Michael Boykin

5 tips for building stronger remote teams

How to overcome the challenges of managing a distributed workforce

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In 2017, only 15% of U.S. companies didn’t allow remote work. That’s just one of 52 statistics that paints a rather clear picture: Remote work isn’t the future of work; it’s already here.

In today’s interconnected world, you don’t need much more than a laptop and an internet connection to get to work. Remote work offers huge benefits, which is why so many companies are establishing teams and processes that allow employees to work from anywhere.

And workers like this more flexible approach, as well. In fact, a study by Gallup found that 43% of Americans worked from home at least part of the time — and many more would like to.

Benefits—such as a lack of commute and more flexible hours—are clear to both workers and the companies who hire them. But remote work also raises a few notable, albeit addressable, concerns.

Without having everyone in the same office, it can be more difficult to build personal connections. Even with the best tools, communication can break down. Despite best efforts, keeping everyone in the loop will present quite a challenge.

So, what’s a company to do? 🤷🏻‍♀️

Whether you’re working at a fully remote company or simply have a handful of distributed workers, there are steps you can take to overcome the challenges of remote work and make it easier on everyone. Here are 5 tips to help you get started.

1. Make work accessible and easy to find

One of the most important things you can do for a team is making sure that all work is accessible and easy to find. This benefits all teams but is especially important if your workforce is remote.

That’s because remote workers can’t walk over to someone’s desk and ask: “Hey, where is this?” or “Hey, can you show this to me?” Instead, they have to sort through folders, send emails and messages, and end up spending valuable time trying to track down information.

No matter what tools you use, it’s essential that you make sure that important documents and resources are easy to find and access online. Not only that, but you need to ensure that all remote workers know where to go when they need to access work. Making it easier to access and receive shared context makes managing remote work so much easier.

2. Create opportunities for making personal connections

When we work in the same office space with our colleagues we have the opportunity to bump into them in the kitchen waiting for the first pot of coffee to finish brewing. ☕️ We also catch teammates in the elevator and end up joining them for lunch. This doesn’t happen with remote and distributed teams. As a result, it can be difficult for team members to build personal connections with each other.

Personal connections are a cornerstone of great teams. They're just as important when working on remote or distributed teams, but are harder to develop and maintain.

Connections take time to develop, but they’re essential to building a healthy culture and are vital for collaboration. When you’re working with a remote workforce, you have to find ways to build these connections. These opportunities can be built into the software you use in the form of daily status updates or can be incorporated into your weekly meetings.

For example, meetings at Range include check-in and check-out time. During this time we ask how our teammates are feeling, how their days are going, and what’s on their mind. During our team sync at the end of each week, we also set aside time for show and tell to highlight recent activities and accomplishments related or unrelated to work.

You should also make sure to bring people together a few times a year for off-sites and planning sessions. But don’t make these gatherings just about work. Make sure time is set aside for team building activities and fun.

3. Learn how best to communicate with individual team members

If you’re working in the same office with someone, you see when they’re distracted or deep in their work. During these times, you know not to bother them. Remote workers don’t have this luxury. As a result, they can end up being interrupted so frequently that they start making themselves less and less available to teammates. Nobody wants that. 🙅🏾‍♂️

Everyone’s time is valuable. Learn and respect the individual communication preferences of your teammates.

You might find that some of your team members prefer requests or questions via email so that they don’t get lost in Slack. Others might have a preference for all communication happening in Slack but will make it clear immediate responses aren’t guaranteed. Consider having team members proactively share communication preferences—especially with new hires—or include notes about this in your team directory.

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4. Hold weekly team meetings that include everyone

Remote teams can be spread across the globe, and that’s a big part of what’s so special about them. But because of this, it can be difficult to get everyone together on a regular basis, even virtually. Even so, this must be made a priority.

Holding a weekly meeting that includes the entire team will help build comradery, keep everyone in sync and aligned, and ultimately prevent anything (or anyone) from falling through the cracks. But finding the right time may be difficult due to time zones.

Maybe the majority of your team is scattered across the U.S. with just a few team members in Europe. Holding an all-hands first thing in the morning in the U.S. likely means your European colleagues have to revisit work just before sitting down to dinner.

A great way to build comradery and trust amongst teams is to alternate the time of these meetings. Share the burden and inconvenience to demonstrate every team and team member matters. Instead of always scheduling your meeting during the U.S. workday, alternate and schedule some of your meetings for a time that is most convenient for team members in other countries or time zones.

5. Share daily updates to build awareness

Remote work is liberating. It gives team members the ability to work from anywhere they want. But this means work-related conversations don’t just happen in corridors or elevators. Updates, even brief ones, require a bit more thought and planning.

Regularly sharing updates on tasks and projects helps build alignment and improve collaboration across teams.

Because of the lack of in-person interactions, it’s important that you find ways for the entire team to give and receive status updates on a daily basis. And equipping them to do so asynchronously can be even more impactful. Slack and Google Docs can be helpful in getting you started here, but there’s actually software, such as Range, purpose-built for the job.

Making sure these updates are shared regularly will help keep team members on the same page and aware of what’s happening no matter where they’re working from. If you’re a manager, having access to these updates means having a greater awareness of the priorities of direct reports, knowing how to better distribute team resources, and being able to more quickly communicate your team’s progress to peers leading cross-functional teams.

Start connecting and strengthening your remote team

Managing a remote team is about keeping alignment, developing healthy communication habits, and fostering the connections that help you and your team work better together. Google Drive and Slack certainly help, but they’re not enough.

If you want to build a stronger, more successful remote team, you have to be deliberate about creating culture and connections. That means making all work accessible and easy to find. It means coming together and engaging everyone on a regular basis. It means finding ways to share context and exchange information.

Tapping into the world’s best talent, expanding diversity of thought, and increasing productivity are just some of the benefits of remote teams. Strengthening those team is challenging, but it is guaranteed to pay dividends in the long run.

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