There have been ups and downs of remote work – some companies have tried it and banned it. Others, especially younger and smaller companies, have embraced it. I have run teams remotely – for a big corporate company and for my own business. I was lucky to have worked with the right people as remote and virtual work can sometimes be a challenge. Today, I am sharing the key factors which made my teams succeed when managing them from afar.
Create an Open Culture
Probably the most important success factor is the culture you create as a leader. A remote team can only succeed if there is a feeling that every team member is accessible, including the bosses. You cannot expect your team to communicate openly if you do not live by the example.
Define Clear Goals
Clear goals are a key factor to success for any business. However, in remote teams, they are even more important. As your team is spread across one or multiple countries or even time zones, it is necessary that everyone shares the same vision and works towards the same goals. Define the goals – preferably together as a team – and make them understandable for everyone.
Find the Right People
The right people make a successful team – this holds true in general but especially for remote teams. Working in a remote team requires a certain personality and work attitude. In general, hire “doers” – as you cannot check on their work on a daily basis by dropping by their desk, you need to know that your team members have the same work ethics as you. If you give them a task you need to know that they will finish it independently. Therefore, hire people you can trust. In general, I would suggest a short trial period before entering a long-term work relationship. It is important to get to know each other, see if a remote team can work and build up trust. Once you have built up a relationship, it is crucial to trust your team members. If you hired the right person, they will deliver.
Schedule Regular Meetings
As you need to overcome the fact that you cannot just bump into each other at lunch, in the hallway or at the coffee machine, you need to establish a remote/virtual alternative for social interaction. I learned that scheduling regular meetings (especially video conferences, see below) works really well. I usually had (bi-)weekly team meetings but also weekly one-on-one meetings. Even if those meetings were of a short nature, they helped a lot to grow together as a team.
By far the best way to build a good remote team culture is video conferences. We interact very differently if we actually see each other on a screen. It also forces every team member to behave, dress and interact professionally.
In my remote teams, we do the following:
- Videos are the go-to method for meetings
- Telephone calls are used for quick questions and easier tasks
- Emails for quick interaction regarding a specific topic
- Chats – e.g. Whatsapp Groups – are used if something needs to be discussed instantly without the need to call
In general, avoid over-using written communication tools such as chats and emails. They contribute to the team moving away from each other instead of strengthening the team spirit. In a “normal” office environment, these written tools are ok because you will see each other in person during the course of the day. As a remote team, you cannot compensate the written communication. Hence, I strongly recommend to stick to video communication as much as possible. Screen sharing is another great tool to make up for the regional distance.
Flexible Hours Paired with a Regular Schedule
Remote teams are often used because certain skills paired with a certain flexibility are needed. Because you ask your team to be flexible they will, of course, also demand the same from you. Give them a certain degree of flexibility when it comes to when they work on their tasks. However, also establish a regular schedule involving milestones, the above-mentioned goals and meetings to structure the different work times.
Especially if your team is scattered across time zones, make sure to have overlapping hours. Two to three per day are usually enough to fix problems. I learned that it is crucial to make everybody understand the operations of a business. Let’s assume you run a product with your main target group located in Europe. Your team needs to be responsive during the majority of these hours, irrespective of where in the world everyone is located. Make sure to communicate this need from the start.
Project Management Tools
Project management tools help to track your output and keep everybody on board. They are also really useful to make the big picture visible to the whole team. I personally have made very good experiences with Jira for developing digital products. It is very intuitive and it feels like an online to-do list where you can tick off tasks and keep track of everyone’s progress.
In-Person Meetings and Events
If you can, please invest in in-person meetings and events. Even though there are so many tools to facilitate remote teams, nothing can really substitute meeting somebody in real life. When I travel to a place near a team member or business partner, I always make sure to meet them and catch up. It shows that you appreciate the relationship and really helps to build up a strong bond.
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All information as of the date of publishing. We cannot accept responsibility for the correctness or completeness of the data, or for ensuring that it is up to date. All recommendations are based on the personal experience of Elisabeth Steiger, no fees were received.