By Emma Hickey
Remote work is the way of the future. According to a 2018 Upwork report that surveyed 1,005 hiring decision makers, 63% of departments at their companies included at least one remote team member. Thirty eight percent of these hiring managers predicted that in ten years, their companies would be dominated by remote employees. Some might say remote work is taking over, and whether or not you agree with that assessment, one thing is clear—it’s time to adapt.
Many companies, organizations, and industries, are already on this path. They don’t shy away from hiring remote employees and some have even built out entire remote teams. There’s a difference, though, between willingly adding remote folks to your team and being able to actually support those remote folks. I know, because three years ago I did it. With the support of a great manager, I hired, trained, and managed a team of 12 remote seasonal customer service associates. I went into this process fully aware that a remote team would require a different, and in many ways more thoughtful, type of support than an in-house team, and I still experienced a steep learning curve. As the workforce shifts more and more towards remote work, it’s important that hiring managers as individuals and companies as a whole put in the time and effort to learn how to best manage remote teams—and I have a few ideas about where to start. Here are six key areas to direct your focus when supporting a remote team.
Hire the Right People
Your goal in any hiring situation is always to find the right person for the role, of course, but hiring someone to work remotely adds another layer. Not only does that person have to be the right fit for the role, they have to be the right fit for remote work. Working remotely is a specific experience that will certainly be different than the experience of working in-house. It demands a skill set you probably weren’t looking for in candidates applying to in-house roles. One of the worst mistakes you can make when hiring for a remote team is to look for the exact same candidate profile that you would look for to fill an in-house role. You have to adjust the profile to fit the experience of working remotely. Once you do that, you’ll have set your team up for success.
Thoroughly Train Your Team
Once you’ve hired your remote team, you have to decide how to best train them. When I trained my remote team, I brought everyone in-house for two weeks. The first week was all training, and the second week they were live on the job. This model is common in remote team training because it gives the team a full introduction to the office, the company, and the in-house colleagues they’ll be working with. It allows them to ask questions and have support immediately available in a way that it may not be when they’re working remotely. It’s also common, though, to train your team entirely remotely. Either way, you have to have a robust set of training materials. Your training materials should include an introduction to the wider organization and how everything fits together, as well as a deep dive into the function of the role. It should be something your team can use as a resource while they’re working independently. Take time and care when preparing these training materials, because in many ways they’ll serve as a lifeline for your team, at least during their first few months in their roles.
Shift Your Mindset
Managing a remote team requires you to consider things you never had to think about before. If there’s an impromptu company meeting, you have to remember to video conference in your team, or at the very least email them a recap. If you have an org-wide retreat or offsite coming up, the onus is on you to make sure your remote team is there and to support any logistical help they may need. If everyone in your office gets new swag, or your CEO treats everyone to cookies one day, you have to train yourself to immediately think about how to include your remote team in those experiences, whether it’s mailing them the new t-shirts or shipping them cookies. It’s a new way of thinking and a new way of reacting to everything that goes on in the work day. It’s a new mindset, and you have to make sure you’re in it.
It’s very hard to over-communicate with a remote team. Because they’re not in the office, certain things that are on your radar, and on the radar of the broader team, might not ever make it to your remote team unless you tell them. Information can easily fall through the cracks, and it’s up to you to make sure that doesn’t happen. Recap important meetings with emails. Repeat important company updates more than once. Give your remote team an avenue to ask all the questions they may have, and make sure you’re available to answer them. When I worked with my remote team, we created a Slack channel specifically for their questions, and assigned in-house teammates to answer those questions in that channel on a rotating basis. This ensured that someone was always responsible for answering the remote team’s questions, which in turn ensured that those questions always got answered, all while spreading around the responsibility of answering the questions. We also held a weekly team meeting just for the remote team, where I could review the week in the office, deliver announcements (often times for the second or third time!), and reiterate important updates. It’s better to do more in terms of communication than it is to do less, and mostly importantly: it rarely feels like too much to the remote folks.
This is one of the trickiest parts about having a remote team. How do you make them feel included in your company’s culture? Maybe you’re not sure why this is important in the first place. Culture is the glue that binds people to their companies. More-so than job responsibilities, growth, and sometimes even compensation, culture is the thing that makes us feel like we’re a part of something, and we’re more likely to be happy and less likely to perform poorly or leave when we feel like we’re a part of something. That’s why you need to do what you can to create that feeling for the remote folks. One of the best ways I’ve ever seen this done is when my manager used to send quarterly care packages filled with some of the best office snacks to one of my remote coworkers. I’ve also seen remote folks participate in company events, like trivia, through Slack, all because someone had the thought to put the trivia questions in Slack just for the remote team. Small gestures like this can do wonders in terms of creating a sense of community.
This might sound like the antithesis of remote work, but hear me out: face time is important, and it doesn’t have to be achieved in person. It’s great to bring your remote team in-house every now and then, but also, it’s important that you see their faces regularly, and that they see yours, and their teams’ faces, too. In order for a team to work well together, it helps for everyone to have an image of each other in their minds. Faces are important to humans, there’s no way around it. Don’t skimp on video calls. Don’t turn off your camera, or allow your remote folks to turn off their cameras, during every meeting. Make an effort to see each other at least once a day. This will help foster a connection between everyone on the team and will ultimately allow them to better collaborate and communicate.