I’ve been working with remote teams for 20 years. Here I’ll share some insights over what I’ve learnt and how to keep your teams aligned, motivated, accountable and delivering whilst working remotely. TL;DR Trust is key. Your hiring processes should have established that those working in your organisation believe in the mission, have the relevant experience for the role and the right culture fit to be part of the team.
If those things align then trust will be a key factor in ensuring all the systems you put in place work. As a leader if you are not able to trust your remote team you’ll be unable to reap success or create a positive, inclusive and productive culture. Your job after trusting your remote teams is to provide several building blocks that act as a foundation and glue for success:
Clear communication channels, efficient and optimised tooling, culture building, flexibility, virtual team building activities and learning and development opportunities. Of course the overarching pre-requisite is a deep understanding and believe in the company mission and product strategy.
1 Emphasise Clear Communication Channels
Effective communication is the cornerstone of any successful remote team. Establishing clear and reliable communication channels is vital for keeping team members connected and informed. Use something like slack to keep in touch with the day-to-day but be clear on boundaries – slacking team members out of typical work hours or over the weekend can have serious mental health implications. Use but don’t abuse the all hours access of these tools to help manage your team.
It can be disconcerting to join video calls where certain team members prefer to turn off their cameras. Unless there are reasons for this try to encourage people to join calls on time and in ‘person’ with their cameras turned on. Encourage promptness when joining meetings.
Use something like Loom to provide company updates rather than reams of text via email or a long slack message. Looms allow a little more of a human touch to comms by letting you pre-record a video message or share something such as a presentation but letting you guide your viewers through it.
2 Prioritise Digital Literacy and Technical Skills
In a remote work setting, team members must be proficient in digital tools and possess the technical skills necessary to navigate the virtual landscape. Ensure that your team members are comfortable with project management software, collaborative document editing tools, and video conferencing platforms. Provide training opportunities and resources to enhance their digital literacy, enabling them to work efficiently and independently.
Most of all do not take it for granted that everyone knows how to jump on Miro for example and start collaborating. Never assume but instead over communicate and provide instructions and guides to everything where possible. House this in something like Notion where your team will always know how to reference materials or find help.
3 Cultivate a Strong Team Culture
Building a strong team culture is challenging in a remote environment, but it’s essential for fostering collaboration and a sense of belonging. Encourage team-building activities, virtual social events, and open communication channels for casual conversations. Use team collaboration platforms to celebrate achievements, birthdays, and milestones. By creating a positive and inclusive virtual culture, you’ll enhance team morale and motivation.
At Healthily our Head of Design ran Design Jams. These were open invites for the design team to allow anyone to come and have a chat, see what the team were up to weekly. It proved a great way to hang out, discuss work in a less formal setting and also keep abreast of what was coming next.
4 Establish Clear Goals and Expectations
Clearly defined goals and expectations are crucial for remote teams. Set realistic objectives, outline key performance indicators (KPIs), and communicate expectations regarding work hours and availability. Regularly revisit and reassess these goals to ensure alignment with the team’s evolving dynamics and the organisation’s objectives.
This is one area where ambiguity is not flavour of the month. Be explicit in your expectations and what your success metrics are. This will help the team manage their own time and adjust accordingly.
5 Promote Autonomy and Flexibility
Remote work thrives on autonomy and flexibility. Empower your team members to manage their schedules and workflow independently, trusting them to deliver high-quality work. Encourage a results-oriented approach rather than focusing on the number of hours worked. Providing flexibility helps team members balance work and personal life, contributing to overall job satisfaction and productivity.
I spoke to several colleagues about this. Unfortunately in many organisations trust is still a major issue where CEOs (especially from more traditional career backgrounds) are unable to ‘let go’. They mistakenly believe that working from home or remote working is a cop-out and an unwanted by-product of COVID. Buffer’s 2022 State of Remote Work survey found that employees overwhelmingly recommend remote work to their colleagues and friends, and 86% of respondents prefer a fully remote or almost fully remote structure to either hybrid or full-time in-office work.
Available data suggests that remote workers are more productive than in-office employees, with fewer defects in work product output and quality. One 2013 study from Stanford University examined a Chinese travel agency’s experience and concluded that remote work boosted performance and productivity by up to 22% over in-office work. In addition, a 2015 survey reported by SHRM concluded that 77% of remote employees reported greater productivity, with 30% reporting that they got more done in less time.
6 Invest in Virtual Team Building Activities
Virtual team building activities are essential for creating strong connections among team members who may be geographically dispersed. Explore online team-building platforms, gamified challenges, and collaborative exercises that promote trust, communication, and problem-solving skills. These activities not only strengthen interpersonal relationships but also contribute to a more engaged and motivated team.
7 Continuous Learning and Development Opportunities
Provide access to online courses, webinars, and workshops that enhance both technical skills and soft skills. This not only ensures that your team remains at the forefront of industry trends but also demonstrates a commitment to their personal and professional growth.
I’ve often brought in specialised practitioners to coach and mentor not only the teams but also the c-suite. By leaning into personal development you’ll foster a sense of growth that will be long remembered even after your team moves to other organisations.
Remote working is not going away. It is better for workers, addresses an urgent need to re-address work/life balance and caters better to a workforce that flexes often depending upon life situation.