23 March 2020

How to make remote teams work

Riskline has more than a decade of experience working remotely with geographically-distributed team members; today, we operate in more than 12 countries and across nine different time zones. Setting up a remote team may seem like a daunting task, so we've broken down the process into a few achievable steps.

Pick your tools
Slack, Trello, Zapier, Asana, Quip, Google Suite, IFTTT, Zoom and Skype are among the dozens of online tools available that make working remotely not only easier, but also more efficient. What's effective about these online platforms is they allow for fast communication and overall task visibility to the whole team. Start off slow with the number of new tools you adopt and let your team get used to them before taking on more. If one doesn't work for the requirements of your team, don't force it.

Establish a process
Slack is great for communication and coordination, Trello for task and project management, Zapier for app integration and automation and Zoom for voice and video conferencing calls. No matter the tools you decide to use, just be sure everyone knows how to use them; you only get out what you put in. Create a process for how each tool will be used and ensure your whole team is on board with the plan.

Have a backup
Once you have your tools and process in place, make sure you also have a backup plan. Server outages happen so ensure your work flow doesn't stop because one tool is down. Remind your team of the backup plan when needed and keep a protocol document somewhere for easy reference.

Set routines
In an office environment it goes without saying that there are routines in place for getting work done. Routines help teams stay motivated and productive. Many of these can translate to an online setting. Weekly in-person meetings can be easily achieved through a video conference call. Status reports, updating documents and tracking project management can all still be filed and shared virtually.

Default to action
It's especially important for a remote team to be able to fulfill their duties and take action with little oversight. Instilling a team policy of "default to action" and allowing members of the team to make decisions independently, especially if they made these decisions before, can ensure that work productivity doesn't slow down.

Over communicate
It's been said you need to say a message three times before it will be heard – and that goes for online messages as well. Don't just communicate, over-communicate. In remote work you can miss certain physical cues we take for granted: does everyone know what they're supposed to be doing? Did everyone just understand what I said? To ensure all members of your team received and understood an instant message, ask them to reply – even with something as simple as an emoji of their choice.

Maintain a vocal online culture
It's important to maintain a good online culture where each person feels they have a voice and can ask questions or state opinions. This is especially true if something isn't working as it should. Ensure your team knows that if they see something not working, they should say something.

Keep it brief
Over communicating is great, but that doesn't mean you need to fill the day with repeating, multiple paragraph emails or direct instant messages; if it's easier to relay something on a voice call, then do so. At the same time, scheduling dozens of voice and video calls can leave little time for getting actual work done. Be robust in your communication, but also efficient.

Respect a healthy work-life balance
If your team works remotely, and likely from home, it doesn't mean they need to be working all the time. Respect the same work hours as you would in a physical office and avoid sending late night messages unless absolutely necessary. At the same time, be considerate that some of your team members may have other commitments or requirements that may require more flexibility for at-home work. Show your understanding and, if possible, institute a flexible hour schedule for your team.

Make it personal
Working remotely can feel socially isolating at first, especially if the whole team was used to grabbing coffee, lunch or a happy hour drink together. Small things like using a photo of yourself as your online avatar, creating a 'water cooler' chat room or starting off a video conference call to ask what everyone's been watching on television can have a great impact on making sure your team still feels connected.

Working remotely as a team has its challenges, but the majority of these can be overcome. Use the opportunity of working remotely to investigate ways to improve how your team operates – you may find new tools that help with task management and discover that some members of your team function better with limited distractions, all things that can lead to a more productive team.