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How to Build a Remote Work Team From the Ground Up

July 14, 2022 Digital Workplace
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

The last two and a half years have demonstrated the advantages of remote work, even under challenging circumstances. Organizations that had never experimented with remote work before the pandemic have since announced they were adopting the work model permanently — some, perhaps, more reluctantly than others...

But with a growing number of employees now demanding the flexibility of remote or hybrid work, the decision becomes a bit easier for companies seeking to recruit and retain top talent. 3M, Twitter and HubSpot, for instance, are among the ranks of large companies moving to remote work.

But deciding to offer remote work possibilities is only one step of the process. Unlike the ad hoc move to remote work which categorized spring 2020, today's deliberate commitment to remote work gives companies that are hiring a chance to build teams that will thrive in this environment.  Here are six steps to making that happen.

Step 1: Create a Team Structure

The first step in the team-building process is to design a clear structure. How will work flow? Who will employees report to? How? Employees need to know the reporting hierarchy, how processes will change and how everyone will collaborate to accomplish company and team goals.

Some of these elements may not change — or change much — from the processes in place, but it is nevertheless important to communicate (or reiterate) the structure under the new remote work model. There will be elements that need to be adjusted later on; the team structure should continuously be reviewed, added to and tweaked, particularly in the early stages of the transition to ensure nothing gets missed.

This step will resemble what happens when a company is first created. There will be growing pains that need to be monitored, but time should be invested in thinking through how every aspect of the business will work.

Step 2: Assess the Technology

Once the structure has been designed, it's time to think about technology. How will all this work be accomplished with a distributed workforce?

In a remote work environment, the hardware/software will likely differ from one employee to the next, unless the company provides the equipment and restricts the use of unapproved apps and tools on company laptops. For cybersecurity reasons as well as effective collaboration, employers should try to minimize the disparities. Purchasing business licenses to certain programs may be a good way to go.

Similarly, companies can avoid silos and duplicate data by selecting the collaboration apps permitted across the organization. Having an open discussion with employees about what they prefer and what they've found works best for their team is a great way to get buy-in.

“The key to building scalable remote teams is for business leaders to be more intentional about breaking down silos between resources and their end-users — to help streamline operations," said Dutta Satadip, chief customer officer at Chicago-based ActiveCampaign. "In doing so, remote teams will have access to the right resources that encourage them to engage with customers and achieve seamless integrations across platforms."

To set this foundation in the digital workplace, leaders need to take a deeper look at what they can automate and how they can reuse existing technology. Automating as many tasks as possible will create efficiencies that weren't possible before.

Related Article: Modeling the Workplace: The Role and Future of AI

Step 3: Identify Staffing Needs

Another important factor — if not the most important — to consider — is people. Being able to work remotely effectively requires a special set of skills, and not everyone is cut out for it.

In a hybrid work model, employers can give their workers a choice, but in a fully remote environment, assessing workforce skills and reassigning responsibilities is critical. Roles will shift and new positions will emerge as a result of the transition. Leaders must identify those changes and what's needed to fill the gaps.

Recruiting for new roles should not be taken lightly either. It is one of the most challenging and costly initiatives for companies because of the rate at which new employees end up leaving before ROI is fulfilled. Research from Leadership IQ found that 46% of newly hired employees fail within 18 months.

In a remote setting, the challenge is amplified because employers lose many of the non-verbal interaction that happens in a face-to-face interview, so conducting video interviews instead of phone interviews can help provide a better feel of how the potential recruit will fit into the team. 

Related Article: 5 New Job Roles for the Hybrid Work Era

Step 4: Set Remote Work Expectations

Equipped with a workflow structure, the right technology and the ideal team, now is the time to set expectations. Although remote work is centered around the idea of flexibility, what's permitted and not varies widely across companies, so establishing remote work policies is critical to the success of this model.

Ideally, employers will inform employees the number of hours they expect them to work and be available online, when and how often to check in, whether they should track their time, point of contact, what communication channels to use, etc. All decisions should be communicated to the team and written down in the company's remote working policies.

Related Article: 5 Things Leaders Can Learn From Airbnb's Approach to Remote Work

Step 5: Engage the Team

One of the most commonly reported challenges of remote work is the isolation or disconnect some workers experience. Disconnected staff can often feel demotivated, and the quality and quantity of work can suffer.

To minimize this risk, employers should look at engaging their teams regularly. Scheduled department/team meetings, manager check-ins and company-wide meetings are excellent ways to connect with remote team, add some socialization to the workday and improve morale. A highly engaged workforce can be 21% more profitable, so it is a worthwhile investment.

Another way to engage remote teams is through content.

“In today’s digital HQ, and especially with smaller remote teams, business content is critical to your team’s success," said Jesper Theill Eriksen, CEO of Copenhagen, Denmark-based Templafy. "Think about it: in a remote work culture, the content we are creating, from emails to agendas to onboarding documents, isn’t just static information; it’s an essential collaboration tool, your company’s direct bridge to customers, and it moves all business tasks forward.”

Related Article: New Wave of Collaboration Apps Look to Cover All Team Collaboration Needs

Step 6: Review the Plan

While there have been workers working remotely for decades now, the concept of a fully remote workforce is still relatively new. Like anything new, there will be tweaks to make, so it's important that leaders continuously review what's working and what's not.

This also includes not neglecting team and individual performance reviews. Giving employees feedback is as important as it's ever been, and maybe even more so since they lack the day-to-day in-office interactions. Provide regular feedback with guidance on how staff can make improvements.

In addition, review technology to ensure that all hardware and software meet expectations. Technology should make it easier for employees to complete their work promptly. Listen to them if something's not working. Frustration from outdated technology can lead to reduced productivity.

Finally, check that policies are working as they should. Is the remote working structure helping employees complete their work? Small changes may be warranted. For example, Wednesday 9 a.m. weekly meetings may not work as well as if they were scheduled at a different time or on a different day. Keeping an ear to the ground will be key to the sustainability of the model.

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