11 Ways to Create True Teamwork in a Remote Team

Many companies are making the transition to using remote employees. The percentage of people working from home four or five days a week has increased from 24 to 31 percent. When a company builds a remote team, it tends to increase productivity and reduce real estate costs for businesses.

However, there’s a downside to a remote team. Without in-office interactions, remote workers can feel disconnected. That can mean they’re less likely to trust co-workers, and a lack of trust creates tense relationships.

All companies should proactively create a company culture that supports their values. With remote teams, you may have to work a bit harder. These suggestions should help you get the ball rolling.

1. Communicate Your Company’s Values

Remote employees need to understand the company’s values so they can act in ways that support those values. If the company has a strong focus on quickly replying to and resolving client issues, the remote team members who deal directly with clients need to be available at specific times. However, other remote workers may be able to adjust their schedules to work at times that are more convenient. Setting explicit expectations helps avoid misunderstandings.

2. Hire the Right People

Some people are better suited to working remotely than others. You need to find these people. Many companies use personality tests to screen potential remote workers, but you should look at the whole picture.

For instance, remote workers need to be self-motivated. They must get their work done despite the distractions of being at home. A potential candidate might naturally struggle with this but have developed techniques to overcome these struggles. In a multiple-choice personality test, the candidate’s honest answers might seem like a red flag, but the person doesn’t have the opportunity to explain how they can overcome this the same way that they could in an interview.

Look at each candidate’s entire application. A great cover letter and the right experience should weigh more than the “wrong” answers on a personality test.

11 Ways to Create True Teamwork in a Remote Team3. Make Permanent Introductions

People who work in an office get an opportunity to formally meet all their coworkers. Through daily interactions or pictures at desks, they might learn that Dan has three kids under five or that Rhonda likes surfing. These things don’t always come up naturally in a remote work environment.

So that remote workers don’t always feel like they have to give an elevator speech about their lives, you can create a survey for employees to answer. Make it a mix of fun stuff (“What’s on your bucket list?”) and personal stuff (“Who do you live with?”). Let employees know they don’t have to answer anything they don’t want to, but that this can help people get to know them. These survey answers can be made available in some way, and new employees can browse them at will.

4. Use Collaboration Tools

Your remote workers need an easy way to collaborate on projects. A good tool will allow people to make comments and suggestions, update the progress on their portion of a project, and visually show where different tasks stand.

Many teams use Slack for this. Through different channels, you can organize the remote team by project or job description, upload and share files, and send direct messages to other team members. However, Slack is just one of many resources out there. Basecamp is another popular one. Do the research and find the tool that works for your team.

11 Ways to Create True Teamwork in a Remote Team5. Encourage Chit-chat

Remote workers don’t get to socialize in the break room or at the water cooler. They don’t chat on the elevator ride up to 36th floor or when they bump into a co-worker at the sandwich shop around the corner. These are the small moments that build relationships inside the office, and if you keep your collaboration tools and meetings work-only, your remote workers don’t form these bonds.

No matter how you have your workers connect with each other, give them a space for “off-topic” chat. Everyone needs a break now and then.

6. Respect Different Working Styles

A lot of people are attracted to remote opportunities because they allow workers to set their own schedules. Night owls can work late into the night without worrying about a 9am meeting. Parents can get a few hours in before the kids wake up, then finish up when the kids are in school. A person might prefer working in two-hour bursts with an hour break in between. As long as workers get their jobs done, it shouldn’t make a difference what hours they’re working.

However, everyone on the team should follow this advice. The early bird shouldn’t get upset when the night owl doesn’t reply to messages right away.

7. Schedule Video Conferences

It’s nice to put a name to a face, and video conferences are an affordable way to have those face-to-face meetings when you have a remote team. While it’s hard to arrange to see everyone’s face in a 100-person meeting, small groups with around five people can easily set up conferences that show all faces on the screen.

8. Offer Great Perks

Office workers tend to enjoy a few perks. Some places offer on-site gyms or childcare, and many start-ups are known for their more elaborate perks like free lunches and pool tables. Even the most basic workplace usually has something like free coffee, though. Remote workers don’t have these things.

While you don’t necessarily have to give your workers anything beyond a salary, doing so creates a happy (and loyal) workforce. For instance, gift cards to a local coffee shop can replace the free coffee they’re not getting in an office, and they give workers the chance to get out of the house a bit. Something like bi-weekly house cleaning is even more exceptional, and it can help remote workers focus on their work instead of on their messy homes.

11 Ways to Create True Teamwork in a Remote Team9. Create Team Goals

With a remote team, you don’t want to create a competitive environment. That only further alienates workers. Instead, think of goals you can work toward as a team. Workers will then naturally form bonds and support each other. A good reward could motivate workers even more.

Team goals don’t have to be work-related, either. Something like the Whole Life Challenge can build team spirit, as well as address company wellness goals.

10. Celebrate Accomplishments

It’s not always easy to see the hard work that individual team members put into a project. It’s easy for remote workers to feel like they’re just a cog in the machine. Make sure your workers feel acknowledged and appreciated by giving periodic updates about the good things various team members have completed.

Announcing work-related accomplishments can help others see that their co-workers aren’t slacking off. Announcing personal accomplishments can establish better peer-to-peer relationships, as well as improve how workers view their supervisors.

11. Meet in Person

You can do a lot to build up your remote team, but there’s nothing quite like meeting in person. If possible, try to schedule an annual meet-up and pay for employees to attend. This might be hard if you have tens of thousands of remote workers, but it’s probably doable for smaller groups. Change the location regularly to make it easier for different people to attend.

Creating a True Remote Team Is Worth the Time

Remote teams offer a lot of advantages, but you need to consciously create bonds between the team members. If you take the time and effort, though, you’ll be happy with the results.

Have you hired remote workers at your company? What tools and strategies have you used to build your team?

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Becca Borawski Jenkins
Becca is a bit like a cat — she’s gone through a few “lives” to get to her current one (with which she’s quite pleased). She earned her MFA in Cinema-Television Production at USC’s famed film school, and her first career was as a music editor (if you’ve watched Scrubs, you’ve likely heard her work).

Becca found her way to career number two through martial arts. She began training in BJJ and muay Thai and started working with professional MMA fighters, building websites, working on fight promotions, and producing videos.

As a competitor in BJJ herself, Becca wanted to get stronger and fitter. In 2005, she became a student at CrossFit Los Angeles where she met WLC co-founders Andy Petranek and Michael Stanwyck. In only a couple years, she became CrossFit Level III Certified, left her entertainment career, and dedicated herself full time to coaching, serving as the Program Director of CFLA and founder of the CFLA CrossFit Kids program.

After seven years as a music editor and then eight years as fitness instructor, Becca segued to her current career — full-time editor and writer. She and her husband are full-time RVers and have a first-hand comprehension of the pros and cons of remote work.