Each year more companies are choosing to leave the office behind and create a remote team. Trello and Github are just two examples of businesses, creating virtual offices that allow workers from all over the world to join.
For an early-stage startup, a remote team can be especially beneficial. It drastically reduces company overhead, maintains a flexible schedule and helps recruit the best talent possible. Remote teams are also cheaper and faster to get started and gain momentum. Even for the traditionalist company, the benefits of building a remote team are enticing.
But actually assembling that dream remote team in the first place is an art that's still being refined. Which leads to the question: How do you build an awesome remote team?
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First, familiarize yourself with three core tenets of operating a remote business: communication, trust and culture. You’ll have to set clear standards for each of these aspects early on so your business can operate seamlessly.
Communication is hands-down the most important aspect to focus on here. Without consistent communication, a remote team will fall apart. Each member needs to understand his or her responsibilities and deadlines, and everyone needs to be regularly checking in with each other. Some tips:
Communicate face-to-face. In a team environment, there’s no substitute for talking with others face-to-face. Scheduling video calls with your team -- or parts of your team -- is one of the best ways to make sure everyone’s on the same page. Skype and Google Hangouts are your friends here. Make face-to-face chats a regular part of the workweek.
Keep the conversation going. While video calls are important, you also need to create ongoing communication channels. Many companies use Slack to keep real-time chat going, which approximates the in-office experience. Trello is another invaluable tool to aid in project management and organization.
Create a communication schedule. A remote team needs clear-cut rules on how communication will happen. Set aside days and time slots for meetings, and specify how other tools - like email and Slack -- will be used. This will prevent an astounding number of problems from happening and will keep everyone equipped with the information they need to do their jobs.
Also consider monthly or quarterly virtual town hall meetings in which all employees can hear from the founder or senior management on company performance and other key pieces of information. This will keep teams engaged and aligned and create a sense of togetherness.
The absence of trust will crush a remote team. All employees relie on one other, and you need workers who will be honest and motivated. All workers should be self-driven to complete their tasks, as no one will be checking in every hour to see if they’re slacking off.
Hire the right people. To build trust in an online team, hire the right people. As Alex Turnbull wrote on the blog Groove, “A great startup employee doesn’t necessarily make a great remote startup employee.” The traditional hiring process doesn’t work for a remote team. Discipline, drive and organization are three vital characteristics that every remote worker should have. You won’t be able to look over your employees’ shoulders, so you need to ensure they’re capable of self-management.
Ask the right interview questions. Ask specific questions during the interview process to gauge the applicant’s work ethic and level of motivation. Look out for specific answers about how the applicant manages time and organizes the workday. The ability to describe these processes will help create a more productive team. Here are some of my favorite questions to ask a remote hire.
- What tools and/or processes do you currently use to manage projects, personally or professionally?
- How would you prioritize your work if your manager wasn’t available for a few days suddenly?
- What does your work environment look like?
- When you do great work, how do you like to have your work recognized?
- What motivates you to want a telecommuting job?
Aside from interviewing via phone or video chat, I also highly recommend a round that is completely text based. While verbal communication is important, in remote roles the ability to explain your ideas or problems through clear, concise written communication is critical.
Of course, you can use employee management software; Hubstaff is one company that does this successfully. Still, it’s up to the workers to get things done, so a team that's willing to hustle is key.
3. Company Culture
Remote teams need a company culture too. In fact, culture is more helpful for a remote team than it is for an office-based one. Because your workers are spread across different cities -- or even countries -- you’ll have to go the extra mile to unify your team and establish a group ethos.
Create a culture of work. In the words of Zapier Founder Wade Foster, “Culture is about how you work.” He argues that workers should be motivated to work because they find the work rewarding. And he’s absolutely right. For a remote team, culture means working toward a common goal.
That’s why you need workers who are motivated and dedicated. If your team doesn’t enjoy the work, then nothing will ever get done. In other words, work needs to be fun for everyone on your team.
Strengthen relationships. Since a remote team is interdependent, you’ll need to get to know one other’s work styles. Learn everyone’s strengths and weaknesses and work on them as a group. Encourage workers to help others solve problems and answer their questions.
Learn to work remotely.
Remember that every day, working with a remote team is a new experience. You may run into some unique problems -- like how to reconcile time zones --- that make you look at the team environment differently. You’ll adapt your policies, and think up new ones to account for these unexpected issues.
Remote teams are changing the face of business, and it’s likely that the majority of the workforce will be soon be almost completely remote. Now is the best time for you to learn how to navigate these barely-charted waters and assemble an all-star fleet.