How to build an effective remote team

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Written By Hrishikesh

A passionate gemstone enthusiast and seasoned business strategist, I blend my love for crystals with practical business insights.

When working remotely, your teammates are left to their own devices. A lot of factors go into making sure that the team works at its best and gives the desired results. Right from a good workspace to trustable members to focused hiring tactics, the way you face things in a remote environment differs from in-office.

The Covid-19 pandemic put companies into a sudden remote situation. Readjusting teams to a remote working environment was far from easy. Most companies weren’t prepared and had no idea of how to go about with this change. Fortunately though, we do have examples of companies such as Doist, GitLab, etc. that have been remote for a while.

Building a strong and effective team remotely is a challenge at any time. Even bigger, established remote companies like GitLab are no strangers to the challenges faced while building a remote team. So how do they deal with it? Surely there would be some secrets which led these companies to become pioneers of the remote working movement?

In the below section, find all you need to know about how to build a remote team. Every team works differently and you would need to do some trial and error to find out the strategy that works best for you.

Building an Effective Remote Team

Rethink rules

The same rules that you’d have implemented in an office aren’t suitable for remote teams. For example, if your office team works between 9am – 5pm, it’s probably not going to work remotely.

In a remote environment, individuals should be given the flexibility to work when they are at their productive best. You should keep this in mind when formulating your company rulebook and make it conducive to a remote working environment.

Hire the right people

Trust in your team is often the most important factor. Remote workers are given complete autonomy and the only way the company can progress is if everyone assumes responsibility. At the same time, there is no easy way to assure this. 

  1. When hiring members for your team, make sure you focus on the right metrics. 
  2. Written communication skills and a self-starter attitude are a must for remote workers, and you should ideally have interview rounds that explicitly focus on these. 
  3. If you do not have the time, opt for remote employee hiring products that help you hire the right people for your needs.

Although there is no easy way to assure whether your hires will take responsibility, do not make use of employee monitoring tools to check their performance. These are a breach of both trust and privacy. Research has shown that monitoring employees is likely to make them want to quit the job due to performance stress. Instead, opt for an initial trial period to ensure that they fit well with your culture.

Onboard remote employees effectively

You need to also dedicate a good amount of time to onboarding your new employees. Remote onboarding is different from in-person onboarding and often tougher. This is because in an office, it’s easier to problem-solve and imitate culture, particularly in the initial days. In a remote environment, without visual cues, gauging the new hire’s understanding can be challenging.

To tackle this, you can 

  • Create and follow an onboarding checklist. 
  • Include targets for when you want each part of the onboarding process to be completed and assign responsibilities to members. 
  • For example, the pre-joining onboarding checklist would include background checks, documentation, company account credentials and a broad plan for the first week.
  • Similarly, have targets for different parts of the onboarding. 
  • Assign a mentor to the new joinee and have regular check-ins to make sure everything is on track. 

Established remote companies like Doist have a comprehensive remote onboarding process which aids to its 97%+ retention rate and is a good example to aspiring remote companies.

Focus on written communication

In a remote work environment, almost all your communication should happen in writing. Meetings can be an unnecessary waste of time and should be avoided as much as possible. Instead, written communication should be honored in a remote team.

For this, you can employ a few steps:

  • Choose the right written communication tools for mailing and general communication purposes. Slack, MS Teams, etc. are good options to consider. 
  • Stress upon the importance of communicating clearly through writing, right from the hiring rounds.
  • Give employees instructions to make sure that the receiver has complete context upon the topic of conversation. 

Document and communicate your culture and functioning

Work on building a positive remote culture from the very first day. Every member of the team should know what to expect and be aligned with the company culture. This should also be explicitly communicated to the team members.

The culture should be communicated to the team in an easy to digest format. Take for instance, an acronym that clearly states out the expectations.

At Flexiple, we have it as our ROAD to success:

Reliability: Live up to your commitments

Output: Create impact each day, not clock hrs

Asking: If you don’t know, ask & learn

Documentation: Write before & after you talk 

Have an extensive handbook where you include the culture at the very start. In a remote environment, documentation is a must as employees can refer to it instead of pinging others and wasting time. The handbook should include every process that happens in your team and elaborate upon it.

Your culture should also be communicated in your company wiki and regular emails to the team. You can send cutouts or merchandise to the members with the acronym printed onto it. The handbook/ team wiki should be an easily accessible link available to all team members.

Pay attention to mental wellbeing

Do not ignore your own or your employees’ mental health. You can do a few things towards this:

  1. Facilitate employees to talk about it by providing channels specifically for this purpose. Let your employees partner up in teams of two where they can talk about their overall wellness. Also encourage managers to have 1:1s with the team to talk about stuff outside of work.
  1. The isolation that accompanies remote work needs to be tackled so that your employees are happy and at their productive best. Try to also encourage them to work from coworking spaces a few times a month. Don’t restrict this just to coworking spaces though, make it possible for employees to work out of coffee shops or other recreational spaces as they wish, provided they deliver on their work responsibly.
  1. Also include time for structured and unstructured social events where employees can have fun together and socialize. Keep monthly targets for how many such events you wish to organise and keep one person responsible for this.

Take for example Hubspot. The company had a number of initiatives such as a dedicated day off from work in 2020, and ‘No meeting Fridays’ to cope with the stress of remote working amidst the pandemic.

Ensure a proper work setup

Your employees will not be able to work productively if they are not in an environment that allows them to do so. The work setup they use goes a long way in ensuring that they are not hindered in any way. Considering this, companies of all scales including the likes of Facebook and Google gave special assistance to employees to set up home offices.

To ensure that your employees are productive and workspaces are not a hindrance,

  • Tell your team to set up a workstation at their homes. This should be in an area where they are not distracted by other members of their household. 
  • Ensure that their system, internet connection, power backup, etc. all meet a minimum requirement. Only when these things do not constantly trouble your employees will they be at peace. 
  • If possible, provide for equipment and offer to pay bills yourself.

Have a mix of full-time and part-time contractors

If you have to beat large companies in the war for talent, it’s a given that you have to hire smartly. As such, restricting your options could be a big mistake.

Remote work gives you the privilege to hire globally and you need to take advantage of it. Do not hire only in full-time contracts, but rather be open to hiring part-timers and/or contractual employees (freelancers). Be open to using deep job platforms to hire employees suited for your needs.

Individuals are enabled to work at their best when they are given the flexibility and autonomy they need, and the type of contract doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, if you have responsible employees who you trust to deliver, that should be enough to make your company do well. The type of contract does not affect performance and shouldn’t hinder you from hiring.