Creating a Team of Remote Professionals That Can Handle Anything
Building a successful remote team takes time, thought and planning, but it certainly yields huge benefits. Flexible work hours are no longer reserved for tech startups – in today's age of global connectivity, entrepreneurs are able to hire the smartest, most competent people regardless of where they live.
Without further ado, here's how to choose, hire and motivate remote professionals and create a brain trust that delivers every time, everywhere.
It's All About the People
Working remotely is not hard, but it does come with some challenges. Not everyone can do it, for starters. While flexibility is a great motivator for some, others lack the skills and diligence that are crucial for self-management. The same applies for both team members and their leaders, since they are the ones who need to provide the structure needed for fruitful remote collaboration.
Still, managing a well-assembled team is much easier than handling a dysfunctional group of people. For that reason, smart hiring is the most important part of building an effective distributed workforce.
What Traits to Look For In a Remote Employee?
Good employees are easy to recognize – being goal-oriented, they possess problem-solving capabilities, intrinsic motivation and social intelligence needed for getting the job done. But, when you're hiring a remote worker, there's a couple of additional traits you have to consider.
By their nature, remote jobs are deprived of consistent managerial support. While creative consultations and exchange of information and ideas are frequent in office environments, remote workers have no one to rely on but themselves for most of the time. This means that they have to be highly independent, resourceful and enterprising.
One of the biggest challenges of managing a remote worker is a lack of insight. Though this can be ameliorated through weekly updates and employee monitoring software, it's still essential that the person you hire is consistent, reliable and trustworthy. You can check this during the job interview, which we'll address later on.
How to Make Sure You Are Recruiting the Best People?
As if finding a diligent employee wasn't already hard enough, companies that employ remote workers usually experience even greater difficulties. Luckily, there is no shortage of high-quality candidates. Job boards are a great way to start your recruitment process, since they are an inexhaustible pool of people who prefer creative comfort over a traditional work environment.
But, before you interview any of the candidates, make sure that your job descriptions and remote work policies are clearly defined. Don't be scarce or vague about the amount of flexibility you're offering – if the information you provide isn't straightforward enough, you may attract people who aren't the best possible fit for your company, or miss out on some truly exceptional candidates.
What Questions Should YouAsk?
In a vast majority of cases, the actual hiring process requires a face-to-face interaction that remote job interviewers cannot always count on. Some candidates might be able to show up for an in-person meeting, but you need to establish a different approach for applicants who live far away or have no means of physically attending an interview. Since telephony is not always a convenient way, online video and chat services are essential for meeting your candidates one-on-one.
Here are some questions you shouldn't forget to ask:
Why are you interested in working remotely?
The answer to this query will tell you whether a candidate is looking for a remote job out of an existential need or a genuine interest in this method of work.
How much experience do you have with remote work and self-management?
The ability to efficiently manage your workload is a skill that can be learned and perfected over time. That's why experience in this field is always desirable.
How would you address a potential work-related issue?
We've already mentioned that independence is a crucial trait of remote workers, which is why a candidate has to show self-sufficiency and adaptiveness in hypothetical problem scenarios.
How flexible is your schedule?
You need to know how many hours a day an applicant intends to work, just as well as how they plan to organize their at-desk time.
How tech-savvy are you?
Even when the actual job doesn't require computer skills, technology and online tools are crucial for staying on the same page with other team members and the rest of the company.
What do you look for in a remote company's culture?
Preferring flexible work hours isn't enough. A good candidate should be familiar with your organization too, and show excitement and interest for what they are going to do if they become a member of your team.
Tactics for Smooth Onboarding
When it comes to the onboarding process, real-time interactions are the best possible way to learn and acclimate to the new work environment. Hands-on training isn't an option for remote teams, which is why you need to equip them with a comprehensive set of rules, guidelines and useful tips.
Internal wikis are great for this. Their main purpose is company-wide knowledge sharing, which means that new employees won't be the only ones to receive benefits. Besides a collective know-how of your staff, they include highly practical blueprints for daily operations as well, so we certainly recommend you to consider building one.
Onboardia reports that 56% of new employees would like a mentor or a buddy during the onboarding process. This can be done for remote workers too – simply assign a person who will help them adjust to your company culture, and be there to provide support and answer any question they have.
However self-sufficient they might be, the members of your remote team still need to stay in tune with each other, just as well as with the organization as a whole. It's up to the team manager to establish a structure and provide guidance for each consecutive task. When teammates are out of sync, it's nearly impossible to expect that projects will be finished on time.
1. Organizational Charts
Organizational charts and team dashboards are a brilliant management technique that encourages visualisation and transparency on a company-wide scale. Today, they are a part of project management software systems, along with to-do lists, shared calendars and progress reports.
Though their purpose is simple enough, organizational charts efficiently distribute workload among multiple departments and enable team leaders to stay on top of past, current and future projects. They are a powerful aid to everyone involved with your organization, since they keep track of who does what and centralize that information for a smoother workflow.
We'll talk more about online tools for a distributed workforce in the remainder of the article – for now, keep in mind that on-premise solutions don't grant full remote access. If you want a system that both in-office and remote workers can use, you need to opt for cloud technology.
2. Meetings and Updates
Ever since real-time communication has been enabled in the online environment as well, the need for frequent brainstorming sessions and team meetings has suddenly decreased. In case of remote teams, however, they are still a necessity. While in-office workers can share thoughts or report a brief progress update during a watercooler chat, remote employees have to schedule their meetings.
Make weekly updates and monthly one-on-ones a mandatory part of your remote work policy. That way, you won't waste anyone's time, and still be sure that everyone's doing their job. Skype hangouts are an excellent way to spend some creative time with your teammates and find out about their concerns. Encourage them to video-chat with each other too; it may lead to some great, innovative ideas.
As communication is the key to successfully managed remote teams, be sure to make the most of online systems, tools and apps that provide real-time interaction. There's one for almost everything these days, including collaboration, workflow management, productivity and document sharing. These are only the essentials, though. You can use them separately or employ a software tool that offers multiple features within a single package.
Such tools include Trello, Asana and Basecamp. They were made with virtual teams in mind and include a variety of helpful features, from to-do lists to private chat rooms. Dropbox is arguably the best document sharing software on the scene, while Evernote provides a platform to organize and archive data in one workspace. Skype is a given, but you can also try video-conferencing with Google Hangouts or GoToMeeting. You'll also need a service that handles payroll across different states, for which TriNet, Justworks and SurePayroll are perfect.
4. Measuring Productivity
If you're worried about how to monitor your team's productivity on a daily basis, online tools have a solution for that too. Remote desktop employee monitoring software systems and personnel monitoring software systems are used to record the time employees spend on their projects and on things outside of work so both managers and employees can determine which tasks are most detrimental to their overall performance.
However, you should be careful how you apply them. Constant monitoring can start to feel like surveillance, which can significantly reduce motivation rather than increase productivity. Explain that your intention is not to pursue aggressive transparency, but to detect potential pauses and increase the productivity of the entire team.
Choose between Time Doctor, Roadmap App, TickSpot, Timely or HiveDesk – aside from one or two features, these tools are basically the same. Results is another great piece of software of this type, but it uses a slightly different approach; Rather than measuring the time employees spend on work, it estimates how long it will take for certain tasks and projects to be finished before they are assigned to your team.
How to Create a Remote Company Culture
Remote workers are different from freelancers and you should be careful not to treat them that way. Like the rest of the in-house staff, they are part of your community and deserve the same welcoming, inclusive and inspiring environment. That's what any productive corporate culture is, and that's what applies to remote teams as well.
Remote company cultures face a number of logistical challenges. To create an environment where employees will be happy to work, you need to overcome the distance with frequent and efficient communication. After all, hardworking and loyal team members need motivational applause, even when there's no one around to hear.
Once in a while, schedule a group video meeting and forget all about work. Team Building has a clear purpose in this case too, so take the opportunity to get to know your colleagues a little better. Beyond any doubt, it will improve your cooperation.
Never assume that no news is good news. If you think you don't have to provide feedback unless something negative happens, you couldn't be more wrong. Your teammates might consider the lack of regular contact on your part a bad sign, and it won't be long before they start getting discouraged about their work.
Trust is always a two-way street – if you expect a team to win yours, you have to give them something in return. Show each individual your interest and commitment to your mutual goal, and don't be afraid to go the extra mile if there's a problem they need help with.
Never forget to ask for their ideas, suggestions and creative input. A remote team can be highly productive as long as its individual members are given the freedom to express their opinions and voice their concerns. Inform them about what is going on at the company and inspire them to participate in its further development.
Where there are creative minds working together, there are also creative differences. Navigating a remote team through a conflict resolution can be the most difficult task you'll ever have to accomplish, as for most people the lack of frequent physical contact means a lack of empathy.
Also, the nonverbal nature of online communication is highly vulnerable to misinterpretation – the tone doesn't translate well when it comes to messaging, so admins should insist on regular video hangouts in the first place.
If possible, organize at least one team building trip per year. It is important that members of your team meet in person and feel each other's personalities in an informal setting. If they're scattered around the world, surprise them with a gift card to a local cafe and schedule a time for a group virtual talk session.
In fact, it is the only way to manage interpersonal problems in a remote setting. When an employee makes a complaint to you about another employee, there isn't much you can do other than have them talk to each other face-to-face. Don't leave them on their own though, but join the conversation and mediate like you would in the office.
Whether you're managing a remote team or managing a group of people within the company, the key to their success is essentially the same. Highly productive collaboration relies on seamless communication, effective workflow organization and complete transparency, so you need to focus on creating a productive, inclusive and inspiring virtual environment.