Remote working is only projected to become more common, with studies predicting that the majority of the US workforce will be freelancers before the end of the 2020s.
Does your organization currently make use of remote work? Do you work remotely yourself?
No matter the current extent to which remote work affects your career, it’s something you need to be familiar with. At any point in the future, your organization or personal job role might pivot towards utilizing remote work. If that happens, it’s important to be prepared.
Like almost every way of working, remote work can be carried out effectively or ineffectively.
When executed properly, the benefits of remote work equip your team to produce results with greater autonomy. When executed poorly, remote work can be frustrating, demoralizing, and responsible for subpar results.
So how do you ensure you make the most of the opportunity represented by remote work?
Thankfully, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Simply follow these proven principles to help ensure remote work ends up being positive for you and your organization.
1) Consult The Whole Team
While consulting your team is advisable in almost any situation, particularly during times of change, it’s especially important when it comes to remote teams.
One of the key benefits of remote teams is the ability to make use of talent from across the world. People may be operating in different time zones and even countries. This represents a huge opportunity, but also requires careful management to avoid any issues arising.
One of the main mistakes when managing a remote team is to assume that the way things are done in one location is the way they should be done in every location.
Instead, before putting together process and procedure documents, it’s smart to consult the entire team on many different issues.
Some of the key areas you need to consult your remote team on include:
a) Time zones
It’s essential to take into account the different time zones that remote team members might be operating in. Will every team member remain in a fixed time zone, or does your team include nomads who might move around? Are there times when everyone will be available for meetings, or will this prove impossible?
What are the methods of communication that will work for the whole team? Is it necessary to bring everyone together for a face to face meeting, such as on a video call? Or will it be possible to manage everyone via a text-based messaging app?
Don’t assume that remote team members, particularly those working abroad, will have any particular level of language comprehension. Ensure you have a clear and up to date picture of the language capabilities of your entire team, and people can access materials and work in a language they are competent in.
It might be tempting to simply impose rules and expectations on your team without taking the time to consult everyone.
However, failing to consult the entire remote team at the start usually leads to problems down the line. Taking the time to do this at the start of a project usually saves a lot of frustration and inefficiency further down the line.
2) Set Clear Expectations
When a team operates from the same physical location, it’s a lot easier to convey expectations.
In an office where everyone works face to face, expectations are communicated both intentionally and unintentionally. Newcomers can consciously and subconsciously model the behaviors of those around them.
When it comes to remote teams, it can be harder to set expectations. This issue can be magnified by cultural differences when team members are dispersed across the globe. Punctuality isn’t seen the same way in every country, to give just one example.
Given that mismatched expectations can cause a lot of problems for remote teams, what are some ways to avoid this issue before it crops up?
When your team is working remotely, they don’t have the option to walk over to a colleague’s desk and ask about the best way to do something. Equip your team with clear, well-produced standard operating procedure documents to ensure things are done the way you want. Video demonstrations work well in conjunction with written documents.
b) Clear rules
To avoid any misunderstanding, you need to be crystal clear when it comes to rules. If something is time-sensitive, be precise about it. For example, if you expect your remote team to respond to emails within 24 hours, be precise about that number. Don’t use a word like ‘promptly’ and expect everyone to have the same understanding of it.
c) Soft expectations
Depending on the nature of your work, you might need to set guidelines about the softer, or less tangible aspects, of remote work. For example, should internal and external communications be formal or informal? For team video calls, is a certain dress code required? Only leave to chance the things you don’t care about.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming expectations will be obvious in the way they would in a real office.
Make things easy for your remote team. Set unambiguous expectations, and be a supportive coach who helps your team meet them.
3) Choose Appropriate Tools
Choosing the right tools and apps is important for any organization. For remote teams, it’s even more vital.
There are a lot of things to consider when choosing the right tools for your remote team. If you choose the wrong tools, you risk frustrating your team, leading to inefficient or substandard output.
Choosing the wrong tools, and switching away from them, is also costly. You waste time, money, and other resources while your team switches from one way of working to another.
Given the consequences of choosing badly, how do you choose apps that will help your team to work in the best way possible?
Too many organizations choose the tools their remote team will use without thinking ahead to the future. If you need to add members to your remote team, will your chosen apps support this? Is it possible to scale up or down as your needs adjust? Is the cost of scaling up reasonable when compared to other apps?
When your team is remote, security becomes even more important than ever. You need to choose an encrypted communication platform, to give just one example. Security breaches can cost your company money and damage its reputation. Always make security a consideration when evaluating a potential remote work tool.
Choosing an app for your remote team requires you to keep the whole team in mind. Think about the level of skill team members have and if it will be difficult to train them. Ensure that any app or tool will be compatible with the devices your team members have access to. Match the feature set of any software or tool with the essential and desirable features your team needs to make use of.
As a general rule, try and keep the number of tools used by your remote team to the minimum.
If in doubt, consider which tools are used by other, similar remote teams and whether they might work well for your organization.
4) Encourage Communication
When people are working in the same physical space, a certain level of communication is unavoidable. Proximity necessitates people to communicate, and being around your colleagues leads to plenty of opportunities for spontaneous discussion.
If your team is remote, communication can’t be left to chance. People might feel unsure of how or when to communicate, leading to problems left unsaid and ideas left unspoken.
Seeing as a lack of communication, or ineffective communication, can lead to so many negative outcomes, how can you aim to ensure your remote team communication is as smooth as possible?
Make it clear how often people need to check-in and communicate. If you want a certain frequency of updates on work, make that clear. If people are expected to respond within a certain timeframe to external or internal comms, put that down in writing. Where possible, don’t impose these rules, but seek to get consensus and input.
b) Line managers
Just because a team member is working remotely, it doesn’t mean they won’t run into personal problems. In a face to face office, it’s easy to seek out a trusted superior and open up about problems. With a remote team, it can be less obvious to know who to turn to when support is needed. Consider giving every remote team member a clear point of contact if they are sick, struggling, or facing some other difficulty. It’s not only the right thing to do morally, but it also helps prevent people from vanishing when things get tough.
c) Positive reinforcement
Sometimes, remote organizations claim they want a communicative culture, but do little to encourage it. To help your team communicate openly and supportively, be sure to practice positive reinforcement. Set a positive, friendly tone. Respond well when people speak up with problems they are facing. Once team members see that communication is not only asked for but rewarded, they will communicate far more freely.
While effective remote team communication isn’t something that will occur automatically, it’s not too difficult to foster it.
Adopt a growth mindset, and expect to learn and improve as you go. Remote work is a relatively new way of doing business, so give yourself and others time to learn and adjust to it.
5) Nurture Remote Culture
Culture is one of the hardest to pin down areas of business.
Almost everyone you ask about culture will talk about how important it is, but far fewer people will be able to describe what a good culture looks like.
When a team is working on a remote basis, culture becomes even more of a challenge. How do you create an effective company culture when people aren’t in the same place, and might never meet?
While it might seem difficult on the surface, focusing on the following ideas can help you to create a wonderful remote work culture:
- Proactive support. In an office, it’s easy to see if someone looks a little down, distracted, or demotivated. When that person works remotely, it can be less easy to spot problems people are having. Give people the space to seek support and be supported. This could involve one to one meetings, a mentorship program, or other forms of nurturing and developing people, even when they work remotely.
- Celebrating wins. In an office, positive results spread through the team naturally. Remotely, this might not be the case. When something goes right for your remote team, be sure to celebrate it. Acknowledge and celebrate both team and individual excellence. This creates a positive remote work culture that boosts morale and leads to people producing their best work.
- Replace face to face. A lot of the benefits of face to face work culture can be replicated remotely, with a little creativity. For example, high-definition video calling is almost as good as being in the same room with everyone. Watercooler talk can be recreated remotely, either on voice or video calls or even through a dedicated area of your work chat app. Don’t assume that anything is automatically lost due to the decision to work remotely. Instead, seek to recreate it where possible, even if it looks a little different.
While the ways we work may change, the importance of a strong organizational culture will never go away.
Creating an effective work culture remotely isn’t better or worse than doing it face to face. It’s just different.
Be realistic about the importance of creating a superb remote work culture from the get-go, and reap the rewards further down the line.
Productive Remote Working – A Summary
Hopefully, you now feel empowered to face the challenges posed by remote working, and unlock the full potential of this revolution for your organization and team.
In summary, keep in mind the following five points:
- Consult everyone
- Set expectations
- Choose the right tools
- Encourage communication
- Nurture remote company culture
Do you have any insights to share about remote working?
Have you been part of a remote team that has worked effectively, or do you have any pitfalls to avoid?
Feel free to leave a comment and share your take on how remote work is best carried out.