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How to Build a Stronger Remote Team in the WFH Era

How to Build A Stronger Remote Team in the WFH Era

One of the biggest takeaways from remote work during the pandemic is we’re not all going to be working at the same pace we once did. In a collaborative in-person office, you might have been an expert at tasks that now seem extra trying. And that’s OK! 

It’s important to accept we don’t need to hold ourselves to the same standards we did a year ago. 

Instead, it’s essential to consider what makes a person successful in a virtual world. When managing virtual teams, you must re-establish with your employees what skills will benefit them and what skills are less important outside the physical workplace.

Here’s how to reset your team’s levels of excellence and discuss ways to be empowered by these changes when managing virtual teams:

Establish newly-valued skills

When managing virtual teams, soft skills you valued from your employees may not be as essential as they once were. The dynamic has changed and, therefore, the skills your team needs to be successful have shifted. It’s time to reevaluate what will make your team successful.

Old: In-Person Communication

When we physically worked in offices, there were more opportunities for team meetings. Whether you needed to brainstorm strategies, meet one-on-one with your team, or impress a new client, presentation skills were critical. Employees had to stand out through their abilities to carry a room.

New: Adaptable Communication 

While it’s still important to lead a (video) meeting, this is no longer the most critical communication skill. In a virtual world, teams rely more on a combination of many types of communication. From IM to email to phone calls to video meetings, team members must quickly shift between communication forms and use them all effectively.

Make sure your team members are comfortable and flexible when it comes to virtual communication. Ask them to share examples with you of a time when they had a challenge with virtual communication and how they overcame it.

An employee who illustrates their previous success in this skill might have troubleshot the problem or looked for alternative communication methods on their own. If their own efforts failed, but they worked with tech support or a manager, you can ask what they learned from the experience.

Once you have a firm understanding of how adaptable your employees will be, you can use this information to set your team up for success in a remote workplace. You can identify which platforms you want your team to use most often to communicate. Plus, you’ll know which employees will need more support during the transition.

Old: Teamwork

One of the most significant benefits of sharing an office with your team is the opportunity to collaborate every day. In the past, that meant teamwork was a skill that outweighed many others when hiring new team members. Managers looked for candidates who thrived in a collaborative environment.

New: Independent Work

Teamwork is still an essential quality in any new hire, but it’s even more critical that employees excel at independent work in a virtual setting. When your team can’t just walk over to a conference room and brainstorm together, teamwork manifests differently. With this balance shift, employees need to get more of their work done autonomously. 

To ensure your team can meet this new standard, ask them how they keep track of tasks when there are competing priorities. This will help you identify who on your team is able to work independently right away, and who will need more support. It can also help you determine what platforms you might need to keep your team on track.

When hiring new remote team members, look for candidates who have a proven history of meeting deadlines and staying organized. Ask them to share specific examples of times when they had to work autonomously. This will ensure you are able to build a successful remote team now and in the future and will ease the stress of managing virtual teams. 

Old: Showcasing Skills

Lastly, when employees work in the same office as their boss and peers, it’s much easier to assess their growth. When everything is done in person, you and team members can tangibly see how they’re growing in their roles and when they’re accomplishing great things. Plus, it’s also easy for everyone to see how quickly they’re getting through their work, day to day.

New: Self-Advocating

When you work from home, that visibility vanishes. Remote work means employees need to be more active about showing up for themselves. You’re not actively observing your team, so you won’t know when they’re bored with their work or demonstrate the capacity for more tasks. 

In a remote setting, employees need to be better at asking for what they want. This can mean asking for more responsibilities, learning opportunities, new projects, or even a promotion.

In the same sense, you also can’t see as easily when your employees are overwhelmed. They must communicate their limits to you. Check-in regularly to work together to help your team meet their goals and deadlines without experiencing burnout.

Discuss these changes with your team

Once you understand the right skills to prioritize, set clear expectations with your existing team for the changed company culture. You need to communicate these changes, enable their successful collaboration, and ensure they know how you will measure their success.

How your team will communicate

When managing virtual teams, one of your priorities should be to establish expectations for the tools your team will use to work together. A video conferencing platform and messaging system are great examples of tools that will make your team communicate more effectively.

In addition to collaboration tools, set guidelines for how your team will communicate with each other. Do you expect them to log on to an instant messaging platform every day? Do you prefer your team discuss the progress of their work over emails, or would you rather pick up the phone for a quick call? Map out your desired new way of communicating and share your expectations with your employees.

Once your team is using the systems you establish, check in with your employees after a month or so to make sure they are feeling comfortable and empowered. Since the entire team will be working in new ways, it’s important to check in frequently to ensure there are no issues. 

If your team does run into problems, it’s OK to test out alternatives until you determine what works best. Sometimes, the only way to find the best solution is to try out a few that don’t quite fit.

How your team will collaborate

Taking it a step further, you should also develop a plan for your employees to collaborate on projects effectively. For example, set a designated cadence for how often you will meet together as a team and identify a task management system to help everyone keep track of their work between meetings.

Your team will collaborate more efficiently once you set your expectations. Ask yourself what you hope to gain from team meetings. For example, do you plan to reserve group calls for brainstorming on projects, or do you prefer to use them for sharing status updates on work in flight? Whatever you decide, make sure your team understands team-meeting goals and how they’re expected to work together throughout the week.

Similar to the communication platforms, it’s OK to test out a few collaboration systems with your team before you find the perfect fit. If you have a large team, it might be a good idea to have a few of your self-starter team members pilot one or two systems before introducing one to the full team. Use your team’s expertise of how they operate in their day-to-day to help you make the right decision.

Another important resource for effective collaboration is an employee directory that everyone can access. Make sure every team member knows all of the ways they can contact each other. If possible, this can also include each employee’s preferred method of communication.

How you will measure their success

Once your team understands the new processes and workflows, it is also essential to identify how you plan to ensure their success in this new environment. You and your team members need to be on the same page regarding their growth and development.

Meet with each team member one-on-one as often as you can. These meetings are the perfect opportunity to discuss completed assignments, recent wins, and growth opportunities. 

Make sure your team also understands how you expect them to keep you updated in between meetings. Should they send you weekly updates on their work, or is the task management system all you need? Whatever you decide, be sure your entire team is on the same page.

Additionally, if you do see learning opportunities for your team, make sure they know their options for virtual development. For example, if you used to have in-person classes for employees to take, do they have online learning instead?

Not every team member will excel right away in a virtual setting. It’s essential to take notes from your observations and help your team by redistributing tasks to play to each persons’ ‘new’ strengths. Allow your goals to be flexible as you figure out what works for individuals and the group.

How you will support your employees’ well-being

In addition to productivity, it is also essential to prioritize the well-being of your team members when managing virtual teams. Working from home can often lead to employee burnout, but it’s avoidable. Encourage your employees to stay active and take personal time, as needed. 

Additionally, inspire your team to stay connected — and not just for work reasons. When you can’t just bump into each other at the coffee maker, it’s important for employees to make a conscious effort to bond throughout the week in other ways. 

This could mean quick 15-minute “meetings” every afternoon to chat about life. You could also set up a team instant message thread for non-work discussions. This type of connectivity prevents your employees from growing lonely or detached from their team or their work. 

Supporting your employees in these ways will help keep your work culture strong in the virtual world. With a strong culture, you’ll also retain your employees’ job satisfaction and overall happiness.

Building a stronger remote team will be an ongoing process, just like when you worked in-person. By focusing on your team’s strengths and allowing room for error, you’ll find your way back to efficiency and success.

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Josh Tolan

Josh Tolan is the Founder and CEO of Spark Hire, a video interviewing platform used by 6,000+ customers in over 100 countries.