employees to share more about themselves, perhaps a personal story from the weekend. Lastly, she says it is important that everyone uses a photo of themselves on their profiles, instead of an avatar.

Encourage employees to create meaningful connections by helping them spend time together in real life. Some organisations allocate budget and resources to support remote team meet-ups for dinner, volunteering, and outdoor activities. Other companies organise small meetups every quarter to keep remote team connections as strong as possible.

5. Invest in Learning and Development

Great leaders (and great companies) invest time and energy to continually train and develop their team. This is no different with a distributed workforce.

Team development is not just an employee work-benefit, it's an essential investment in building a great team and a talented workforce. Lustig explain that "the challenge with a distributed workforce, especially one that is global, is making sure that you meet the unique needs and learning styles of each region you have workers.” GitHub offers annual learning and development compensation, so remote employees can learn what, when, and how they want.

Learning is key to personal and professional growth and providing both in-office and remote employees with the flexibility to pursue the learning that they're most interested in, and in their chosen method, is most effective.

Final Word

Remote teams bring high levels of employee satisfaction and can even lead to higher levels of productivity and quality of life. Consider the above tips and determine whether your business can benefit from a distributed workforce model.


About the author 

Julia Paton

Julia studied a Bachelor of Arts degree with majors in Film, English and Psychology followed by a Post-Graduate Diploma in Marketing, both at the University of Cape Town. Whilst at university, she co-founded “Shots Fired Productions” a photography & videography micro-business. In addition to her entrepreneurial spirit, Julia brings to the team international experience gained from working at an advertising agency in Hamburg (Germany) and managing the marketing portfolio at an AI & Data Science Company in Sydney (Australia).

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