Remote work has been a real life-saver for businesses worldwide since the start of the lockdown. No longer an option or a perk an employer can offer, the ability to work from home has become a necessity for many of us.
Now, six months later, not all of us will be rushing to the office, despite the restrictions slowly lifting around the globe. Many business owners have come to realize the benefits of remote work. As a result, 74% of companies are planning to shift at least some of their employees to remote working permanently. So, want it or not, you will have to find a way to make it work.
A 100% distributed team since day one, we’ve been through the highs and lows of remote work. That is why we would want to share some of our tips and tricks for building and scaling a productive team while working remotely.
Best practices for hiring remotely
One of the main benefits of remote work is that you’re not limited to a specific location and can hire the best people regardless of where they live.
That is especially beneficial for smaller companies and the ones located in the regions with a higher cost of living. It’s probably the main reason why many Silicon Valley startups hire globally rather than trying to compete for the local talent with giants like Facebook or Apple.
Yet, remote talent sourcing comes with the limitations and pitfalls that should be aware of.
For example, while it’s definitely more convenient to interview a person over a video call, it’s also a lot harder to understand to get to know the person and understand if they would be a great addition to your team.
Here are the most important aspects of the remote hiring process.
Many remote employers tend to use platforms like Upwork to connect with vetted specialists in different fields, from engineering to design, marketing, etc. However, not all specialists on Upwork are interested in full-time employment – many prefer freelance or contract-based engagement. Also, there are some additional fees an employer should be ready to cover working via Upwork.
A better choice would be to look for remote talent using dedicated job boards like WeWorkRemotely, remote.co, or FlexJobs. On the downside, the vetting process here isn’t as transparent and you don’t get any guarantees in case you pick an unreliable candidate.
In this case, you should pay attention to recruitment automation tools that can help you streamline your sourcing process and qualify the candidates helping you make informed hiring decisions.
Onboarding within remote teams is a common struggle. The key here is to guide the new hires through the most crucial aspects of their work, gradually increasing the difficulty of the tasks and providing feedback often throughout the process.
For example, our typical onboarding plan takes on average 8 weeks and covers both theory and practice. Regular feedback sessions with the mentor and participation in the team meeting from the first week help new hires see the bigger picture, understand their role within the organization, and build bonds with the rest of the team.
Its main goal is to give the new hires the required knowledge and skills so they can effectively work on their own without constant supervision.
Sharing feedback with your new hires during the onboarding is a must. Yet, remote teams shouldn’t stop there. Regardless of how long or how detailed your onboarding is, there are still some questions that might arise down the road.
Offering personal support and guidance to your new hires after they’ve completed their onboarding is a great way to ensure that your team members quickly become productive and deliver the expected results. Yet, that doesn’t mean that you, as a manager, will need to spoonfeed every new hire for months.
A good idea would be to break down your team into smaller groups and assign mentors, e.g. the more experienced peers, within those groups.
Building the foundation for remote work
There are two pillars of effective remote work – processes and tools. Let’s take a closer look at each one of them.
1. Well-oiled processes
From knowledge sharing and reporting across the organization to specific activities within each department and team, processes make remote work much easier. Yet, 37% of organizations are reportedly still lacking a centralized way of managing the remote processes.
Clear and transparent internal processes contribute to the overall success of your organization as well as each team member’s productivity. They allow each team member to function autonomously, knowing what they should do and what comes next.
To build a well-oiled process within a remote team, start with documenting the current tasks and activities that already take place. Start with high-level checklists and add more best practices or ready to use assets, e.g. sales scripts or templates, later on to build exhaustive playbooks for all business-critical processes.
Yet, don’t get carried away – a good process isn’t always perfectly polished based on the industry’s best practices. It’s the one that revolves around your business specifics and is practically applicable that would work best.
2. Reliable toolset
It’s impossible to overestimate the impact of technology on remote work adoption. After all, it’s what made remote work possible in the first place. But it can also have a huge impact on your remote team’s productivity and efficiency.
Some of the must-have tools for remote work are communication and collaboration software like Slack, Zoom, Asana, and basically the whole G Suite.
Aside from that, the following three tools can also make your remote work a lot easier and more effective:
- Slite – for unified knowledge base and seamless information sharing within the organization.
- 1Password – for effortless access management across departments and roles.
- Workpath – for effective goal setting and management (based on the OKR system).
These are the tools that any department should make use of. Yet, each department – sales, marketing, engineering, or support – will also need some specific toolset to work effectively. Those can vary depending on your business specifics, needs, and budget.
Having the right processes and tools in place will give your team the framework and means for effective remote work. Yet, there might still some challenges along the way that you should be ready to face.
3 challenges in managing a remote team
Managing a remote team is hard work. Yet, you can’t cover all the bases and make your team effective by yourself.
A great deal of responsibility for success depends on each of your team members personally. After all, you can’t step in and help your team members cope with the distractions or tell them how to work efficiently if they can’t find their own recipe for remote work productivity.
As a result, the key roadblocks for effective remote work are:
Remote teams, especially those working across multiple time zones, often quote communication as their main challenge. Despite having tons of tools that aim to make this aspect of remote work easier, many teams still find it difficult to stay in sync.
There is one way to solve this problem – make communication your priority! Use any tool that might make it easier to connect despite the physical distance, hold daily and weekly check-ins – preferably over video calls – to stay on the same page, adopt asynchronous communication for matters that are not as urgent.
A good practice is to meet in person from time to time (which, sadly, might not be a good idea during the global pandemic).
Sure, it’s hard to call an office a “distraction-free” zone! Yet, there are many aspects that can disrupt your routine while working from home (even if you don’t have children or pets that demand your attention).
That is why many remote workers try to stick to the 9-5 work schedule despite having the flexibility to work whenever they want.
Another way to stay on track throughout the day is by using time management techniques, e.g. breaking down your working day into intervals and allowing yourself to get distracted during the short breaks.
Many remote teams, us included, also don’t enforce a strict schedule or 8-hour working day and prioritize the results instead. This means, if you manage to complete a 5-hour task in just 4 hours, you can have that extra hour to yourself.
Lack of motivation
Feeling isolated and alone while working remotely is another common threat to your productivity.
To keep your team motivated, celebrate small wins, and acknowledge your team’s achievements. You can even try some gamification tactics, rewarding your team members with badges, or keeping a leaderboard within the team or organization.
On the other hand, incentivizing good behavior isn’t the best way to motivate your remote team. A far better solution would be to foster each team members’ inner motivation by creating genuine engagement within your remote team.
As you can see, there are many ways to overcome the struggles of remote work.
Moreover, once you find a way to effectively with the listed challenges, they can become the driving force behind your team. Communication, personal productivity, and motivation are the cornerstones of the successful remote work.
How to know if you’re ready to scale your remote team
Before you hire more team members and scale your remote team, there are some things you need to verify.
Namely, one of the key drivers for effective remote work is a strong remote team culture. If your current team members don’t share your values, if there’s no trust or transparency within your team, adding more employees will only make it worse.
So make sure your team shares your goals and values, build trust and a sense of community within your organization, and focus on making their remote work enjoyable and productive. You will see the results soon enough to understand that your remote team is ready to grow.
Rimma Sytnik is a Senior Digital Marketer at Reply.io with 4+ years of experience. She’s experienced in email & messenger marketing, on-page SEO and link building.