How to Build and Manage a Successful Remote Team
Building and managing a remote team successfully takes a few special considerations and tools – here’s what we’ve learned.
We believe in hiring the right people, wherever they are. To us, that means recruiting and hiring remote employees. Just because someone isn’t physically located at headquarters doesn’t mean they’re not an amazing fit for our team. Right now, Teamwork.com has 15 remote employees in 8 different countries, and they are a vital part of our team. Once we started hiring remotely, we had to create a culture that embraces remote employees because culture is crucial to effective collaboration. If employees don’t feel invested in the people they’re working with and the company as a whole, it’s easy for them to lose sight of why their everyday work is important. And when your employees aren’t geographically connected, a vibrant company culture doesn’t just happen by default. You have to create it by design. Designing a culture means that you’re creating an environment where people trust their teammates and feel empowered to do their best work. They feel accountable to the people they work with—and motivated to do their part. Using our experience, we’ve established a three-step system that has helped us build a thriving remote team where everyone feels connected regardless of where they’re located. Here’s how it works:
1. Build Relationships Through Face-to-Face Time
The hard truth: when creating any kind of company culture, there’s no substitute for face-to-face time. Google’s Project Aristotle created a study which divided 699 people into smaller groups and gave them tasks to perform. Some of these small groups completed assignments more quickly than others, and there were concrete reasons why. While all the best teams had different “group norms,” or kinds of culture, they all had one thing in common-the most successful teams scored the highest on “average social sensitivity.” In other words, they had a higher level of understanding how their fellow team members were feeling. Understanding the people who you’re working with makes for positive and efficient collaboration. However, picking up important cues or “Reading the Mind in the Eyes,” as they call it, is impossible when you’re not in the same place. Using video chat for meetings is the first step, but it isn’t the whole solution. Company retreats and meet-ups are amazing, but they can be costly and are usually infrequent. Getting that face-to-face time with remote workers isn’t impossible, but you have to take concrete steps to cultivate it at your agency.
Solution: Initial in-house time
At Teamwork.com, every new member of the team spends three months in-house to get to know each other better. Starting new hires with the rest of the team before they begin working remotely fully immerses them in company culture. It’s a crucial time, because building those relationships establishes that “social sensitivity” that all teams need to work efficiently. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule that every employee stays the full three months (some people have family obligations), but even a little initial face-to-face time helps create a culture where teammates are invested in each other.
Solution: Social video chatting
Scheduling time, like water cooler talks, for remote team members to chat with other teammates over video chat can help them feel invested in the people they’re working with. One-on-one connections between teammates happens organically within an office, but it’s much harder for this to happen naturally with someone who’s physically removed from the office space.
Make these water cooler talks a company policy every two weeks (rather than a recommendation) and schedule them on the calendar. This ensures that those important connections actually happen and don’t get put off in favor of other work. Consulting firm Life Meets Work also recommends scheduling social sessions team-wide, in addition to water cooler talks between individuals. They suggest virtual happy hours or coffee breaks, which are scheduled (but not mandatory) times for team-wide bonding. At these team-wide video chat hangouts, there’s no “on-the-clock” talk allowed – it’s just a nice chance for team members to get to know each other.
2. Get a Glimpse of Their Workday
After building relationships, you have to make sure you have insight into each employee’s workday. When someone is sitting in the office with you, it’s easy to see the hard work they’re doing and how they go the extra mile for a demanding client. If they stay late, you’ll know. If they’re struggling with a tough project, you can see it on their face. But a remote employee doesn’t get rewarded in the same way for going above and beyond. It’s impossible to see all the little things they do to make the agency succeed, so a lot of their work goes unnoticed-and with it, their contributions can be overlooked. Transparency into your remote workers’ days isn’t about policing their workflow-it’s about developing a culture where team members feel both appreciated and accountable. At Teamwork.com, we have “Teamwork Legend” awards every quarter. This is a way of showing our appreciation for our colleagues, taking note of something impressive and overall highlighting someone’s great work. Achievements, great and small happen every day and the idea behind this is to reward people for their contribution to the company, to their teams, to the product, and to the company. “Teamwork Legends” get a certificate, and (if they’re based in Ireland) a €50 One4All gift card or (if they’re remote) $50 worth of tech merchandise on Amazon. Here are a few tools we rely on in order to build awareness about what our “legends” need and what contributions they’re delivering every day:
Solution: Real-Time Time Tracking
You don’t need to bill by the hour in order for your agency to benefit from time tracking. It isn’t about being “Big Brother” and micromanaging your employees. It’s about getting insight into their workday—so you can reward them appropriately. Integrating Teamwork Projects with an app like TimeDoctor will give you a real-time, comprehensive look at your employees’ workflow. You can check what task from Teamwork Projects that they’re working on in real time and also get daily or weekly reports of how everyone spends their time. The TimeDoctor integration is flexible, so you can see as much (or as little) detail about your team member’s daily accomplishments. Again, this isn’t about monitoring your employees, it’s about being able to see when they need a hand or how you can help make them more productive. When someone’s in the office, you can say, “Hey, what are you up to? Need any help?” in an informal way. But to do that with a remote worker, you have to ping them on chat which can seem more intrusive. Looking at your employees’ reports, in real time or at the end of the week, means that you know more about where they need your help without them having to ask you for it.
Solution: Choose the right tools
Using collaborative tools promotes workflow transparency because you can see exactly what your employees are doing at any given moment. Again, this isn’t about policing them—it’s about giving them the credit they deserve for the work they do. Because workflow tools provide transparency for everyone, your employees won’t feel like you’re “checking in” on them unnecessarily or micromanaging. In fact, seeing what everyone else in the company is working on will inspire them to work harder. Here are a few of our favorite types of tools for transparent collaboration:
Project management software. A project management tool like Teamwork Projects keeps an online record of who is responsible for what, so no tasks slip through the cracks—and everything gets done on time.
Document collaboration systems. Quip’s document collaboration system has a feed, where you can see what everyone in your company is working on at any given time.
Chat tools. Teamwork Chat is a quick, synchronous way to communicate with your whole team. Using a chat tool you can get answers to quick questions without email back-and-forth.
3. Give Them Insight Into the “Bigger Picture”
Once you’ve built relationships and given yourself a window into your employees’ work, you need to give them a window into yours. Agencies have the second-highest turnover rate of any industry (30%). To keep your employees invested and your turnover rates low, your employees need to see the company’s “bigger picture.” Transparency into company growth will help them understand their part in making the agency run—and make sure they don’t quit at the first chance of a bigger paycheck. As conversations about team-wide goals can’t happen naturally at lunch or the water cooler for remote workers. It’s your job to cultivate them.
Long-term personal goal-tracking can help your employees feel invested in the company—and make them more likely to stick around. For example, if your agency is constantly trying to acquire new clients, a goal might be one client proposal per week, two closed deals per month, and twenty per year. We recommend monthly video chat one-on-ones where you can sit down with your employees and discuss whether they’re reaching their goals. These one-on-ones aren’t formal, scary performance reviews—they’re tools to provide insight on how your employees can take their work to the next level.
Scheduling these one-on-ones help keep you in touch with what your employees need to achieve their goals, but they also let your employees know that their success is important to you. Since they know you’re in their corner, they’ll be more likely to stay with your agency.
Solution: All-hands meetings
Weekly all-hands meetings motivate your team by tracking team-wide goals. Being able to recap the week with remote workers on video chat is an easy way to help build personal connections. Each person gets to hear about successes and frustrations throughout the team instead of feeling separated in the silos of agency projects. We use Zoom for video chat because, unlike other video chat apps, it allows us to see everyone at once. It feels more like an in-person meeting that other apps we’ve tried. A great all-hands meeting should allow for a few moments to recognize great individual work and then place it in the context of the agency’s progress as a whole. For example, if you congratulate someone on closing a key deal, then state how many deals have been closed this year (and whether you’re reaching team goals). While it may not be essential for employees to know about success metrics, sharing them can help build camaraderie and motivate everyone to work hard for the agency’s success.
Stay Connected with Passionate Team Members All Over the Globe
When a lot of companies talk about the benefits of building a remote team, they talk about how it expands the talent pool they can draw from. For us, it’s something more. At Teamwork, when we hire someone in another country, we don’t just bring in the best talent—we bring in like-minded people who share our vision from all over the globe. Our strong company culture transcends physical location because we want to make sure the most passionate people can be a part of it—whether they’re from Cork or California. If you think you’d like to be part of the team, we’ve got a bunch of open roles you can apply for today. Have you had great success building company culture with remote employees? We’d love to hear your tips in the comments section below!