How to Effectively Build and Manage a Remote Team
onMay 9th, 2019
- Updated onMay 14, 2019 - 9:56am
Today’s technology allows companies to build remote teams for many types of roles, including IT, sales, marketing, design, and customer support (among others).
... the future of work is increasingly going to be dominated by remote working, which is quickly taking hold around the globe thanks to the productive results it delivers to business owners. - Jessica Stevens, Glassdoor
If you are a leader considering building and managing a remote team, you’ll want to set yourself up for success, taking into account the pitfalls you want to avoid.
The Challenges of Remote Team Working
While there are plenty of benefits to having remote staff, including lower expenses, access to top industry talent, and increased productivity, not every business gets it right.
- Being spread across time zones can make it challenging to find time to meet virtually.
- Working with employees in different countries may mean there are significant cultural differences to account for.
- It may be difficult to create a real sense of bonding with employees who only interact via email, chat, and the occasional video call.
- Remote employees may be left out of the loop because they don't have the opportunity to be part of impromptu conversations during working hours or social activities outside of them.
Still, none of these problems are insurmountable. It’s all about creating a solid foundation for your remote team and nurturing it over time.
In this post, we explore seven steps leaders and their organizations can take to ensure they build and maintain high-performing remote teams and/or teams that are made up of full-time remote employees.
1. Look for Team Members with Remote Experience and Skillsets
Not everyone thrives working remotely, so in addition to whatever experience you’re looking for, make sure you get a sense of a job candidate's track record when hiring remote team members.
How can you tell if a prospective team member is adept with virtual work? Consider the following questions:
- Is the role client-facing? How important it is to have a professional environment, free of barking dogs and screaming children?
- What experiences and challenges has he/she had working remotely in previous roles/organizations?
- How long has he/she worked remotely?
- What is the working set up? Is there a dedicated home office? Can any background noises be adequately controlled?
- What is the technology setup? Is the Internet bandwidth reliable and sufficient for the role requirements?
- What is his/her digital literacy? How strong are his/her skills in using software, including a comfort level in learning to use new tools?
- What have been the advantages personally as well as for the organization?
- What drawbacks has he/she encountered and how have these been overcome?
The good news is that you can be more selective than when hiring locally. This is especially important when seeking people with highly-specialized job skills and/or skills in high demand and/or in a tight labor market. You can expect to have more choice when looking outside your immediate 'commutable' geography, not to mention the benefits of avoiding relocation costs and impact.
2. Digitize the Onboarding Process
The early days are always most challenging for new hires and this has the potential to be exacerbated when team members are working virtually. You may have a solid onboarding process that involves physical documents, but now’s the time to transform this process into a digital one.
Any documents that a new hire needs to sign can be uploaded to an electronic signature service that will allow your new employee to review and digitally sign the documents. You can send your company handbook and benefits information via email. You can set up a training module site that a new hire can log in to use any time.
To acclimate your new team members to your company, consider pairing her up with another employee virtually. That person can give her a sense of what to expect with the company as well as the remote team and answer questions in her first weeks.
3. Include the Remote Factor in Training
You need to assimilate new remote hires as you would those working in your office, but consider what additional training may be necessary to ensure virtual team members are up and running as quickly as possible.
Consider also how they will interact with colleagues, factoring in the degree of interaction necessary. Consider the materials, resources, and information needed by your remote team members. This includes access to network drives and information housed on them. Be available for guidance and to answer questions, particularly in the early days and weeks after onboarding.
4. Empower Your Team with the Right Software
Your remote team will 100% rely on software to do its job, so make sure to invest in the tools that will set them up for success and optimal productivity.
They’ll need video chat software to have virtual face-to-face time each week, as well as project management apps to assign tasks, update status, and share documents. Giving access to appointment scheduling tools or call center software can also maximize their efficiency when booking meetings and communicating with clients.
You may want time tracking software to keep up with how much your employees have worked, or a cloud-based document platform so that it’s easy to collaborate on documents.
5. Create a Virtual Culture
It's important to understand how to build relationships with remote employees, individualize your approach to managing them and help them achieve their best performance each day. The first step to doing these things is establishing trust. - Adam Hickman and Tonya Fredstrom, Gallup
It’s a little more challenging to create a company culture when your team is spread out, but it’s still possible. Realize that how you interact will be different from the way you do with employees in the office. Gallup advises leaders of remote teams that building and maintaining employees' trust is essential to their sense of belonging to you, their team and the organization. In their research, they also highlighted the importance of hope, compassion, and stability as cornerstones of remote workers' engagement and performance.
Try to find ways to inject personality and humor into the workflow. Fun team building activities don't have to be restricted to in-person teams. There are also ways you can socialize and create bonds, even if you’re thousands of miles apart. For example, you could host a weekly virtual trivia game, hold a physical fitness challenge, or take turns sharing music playlists.
If your employees live in different cultures, you could highlight one each month and ask them to share a few interesting cultural facts about their country as a way to educate the rest of the team on their diverse colleagues.
Encourage casual banter, jokes (tasteful, of course), and GIFs as a way to get past the work persona of each team member.
6. Provide Ongoing Coaching
Hiring and training a virtual team isn’t going to guarantee success, but what can make a difference is having regular check-ins to make sure projects are on track and barriers are identified and removed. You and your team might benefit from team coaching, which helps set and achieve team goals and ensures that employees are working together cohesively and effectively.
The team as a whole may benefit from coaching, but also spend time one-on-one with each employee to ensure that each team member feels like a valuable and respected contributor to the group. This is where you’ll uncover any issues that might not come up in a team meeting. Be sure to listen objectively and find ways to address any needs, problems, and/or concerns.
7. Schedule Meetups
It may not be possible for everyone on a virtual team to meet up, particularly if some employees live in other countries, but if at all possible, plan for at least one get together a year. This gives team members the chance to really connect in person; it can be difficult to do so online when you’re solely focused on the task at hand. Being in the same room allows everyone to just relax and build on what they’ve forged working together.
The meetup could be work-focused but also allow for some downtime. Organize a dinner or happy hour so your team gets the chance to unwind and get to know one another.
Remote teams can be hugely beneficial for your company, but keep in mind: they require nurturing. Make sure each team has a manager who is adept at connecting with virtual employees to keep them engaged and productive.
If at any point, you feel like working remotely is a liability rather than an asset, reexamine the setup. You might have one team member that's struggling to work remotely, and who is holding up the rest of the team. Coach him/her about the performance. Because it’s all too easy to have an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality about employees that you don’t see regularly, it can also be difficult to spot employee performance issues if you’re not tapped into what’s happening. Make a point of staying on top of the situation so you can address issues before they get too large.
Christine Soeun Choi is a digital marketing associate at Fit Small Business. Currently based in NYC, she has a background in business studies and math with a passion for business development. Outside of work, Christine enjoys taking photos, exploring artwork, and traveling.