You’ve invested a lot of care and time into the hiring process, and as a result, you’ve got a great group of people ready to turn your vision for your organization into a reality. Yet managing a remote team is different than running a co-located one. Here’s how to onboard new members, virtual team building activities to create a strong culture, and resolve issues.
Don’t underestimate the power onboarding has to make—or break—an employee’s experience. Imagine you’ve never worked remotely before, and you’re a little apprehensive about the transition. On your first day, you receive clear, detailed instructions, get a warm welcome from the team, learn exactly what you’ll be doing in the coming months, and discover which tools the team uses. You’d probably feel far more confident and empowered to do well, right?
First things first, send your new hires the forms you need them to sign and complete. If you’re working with freelancers, you’ll need a contract outlining the project or assignments; deadline(s); rates and payment details; and an ownership clause, if necessary. Full-timers, on the other hand, will require your standard forms for employment, insurance, compliance, and so forth.
DocuSign and HelloSign are both fantastic options for sending files back and forth. And if you want to make the process more seamless still, check out Zenefits’ onboarding software.
Your new hires should clearly understand two sets of expectations:
Your universal expectations for communication, behavior, quality of work, etc.
Your role-specific expectations, i.e. what you’d like to see them accomplish in their first 30, 60, and 90 days on the job
So, at some point during their first day, set aside an hour or so to have a video-call and discuss both.
Ideally, your team-wide expectations would be recorded in a company manual. (Check out this When I Work article for tips on writing an employee handbook!)
Your individual expectations for each employee should be recorded as well; try putting them in a shared Google Doc or other mutually-accessible file.
At HubSpot, there’s only one policy: use good judgment. However, not every company takes such a broad approach; you may find it necessary to establish multiple policies, from social media best practices to your stance on side gigs.
Those guidelines will be covered in-detail in your team handbook, but it’s worth covering the most important ones face-to-face (that is, webcam-to-webcam).
For example, if you use Hubstaff, you’d probably want to discuss that again. You might say:
As we talked about during the interview process, the team is a huge fan of Hubstaff’s time-tracking software. Rather than having to submit daily reports or create invoices, all you have to do is download Hubstaff to your computer and start the timer when you begin working. It runs invisibly, so you’ll only remember the app when you’ve finished work and want to stop the timer. Your manager will see what you’ve been working on and how much time you spent—and great news, we’ll pay you through Hubstaff. You’ll never get a too-low or late payment again. Finally, one of the Hubstaff features we use is screenshotting. While you’re working, the app will take a screen-grab at random moments. If you don’t want the screenshot saved, you can choose to delete it. The app will simply deduct the corresponding chunk of time from your records.
This explanation is effective because:
It clearly outlines the company policy
It provides the rationale behind the policy
It describes how the policy benefits the employee
Virtual team building activities
With a little creativity and thought, you can create a remote culture that’s just as healthy and impactful as a traditional one.
Traditions that foster unity
Even though your team will be working from all over the map, you want them to feel like their company friendships are just as strong—if not stronger—than if they were all in the same town. Traditions are a great way to accomplish that: not only can you build employee bonding into your regular work life, but you can also promote a sense of fun and free-spiritedness.
The Help Scout team stays connected by hosting "Friday Fika". Each week, the Help Scout team members talk with another randomly chosen coworker for 15 to 30 minutes on any topic they’d like. To make things feel even more fun, each person shows up to their “coffee date” with pastries and a caffeinated beverage.
You can borrow tons of ideas from Buffer. The company uses a shared hackpad to publicly track each individual’s goals, so everyone can support their team members’ growth. In addition, Buffer has “theme” days on Sqwiggle, a chat and video app; one day, everyone took a picture wearing sunglasses, while another day, they all posed with thumbs-ups. The team’s “mastermind” tradition is also pretty cool and unique. Every seven days, each employee gets together with the same partner to talk about high-level challenges and accomplishments. Since their fellow mastermind never changes, they can really create a sense of trust.
You may want to take a page out of Trello’s book as well. Twice a year, the company holds Remote Week: a chance for the 50% of its team that works remotely to meet the 50% that works out of the NYC offices. In addition to plenty of food and fun activities, Remote Week involves meetings, planning sessions, special breakfasts, and design sprints.
No matter how much time and thought you spend designing the optimal remote work environment, conflicts are inevitable. If you want your team to weather these conflicts like champs, set up the right methods for dealing with them.
As Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, explains in this HBR article, people tend to have way less restraint in virtual environments than real-life ones—meaning it’s easy for a task-related conflict to turn personal.
Ferrazzi suggests having conversations out in the open is the solution, for several reasons:
When everyone has access to the same information, you can resolve conflict before it turns toxic.
Your team members can tackle an issue as, well, a team. Each employee can study the question on their own time and then propose ideas.
The more transparent you are, the more trust you’ll create.
Being transparent can also help you preemptively avoid conflict. For example, when Yesware hit 96% of its revenue goal, the team could’ve been worried about the reaction from the board of directors. However, since the company’s CEO always shares the deck and board feedback from his meetings, his employees trusted him when he came back and said, “We came very close to an ambitious goal—they’re pumped.”
It’s really easy to interpret other people as angrier or more upset than they really are when your only context is their words. If two or more members of your team are clashing, insist they hash things out over a video call.
You (or another higher-level employee who can act as a mediator) should guide this call. Here’s the basic process for conflict resolution:
Explain that you’re a neutral third party, and the goal of this call is resolve any disagreements or differences that’ve cropped up.
Lay out the ground rules: each person must be respectful and give the other time to talk.
Ask one employee to share his or her perspective; then, without commenting, ask the second employee to voice his or her own perspective.
Lead both employees in creating a shared agenda. For example, if one person is annoyed that her co-worker never responds to emails in time, one goal might be for the co-worker to message back within 2 days. A second goal might be for the first employee to send timely requests earlier, so she gives more warning.
Have both employees verbally commit to these goals.
Schedule a date for a check-in meeting, at which you’ll discuss their progress.
Using the Right Tools
Running a remote team might be difficult, but it gets way easier when you introduce the proper tools into the mix.
Tools that enable teamwork
In the section on hiring remote workers, we talked about how important it was to hire people who can write well (or at least clearly). Luckily, you can go way beyond the written word with communication and collaboration tools.
First, you’ll need a chat platform. Slack is one of the most popular chat tool used by companies that are embracing the remote work methodology.
You’ll also want a project management tool, which’ll help you organize ongoing work, delegate responsibilities, keep track of deadlines, and most importantly, keep the team in sync. We’re big fans of Asana, Wrike, Trello, and Liquidplanner, but honestly? You’ve got a wide range of options. Check out our guide to 30 online project management solutions.
Next, figure out which app you’ll use to share and collaborate on files. Some teams, for example, love using Google Apps for Work, which lets you easily send around and co-edit spreadsheets, text documents, photos, and videos.
Tools that enable productivity
To guarantee your employees are putting in their best efforts, download Hubstaff or a different time-tracking app. With Hubstaff’s lightweight solution, your workers will always have a reason to stay on-track. Plus, they’ll gain increased understanding of their work habits—to give you an idea, maybe your graphic designer realizes she always has trouble focusing around 3 P.M. With that knowledge, she can decide to take a one-hour break in the afternoon and then return to creating graphics completely refreshed.
Hubstaff also streamlines the invoicing and payment process. It integrates with PayPal, Payoneer, Bitwage, and QuickBooks, so as soon as your freelancers or full-time employees log their time, you can pay them in less than five clicks.
However, that’s not the only app that’ll boost your (or your team’s) efficiency. We’re big fans of Alfred, a Mac app that lets you use hotkeys and keywords to do everything more quickly. You can even set up customized workflows using Alfred’s powerpack.
LaunchBar is another solid option (thanks Todoist contributor Zachary Sexton for the tip!). First create your own keyboard commands, then use them to launch apps, files, bookmarks, and more. Whenever you need to find something (literally anything), bring up the search bar to quickly perform a desktop or web search.
By never lifting your fingers from the keyboard, you’ll save tons of time. Gift Alfred or LaunchBar to your employees to make them speedier as well.
Focus@Will is worth the investment as well. It’s like Spotify or Pandora, but specifically for music that’s scientifically proven to boost your concentration. It also comes with a productivity tracker, so you and your employees can see which music was most effective at getting you in the zone.
Finally, everyone on your team should have some sort of time zone app. The SuperheroYou folks like WorldTimeBuddy, which gives you a handy dashboard of locations around the world with their respective times. When you’re trying to coordinate meetings between people several hours off from you (and each other), being able to instantly calculate their local time is invaluable.
Congrats—you’ve reached the end of our guide to remote work! At this point, you’re equipped with all the knowledge you need to manage your distributed team.