Why and How to Create an Effective Remote Team

Paul Boag

The Digital strategy of an organisation lives or dies on the quality of its digital team. But creating the best team is not easy when constrained by geography. Building a remote team may be the answer.

I am a massive fan of colocating digital teams. The highly specialised, cross-disciplinary nature of digital projects means that a considerable degree of cooperation is required to make a digital project successful.

When digital teams sit and work together, it improves productivity, avoids costly mistakes and frequently leads to better products.

However in the real world, creating a colocated team is not always easy, especially if you are outside of a major tech hub. Recruitment can be a challenge, and even if you can find people, it is not always easy to get them sitting together.

Sure, they might sit in the same building. But that is not the same as sitting side by side working together.

Then, of course, some teams are made up of a mixture of central office staff and remote workers. Remote workers who might be working full time for the company or on a freelance basis, or even for a third party agency.

As soon as you have a single member of staff working remotely, you need to start thinking like a remote team to avoid that person feeling excluded.

So yes, colocated teams are the best option. But they are less practical than many people think and anyway remote teams can have a significant advantage.

The Advantages of Going Remote

The most obvious advantage of building a remote team is that you will find recruitment considerably easier. Suddenly you go from being able to recruit from your local job market to able to hire worldwide. Well, I say worldwide. You might want to limit things slightly due to timezones, language or employment law. But even so, your options open up considerably.

The larger applicant pool will make it easier to find quality applicants so improving the effectiveness of your team. It will also allow you to be fussier about finding the right cultural fit, a key component in recruitment. That will reduce personnel and management issues, which nobody enjoys dealing with!

But there are other less apparent benefits of recruiting remote team members too. For a start, many people love the idea of home working and would be willing to compromise over salary in return for the quality of life benefits.

Remote working allows you to hire staff who would normally struggle with an office based job leading to a more diverse team.

Thanks to LightField Studios from Shutterstock for allowing me to use this image.

Allowing employees to work remotely also can lead to a more diverse team. Not only will it attract people from a broader geographic background, but also opens up work possibilities for those who would find an office based job challenging. For example, the majority of carers are still women, and so it would help with gender balance. Also, it would open up opportunities to take on staff members with disabilities.

Finally, although your remote team will lose some productivity due to the lack of collective working, they will make it up by being able to work uninterrupted.

Not that things always work out so smoothly. Like anything, there is a trick to making a remote team work and using the right tools makes a world of difference.

Using the Right Tools

Fortunately the tools these days have improved enormously. Just look at Monday who is sponsoring this post. Sure, there have been project-management and communication tools like that around for years, but they are so much better now.

Monday is just so flexible, allowing you to organise projects and tasks in ways that make sense to you, rather than be constrained by the software. It also makes it easy for remote team members to see what everybody else is doing at a glance, not to mention keeping all project assets organised.

But tools like Monday aren’t just about being organised. It is about empowering people too. It is about enabling everybody to feel in control and understand what others are doing. In short they build a healthy team dynamic.

Getting the right project management tool will be one of the most important decisions you make when running a remote team.

Getting the right project management tool will be one of the most important decisions you make when running a remote team. If people are frustrated by the app, they won’t use it, and team communication will completely break down.

Then of course for more informal conversations there is Slack. An excellent tool for sharing ideas and discussing everything from how to deal with that problematic client to where to eat out for the Christmas party.

Tools like Switchboard makes communication almost as organic as working in an office.

But communication should be more than just textual. Speaking to each other is essential. For that, there are tools like GoToMeeting, Zoom or Skype. But you might also want to check out Switchboard that makes conversations between teams a lot more organic.

Finally, you should check out Notion for all that company information not directly related to projects. Notion is great for collaborating on documents and as a repository for that information everybody needs access to.

Notion is a great tool for company information not related to projects.

Of course, there are many, many more tools for any remote team especially when you start to look at the specialist design and development tools. However, this post is not to review all of your options. Rather it is showing that running a remote team is a viable alternative and that is about more than the right tools. It is also about how you work.

How to Make a Remote Team Work

When running Headscape, I was a part of a mostly remote team for 13 years. In that time I learned a few lessons about making a remote team work for your business.

Ultimately it all comes down to communication. The danger of remote working is that each team member becomes an isolated bubble that work is handed to and from. In the world of complex digital projects, that is a dangerous situation.

One solution is a ‘daily standup,’ an approach borrowed from Agile development. Each morning the team does a group call and says:

  • What they did yesterday.
  • What they are doing today.
  • What barriers they face.

These meetings are limited to 10 minutes in total and are a fast-paced way for everybody to keep in touch with everybody else.

Although there are apps that support remote ‘stand up’ meetings, they undermine crucial team interactions in my opinion.

Of course, you could achieve the same thing through a status board of some kind, but it is as much about actually speaking to one another as it is the update.

You cannot afford it all to be about work either. The team won’t gel if it is just focused on projects all the time. They need to be able to waste time and take part in the banter you find in an office environment.

Meeting occasionally helps with this. Try for at least twice a year. Whether it is something fancy like a retreat or something simple like a Christmas party and BBQ in the summer, a meeting is vital.

But you can supplement that online as well. Have a virtual environment where people can share silly cat videos or moan about the weather (at least that is what we do here in Britain).

Talking of virtual environments, make sure everybody can easily see everybody else’s work. Ideally in some way where people can casually glance at it. Designers need to share their work in progress online, and salespeople need to post the latest leads they are working on. That helps the team feel connected and also will allow colleagues to spot potential issues that a single person working by themselves might not see.

At the end of the day, running a remote team does require some additional thought, careful planning and a different tool set. But it is a price worth paying to ensure you get the best people who are the right fit for your team.