Remote teams are becoming more widespread as business owners realize the benefits of having a distributed team. They have access to talent across the country, minimize overhead, and boost productivity. And remote teams aren’t just beneficial for startups. Companies ranging from CPA firms to project management platforms have distributed teams.
But building a remote team is quite different from building a traditional one. You don’t see your people every day to facilitate communication, employees can’t simply pop over to a teammate’s desk for collaboration, and you aren’t able to catch up on the status of a project at the water cooler. I’ve learned how to build a successful distributed team through trial and error. Here’s what I wish I’d known from the start.
1. You Can Have a Thriving Company Culture
Yes, it’s easier to create a company culture when you have people gathered together in the same physical space. But it’s not impossible to have a great culture with a distributed team — you just have to get creative and work a little harder at it.
First, carefully consider what you want your culture to be. What are your values as a company? As a founder? What vision do you have for your company? What kind of people do you hope to attract? Once you have a clear idea of what you want for your culture, you can then put steps in place to make the culture a reality. Give employees tools that support the culture, give them opportunities to engage in the culture, and hire new employees based on compatibility and passion for the culture.
For example, if one of your values is to promote environmental responsibility, you might make sure that your employees have the tools they need to easily go paperless. You might give them a day off to volunteer with their local nonprofits that focus on environmental issues. And you might ask prospective hires how they feel about your commitment to environmental responsibility.
2. Build Your Communication Technology Stack
One of the biggest challenges in working remotely is communication. Your team will be more productive when they’re not constantly being interrupted by coworkers stopping by for a chat or dealing with a schedule full of meetings on issues that could have been handled in a couple of emails. But you’ll still need to communicate and collaborate.
To facilitate communication, first make a list of all the types of communication your team will need to engage in. These may include project communication, brainstorming ideas and strategy, process communication, document collaboration, and relationship-building communication. Once you know what types of communication should be facilitated, you’ll have a better idea of what kind of tools you need.
We identified that we needed the ability to do video calls (the next-best thing to in-person meetings), organize projects and the communications relevant to each one, and store documents, organize them, and collaborate on them. We also wanted the ability to ping team members with messages that need a quick response — simultaneously giving team members the ability to filter out chit chat or communications that don’t apply to them. We ended up with a tech stack that includes Slack, Zoom, Asana, and Google’s G Suite.
3. Set Clear Project Expectations
Your employees need to know the parameters of each project and how much flexibility they have when bringing their creativity in. They need to fully understand the project scope and project deliverables, as well as important details that will inform the development of the project.
Because you won’t be having as many meetings, you’ll need to purposely plan how your project process will flow and how you’ll communicate.
4. Develop and Communicate Procedures
Especially for those who don’t have experience working remotely, it’s important to share defined processes for everything you do. This will let workers know how to get their questions answered quickly and how to efficiently get their jobs done. It will also give remote workers confidence that they’re on the right track when working, allowing them to devote their full attention to the task at hand, rather than wondering if they’re doing it right.
Having clearly defined processes and running your business in an organized manner is a much better method of functioning anyway, so working remotely basically forces you to do things the right way.
A remote team has been key to our agency’s success. I’ve been able to tap talent that just isn’t available locally, and I can run the business more efficiently. With a strategic plan and the right tools, distributed teams aren’t lacking — in my experience, they excel.