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Creating a Team of Remote Professionals That Can Handle Anything

Ruslan Askarov
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Building a successful remote team takes time, thought and planning, but it certainly yields huge benefits. Flexible work hours are no longer reserved for tech startups – in today’s age of global connectivity, entrepreneurs are able to hire the smartest, most competent people regardless of where they live.

Without further ado, here’s how to choose, hire and motivate remote professionals and create a brain trust that delivers every time, everywhere.

It’s All About the People

Multinational team

Working remotely is not hard, but it does come with some challenges. Not everyone can do it, for starters. While flexibility is a great motivator for some, others lack the skills and diligence that are crucial for self-management. The same applies for both team members and their leaders, since they are the ones who need to provide the structure needed for fruitful remote collaboration.

Still, managing a well-assembled team is much easier than handling a dysfunctional group of people. For that reason, smart hiring is the most important part of building an effective distributed workforce.

What Traits to Look For In a Remote Employee?

Good employees are easy to recognize – being goal-oriented, they possess problem-solving capabilities, intrinsic motivation and social intelligence needed for getting the job done. But, when you’re hiring a remote worker, there’s a couple of additional traits you have to consider.

By their nature, remote jobs are deprived of consistent managerial support. While creative consultations and exchange of information and ideas are frequent in office environments, remote workers have no one to rely on but themselves for most of the time. This means that they have to be highly independent, resourceful and enterprising.

One of the biggest challenges of managing a remote worker is a lack of insight. Though this can be ameliorated through weekly updates and employee monitoring software, it’s still essential that the person you hire is consistent, reliable and trustworthy. You can check this during the job interview, which we’ll address later on.

How to Make Sure You Are Recruiting the Best People?

As if finding a diligent employee wasn’t already hard enough, companies that employ remote workers usually experience even greater difficulties. Luckily, there is no shortage of high-quality candidates. Job boards are a great way to start your recruitment process, since they are an inexhaustible pool of people who prefer creative comfort over a traditional work environment.

But, before you interview any of the candidates, make sure that your job descriptions and remote work policies are clearly defined. Don’t be scarce or vague about the amount of flexibility you’re offering – if the information you provide isn’t straightforward enough, you may attract people who aren’t the best possible fit for your company, or miss out on some truly exceptional candidates.

What Questions Should YouAsk?

Developer at work

In a vast majority of cases, the actual hiring process requires a face-to-face interaction that remote job interviewers cannot always count on. Some candidates might be able to show up for an in-person meeting, but you need to establish a different approach for applicants who live far away or have no means of physically attending an interview. Since telephony is not always a convenient way, online video and chat services are essential for meeting your candidates one-on-one.

Here are some questions you shouldn’t forget to ask:

  • Why are you interested in working remotely?

The answer to this query will tell you whether a candidate is looking for a remote job out of an existential need or a genuine interest in this method of work.

  • How much experience do you have with remote work and self-management?

The ability to efficiently manage your workload is a skill that can be learned and perfected over time. That’s why experience in this field is always desirable.

  • How would you address a potential work-related issue?

We’ve already mentioned that independence is a crucial trait of remote workers, which is why a candidate has to show self-sufficiency and adaptiveness in hypothetical problem scenarios.

  • How flexible is your schedule?

You need to know how many hours a day an applicant intends to work, just as well as how they plan to organize their at-desk time.

  • How tech-savvy are you?

Even when the actual job doesn’t require computer skills, technology and online tools are crucial for staying on the same page with other team members and the rest of the company.

  • What do you look for in a remote company’s culture?

Preferring flexible work hours isn’t enough. A good candidate should be familiar with your organization too, and show excitement and interest for what they are going to do if they become a member of your team.

Tactics for Smooth Onboarding

When it comes to the onboarding process, real-time interactions are the best possible way to learn and acclimate to the new work environment. Hands-on training isn’t an option for remote teams, which is why you need to equip them with a comprehensive set of rules, guidelines and useful tips.

Internal wikis are great for this. Their main purpose is company-wide knowledge sharing, which means that new employees won’t be the only ones to receive benefits. Besides a collective know-how of your staff, they include highly practical blueprints for daily operations as well, so we certainly recommend you to consider building one.

Onboardia reports that 56% of new employees would like a mentor or a buddy during the onboarding process. This can be done for remote workers too – simply assign a person who will help them adjust to your company culture, and be there to provide support and answer any question they have.

Managing Workflow

Deadline date

However self-sufficient they might be, the members of your remote team still need to stay in tune with each other, just as well as with the organization as a whole. It’s up to the team manager to establish a structure and provide guidance for each consecutive task. When teammates are out of sync, it’s nearly impossible to expect that projects will be finished on time.

  1. Organizational Charts

Organizational charts and team dashboards are a brilliant management technique that encourages visualisation and transparency on a company-wide scale. Today, they are a part of project management software systems, along with to-do lists, shared calendars and progress reports.

Though their purpose is simple enough, organizational charts efficiently distribute workload among multiple departments and enable team leaders to stay on top of past, current and future projects. They are a powerful aid to everyone involved with your organization, since they keep track of who does what and centralize that information for a smoother workflow.

We’ll talk more about online tools for a distributed workforce in the remainder of the article – for now, keep in mind that on-premise solutions don’t grant full remote access. If you want a system that both in-office and remote workers can use, you need to opt for cloud technology.

  1. Meetings and Updates

Ever since real-time communication has been enabled in the online environment as well, the need for frequent brainstorming sessions and team meetings has suddenly decreased. In case of remote teams, however, they are still a necessity. While in-office workers can share thoughts or report a brief progress update during a watercooler chat, remote employees have to schedule their meetings.

Make weekly updates and monthly one-on-ones a mandatory part of your remote work policy. That way, you won’t waste anyone’s time, and still be sure that everyone’s doing their job. Skype hangouts are an excellent way to spend some creative time with your teammates and find out about their concerns. Encourage them to video-chat with each other too; it may lead to some great, innovative ideas.

  1. Tools

As communication is the key to successfully managed remote teams, be sure to make the most of online systems, tools and apps that provide real-time interaction. There’s one for almost everything these days, including collaboration, workflow management, productivity and document sharing. These are only the essentials, though. You can use them separately or employ a software tool that offers multiple features within a single package.

Such tools include Trello, Asana and Basecamp. They were made with virtual teams in mind and include a variety of helpful features, from to-do lists to private chat rooms. Dropbox is arguably the best document sharing software on the scene, while Evernote provides a platform to organize and archive data in one workspace. Skype is a given, but you can also try video-conferencing with Google Hangouts or GoToMeeting. You’ll also need a service that handles payroll across different states, for which TriNet, Justworks and SurePayroll are perfect.

  1. Measuring Productivity

If you’re worried about how to track your team’s productivity on a daily basis, online tools have a solution for that too. Remote desktop employee monitoring software systems and staff tracking software systems are being used to record the time workers spend on their projects and the time they spend on things other than work, so that both managers and employees can pinpoint which tasks are most detrimental for their overall performance.

However, you should be careful with how you implement them. Constant monitoring can start to feel like surveillance, which can significantly diminish motivation instead of boosting productivity. Explain that your intention is not to conduct aggressive transparency, but to detect potential standstills and improve the efficiency of the entire team.

Choose between Time Doctor, Roadmap App, TickSpot, Timely or HiveDesk – aside from a feature or two, these tools are essentially the same. Results is another great software of this kind, though it uses a slightly different approach; instead of measuring the time that employees spend on work, it estimates how long certain tasks and projects will take to finish before you assign them to your team.

How to Build a Remote Company Culture

Brain storm flat design

Remote workers are different from freelancers, and you should be careful not to treat them as such. Like the rest of the in-house staff, they are a part of your community and deserve the same welcoming, inclusive and inspiring environment. It’s what any productive company culture is about, and what applies to remote teams as well.

Remote company cultures face a number of logistic difficulties. In order to build an environment that employees will be happy to work in, you have to overcome distance with frequent and fruitful communication. After all, hard-working and loyal team members need a motivational applause too, even when there’s no one around to hear it.

  • Teambuilding

Every once in a while, schedule a group video meeting and forget all about the work. Team Building has a clear purpose in this case as well, so take the opportunity to get to know your colleagues a little bit better. Beyond any doubt, it will improve your collaboration.

  • Motivational Feedback

Never assume that no news means good news. If you think that you don’t have to provide feedback unless it is a negative one, you cannot be more wrong. Your teammates may take a lack of regular contact on your part as a bad sign, and it won’t be long before they start to feel discouraged about their work.

  • Trust

Trust is always a two-way street – if you expect a team to earn yours, you have to give them something in return. Show your care and commitment to your mutual goal to each of them individually, and don’t hesitate to go the extra mile if there’s a problem they need help with.

  • Engagement

Never forget to ask for their opinion, suggestions and creative inputs. A remote team can be quite productive, as long as its individual members are granted the freedom to express their ideas and voice their concerns. Keep them informed about what’s happening in the company and inspire them to engage in its further development.

  • Remote Team Conflicts

Wherever there are creative minds working together, there are creative differences too. Navigating a remote team through a dispute resolution might be the hardest task you’ll need to accomplish, since the lack of frequent physical contact in most people implies a lack of empathy.

Besides, the nonverbal nature of online communication is quite vulnerable to misinterpretations – the tone doesn’t translate well when it comes to texting, which is why managers should insist upon regular video hangouts in the first place.

If possible, organize at least one team building trip a year. It’s important that the members of your team meet in person and get a feel of each other’s personalities in an informal setting. In case they are scattered all over the world, surprise them with a gift card to a local café and set a time for a group virtual talk session.

In fact, this is the only way of managing interpersonal issues in a remote environment. When an employee approaches you with a complaint about another employee, there’s nothing much you can do but make them talk to each other face-to-face. Don’t leave them on their own, though, but join the conversation and mediate like you would in the office.

Whether you’re running a remote team or managing a group of people in-house, the key to their success is actually the same. A high-yielding collaboration relies on smooth communication, effective workflow organisation and full transparency, which is why you need to stay focused on building a virtual environment that’s productive, inclusive and inspirational.

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