Is remote work the way of the future? According to guest speakers at the recent Inbound 2018 conference in Boston, building a remote team is a recipe for company growth and success.
While working remotely is not a suitable avenue for all businesses, when executed correctly it can offer many benefits to small and large companies alike.
However, senior leadership often struggles with the real-world implications of building a remote team. How do you know your employees are working? Are there ways you can help them feel connected, even though they are miles apart?
These are the questions managers face when developing a remotely distributed team.
For project management company Trello, a work-from-home strategy has proven immensely successful. In fact, 70 percent of Trello’s 150-member team is remotely distributed, Head of Marketing Stella Garber told attendees at Inbound 2018.
Benefits of Building a Remote Team
Working remotely allows the Trello team to “eat our own dog food,” said Garber, referring to the fact that all team members utilize the company’s project management tool. “We are using [Trello] for the same reasons as our customers. We are experiencing the same pain points, so we understand their requests.”
However, using the Trello tool isn’t the only reason the team opted to go remote. There are various other benefits for the company, leadership, and employees that helped grow the Trello brand to where it is today.
For example, remote teams allow a company to hire new members without geographic limitations. This enables them to hire the very best candidates globally without worrying about location restrictions.
Additionally, Trello has experienced higher retention for remote employees. Several studies have revealed that remote workers are actually happier and more productive than those who work in office. With so many distractions in today’s office world, employees ultimately end up working longer hours to make up for lost time.
“Someone from my team just went remote a couple of weeks ago,” said Garber. “I asked her, ‘What are your impressions?’ She said, ‘The biggest thing is that I’m getting so much more work done.’ If you can control your work environment, then you are more productive. It’s not rocket science.”
Rules for Engagement
Remote work is not for everyone; it requires a lot of effort and resources, in addition to organizational buy-in. When building a remote team, leadership should have standards, rather than exceptions, according to Garber. In other words, all team members should abide by a common set of rules.
For Trello, the team is held accountable to the following rules:
1. Assume Remote
Regardless of whether an employee is in the office or not, all team members must “assume remote.” For example, if five employees have a meeting scheduled but one of them is working outside the office, then all team members will dial in via a video conference from their desks. This way, there is consistency on the call. The key is to avoid situations where remote workers will feel ostracized, and to create an environment where everyone is part of the team.
2. Create a Dedicated Working Space
For Trello’s team, employees must each have a dedicated space for working. This space includes a desk, chair, quiet room, and a door that closes. Employees cannot work from their kitchen, couch, coffee shop, etc. From a noisy atmosphere that is not suitable for video meetings or calls to a sketchy internet connection, public spaces are often unreliable locations. In addition, all team members must have dedicated childcare to ensure they are giving their work undivided attention.
3. Default to Over-Communicating
In a typical office environment, many strategy sessions or shared ideas occur when team members bump into each other in the hallway or kitchen. This is an interaction that remote workers do not share, which is why it’s important for all team members to over-communicate across various channels.
At Trello, the team has a rule that “if you have something important to say, say it three times in different venues to make sure you are heard,” said Garber. Never make the assumption that your Slack message or email was received.
4. Make Time for Facetime
Slack and email can only go so far; face-to-face conversations will really drive your business. However, video conference calls are not just for meetings and strategy sessions. Just as you would in a typical office environment, it’s crucial to get to know your team as people. Employees across various departments should schedule time with each other to connect, interact, and build relationships.
5. Make it Fun
While there are many benefits of building a remote team, perhaps the most impactful is the cost savings of not leasing office space. But to upkeep morale and maintain a happy workforce, leaders need to funnel some of those saved expenses into off-site trips, team-building events, and other fun activities.
For example, many of Trello’s remote workers will get together for “biweekly jam sessions” where they will play some icebreaker games to get to know each other or grab a beer for happy hour. The Trello team also utilizes Slack to create fun channels for non-work banter to recreate those “water-cooler conversations” that occur in a typical office environment, said Garber. For example, Trello has a channel for cat people, dog people, an outfit of the day channel, and others that draw employees together over shared interests.
The Trust Factor
When building a remote team, successful implementation all boils down to one thing: trust.
“How do you know when a person is working? Well, how do you know they are working when they are in the office? Trust,” said Garber.
In the end, it’s all about trusting your remote workers but checking in regularly. Whether through periodic check-ins to see what projects are currently on their plate or a weekly one-on-one video call, leaders need to clearly articulate their goals, then follow up to track the employee’s work product.