A few years ago, a curious Stanford professor wanted to get to the bottom of one burning question: What really happens when you let your employees work from home?
As it turns out, it’s a lot. Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom learned over a two-year study that work-from-home employees take shorter breaks, take fewer sick days, AND save the company money on rent. The only downside: Half of the work-from-home group decided that they felt a lot of isolation from being home all of the time.
As a remote team ourselves, we really understand the challenges facing businesses with employees who primarily work from home. Managing a happy and effective remote team across the globe isn’t just about finding the right technology (though there are tons of great tools out there), it’s also about bridging the communication gap to ensure productivity and to boost morale.
Over the years, we’ve learned a couple of things that really work to bring a team together despite physical separation.
Combining spontaneity, apps, and a little outside-of-the-box thinking, here are our eight tips for managing remote teams.
1. Create a culture of communication.
Company culture is the foundation of a successful remote team. If you haven’t already, start by identifying your company values, which should emphasize open communication.
Consider formalizing a mentor program so each employee has someone they can talk to. Give everyone permission to share what is and isn’t working for them, as well as ideas for improvement. Send regular updates on how the company is doing to motivate everyone toward the same goals.
2. Hire intentionally.
When you hire new team members, look for people who align with your culture and values, are good communicators, and can work independently — but don’t just take their word for it. Once you’ve shortlisted candidates for a role, consider investing in a hiring test like ThriveMap to assess their workstyles. Then give the final candidate a short, paid assignment before bringing them on full time.
Once you’ve hired, be really clear about expectations so everyone is on the same page. Create a standard employee onboarding checklist to ensure everyone gets up to speed on how you do things and enforce it from day one.
3. Set clear, reasonable expectations.
Before setting expectations, determine what’s most important to measure. Do you need to track hours because you’re paying hourly? If not, consider focusing on results rather than time.
From there, establish guidelines where necessary. For example, perhaps you ask employees to respond to emails within 24 hours or use texts only for urgent messages. Clearly communicate when assignments are due and how often you need updates.
4. Respect employees’ space and time zones.
While structure can be useful, you also need to trust your people and give them the flexibility to do things their way. Don’t expect everyone to respond to messages at all hours — they also need space to do their work. To do this effectively, start with your managers and have them lead by example. If they send emails 24/7, their team probably won’t feel like they can disconnect.
Another thing to note: Be mindful of time zones when establishing guidelines. Limit calls to reasonable hours based on time zones where possible. Sync your schedules so you talk with each other when your work hours overlap, then do deep work when others aren’t online. Calendly is great for organizing calls around time zones, and Every Time Zone is a useful visualization tool as well.
5. Remember to check in.
To keep everyone on the same page, schedule regular reviews with each employee to assess how things are going. But don’t wait for those reviews to check in. Instead, set reminders with a tool like FollowUpThen.
Consider how often you need to connect with the team, whether that’s a monthly staff meeting, weekly status call, or daily email update. Put it on the calendar so too much time doesn’t go by between conversations; ensure meetings have a purpose so you don’t waste time.
If a conversation starts in the office that would be beneficial for remote team members, stop and call them. If the time zones don’t align, record it so they can listen later. Don’t underestimate how video and audio communication can help everyone feel connected.
6. Prioritize casual conversations.
Casual discussions are one of the most valuable things you can lose with remote teams. They aren’t just good for morale and building connections; they’re often where problems get solved, or ideas come up.
Because remote employees don’t get to talk to each other around the water cooler, it’s easy only to discuss immediate work tasks. Use Slack or another communication tool to create a channel specifically for topics that aren’t related to work. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to build camaraderie between people who don’t see each other regularly, and how often it leads to more creativity in the workplace.
7. Find creative ways to connect — including in-person meetings.
Just because everyone isn’t in the office at one time doesn’t mean you can’t build strong connections by brainstorming fun ways to include everyone. For example, assign “lunch buddies” so pairs can chat virtually over lunch. Or, if you’re hosting a happy hour at the office, send remote team members a gift certificate to their local restaurant.
Pro-tip: Meeting in person semi-regularly is also crucial. When possible, make a point to meet with your teammates if you’re in their area. Another great way to bring the team together? Fly everyone in for events like the holiday party or annual retreat.
8. Celebrate your team.
Ensure everyone feels valued by setting them up for success. Consider offering allowances for things like coworking spaces, hotspots, or headphones.
You can also acknowledge and celebrate hard work or a job well done with a handwritten note. Send everyone something on their birthday — or a random surprise “just because.” These actions will help create a cohesive, productive team that stays together for the long haul.