Remote Teams: Best Practices and Culture Lessons

Remote Teams

The great shift in corporate America from traditional offices to remote workers, once seen as a futuristic vision, is now well underway. Remote working grew by nearly 80% between 2005 and 2012, and there’s no end in sight.

Whether it’s the cost savings ($11,000 per employee per year) or employee satisfaction, remote work is here to stay (and grow). And while many employees are happy to ditch the daily commute, managing a remote workforce is not without its difficulties, be they productivity concerns, communication challenges, or worse.

This week we round up some of the most useful articles, posts, and resources on managing remote teams, whether they’re down the street or halfway around the world.

Fundamentals of High-Performing Remote Teams

In The Fundamentals of Running a Successful Remote Team,” Dainius Runkevičius, marketer at TrackDuck, looks at some of the biggest and most successful remote teams to find the shared attributes of these high-performing remote teams.

What makes his list on Medium? A flat organizational structure, a well-tended company culture, and technology that prioritizes collaboration. He also relays how companies have tackled the challenge of incorporating one or two remote workers into a mostly co-located team.

While new technology can (almost) make up for not being face-to-face, Runkevičius posits that fundamentals — such as clearly articulated workflows and a disciplined hiring process — greatly increase in importance. He concludes that the consensus is that managing remote teams is “way harder” than co-located ones. Do you agree?

Management Best Practices

In How to Manage Remote Direct Reports for Harvard Business Review, Rebecca Knight, a journalist and lecturer at Wesleyan University, culls the best practices from management experts and CEOs. First up: Busting the misconception that managing remote teams requires a totally different skill set than managing a traditional office.

She packages the lessons with a handy Do/Don’t list to help managers keep traction with their remote team, from establishing a communications schedule to not forgetting to acknowledge their work.

Ending with case studies is a hallmark of Knight’s articles for HBR, and they help to translate the advice from platitudes into real world management of the problem.

Two typical-but-tough scenarios are well-analyzed and peppered with quotes that allow us to see the thinking behind the management’s problem-solving. Have a team halfway across the world? You’ll want to check out Case Study #1 where a CEO works to harmonize two teams whose time-zone differences were breeding resentment.

Culture Lessons for Remote Teams

In 6 Remote Work Culture Lessons from Successful Startups,” Angelina Fomina, co-founder of ParseHub, looks to companies that were remote from their very beginning — such as Zapier and GrooveHQ — to suss out the important lessons in establishing a healthy remote work culture.

She combines the practical (be aware of time zones) with the more subtle, such as navigating the difficulties of shaping a corporate identity without the typical social gatherings of a co-located office. One key consensus is an emphasis on creating ways to allow employees to mingle for non-work-centric conversation, since the physical water cooler is not an option.

Are energetic startups winning at managing a remote workforce? Fomina argues — rather convincingly — that they are.

Can Remote Be Better?

While running her own business remotely, Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs, discovered that her remote team was as engaged and efficient, if not more, than those in the traditional companies she had worked in. Intrigued, she set out to see if her story was uncommon.

In her article for Entrepreneur magazine, Lessons From Companies Thriving With 100 Percent Remote Teams,” Fell offers the key learnings from her research that shed light on why remote teams can often outperform their more traditional cousins. The highlights are cited here, and the article includes a link to the full study results.

The biggest boon? Hiring from a much bigger pool of talent than location-based companies.

The biggest concern? Monitoring productivity when you can’t see your team members hard at work at their desks. For Fells, this is an opportunity to focus on more meaningful metrics than face-time at the office. Have a look to see what she focuses on instead.

Big Brother or No Biggie?

There’s more than one way to address management’s biggest concern about remote workers. Dave Nevogt, co-founder of Hubstaff, looks the productivity concern right in the eye in his article How a 100% Remote Team Feels About Employee Monitoring Software.” Hubstaff deploys extensive employee monitoring, including offline time tracking, screenshot capture, URL tracking, open application tracking, among others.

Nevogt asks his workforce if they feel this monitoring is invasive or connotes mistrust — and publishes their replies. It’s a business blog — and the poll is not anonymous — and the replies he gets are measured and largely positive (although there is a delightful quip that likens the practice to modern twist on old-fashioned micromanaging).

Surprising? Maybe not, for a business whose flagship product actually is employee monitoring software.

But the poll answers present an intriguing discussion on the interplay of trust and verification. Most interesting are comments about the time savings from creating status reports and updates — a very real and sometimes significant portion of any remote worker’s week.
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