8 February 2021
3 ways to build a healthy remote team
Remote operations have swiftly become a prevalent feature in many businesses. Though this may have initially been a response to the pandemic, a lot of industry leaders have noted the distinct advantages this more flexible approach offers.
The potential for increased productivity and improved morale that leads to better retention has resulted in a lot of companies adopting it as a more permanent part of operations.
However, HR professionals are now faced with the challenge of forging the most effective remote teams. A lot of energy has been applied to building teams in traditional working environments, but the tools and strategies employed are not always directly transferable to remote working situations. This means that they need to understand what elements need to be in place to best harness the full collaborative and individual success of those working from home.
There are a few primary areas that can make a difference, and it’s worth taking a moment to examine them. What are some of the tools and strategies that HR professionals can implement? How can they bring distant workforces closer together in ways that are productive and healthy for everyone involved?
1. Applications and interviews
Not everybody is well suited to remote working conditions. It’s a very different approach to working in the same physical space as others, collaborating in close proximity. As such, HR professionals need to implement a hiring process that is catered toward identifying candidates that have not only the technical skills for the role but the soft skills that make them a potentially fruitful contributor to a remote team.
When reviewing resumes, relevant experience can be crucial to getting the right new team member. Involvement in projects with teams working from home is a good sign; it suggests that they understand the dynamics that are involved and are happy to pursue opportunities that allow them to build upon that. However, even for those who haven’t worked remotely before, look for a history that suggests the skills they need to thrive in this environment. Have they held positions that are predicated on trust? Have previous roles required them to utilize multiple forms of communication?
However, it is during the interview process that HR can really be effective in designing assessments for candidates’ potential suitability as part of a healthy remote team. Create sets of questions that give insights into how they may approach the various challenges and needs of remote teams. Lean into the behavioral aspects of their past roles that can highlight how they might act in the future. Place additional focus on cultural queries, as these can give you an impression of what they value about being a part of a remote team, and how they’ll fit in with other workers.
2. Development and dynamics
To maintain a healthy remote team, business leaders need to understand that there has to be an element of guidance throughout its lifespan. This doesn’t just mean day-to-day management. Rather, it is a commitment to developing both the individual team members and the whole unit, ensuring that even though they may be geographically disparate, they are supported through the challenges they’ll face.
Part of HR professionals’ responsibilities here is helping remote group members to navigate the various phases of performance that all teams — remote or in person — tend to go through. Keep vigilant for changes in behavior and work quality that can indicate a phase shift. The storming stage can be particularly disruptive, as this is where the bulk of the conflicts within the team will occur. With remote teams, this may be exacerbated by the fact that they are not all in the same space and may take longer to resolve their differences. Put remote protocols in place that facilitate their individual and group navigation of these issues — video discussions, independent additional training, honest and open reviews.
It is also vital that team development and collaboration form parts of the core of company culture. There should be a distinct emphasis not only through internal handbooks and media but through the actions of leadership, that effective, positive collaboration is essential to the success of the business. Design training programs around team skills, create rewards programs centered on different aspects of team performance, and tie company progression as much to collaboration as to individual achievement.
3. Tools and infrastructure
Developing a healthy remote team culture needs more than hiring savvy and development guidance. There also needs to be practical mechanisms. HR professionals have to ensure that there is always the right equipment and infrastructure in place that allow teams to truly excel in their collaborations.
These elements should include:
- Communications tools
Remote teams thrive or fail on the quality of their communications tools. Effective collaboration of any kind relies upon each member's ability to come together and have easy, clear discussions about how they can complete tasks and work towards shared goals together.
- Clear protocols
One of the key aspects of infrastructure that healthy teams need to thrive is formalized clarity on the framework of their collaboration. A free-for-all can quickly lead to chaos. Instead, handbooks should be created that set out expectations, outline the roles of each member of the team, and the methods for delivery and review of work. However, these protocols should also make it clear that there is room for team members to be creative and have the freedom to innovate.
- Team bonding
Employees are not robots, and there is a better chance of developing a healthy team dynamic during their collaborations if there are tools in place to empower them to express themselves and socialize. Create spaces in remote projects and communications platforms for relaxed and fun casual chat. Organize remote events that have nothing to do with the project; movies, role-playing games, even just a casual hang out. This provides opportunities to get to know each other outside of their official roles and forge stronger bonds.
Creating strong, healthy remote teams is not easy — many of the team building tools we’ve developed over the years have been geared toward traditional working environments. However, with tweaks to hiring, development, and infrastructural elements, HR professionals can create protocols that nurture remote teams toward successful collaborations and meaningful relationships.