3 Keys to Going Remote
#1 Shared Understanding
Shared understanding refers to the extent to which members of the team have a commonly held perspective on the team’s expertise, assigned tasks, context, and preferences. Different members of the team have different skills, abilities, and knowledge. On a remote team, it’s likely that they’ll also come from different cultural contexts and different contextual constraints.
#2 Shared Identity
Developing shared identity is important for any team—but especially for remote ones. Shared identity refers to the extent to which team members feel the same sense of who they are as a designated group. It indicates whether or not individual members truly feel like this is the team they’re a part of and most loyal to.
#3 Shared Purpose
What are we fighting for?” Not “Who are we fighting?” That’s a question about competitors and sets up an us-versus-them competitive mindset that likely won’t be useful. “What are we fighting for?” might mean “What is the problem in the world we’re trying to solve?” or “What is the injustice in the world we’re working to resolve?” or even just “What are we trying to prove?”
Establishing these key mindsets early on will set your team up for success. Help your teammates develop a shared understanding of one another’s knowledge, skills, strengths, and situations. Likewise, lead them to a shared understanding of the expectations they have for each other. And create a shared identity by appealing to the superordinate goals your team is pursuing and the cause they are fighting for. You won’t just make your remote team more productive—you’ll make them feel closer to one another, no matter how far away they are.
Building Culture Remotely
A respectful environment combined with a sense of trust between team members is a solid foundation for building psychological safety. And psychological safety is the cornerstone of a positive culture. If you combine that with a shared understanding, shared expectations, and a firm answer to the question “What are we fighting for?” then you’ll be well on your way to creating a thriving team culture that keeps your team productive, engaged, and—let’s be honest—just plain fun to lead.
Hiring Remote Teammates
One of the most pivotal aspects of running a thriving remote team is who you let onto that team. And we know from a growing body of research that just looking for star talent isn’t all that successful unless they’re also a great fit for your team. So pay special attention during the hiring process to each candidate’s skills and past history with collaboration, communication, and self-motivation. And remember: remote work makes teamwork more important, not less so. The people who work with new hires will have the biggest effect on their performance. So give them a say in who gets hired as well
To ensure the new talent will thrive on your team, ask the following questions:
- Are they collaborators?
- Are they communicators?
- Are they self-motivated?
- Skip the brainteasers. The initial intent behind these types of questions might have been noble, the idea being that you got to peek inside the thinking process of a prospective candidate—or at least know that they had a thinking process. But recent research suggests it’s basically useless for distinguishing between candidates. In fact, a 2008 study of more than seven hundred participants showed that the only thing these brainteasers may reveal is the level of narcissism and sadism in the hiring manager asking the questions.
- When onboarding, put connection over documentation.
Building Bonds from Afar
Remote teams work well, but only if the team truly feels like a team. Individual remote workers struggle with feelings of loneliness and isolation, which are the nature of the work, but they don’t have to be the nature of your team. If you take a few deliberate steps to build bonds between individual members of your team, and maybe even bring the team together physically, you’ll find you have brought them much closer together emotionally—and more emotional bonds will quickly turn into more team wins.
- Find time for fika. The Swedish tradition that translates simply as “to have coffee,” fika is much more than just getting a warm drink. Fika is a ritual meetup between two people taking a break from work and socializing.
- Plan shared meals. Like fika but for the whole team. When in-person teams break for lunch or other meals, they bond over an activity that humans have shared for millennia.
- Partner teammates for work sprints.
- Hold office hours—and encourage others to do the same.
- Host office scavenger hunts.
- Create team rituals.
- Plan on-sites.
Communication is the oxygen of any relationship, and that’s especially true for remote teams. Each team member may be working in isolation, but choreographing that work requires deliberate communication. Without those deliberate guidelines, teammates can fall into the trap of going off on fruitless tangents or find themselves repeating the work of someone else on the team. Every great remote team has clear norms and expectations for what, when, how, and how often they communicate. And now your remote team has them, too.
- Asynchronous communication is the rule; synchronous is the exception.
- Write clearly and concisely.
- Don’t assume consensus.
- Infuse positivity into your writing.
- Assume a positive intent.
- Voice first, video later.
- Check yourself before going on camera.
- Put a lighting source behind the camera.
- Know how to make eye contact.
- Provide a virtual water cooler.
Running Virtual Meetings
Pair these tips with the steps for planning virtual team meetings and you’ll be much more likely to tap into the brain power of everyone on the team—and keep them from feeling like you should have just sent an email. Virtual meetings run well are your best opportunity to get the entire team talking and facilitate a real sense of cohesion and collaboration among colleagues, no matter their distance.
How to Run an Effective Virtual Meeting, in Eight Easy Steps:
- Plan with purpose.
- Pick the right invitees, and only the right ones.
- Build the right agenda.
- Open the line ten minutes early.
- Capture minutes.
- Stay on topic (and nip overtalking in the bud).
- Close with a review.
- Leave the line open
A Few Tips to Make Virtual Meetings Even Better:
- Share the pain.
- Everyone on video; or no one.
- Minimize presentation time.
- Use names often and encourage others to do the same.
- Start positive.
- Break it up.
- Break it out.
- Keep a chat box open.
The myth that creative thinking is a solo endeavor gets even easier to believe in a remote setting. But while individuals can generate ideas, the real magic happens when ideas get thrown together and get combined, and offspring ideas are generated. And that only happens in a group. Knowing when to hold the right meeting and how to run it is crucial, and doing so might actually be easier in a remote setting.
- Start with a problem meeting.
- Then call an idea meeting.
- End with a decision meeting.
- Open with a warm-up.
- Cameras on, mute off, notifications off.
- Ideas aren’t bad—but assumptions can be wrong.
- Leverage silence.
- Use breakouts to make a large meeting smaller.
- Pair and share.
- Use ranked-choice voting to eliminate ideas quickly
Managing performance is one of the most vital aspects of leading remote teams, but also one of the most difficult for new remote-team leaders. Without the ability to note when people show up to work, and how long they stay, many managers feel like they can’t assess someone’s performance. The good news is that those aspects never really captured individual performance anyway. Instead, smart leaders focus on the outcome, not the activity, and make performance management about tracking progress toward those outcomes and removing any barriers to achievement found along the way.
- Focus on the outcome, not the activity.
- Set objectives mutually.
- Agree on intent.
- Shorten the time frame.
- Check in personally, regularly.
- Check in with different people differently.
- Communicate back to the team.
- Separate people problems from process problems.
- Make feedback clear and constructive.
- Focus on the impact behind actions.
- Don’t just talk—listen.
- Collaborate on a solution.
If you work from your personal computer and don’t want a second one, then consider setting up two different users in the operating system. Then just log out of Me@Work and log into Me@NotWork. Keeping your people—and yourself—engaged is a constant priority for any leader. Everyone trips occasionally when walking the narrow path between burnout and distraction. But if you establish some guardrails and encourage your people to do the same, you’ll be able to increase the likelihood that they’ll stay productive and healthy over the journey.
- Set “business” hours.
- Develop an after-work ritual.
- Change devices.
- Get outside.
- Build work/life boundaries.
- Build people boundaries.
- Batch your tasks.
Saying goodbye sucks. There’s no way around it. It’s going to be emotional and at times awkward. Give yourself a little grace after it’s all over for how it all went down. You’ll likely have forgotten to mention a few things (and you still need to mail that laptop back), but that’s okay. Most of us are bad at saying goodbye. But remember that, in our interconnected world, goodbyes are rarely final. They’re more like “See you later on LinkedIn or at that conference.” But that makes handling the final, formal conversation with grace and respect even more important. A successful departure means taking care of what needs specific attention, but also making sure that the prospect of running into each other later is a happy one.
When saying goodbye to a teammate:
- Show appreciation and excitement.
- Ask how they want to handle the announcement.
- Prepare your own comments.
- Make a plan for the details.
When saying goodbye to the team:
- Prepare your resignation letter.
- Get right to the conversation.
- Get clear on the details.
- Break the news to the team.
- Bring your manager or the new leader on the call.
- Explain how you want to stay in touch.
- Leave time for socialization.
It’s safe to say that the future of the office probably isn’t as a place to get work done. (And let’s be honest: the office hasn’t been a good place to get focused work done for a long time.) In most cases, there will still be offices. But they’ll be a lot smaller, with more space for collaboration and meeting and less space for individual cubicles.
The added flexibility offered by remote work has not come at the cost of productivity. And even before being forced to try it, the research already supported offering employees the flexibility to work from anywhere. As the 2020 Gallup study showed, the most engaged employees were at the office only one to two days a week. Absences make engagement stronger (as long as it’s not total absence). And in many cases, absence makes the company culture stronger. Well-led remote teams can work even better together than teams who are physically together.
Remote work is working. It won’t solve every problem leaders and teams face. There will always be more. But we will solve them together. And we’ll solve them with the brightest minds from all over the world.
Because we can solve them from anywhere.