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How to Build a Remote Team

Written by on October 07, 2019

If you’re over 20 and have been in a relationship for more than a month, you’ve probably watched HGTV at some point. More specifically, you’ve probably watched House Hunters. If there’s one takeaway from House Hunters, or any real-estate show for that matter, it’s that the most important thing is location, location, location. 

For a long time, the business world has operated the same way. If you’re in tech, you need an office in San Francisco. Or, maybe you’re a financial company. Well, then you better have a presence in London. The list goes on. Along with having those offices, your employees also needed to be in those locations. I mean, that’s where the office is, right? How else could they possibly work for you if they didn’t physically show up in that office? 

However, over the last five years over 1 million remote workers have joined the workforce in the US. It’s one of the many ways in which the internet changed the work landscape. There are even plenty of companies – very successful companies – that are 100% distributed (meaning they don’t have an office at all). Companies like InVision and Zapier are showing that the “office” model isn’t needed in the modern age. 

There are a ton of advantages to having a distributed team. For example, the savings on office space, and access to more talent because you’re not restricted to a certain area. Also, remote employees, on average, have higher output than those in the office. With all that in mind, you might be considering adding some remote co-workers. But, how would you even go about that? 

There’s no one specific way to go about building a remote team. That said, I have a few tips that should work for most anyone.

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Start with Someone Who’s Worked Remotely

If you were starting a restaurant you’d probably want a Head Chef who had cooked professionally. It makes sense. There are nuances to running a kitchen and creating a menu. Basically, there are certain things you can’t know unless you’ve done them before. 

The same is true about being in a remote position. There are plenty of people who can do it, but for the first one it’s probably best to go with someone who has some experience. Not only do they know how to manage themselves, but they’ll be able to provide insights that you may not have if you haven’t worked remotely yourself. 

For example, they may have insights into common issues with staying connected. It’s also very possible that they’re involved in a remote-worker community and could help with future hiring. Hiring is difficult enough, so any extra help is always very useful.

Create Opportunities to Meet in Person

The flexibility of remote work is what attracts a lot of people. Though it’s a great perk, it can become a little lonely working remote. Interacting online with other teammates is helpful and does fulfill some of the need for socializing. That said, no amount of Slack messages can take the place of actual in-person interaction. 

There are a few different ways you could facilitate meeting up. If your team is mainly in one location, it’s very common to fly remote workers to you. If you go that route, be sure there are volunteers on the team available to hang out with the remote members after-hours. It can be tough being a visitor in a city where you don’t know anyone. 

Another common way to meet up is to attend conferences together. It’s easiest if your company offers a learning and development budget so teams can decide which conferences will be the most beneficial to them. Note that no one should pay for themselves to travel to meet teammates – that’s a company expense! Also, having the whole team’s schedules link up to be able to attend at the same time can be a little difficult, but well worth it if you can figure it out. 

Get Tools to Foster Communication

Having good communication, as with most relationships, is key to having success with remote team members. If you’ve never worked remotely, you’d be surprised how much gets communicated informally. In an office, maybe you’re chatting over lunch, or you go over to someone’s desk to chat and come up with a new idea for a project. 

You may not think a bunch about those interactions, but if someone’s not clued into them they can be out of the loop pretty quickly. Even if you do communicate changes, or updates, the other side of that is in those situations the remote worker doesn’t get much of a chance to have their voice heard. In fact, a study of 1,100 remote workers found that 52% of those polled felt they were treated unfairly. Part of the unfair treatment was being left out of decision-making.

There will be some planning involved and some behavior changes needed to make the communication work. You’ll also need to invest in tools that make communicating with a remote team member easier. The easier a tool makes communication, the more likely your in-office teammates are to use them.  

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Know Your Goals – Specific Goals

I once had a boss joke – I think – about installing a camera into my house to keep an eye on me to make sure I was working. This wasn’t due to a lack of productivity on my end, it was just that it was their first time working with a remote employee. It’s a common worry that if someone can’t see you that you might slack off and not stay on task. 

If a manager is new to having remote workers, it makes total sense that that would be a worry. Since it’s not feasible, or legal, to install a camera Big Brother-style, the best thing you can do is have clearly defined goals to make sure that your remote workers are meeting expectations. Also, they’re an objective measure and take any sort of perception issues out of the equation.

Be Deliberate

Having remote workers is almost becoming a trend. It can show how forward-thinking your organization is. Though that can be attractive to potential joiners, being “trendy” is probably not the best reason to decide to add a remote team. 

Before you embark on the journey of building a remote team consider three things:

  1. Will they fulfill a need you can’t currently?
  2. Are you comfortable leading a team that’s not physically there?
  3. Do you have an idea of how to integrate them with the current team? 

Really it all comes down to making sure there is a purpose for the team. Having that purpose will make handling any issues that arise easier, it will also help you get buy in from others when you can prove there is a real need. It can be a big adjustment, so it’s important.

If you answer yes to all the questions, then you’re at a good jumping off point for building a remote team. Maybe you need to build a customer service team to cover hours outside of normal business hours. Or, perhaps there’s a cultural gap that a remote worker could help bridge. 

In the End

Build a remote team and always find time to communicate.

Building a remote team is no small task. As with any other team, you have to hire people and set expectations for everyone involved. There will also be new challenges to address with a new type of team in the organization. With that in mind, consider making your first hire someone with remote experience. They may be able to illuminate some of those challenges for you, and shorten your learning curve. 

Just because someone works remotely doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy social interaction the same as everyone else, so be sure to make opportunities to meet in person. You could bring them to you, or try meeting up at a conference. Building those relationships is a very important part of success. So, invest in great tools that foster communication and take any pain out of the process. 

It’s natural you may have some reservations about someone you can’t see in front of you. As long as you have specific measures of success you shouldn’t have any worries. Remember to have a solid reason to add remote workers. When you do it’ll make getting buy-in easier from all sides. Adding remote workers is a large investment, but can also add a great deal of value. So, take care when building and you’ll see dividends.


This post was written by a guest contributor Yaakov Karda.
Yaakov Karda is the co-founder of Chatra.io and a slow coffee enthusiast. When not brewing or working on the startup, he helps his wife with their art projects or explores Tel-Aviv on a bicycle.

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