Now that we’ve seen, in part 1 of this series, how an intentional remote work setup is vastly different from emergency remote work, let’s look at what would be some of the steps you need to take to transition to one, and build a solid distributed team.
- Define the company “DNA” & clearly communicate expectations
This is a key process in any team, but it becomes even more important in remote work/a distributed team. As Darcy Boles, Director of Culture and Innovation at TaxJar likes to say,
“remote doesn’t kill culture, it reveals it. when you lose the office walls, what is left are your values and behavior.”Darcy Bole
Some of the most important questions to answer at this stage are:
- What are our values and shared purpose/mission/vision/why?
- How and when do we work? E.g. Are we expected to be online at certain times or do people have the autonomy to set the schedule that works for them? Is our focus on individual contributions or on team collaboration?
- How do we communicate and how do we meet? E.g. every day all day or at certain times? do we have regular meetings? How frequently? How long do they last by default? Do we use shared calendars?
- How do we document? All decisions? SOPs for each process? Documentation & clear communication are the superpowers of remote teams. The most successful remote companies write down and record knowledge rather than lose it if people leave.
- How does paid time off work? e.g. vacation days, sick leave, public holidays (from what country?), maternal?, sabbatical?, who needs to approve time off, where do we report it
- How is performance assessed in our team?
My strong recommendation would be to document all these in a company handbook/culture deck, share it with the whole team, use it during on-boarding and periodically remind everyone of its content.
2. Picking the right tools & systems
Figuring out what tools & systems work best for your team is intricately linked to what you decided your expectations and way of work are (the ‘DNA’ mentioned above).
Here are some tools & systems you’ll generally need (assuming you already have an email server, phones, computers):
- shared calendars: essential to schedule meetings & collaborate, this usually comes with your Google Workspace or similar
- a project management tool e.g. Asana, Basecamp, Trello, Monday.com, Jira, Todoist
- a synchronous communication/video conference tool: e.g. Zoom, Meet, Teams, Skype and an asynchronous communication tool like Slack, Twist
- a file-sharing/documentation/organisational knowledge/cloud storage: Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, Notion
- a password manager: Dashlane, LastPass are some of the options
- a system to manage employee data and payroll. This will be highly dependent on the country(ies) you operate in and the type of legal setup you have as a company, as well as the types of contracts you offer your team members. Some examples are cloud-based HR software like Cezanne, Elmo or solutions like RemoteTeam or Deel (specifically built for distributed teams operating across multiple countries).
Great to have:
- a screen recording app: e.g. Loom (great for training, asynchronous communication, etc)
- brainstorming & group thinking: Mural, Conceptboard, Miro, Stormboard
- team member happiness surveys: OfficeVibe, Know Your Team, Tiny Pulse
The tech industry is rolling out all-in-one solutions like Microsoft Teams, Citrix Workspace, Workspace ONE from VMware, and Qatalog that claim to provide the functionality of most of these tools in one secure platform. The trade-off is that all-in-one tools rarely provide the best option for all of those features.
Once you’ve picked your tools & systems, you generally want to have someone in charge of creating & maintaining the accounts, on/offboarding and so on.
3. Goals, feedback & performance
People work for money, but they go the extra mile for intangibles. Things like identifying with your vision and believing in your values, a great company culture (e.g. like-minded people, environment conducive of personal growth, feeling valued beyond being a ‘resource’).
In a remote team, you want goals to be as aligned and transparent as possible and feedback to be consistent and well-delivered. It’s important that people know how they are doing at any given time.
OKRs are a popular system used to align in terms of innovation and goals both top down and bottom up by many remote-first companies.
These are 3 of the 5 key aspects in building & running a highly engaged (remote) team, we’ll continue with the last two in part 3 of this series.