Nearly 7 years ago, IncWorx went to work building a remote team. The transition wasn’t without pain, but the lessons we learned have helped our team grow. It has also helped us provide better service to our remote clients.
As a professional services organization, we tend to focus purely on technology.
In many ways, technology is the answer to any of life’s challenges. It can make complicated issues go away, it can allow you to take on challenges not previously possible and it can take care of the little things allow us to focus on changing the world.
Occasionally, technology alone is not enough. As you’ll read throughout this article, people need more and will expect it.
Today we wanted to go beyond the technology and provide some lessons we’ve learned along the way. Treat them as a guide, as tips and tricks or as brainstorming. If you have questions on any of the areas, we would love to help fill in the blanks, please reach out!
Here are 10 tips for building a successful remote team - in no particular order!
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
We said no particular order, but this is a very clear number 1 priority for remote workers.
Lack of good communication will limit the success of any business, but it is amplified dramatically when working with a remote team. Your communication must be great – not just good – and it must be consistent.
Building channels for all 4 types of business communication will ensure information and updates flows freely. This will provide a degree of comfort for employees who are used to face to face.
Internally, we lean heavily on Microsoft Teams for all our communications. In one platform we can chat, call and video conference with team members internally and externally.
Whichever tool you choose, it will play an important role in making communication smooth, but it will mean nothing without each individual placing attention on being a good communicator.
Make sure your employees at all levels of the organization are engaged with one another.
Quick Tips for Communication
- Communicate twice as often as you would in an office setting – at a minimum
- Replicate time spent around the “water cooler” – ask how someone’s day is before diving into the burning question
- Use video calls whenever possible to add a more personal feel
Create a Company Culture Early
A remote company’s culture becomes the focal point of everything. Without it, your employees won’t fully understand the direction of the company and how they can contribute to their full potential.
Culture must be discussed during the recruiting process, again during the onboarding process and then lived day-to-day.
For IncWorx, teamwork is and has always been a core component of our culture. It’s an essential component in providing our clients with comprehensive expertise. As employees disperse, it is natural to become more self-dependent and less reliant on others you aren’t seeing regularly.
To resolve this, we’ve built in several methods over time – onboarding summits, video meet and greets for new team members and monthly business reviews with the whole team to name a few.
Our team’s culture continues to drive our success, so make it a focus!
Quick Tips for Creating Culture
- Define your culture early in the process
- Build everything around that culture – job postings, policies, project management, etc.
- Hire individuals that will enhance the culture
Utilize Technology (Heavily)
Technology plays a critical role in managing a remote team. Without it, supporting remote workers would not be possible. During our transition, we found we had to focus on 3 key areas of technology. Each required a different level of attention but ensuring all of them worked together was key. Our focus included:
- Personal hardware
- Enterprise hardware
Accessible software is the key to success.
You likely have much of the software that you need to work on day-to-day. Here are a few things to consider:
- Are all your software platforms accessible from anywhere?
- Are all web-based software platforms configured for secure access externally?
- Does any of the software require certain hardware specs to operate properly?
- Do you have the right number of licenses available if additional users are needed?
- Are there infrequently performed processes that require special software?
- Are there Software as a Service (SaaS) options available as an alternative?
Unfortunately for us, we ran into several programs that were not ready for remote access. Several of them were found during processes that occur very infrequently. This led to fire drill type scenarios which can be avoided.
Do not try to guess what you may have missed, ask your teams directly for their thoughts. They are the ones involved in the details daily and can quickly shine a light on anything missed.
In addition to daily software, you will likely need to consider supporting programs, such as VPN, which will make everything accessible.
Next, you will need to consider personal hardware. The best software in the world is useless without the right hardware making it available.
The obvious item will be a laptop or desktop which is necessary for remote employees to effectively do their jobs. Does everyone have access to one of these devices?
At IncWorx, each of our team members had a laptop but we did not consider the other devices that made daily work possible in the office. You will want to consider:
- Desk phone
- Secondary monitors
- Mouse and keyboard
- Paper shredder – especially for roles working with physical copies of sensitive information
Lastly, consider your enterprise hardware.
You potentially take for granted that your enterprise infrastructure just runs but ask yourself the important questions.
Can servers and networking devices keep up with potential added stresses? Can phones be taken out of the office and plugged in at home? If not, what alternative methods are available.
You may also consider moving away from maintaining a data center and looking at options for virtual servers, such as Microsoft Azure. These options can often be cost-effective and eliminate the overhead associated with running and maintaining a data center.
Make sure that at a minimum you consider the following:
- Datacenter operations
- Network infrastructure
- Telephony systems
Quick Tips for Software and Hardware
- Make sure all software is accessible – without it, people will be lost
- Don’t skimp on personal hardware specs – nothing can slow productivity like a slow laptop can
- Make sure network hardware can take any additional stress of passing traffic to outsiders
Help Develop a Productive Work Environment
Each employee will need time to adjust to working from home.
For each, finding the right balance will be a unique experience, especially for those who have never worked outside the office. Being part of a full-time virtual team is very different from working at home occasionally.
It’s important to set expectations, just as you would in the office. If team members know when to be online, what they can wear during a video conference and that everyone is on the same page they can feel confident in what they are doing.
Each of these may seem like little issues on the surface, but they are all things we take for granted in an office.
One simple step is ensuring that all the comforts of the office are available. Does each employee have things like a mouse, extra monitor, and speakerphone? Consider whether you want to allow them to take these things, if you want to provide them or if you want to make them the responsibility of the employee.
Quick Tips for A Productive Work Environment
- Allow for an adjustment period –individuals are unique and will need to adjust
- Clearly define expectations so that there is no gray area
- Consider providing regularly scheduled tips and tricks
Healthy Employees are Productive Employees
The routine of getting ready for, and going to, the office often ensures we will complete the basic tasks of life. The simple fact that we will have to interact face to face with others ensures we do things like take a shower, brush our teeth and get dressed.
Working from home means that none of these things are a necessity and personal hygiene can begin to suffer. Skipping these may seem like a productivity boost in the short term, but in the long term, health can suffer and so will morale and productivity.
It’s important to promote healthy routines. Staying physically active, stretching each hour and taking mental health breaks throughout the day can all contribute to employee health and work from home success.
It’s also important for employees to consider nutrition. New surroundings will make it easier to sneak into the kitchen for snacks throughout the day.
It also makes it easy to get away from routine office habits such as drinking water throughout the day.
Quick Tips for Healthy Employees
- Provide general guidance on healthy steps employees can take when working remotely
- Promote taking breaks throughout the day – get up and walk just like you would in the office
- Consider posting recipes on your intranet or sending other tips and tricks
Lean on Your Work from Home Champions
The best path to success is to learn from those who have already experienced the pains!
Do you have anyone in your organization who already works remotely? Look for knowledge that can pull from them and pass on to others across the team.
We had several team members who were part of a remote workforce in previous roles and their insight during our transition was irreplaceable.
From guidance on communication to tips for keeping family members out of “the office”, each experience was unique. These continue to benefit others on our team to this day.
Quick Tips for Using Work From Home Experience
- Do you have employees who work from home – if so, talk to the successful ones
- Survey team members and see if any of them have worked in distributed teams – what do they have to offer?
- Setup a transition committee and include your Work from Home Champions
Check-in Frequently, No Really
Every day will be a new day of learning and adjusting. 7 years into our journey and we still come across new situations, new personalities and new needs for change.
We can overcome these situations by staying in constant contact with one another.
Like our doubling rule for any communications, we suggest doubling your effort in checking in with team members. This is especially important early on as the transition is occurring.
What can you learn from them and pass along to others and vice versa?
Remember, check-ins do not have to be formal or lengthy. A quick phone call to say good morning or a video conference to say thank you can go a long way in maintaining relationships. It can also help build new ones.
Quick Tips for Checking in Frequently
- Keep a healthy balance of formal and informal check-ins – a 2-minute good morning may produce more useful information than an hour-long 1 on 1
- Check in up, down and across levels of the organization – team members will be comforted knowing that an executive may be experiencing some of the same pains they are
- Double up on your check-ins, especially early in the transition process
Our written policies were something we did not consider early on.
We had the standard employee handbook, HR policies, security policies, the list goes on. What we didn’t consider was how many of these could and should change to accommodate remote workers.
Policies are in place to set expectations of employees. If those expectations are not set appropriately or in some cases not set at all, it makes it difficult for the team to know what to do and even more difficult to enforce the policies.
Take time to make a list of all your policies. Are there formal and/or informal policies?
Beyond companywide HR and security policies, what departments have their own policies to consider? Can existing policies be updated or do they need to be rewritten altogether?
Quick Tips for Policy Reviews
- A one-time update is not good enough – schedule an ongoing time to review and adjust for changes
- If changes are necessary, it is critical to communicate those changes
- Include employees, when possible, in policy changes – they can often save you headaches early on
Lockdown Your Security
Security is a daily concern even when working in an office.
Working remotely increases the complexity and number of scenarios that need to be considered. Are each employee’s laptop and documents secure? Does each employee lock the doors of their homes when they leave or are sleeping? What about modems and routers, are they locked down securely?
We found early on that answers to these questions vary widely depending on background, geography, technical capability and general role in the organization. It’s important not to leave something as critical as security up to change.
Document your expectations (update that policy!) and conduct training to ensure everyone starts on the same page. For complex areas provide guidance and direction. Be willing to work with individuals to ensure they have the help they need. Nothing will reduce your security posture more than employee frustration.
Quick Tips for Security
- Conduct security awareness training for all employees – focus on remote work areas such as securing devices and files, home network security and working in public
- Complete a review of your security policies and make any updates necessary to accommodate remote work
- Ensure security policies are readily available to work from home and remote workers
Preparing Your Managers and Supervisors
Preparing managers and supervisors for the changes coming their way may be one of the most complex challenges of remote team building.
Team members will suddenly have questions about things they previously understood – or didn’t think about.
Early on, they may be distracted and not seem as available. Make sure your managers know to be flexible and how to approach employees if there is a concern.
Policies may not immediately account for situations that occur, so it’s also important that they know how to handle new situations.
In the end, your managers and supervisors will feel the enormous stress of helping their team survive day-to-day. This can impact their overall mental and physical health as well as make them less productive.
Consider what company executives and the business can do to help in these scenarios.
Quick Tips for Preparing Management
- Keep open dialog across upper levels of management – as managers encounter new situations, take the time to educate others who may run into the same
- Ensure managers are kept in the loop on upcoming changes so that they can accurately communicate them to their teams
- Provide methods for submitting and tracking feedback from team members
Building a Remote Team Requires You to Trust the Process
Building a remote team is a process. It will not occur overnight. You must trust in the team, in the work you are doing and in the process.
We’ve learned firsthand what works and what doesn’t. This firsthand experience and our expertise in the technologies required to be successful in building a remote team make us a great ally in your success.
If you’d like to discuss how to successfully take your team remotely, schedule a consultation today!