The movement towards remote work has been snowballing for years, but more recently, when COVID-19 forced the majority of work forces to send their entire teams home, remote working was no longer optional. More and more companies are now accepting remote workforces as the norm.
One of the biggest adjustments for talent teams, HR professionals and managers will be learning which remote work skills are most important, figuring out how to identify them, encourage them and lead teams to success.
Building remote teams
Cast your mind back to pre-pandemic (it is difficult, isn't it?), where attracting talent for a role limited you to candidates either from within your city or from areas a commutable distance away.
Now, we are no longer limited by location. Of course, you may find the talent you need in the area your business is based. But now, remote work gives you the option and ability to hire the most suitable candidate from anywhere.
However, it is important to remember that when you are not able to be together in person, there are very important elements of strong communication, support, and focus that can get lost.
So why is team building remote so important? Well, despite the endless list of pros (no commute, better work/life balance, walking the dog during your lunch break, work from a hot, sandy beach…) to remote work, there are also some major cons that you cannot brush aside.
Remote working can be isolating and lonely. So, you need to ensure you're creating a sense of togetherness to maintain morale. In a traditional office type environment, you spend approximately 8 hours a day with the same people.
Becoming a strong unit will happen without much effort required. Those chats by the watercooler may not seem important, but soon you start to pick up personality quirks, peoples' interests ('Plans for the weekend, Tim?') and start building stronger professional relationships because you simply get to know one another.
These strong relationships then translate into a workplace support system. Employees feel confident and empowered, they will share ideas, collaborate with ease, and produce much better results.
Creating a digital business culture remotely
Strong company culture is the catalyst behind team spirit and ensuring your team is working collaboratively, combining talents and strengths and, most importantly, building strength. A remote work environment does not mean you should not focus on developing and nurturing company culture.
If anything, it is more important.
There are plenty of tools you can look to integrate into your everyday tools, such as the Donut feature from Slack. Donut allows employees to organise virtual coffee dates, 'donut' breaks and even offers 'icebreaker' topics of conversations and suggested topics to discuss.
You can also ensure regular catch-ups are in place. These do not need to be work focused (unless needed). We also recommend cross-departmental conversations. Ensure your Developers are talking to your Customer Service Team. Get Sales to host a game with Product.
This may seem like unnecessary chit chat when you are sure that there are more important tasks that need to be completed. However, in the long run, encouraging these 'breakouts' in remote teams will improve professional relationships, increase trust, collaboration, and ultimately, productivity and quality of work.
How do you effectively lead a team remotely?
Establish rules for effective communication. Confirm how the team keeps in touch and through what channels. For example, use an internal communication platform such as Slack for short, sharp, instant responses. Use emailing for longer, feedback-heavy discussions.
Be clear on job requirements. Be sure your team is aware of ongoing project requirements; length, key milestones, deliverables. Often with remote work, communication can slip by the wayside and can leave some team members feeling a little lost or 'left out.'
Set KPIs and expectations. Your team will only be as effective as their leader. As such, you need to ensure you're setting clear expectations from day one. Communicate clearly the team and individual KPIs, milestones and other deadlines.
Remote team activities and icebreakers
There are many exercises you can try, from very simple spontaneous conversations, to more structured programs. Get to know your team members and find out what they would genuinely enjoy.
Mix it up, keep it fresh and do not enforce it! Those who need it will appreciate the effort.
Here are some of our favourite team activities and icebreakers:
- Tours. Get to know each other by taking a peek inside each others' home. By pointing out certain features, you will get a better idea of what your team is interested in and paint a picture of who that person is.
- Good news. Give your team an outlet to share things that have happened – both in and out of work – that make them happy.
- Encourage recognition. Celebrate the wins, of all sizes, and be sure to share them with the team.
- Healthy competition. Set up friendly challenges to bring fun rivalry and boost productivity. Win-win.
- Show and learn. Everyone will have a skill or interest that another member of the team may benefit from. Not only does this help share skills and knowledge, but it also allows others to take an interest in the skills of another person and appreciate that knowledge.
5 tips for managing remote teams
To conclude, here are our five main tips for managing remote teams:
- Remote jobs can result in a lapse in communication, support, and engagement. Recognise it and work to prevent employee isolation by building strong remote teams, leading them to success and implementing regular, accessible employee engagement schemes.
- Create a strong company culture - digitally. A remote work environment does not mean you should not focus on developing and nurturing company culture. If anything, it is more important.
- Establish rules for effective communication and be clear on the avenues that can be used. Be approachable, but set boundaries. It is a tricky balance when working remotely, but as long as you are clear from day one, it is achievable!
- Offer fun and diverse team activities and icebreakers that can be conducted virtually. Mix it up, give everyone a chance to bring ideas to the social table.
- Meet each other. Yes, you work remotely. But if it is at all possible, make a conscious effort to meet in person at some point. With the world slowly recovering from the impact of COVID-19, now more than ever, we need to take advantage of every opportunity to spend time with our friends (and yes, those friends may be colleagues).