It’s a rare workplace that is without its issues. But what happens when you take those issues and apply them to your teams that work remotely? You might find that problems that are fairly trivial in an office environment are suddenly magnified when they’re applied to your virtual staff.
A lack of employee engagement, poor communication, ailing team spirit and little to no immersion in company culture are all common problems - and they’re far harder to deal with when your people are geographically all over the place.
But the good news is, great teams that work remotely can, and do, exist and if you have a feeling that you need to be doing a little more to enhance the performance of your organisation’s remote teams, carry on reading and see if any of the following tips might work for you.
How to build remote teams that excel at what they do
First of all it helps to define what makes a remote team. In many workplaces there are three different sorts of team:
- Traditional Teams: the people on these teams all physically work together in the same office or another location.
- Remote Teams: the colleagues on these teams work from various locations and generally only connect through video conferencing and messaging tools.
- Hybrid Teams: these teams have employees who work together in an office as well as people who work remotely.
So with two out of three ‘team types’ involving remote work, it’s clear that remote employees need to be handled with just as much care and attention to engagement and motivation as in-house employees.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the specific challenges that remote and hybrid teams face.
Challenges of managing remote or hybrid teams
Of course your aim is to not just make sure your remote teams are ticking along - you need them to be truly excellent. Just because your staff are working from a co-working space or working from their kitchen table, doesn’t mean you can’t expect the very best from them.
After all, you’re paying their salaries and providing them with workplace benefits and you therefore have the right to expect quality work that is completed to deadline and that delights your clients or customers.
The challenge: communication
As human beings, most of us thrive on interacting with other people in person. Working remotely or working from home removes much of that daily in-person interaction, replacing it with virtual communication.
And this can make it more challenging to deal with any existing problems. Communication must be on point if problems are to be overcome and the team’s performance is to truly be top notch.
However, that’s easier said than done. If your team is international and scattered across the globe you’re no doubt facing challenges when dealing with different time zones. Meetings can be tricky to set up when one person’s 10am is another’s 9pm. And there will be times when you really need to speak to someone but it’s the middle of their night and they’re fast asleep.
In addition, you might also run into issues surrounding cultural differences and/or language barriers.
The solution: utilising tools for communication
Communication needs to be made easy. And quick! Emails, of course, have their time and place, but when you can’t simply walk over to someone’s desk and ask them a question, or even, in some cases, pick up the phone, you need to find a way to enable employees to speak to each other.
Whether Skype, Google Meet, Zoom or Slack (to name just a few) is your communication tool of choice, it’s not only important to make sure that everyone is able to chat in individual messages, group channels, and in virtual meetings, but you need to encourage them to keep the lines of communication open too.
Check in with your remote people on a regular basis. Make sure they know they can ask you questions if needed. Encourage them to ask their colleagues questions. Get people to say ‘hello’ in the team chat when they log on for the day. Hold team meetings and ask everyone to tell the team what they’ve been doing, what they plan on doing, and whether or not they need any help from anyone.
The challenge: collaboration
It can be hard enough to get your people playing nicely together when they’re in the office. When they’re working remotely, the difficulties are multiplied!
Again, the aforementioned differing time zones can have a knock-on effect on being able to work together effectively. It can hold up decision making and even the smallest fact check or quickest question can end up taking 24 hours to be resolved.
The solution: being super organised
A successful remote team is an organised remote team. So even when those In Real Life conversations aren’t able to happen due to time zones, they can still be dealt with as soon as the other person gets up and logs in.
Transparency is key and it’s vital that all team members know what’s going on at any given moment. After all, swinging by someone’s desk to ask where that invoice is, isn’t going to happen here!
Make sure everyone is set up to be able to do their job efficiently by using a project management tool such as Trello, Jira, Monday, or Asana. These platforms enable individuals to keep track of their own ‘to-do lists’ and projects whilst also allowing them to see the bigger picture.
The challenge: engagement
Again, another problem that can plague office-based managers and that will increase exponentially for managers of remote teams. How do you keep your employees motivated and engaged when they’re literally miles away?
You can have the best company culture in the world, offer free afternoon snacks, throw regular happy hours, have a well stocked free drinks fridge and tea and coffee on tap but that’s going to mean nothing to the employee located a five hour flight from your office as they’re tapping away at their keyboard in their home-office-slash-shed!
The solution: engage with employees from the very start
This is where your onboarding for remote employees comes in. Onboarding is an introduction to your organisation, and while it needs to be executed well for all your employees, whether they’re the office intern or your office-based tech people, it’s even more crucial to get it right for your remote employees.
You need to make sure your remote people have a clear understanding of your company’s vision, its hierarchy, how the team runs, and your expectations of them.
You want their first impressions of your organisation to be overwhelmingly positive so that you engage with them from the get-go.
This also means ensuring that they have everything they need to jump in and start working right away. The right tools, the software you use, and their passwords and log-in details.
In addition, the best onboarding process will start before the employee’s first day, ideally with a welcome email. This will help make them feel welcome, ensure that they have all the info they need in advance, and also give them the opportunity to ask anything they’re not sure about before they’re thrown in at the deep end!
Showing employee recognition is also vital when it comes to increasing engagement - and that goes for wherever they work. Whether you implement a rewards program or you make a habit of giving a shout out for a job well done, it’s so important to let your people know you value their contribution.
In an office, rewards and recognition might take the form of gift cards for the local coffee shop left on a desk or presented at the team meeting. However, a software solution that lets managers and colleagues send little notes of gratitude and award redeemable points to one another, is ideal for remote teams.
How to build remote teams that excel: conclusion
As we’ve discussed, making sure your remote workers are able to communicate and collaborate effectively to increase engagement is crucial. Of course the pointers above should be applied to all of your teams - including traditional and hybrid.
But you really need to ramp up your best practices when it comes to the people who aren’t physically in your workplace if you want to increase employee retention and get the best performance possible from them.
After all, the remote team is becoming the norm now more than ever before and chances are, your organisation is going to need to embrace the trend fully sooner rather than later.