We’re grateful to Hrishikesh for sharing his expertise. Any opinions expressed within this blog post are those of the author and not necessarily held by Workplaceless itself.
It’s been a while since the world had to go through a sudden shift to working remotely. As the COVID-19 pandemic forced companies to go remote, the reception was mixed. Companies had to restructure their teams, find remote practices that work well and ensure that there was no loss of productivity, all at the same time. Given the suddenness of the situation, this definitely wasn’t easy.
In a remote environment, the way a team functions is very different from a co-located setting. Teams have to find what works best for them and effectively coordinate with each other. Processes such as hiring and onboarding are also affected. There is no one success factor which works for every team.
Although remote work may seem fairly new to a lot of us, there are companies such as Doist, Gitlab, and others that have been working remotely for a while now. These companies have successfully pioneered the remote work movement. With some trial and error, these companies found what works best for them and other companies are now fortunate enough to borrow tactics from them.
There is no one secret to building an effective remote team that works for all. You need to test some of your own processes and find out what works best for your team. However, the following seven considerations are a good place to start:
1. Rethink Hiring and Onboarding
The skills you’d look for in remote employees should be focused on their ability to work independently and without anyone to motivate them. Written communication is also an important factor as successful remote teams utilize async communication, and therefore almost all your communication will happen in writing. Similarly, determine the other factors that are most important for your team and hire accordingly.
Remote onboarding poses challenges around effectively imitating culture and problem-solving. Create a step by step onboarding checklist to effectively onboard new hires. This checklist should contain targets for things to be done before the new hire joins, on the first day, during the first week, and until the onboarding is complete. This way, you and your new hires will have a clear idea of what to expect.
2. Don’t Apply the Same In-Office Rules
In a remote environment, the same rules that you’d have applied to an office aren’t always effective. Individuals should be given the flexibility to work when they are most productive and having strict rules around timing does not support this flexibility.
When formulating the company rulebook, keep in mind that the needs while working remotely such as working hours and workstation are different from an office. If you have a distributed team, employees may work from different time zones. Set rules to allow smooth collaboration between the members so that the time zone differences do not become hindrances.
3. Create a Company Handbook or Team Wiki
Take notes from Gitlab’s handbook. The guide has over 10,000 pages and contains answers to every question that employees may have. Employees are also encouraged to add answers to new questions as they come across them.
Your team handbook may be just 2 or 3 pages long, but make sure it is easily accessible to everyone. This should be a wiki addressing all the areas of remote work in your organization. Communication guidelines, workspace settings, and company culture should be put in the wiki. For example, if your team is supposed to use Slack for all communication and resort to phone calls only in the case of an emergency, this should be documented in your company handbook. Distilling all of these details into a communication charter will prove to be incredibly helpful for your team.
4. Give Your Team the Best Remote Tools
In an office, the tools you use aren’t made to facilitate collaboration among remote members. Remote collaboration needs are fairly different in comparison. For example, when you are presenting something to your teammates, given that they are not right in front of you and you can’t move around, maintaining efficiency is a challenge.
Fortunately, more and more, companies are making changes to their tools to make them more suited for remote work. Find the best tools for your purposes and utilize them. A Google search should give you a good start on the best tools for various remote collaboration purposes, and this Forbes article highlights the types of remote-first tools to consider.
At a physical tools level, although remote work allows you to work from anywhere, you need to be strict about the basic requirements. Ensure that at any point, your employees have a good computer, internet connection, and other basic needs such as a work desk. Provide for these amenities at the company level if possible.
5. Build Your Team on Trust
Using surveillance tools to monitor your employees could be the worst decision you make. Successful remote teams are built on trust, and employees should care about the company’s success. This is evident from companies like Doist and Basecamp, which have been remote for a long time and do not monitor their employees.
Use of surveillance software is a breach of privacy and trust, besides being immoral. It can encourage people to game the system. Instead of time put in, evaluate your employees solely on the output they are able to generate. This will motivate them to give in their best while enabling them to make the most of remote work.
To effectively manage the performance of the team, make members responsible for the results and judge their performance based on output. Set a framework for how you want to go about it and encourage them to work well based on that.
6. Make Social Events Happen
In small companies, team events tend to be neglected. With work taking priority, there’s hardly any time left for socialization. Remember that in a remote setting, members do not always organically communicate with each other outside of work. This could lead to lack of camaraderie among your team members. Having a target for how many structured social events you wish to have in a month is a good idea.
Unstructured social events are equally important since they will help your team develop a natural bond. An example can be an event where everyone gets to talk for 5 minutes about anything they like—it could be something good or bad that happened in the week or it could be something very important to them, say their pet or a hobby. You can also make certain people in your team responsible for planning these relationship building activities.
7. Mental Wellbeing Must Be a Top Priority
One of the major downsides of working remotely is the isolation that comes with it. If you don’t tackle it from the start, it is likely to build up and have serious consequences on your health.
It isn’t just the individual’s responsibility to take care of their own mental wellbeing but you, as a leader, must provide channels for them to actively speak about this and seek solutions.
Here are some specific pointers you can follow and implement:
- Recognise the issue: Mental health challenges while working remotely are real, and the first step towards reaching a solution is to openly recognise that it’s an issue.
- Build an open culture: It’s easy to assume everything is fine when you don’t see or meet your teammates. So it’s critical that you ensure there’s an environment where everyone can freely talk.
- Support your teammates: It is tough to open up about your problems with depression or stress. But once someone has done that, it is important that their teammates support them.
- Make it a part of your culture: Your culture needs to reflect practical steps that support mental wellbeing. For example, established remote companies like Doist have coworking perks and sick days for mental health.
Hopefully, these pointers will help you build a strong remote team and culture. However, do keep in mind that building a remote team or company is a unique journey that includes lots of trial and error.
So while you should keep these guidelines in mind, the best way to build a remote team is to keep learning, executing, and experimenting. If you need help in this journey and want to interact with like-minded people who are passionate remote workers and leaders, check out Buildd.co.