How to build and maintain a remote team without losing your head

Last week, we discussed what the ‘new normal’ could look like for different startup sectors. In particular, we did a survey with our readers, and found that 83% of respondents expect more than 25% of the working population to continue working remotely.

Remote work has several benefits employees and companies enjoy (such as eliminating commute time, increasing productivity, reducing expenses, adapting the work environment for each person’s needs and many more), but there are also a set of disadvantages and risks (like team communication problems, team motivation, feeling lonely, and house distractions). Luckily for us, there are tools, methods, and key elements to overcome them and allow us to maintain a remote team working without losing our heads.

We believe the three most important elements in remote work are culture, communication, and tools. We’ll cover them and give you a handful of recommendations on how to get them right.

Culture

Many successful founders agree that the culture of the company should be established from the initial stages of a company. Most of the time us founders are so focused on getting the desired product-market fit, that we forget we must start to embed culture in our ventures from the first day.

Remote team culture proposes additional challenges. Some of them are easier to handle than others, like establishing company values, developing company identity, great external and internal communications, all of which can be solved through training sessions, documents, and support. However, on the other hand social and interpersonal relations can be difficult to handle when working remotely.

Trust is one of the most important interpersonal traits coworkers need to develop, and remote teams require special attention to detail and effort to make sure this is happening. Wade Foster, co-founder from Zapier, explains in his article ‘How to build culture in a remote team’, that culture is more than just ping pong tables. Culture is how you work, and paying extra attention to trust, development, encouraging workers to hold remote coffee chats and clarifying that in-person meetups are still important. Sharing activities together helps team members know each other and overcome the social and interpersonal challenges remote work can arise.

Often when building a remote team we can overlook the previous experience candidates have working remotely. Remember to look for candidates with previous remote experience, but if there is no remote experience and the candidate is a good fit, seek for adaptability to the remote culture, familiarity with technology, and other traits that will allow them to work smoothly.

After you hire them, your onboarding and training process should be digitized and include the remote culture you want to achieve with your teams as well as remote working guidelines. Every document, video, training session, process diagram, etc. should be available and easily accessible online, making sure everyone has access to the important information. Lastly, a great practice is to assign more experienced people to remote work to mentor the newcomers.

Communication

This is one of the most important aspects of teamwork. When communication is done right, teams can thrive and deliver amazing solutions to challenges and problems. If communications are not flowing on the right path, the end result can be pretty ugly. 

Remote teams have a bigger risk of failing in this aspect since there is a layer of personal communication that does not get through the internet. Previously we published an article on how to hire freelancers in the age of digital nomads. We were really insistent on getting the communication aspect right, to avoid issues and this principle also applies for remote teams. 

Communication in remote teams should be frequent, structured, and purpose-driven. There should be little room for improvisation to get things right, on this matter it is too easy to drift away from the standards and things can get messy. Even though it’s not the same as real communications, remember to stay in touch through video calls, as putting a face to the voice is of extreme importance when speaking with your team, otherwise the messages might not be transmitted as clearly as expected and conflicts may arise. 

Establish periodical and frequent meetings for different purposes depending on the needs of your teams and the work you need to complete. Perhaps your teams could do daily stand-ups, set sprint planning meetings every two weeks, monthly team status meetings, quarterly reviews and always make sure things are clear for everyone.

Leaving written records of meetings about important information, decisions made, required actions, identified blockers, roadmaps, etc. is a great practice for building strong communications and using tools like emails, project management boards, online documents, and work tools will make your lives easier.

Keep in mind communication through remote tools can easily become a one-way conversation and this is a great recipe for failing at this aspect. Whenever possible seek to have two-way conversations with people, fully listening and understanding what the others are stating, showing respect for their ideas and thoughts and giving positive feedback when needed, making sure everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts without being judged or belittled.

Tools

Technology is here to help us overcome the barriers we face while working remotely. For example, there are many AR and VR startups that are helping us work remotely and if you search online you’ll find several tools for jazzing up your online and work meetings.

Choosing the right tools for your remote work is crucial to avoid losing your minds. The first step to choose the right tools should be to define the goals and purpose of each of the tools. Generally many remote teams need tools for communication, scheduling, project management, online work sessions, document sharing, code sharing, report sharing, client management systems, etc. Think about the nature of your work and which tools will help teams accomplish their goals and achieve their objectives.

When choosing technology and tools, think about the return over the investment of the tool, even if it is a free tool (time spent on the tool is money invested). We can easily get overwhelmed by all the tools and offerings currently available, so before making a decision over a tool, think about how the tool will improve processes, or how it will allow teams to move forward. Also make sure to check statements on whether it will increase revenue, reduce costs, increase joy or decrease stress for your business and teams.

On a final note, remote work will fail if one of those three aspects is broken. You might have the most amazing set of tools, but due to a lack of good communication and culture, will see your teams burning down. Alternatively, you might have great communication and great tools without culture, which is a great recipe for a revolution. So these three aspects should be kept in balance – and don’t forget to celebrate when you achieve it, because it will ensure you have a great remote working experience.