Best practices: Creating, scaling and managing a remote team

Thursday, July 2nd 2020

Two weeks ago we explained how our journey towards being a largely remote team has been accelerated by COVID-19. A process that ordinarily might have taken 12 to 18 months was condensed into less than the same number of weeks.

We have always had a degree of remote working at Shyft and we were moving towards an increasingly distributed team. But over the last 4 months, like many companies, we have scaled up the remote working a vast amount in a very short space of time. 

Along the way, we have learnt a huge number of lessons. Here are 5 key ideas we think should make up the best practice for creating and scaling a remote team.

1. Build a robust comms structure for managing a remote team

Adeptly disseminating your key information across your organization is mission-critical when your team is remote. You need to be sure everyone has the information they need, when they need it. You need to be sure everyone knows what is happening in key parts of the business and how their work is related to it. At Shyft we use a combination of Slack, emails, weekly internal newsletter, standup meetings and an at least monthly all-hands meeting. 

On top of this, your policies and processes need to be accessible and easily understandable. Often team members will turn to them without management to fall back on around the clock. Develop and document them, and make sure every employee knows where to find them. Include employees in the iterative writing of processes where possible.

2. Build a culture of openness and transparency

Culture is designed from the top, but produced and sustained by everyone. That’s to say, you have to set the standards of open and transparent culture and design the conditions in which it can flourish remotely. After that, it is up to every employee to play their part in sustaining the open and transparent culture. As explained, building a robust comms structure is vital to this, along with several other measures that encourage openness.

Trust and have confidence in your team, don’t get hung up on their attendance or hours. Consider whether a results-only work environment (ROWE) would suit your teams as part of remote working. Inevitably, a few employees won’t repay your trust, but the alternative, micromanaging every employee, is not a serious option. Encourage your team to build a solid work-life balance: remote working in itself does not guard against burnout.       

How do you get the trust to flow both ways? Make time for regular feedback sessions and give feedback that is direct, specific, and applicable. Always emphasize the positive. Talk to your team about feedback aversion and dealing with negative feedback in a positive way. And be aware that some team members may struggle without the regular positive feedback they would have been used to in an office. Detoxifying feedback will bring trust and openness.

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3. Train collaboration as a skill like any other 

Real collaboration is talked about much more widely than it is found. If you’re building or scaling a remote team, or transition from office to remote, you have to change that.

Collaboration needs to be taught to your team as a skill, just as you would give teach them how to use a new CRM. Never assume teams or individuals are collaborating where you think they are, especially when you’re remote.

True collaboration is built on empathy, active listening, asking the right questions in the right way, and being able to lead as well as follow (as well as knowing when it’s the right time for each). 

For remote teams, best practices around true collaboration might be harder to build without the foundation of a real-life relationship. Bear this in mind and, when the situation allows for it, plan remote team activities and events for the whole company. And if you want to give your teams some light relief during these challenging times, there are heaps of fun remote team bonding ideas here.

4. Choose your software wisely and make sure everyone is fully trained

There are hundreds of project management tools for remote teams on the market. This is a reasonable overview of some of the most popular tools. Your job is to select the most appropriate one for your team’s needs and commit to getting every employee fully trained.   

Needless to say, there will be different learning curves for different employees, and some team members may be anxious about their lack of knowledge and not comfortable asking for help. It’s vital to create a space in your remote environment where they feel comfortable asking for the help they need with software. This applies to hardware too. Get everyone the hardware they need for working remotely. 

5. Adapt your recruitment and onboarding for remote

You will need to finetune your recruitment processes for a remote team. If you’re hiring staff in a country for the first time, you’ll need expert help to set up the legal and financial infrastructure and processes you need. In some cases (especially if there are only going to be of one or two hires), you might find the savings you make are outweighed by the costs of setup.

Think carefully about the type of people that will thrive in your remote team and why. Have they worked in a fully remote team before? Are they disciplined, self-starters? Reliability, flexibility, communication, maturity and independence have to be your go-to soft skills for remote teams.

Your onboarding process will be key here. It needs to be solid and ideally (if and when it is feasible) involve a face-to-face element. As well as setting expectations for your new hires regarding how their performance will be measured, make sure they are on the right page when late/early meetings are needed, as there will likely be a large spread of time zones involved.

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Remote working and working from home are here to stay, and they’re only going to get bigger and bigger. Remote teams best practices are evolving more rapidly than ever, and there will be huge rewards for those who build, scale and manage their remote teams intelligently.