What was once a romanticized vision of working has now become a reality for many: remote work is here to stay.
The statistics show how alternate ways of working are gradually becoming the norm, and threaten to take over from the 9-5 office schedule. Statista’s 2023 survey shows that 45% of employees are currently working remotely, 29% are in a hybrid work model, and just 26% spend all their work hours at the office.
You can no longer afford to put off conversations about how to manage remote work. It’s time to embrace it and start focusing on the keys to success.
If you want to thrive in the new world of work, there are 5 core pillars you should put into place to create an engaging and productive remote work environment for your team.
1. Collaborative Company Culture
Before you concern yourself with the specifics of how to manage remote work, it’s worth taking a step back and looking at your company culture.
As a leader in your work environment, there’s an onus on you to uphold and communicate core company values to your team. Without a top-down understanding of your company culture, you’ll struggle to create buy-in from your team.
Once the vision is clear, and each team member knows exactly how they factor into the equation, you can lay the foundations for effective cross-functional collaboration.
What is Company Culture?
In short, your company culture encompasses what it means to work for the company.
It sets the tone for how you work as a remote team, and for any new hires you bring into the fold. Company culture covers a wide range of aspects, such as:
- Communication style and methods
- Work boundaries
- Workplace interaction
- Performance standards
We’ll touch upon each of these aspects as we go through the pillars of remote work, since they can all play a significant role in team member productivity and collaboration.
When you focus on building a healthy remote work company culture, you can create a cohesion among your team and empower each individual to produce their best work day-in, day-out.
Plus, you can drive engagement levels up which should in turn reduce employee turnover and incentivize stronger performance. If your team members believe that you have their best interests at heart, and their goals align with your company culture, you can create a mosaic that combines individual talent to shine brighter as a collective.
How to Build a Strong Remote Company Culture
To build a strong company culture, it’s worth taking inspiration from remote work companies that already attract top talent. With an effective remote company culture in place, the pay packet you offer shouldn’t be the only factor enticing top talent to your ranks.
Case Study: Doist
Doist, the company behind the hugely successful productivity apps Todoist and Twist, is an example of a remote-first company that has an exemplary company culture.
Allan Christensen, COO of Doist, explains how the company started out with just 3 employees based in 2 countries and developed to the point where they had 68 employees from 25 countries.
Prioritizing remote work flexibility from day one, Doist provides us with a model of how to create an attractive and engaging remote work culture.
Here are a few takeaways from their remote work success:
- Individual Autonomy – Doist has found that by lifting up the individual, and placing trust in their autonomy, sustainable productivity is easier to aspire to. There are no expectations to be online at certain times nor where employees work from – just that they log on each day and meet expectations.
- Async-first Communication – Working remotely requires a different approach to communication. With an async-first dynamic, team members see messages and notifications on their terms. We’ll revisit the topic of communication later.
- Team-building Retreats – Being isolated from one another, Doist found that semi-regular team retreats helped create a positive work culture. Knowing the co-worker behind the screen can strengthen work bonds and lead to better collaboration.
2. Appropriate Performance Evaluation
With your company culture set in stone, you can turn your attention to the ways in which you measure progress and evaluate performance.
In a remote work environment, traditional performance metrics may no longer serve you.
Whereas before you could host regular face-to-face meetings with team members or check in with them at their desks – you don’t have that luxury while working remotely.
As a result, you should look to pivot to reliable performance metrics that can be applied to team members working remotely. Without an effective means of monitoring productivity levels and overall performance, there’s no way of knowing if the transition to a remote work model has been successful.
Best Way to Evaluate Remote Workers
What are the best ways to track your remote team’s performance?
Lay out Your Expectations
As a team leader, it’s your responsibility to lay out – in no uncertain terms – what you expect of your team. If you leave any aspect of what you expect in doubt, you’ll likely face countless questions, and create confusion among your team.
Worse still, in times of uncertainty such as an approaching economic recession, you could be inadvertently spreading panic among your team.
If there’s a lack of clarity in what you expect from your team, they won’t know if they’re doing a good job which could in turn lead them to doubt their contributions and overall value to the team.
Communicate your expectations clearly from day one, and update them as necessary when the scope of a team member’s role changes.
Set SMART Goals
In a remote work environment, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture as each team member is effectively operating within a silo.
That’s why it’s important to introduce SMART goals that are highly specific, and easy to track.
Here are three examples of SMART goals for remote teams:
- Increase the number of subscribers by 50 by the end of the first quarter through a social media marketing campaign
- Create a company website with strong elements of brand identity that brings in 100 organic leads through SEO optimized blog content over the next month
- Earn 500 more followers on the company’s Twitter account by posting five times a week over the next month and driving traffic towards the company website with CTA links
Gauge Work Culture Contribution
While this may seem slightly esoteric, hear us out.
In a remote work culture, you need absolute buy-in from your team if you want to succeed. That means every individual should be willing to add value in a way that benefits the overall work culture.
If you can encourage your remote workers to engage and interact with one another, you can develop deeper connections and promote collaboration. Whether it’s through virtual quizzes, Slack catch-ups, or ideation sessions, try to find a way of including and integrating every team member.
By evaluating what each team member brings to the table regarding the work culture, you can effectively track their impact on the company outside of the standard performance metrics.
3. Clear Communication
You could have a strong company culture and a means of tracking remote worker performance, but if your communication lines are weak – it all falls down.
If you were to visualize the keys to success with remote work as a pyramid, communication would be at the bottom with performance evaluation propping up your company culture.
Asynchronous messaging can play a huge role in effective remote communication.
What is asynchronous communication?
Asynchronous communication is a way of contacting your team members when they’re not on the other side of the phone or computer the moment you reach out. In other words, it’s any form of communication that isn’t live, in real time.
The benefits of asynchronous communication for a remote work environment are many:
- Update team members regardless of timezones or work schedules
- Leave notes for team members on specific tasks or projects
- Communicate without interrupting your colleague’s workflow
As illustrated with the Doist case study, many remote-first companies opt for an async-first approach to communication. This means that conference meetings and one-on-one video calls are kept to a minimum in favor of direct messaging, email, and even instructional videos.
In an async-first work environment, you empower your team members to assume responsibility for their workload. It’s on them to prioritize their tasks and respond to messages at a time that suits them.
When you take this approach you can foster effective team collaboration in the following ways:
Sometimes you just need to focus on an important project for more than 30 minutes without interruption. If you have constant meetings, phone calls, and contact with your team, you could be preventing them from focussing on high-priority tasks and giving them their full attention.
In an async-first environment, remote workers can close their project management software or email inbox and work away. After a period of sustained focus, they can touch base and read any messages they may have missed.
Asynchronous communication is a great way to show your remote team you trust them.
It’s an invitation for team members to work on their time management skills, as they balance deep work with the need to be available to respond to messages.
Prioritizing individual autonomy can help you build a strong remote workforce that’s capable of producing results without ongoing micromanagement.
Healthy Work-life Balance
When you prioritize asynchronous communication, team members can check out at the end of a hard day’s work and enjoy their free time.
If there’s nothing urgent to bring to their attention, dropping a message in a team member’s inbox allows them to sign off knowing they will get to it the following morning.
4. Work Schedule Flexibility
Remote work can take many forms.
For example, there are fully remote schedules, hybrid work models, and ROWE (results oriented work environment).
The way you and your team work holds one of the keys to success with remote work. What works for one team might not work for another. Where some remote workers thrive under a rigid work schedule, others enjoy the freedom to show up when they want.
Here are the pros and cons of the three most common remote work schedules:
In a fully remote work schedule, your team carries out remote work from home every day.
It’s an extreme pendulum swing in the other direction from the classic 9-5 on-site work model, yet it can be effective for some teams.
In this work schedule, you relinquish a level of control over your employees, but this can work in your favor in the right circumstances. If your industry is software development, for example, you can cut overheads and work just as well from home with structured work hours.
- Save money by reducing office overheads
- Encourage productivity by letting team members work from home
- Less oversight
- It can be challenging to strengthen team connections
The hybrid work model is a popular choice these days, especially in the wake of 4 Day Week Global’s landmark experiment in 2022. In a trial which saw 33 companies from 6 different countries implement a 4-day work week, the results were astoundingly positive.
Following on from this trial, many companies have seen the benefits of introducing a work week that has employees spend a few days at home and the rest of the time in the office.
- Balance individual productivity with social benefits of on-site working
- Maintain in-person performance reviews and meetings
- Less flexibility than a fully remote model
- Talent pool is limited as remote workers must be close to your office
In a ROWE model, results are all that matter.
It’s a laissez-faire work schedule with no fixed hours, you place all the responsibility on the remote workers. It requires a significant level of trust, but at the end of the day, it can work exceptionally well if your team can come up with the results consistently.
- Ultimate flexibility is an attractive prospect for top talent
- Employees can work to their strengths and with hours that suit them
- Encourages digital nomadism which makes effective collaboration difficult
- Challenging to coordinate with meetings and notify workers of urgent tasks
5. Effective Tools and Systems
The final pillar of your remote work structure should be the tools and systems you rely on.
In any work environment, you’re often only as good as your systems, processes, and tools. You might have the best individual talent within your ranks, but if you can’t channel their energy into the right areas on a regular basis, it’s bound to be wasted.
For team leaders, one of the most important systems to establish will be how you manage projects. Let’s take a look at how the right system and tools can help you successfully manage projects with your remote team.
A lack of preparation heading into a major project can spell its downfall before it’s even underway. That’s why you should focus on finding tools that support the planning process, streamline your workflows, communicate clear priorities, and provide you with the data you need to make the right decisions.
Starting with the system, ask yourself the following questions:
- How will I communicate changes in project scope or updates to my team?
- What can I do to manage risk with approaching project deadlines?
- Do I have a backup plan to deal with unexpected changes and uncertainty?
The types of tools you use can help you answer these questions definitively and streamline your approach to project management.
Before you embark on any new project, you need to create a blueprint for success.
Poor planning is likely to lead to poor execution, so it’s critical that you spend time plotting out how you’ll allocate human and non-human resources, manage your remote team’s workload, and cope with changes in real time.
LiquidPlanner is a project scheduling solution that provides you with a testing ground to try out different approaches by modeling scenarios and evaluating the likely impacts on your project timeline.
For example, its predictive scheduling engine is powered by Monte Carlo simulations created to project forecasts across your portfolio so you can see where to invest your time and resources for the best business outcome. With real-time updates, every change you make is reflected in front of you.
You can also use LiquidPlanner to ensure you evenly distribute the workload among your remote team. Imbalanced workloads create the opportunity for burnout, so to prevent this increasingly common phenomena, you can view team availability with LiquidPlanner’s automatic resource leveling.
Get your free trial of LiquidPlanner today and plan your projects the right way
Communication is a cornerstone of effective project management.
Once your project is in progress, you need a reliable system for maintaining back-and-forth communication in your team. With the right communication tools, you can provide and receive real-time updates through comments, labels, and notifications.
These forms of asynchronous communication – that aren’t conducted in real-time – allow you to cut down time zone barriers and different work schedules so you can collaborate effectively as a remote team.
Slack, for many teams, is a go-to communication tool. Beyond just a messaging platform, Slack serves as a hub of context-specific information you can sift through to save fruitless searches in lengthy email threads.
With ‘Channels’, you can arrange and organize your communication according to the team, project, or topic. You might have one for the marketing team, and another for your website redesign. That way, there’s less risk of crossing wires and causing confusion as is often the case with a flooded email inbox – where relevant information becomes increasingly difficult to track down.
Task automation can speed up workflows and cut down time spent on trivial activities.
For example, you can set up an automated process whereby whenever a team member completes a task, an email is sent to you so you can approve the work quickly.
Zapier is an automation tool that works with many software solutions to create simple task automations and improve operational efficiency.
For example, you can sync up Zapier with LiquidPlanner so you can automatically add and visualize project information in Google Sheets. Alternatively, you can set up automations that trigger emails every time there’s a project update in LiquidPlanner.
Beyond the Five Pillars
Creating an effective remote work environment requires a solid foundation of these five pillars along with an adaptable mindset. If you can be proactive, it’s easy to act with foresight and avoid disaster before it strikes.
With these five pillars in place, you have the core of a strong remote team which should set you up for success as you navigate uncertainty and the challenges associated with remote work.
Plan your projects with LiquidPlanner today