Working with a remote team – whether it’s just one other person or more than a dozen – has some serious perks.
Wearing your jim-jams ‘til noon, for example.
But despite advantages like that one, there are any number of problems that any remote business has to overcome, too – and we’re not just talking about developing better eating habits.
Here at Edgar, we’ve been a 100% remote team for years, and that’s meant finding creative solutions to the different problems teams like ours have to deal with. (And as our business has changed, our solutions have had to do the same!)
So whether you’re managing a small team of part-time employees or you’re responsible for a bigger staff, what are some of the challenges all remote teams have to deal with – and what are OUR solutions?
Keeping everyone in the know
In a traditional office setting, getting people to put their heads together and collaborate on a project in real time is pretty easy. Lure everyone into the same room – usually with snacks – and allow them to crowd around a computer or a whiteboard and put their combined expertise to work.
In a remote team, however, that doesn’t really fly. (You’d need a lot of snacks to lure someone across the continent for a meeting.)
The people you work with have to be capable of operating independently of one another – more on that later – and that means they need to be able to access a lot of information on their own.
Our solution? A company wiki.
Our wiki is a constantly evolving information hub where we document everything from team member contact info to Edgar’s design elements. (Insider intel: Edgar’s signature teal is #6DBDC5! So prettyful!)
This isn’t an employee handbook – it’s an employee atlas, that maps out everything anyone might need to know about the company at any given time. It’s always up to date, it’s editable by anyone on the team, and it’s never crammed into the bottom drawer of anyone’s desk next to an old granola bar wrapper.
Plus, a company wiki gives you the benefit of things like adding multimedia to how-to pages, or interlinking related pages – it’s like going down the Wikipedia rabbit hole, but in a way that’s actually super useful!
Whether we want to equip a new hire with everything they need to know during orientation or we just need a place to post our retrospectives, the wiki is our go-to place for keeping each other up to date – and it’s a perfect solution for any remote team. (We built ours using Atlassian Confluence, in case you were wondering.)
Communicating efficiently over long-distance
You can’t manage your business without communicating.
If you and your team were in an office, you could just holler at someone down the hallway or peek over the top of their cubicle when you need them – not an option when you work remotely.
Instead, you need to create a system for staying in touch. And not a “never ending game of phone tag” sort of system, either – like, a real system.
Ours depends on a few ground rules:
1) Everyone works set hours. (Just like in a real office!)
That whole “make your own hours” thing sounds pretty cool, at first.
Until it ends up meaning “your hours are pretty much all the time.” Or just as bad, “my hours are whenever I want, and you’ll never know if I’m available.”
The structure of regular hours is the type of agreement that benefits both parties – your team knows they’ll have the work/life balance that comes with set start/end times, and you know when you can get in touch with the people you need.
Our team members are spread out across North America, so everyone works regular hours relative to their time zone. It means that East Coasters and West Coasters don’t overlap as much as they could, but it also means that everyone gets to have a normal life. (Being normal can feel so good.)
2) Everyone hangs out in Slack.
While we trust each other to work at the hours we’re committed to, when you’re on the clock, you’re logged in to Slack – it’s basically our version of showing up to the office (and leaving at the end of the day).
Our different chatrooms in Slack make it easy to drop into and out of conversations, and to ignore the ones not particularly relevant to what you’re doing.
Need a quick answer to a question? Pop into Slack and ask! And if someone else needs to get a hold of you, they know they can find you there. It’s as convenient (or more so) than actually sharing an office, but also saves you from that “twiddling your thumbs while waiting for an email reply” feeling.
3) We hold meetings when they matter. (And skip ‘em when they don’t.)
Virtual meetings are perfect for things like retrospectives and project kickoffs – they give you a chance to get everyone on the same page, and to encourage teammates to communicate with each other directly instead of always using you as a go-between. (Sound familiar?)
Because really, even when you’re in charge, you don’t need to be in every single meeting. Our developers have regular meetings to talk about what they’re working on, as does our marketing team, and our customer service team. There isn’t a single person on our staff who has to sit in on all three.
While we do host a company-wide meeting once a week just so everyone can touch base, we also compartmentalize where we can, just so people can spend more time actually working on things instead of being forced to sit around the campfire all day long.
(Tip: We also hold informal monthly one-on-one meetings with each member of our team, so everyone has an opportunity to share questions, concerns, or ideas for improvement in private. These often end up being the meetings that influence our company the most, so give the people who work for you the chance to voice their opinions! Even an anonymous survey every now and then can give some much-needed perspective.)
Extreme isolation can take a toll on you. You might start to feel…a little lonely.
In general, it’s best to foster a little workplace camaraderie before people resort to anthropomorphizing and befriending inanimate objects.
It’s a well-documented fact that people who have friendships at work are both happier and more productive, so don’t allow the geographic distance between you and the people on your team get in the way of sharing a bond.
Remember Slack? We keep one room in there dedicated to non-work-related talk, so we can actually, you know, be sociable with each other.
We also get everyone together twice a year for a weeklong retreat – a popular way for remote teams to spend time together on things other than work!
Even if getting together in the real world isn’t an option, you can still have fun with your coworkers. Every now and then, we’ll set aside a few hours so we can all connect via Rabbit and watch a movie together – not a bad way to make up for the fact that we can’t gather ‘round a watercooler every day!
Whether you’re arranging IRL meetups or finding creative ways to have fun long-distance, building a stronger bond with your remote teammates improves your job satisfaction AND the quality of your work – so make it a priority!
Growing (and growing, and growing)
Scaling a business, adding new members to your team, and relinquishing control are hard enough when you’re up close and personal with other people. When you’re dealing with a remote team, it can seem even scarier!
Building trust is complicated stuff as it is – when you factor in the fear that the people working for you might not actually be giving it their all, it can seem impossible. The words “out of sight, out of mind” strike straight at the heart of many work-from-home entrepreneurs.
If growing your remote team sounds scary, it’s time to rethink your hiring process.
After all, the type of people you need for a remote team can be way different from the type of people you’d need in a more traditional setting.
Remote workers have to deal with unique challenges. They have to be highly self-motivated, excellent at time management, able to cope with distraction, and perhaps most importantly, they have to be amazing communicators.
One of our requirements for anyone we hire is that they excel at written communication – because most of our communication is written! If any member of our team can’t articulate themselves in writing, then working together will be a guaranteed struggle.
Don’t wait until after hiring someone to find out if they’re a reliable telecommuter – put them to the test, and see how you fit. The process will almost certainly take longer than you want, but you’ll be better off for it, and that’s worth the extra time and trouble.
What we’ve learned
There are about a million things you can try in a remote business – or any business, really – to build a happy, productive team.
In the end, we’ve found that however you do it, the best thing you can focus on is making the people you work with feel like they’re a part of something.
It’s easy in a remote environment to feel disconnected from everyone else, and that makes leadership a matter of working a little harder to eliminate that disconnect. It’s something you can start doing before you ever even hired a remote worker – and if you have a team already, it’s never too late to introduce new systems that will set them up for success!