Companies all around the world are working remotely at the moment, having sent their workers home in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. That means countless teams trying to find a way to work as a distributed team, under the current pressures.
The good news is that remote working has been the fastest growing employment sector for some time now, so you can draw on the experience of others who have walked the path before. Here are some acknowledged truths about what makes a remote team thrive.
Culture has been a business buzzword for some time now, mostly driven by the arrival of millennial's and Gen Z into the workforce, with their desire to be connected to something bigger than themselves.
Having a clear idea of the culture and values of your business gives you a head start on connecting with the right candidates, you’ll attract applications from people who identify with what you stand for.
Culture is also an important part of setting expectations for your remote team. If you have a relaxed culture that fully embraces flexible working, you need to hire people who are ready and suitable for remote work. If you want core hours worked, then you don’t want free spirits.
Having a good understanding of your company values and having clear mission and vision statements are also important for remote teams. Belonging is a fundamental need for human beings, and feeling part of your company’s plans for the future will go a long way towards bringing your remote team together.
Know Your Team
When you share an office, you have your finger on the pulse of what is going on in your team without even really thinking about it. Looking out from your office or cubicle, you can see at a glance whether the team is working, goofing off, or under stress. It’s harder to do that with a team that is separated by distance.
To counter this, you need to make sure that you communicate more and more effectively with your team when they’re working from home. This isn’t about micromanaging, that’s counterproductive; it’s about checking in with your team and making sure that no one is stuck on something that can be resolved by putting heads together. Aim to make contact one on one at least once a week with a video call so you get some face time.
The Agile Development Methodology is used by a lot of remote tech professionals, and includes a daily standup meeting where the whole team check-in with regards to what they’ve done, what’s coming next, and anything they’re stuck on. Sharing accomplishments, vulnerabilities and assistance is another thing that supports team bonding.
One of the most important pieces of software for remote teams is your choice of task management software. Whether you like the Kanban style of Trello or the automation of something like Asana or Monday.com, there are solutions out there for everyone.
Task management tools are important for remote teams because they become the key method of communication; this is where you ask your team to take on new work and where they should keep you updated with their progress. These tools all allow you to set due dates and tag people to ask for help or updates - many will let you automate processes and set task dependencies so as soon as one job is finished, the next can be started.
Motivation is one area where you need to think a little differently when your team is spread around the world. It starts with building trust and belonging, using the steps we’ve outlined above but you also need to think about how you’re going to celebrate the wins. With an office based team it might be going for a beer, or a night out bowling - harder to do that when you’re separated by continents.
Still, there are ways to celebrate with your remote team whether it’s by sending them all a thank you gift, or organizing a team party where everyone connects via webcam. It’s also important that you represent your team at head office, making sure they are included in the employee of the month scheme or that their wins get a mention in the newsletter.
In the office, many managers get hooked on the idea of presenteeism, and measure an employee's worth by the number of hours that they put in at their desk. How do you translate this to a remote team, especially if they are keeping different office hours to you?
Some managers are tempted by staff tracking apps that monitor time spent at the keyboard.
Believe it or not, there is even a version of this software that allows you to remotely access your teams webcams and make sure they’re at their desk, or see their screen. But would you sneak up on a staff member in the office to see what they’re up to? Of course not.
A far better way of monitoring work from home productivity is seeing how much work they are delivering. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised; without the distractions of the office, productivity tends to increase dramatically for remote workers.
There will be a certain amount of trial and error involved in getting remote working set up the way you need it to be, especially if you’re doing it in the middle of a global pandemic. This isn’t typical working from home, it’s working from home in a crisis and many of your staff will need to balance the needs of other adults working from home too, as well as care and schooling of children. Which means you’ll need to have a degree of patience and flexibility regardless of your culture.
You also need to be consistent. If you have an open door policy in the office, then replicate that with video calls. If you usually have a daily team meeting, continue that now. Try and maintain as much normalcy as you can, under the circumstances. If you do all this, then you should soon be seeing all the benefits of remote work and who knows, you might never want to go back.