Krister Haav, CEO, Toggl
The nature of work has changed, and so have the technologies that support it. This means that the physical location of work matters less and less.
In less than five years, Toggl went from an Estonia-based company struggling to find local talent to a fully distributed global team. The office was replaced with collaboration tools such as Slack, Zoom and Github. This was made possible thanks to the understanding that work is about results and smart time management, and not hours spent sitting in a chair.
Knowledge work is about results over time. This is not to say time is irrelevant – on the contrary, measuring time and understanding the cost of results is more important than ever as workplaces become more fluid.
This is even more true for remote teams, where people not only have flexible schedules and work environments, but they also have to work together across different time zones.
But time is only one challenge for distributed teams – questions of culture, trust and cohesion all play a big role.
The building blocks of a remote team
The remote economy requires autonomy on the part of employees, and trust on the management side. Checking attendance and watching the clock needs to be replaced by open communication, thoughtful goal-setting and smart time management.
Trust and communication
Building a remote team is first and foremost about a systematic approach to communication. This means setting up regular weekly video meetings in teams to discuss progress and blockers, and to keep everybody on the same page. Regular one-on-one conversations between managers and team members are crucial for keeping people engaged, and spotting issues early. Between video meetings you can keep communication going with real-time chat tools such as Slack.
As important as communication is for remote teams, though, it’s important to avoid micromanagement. At the end of the day you simply have to trust your team to get the job done between the meetings. This is why it’s important to look for soft skills such as autonomy and time management when hiring remote employees.
Measuring what matters
Understanding how much time goes into different work is critical for any business, but even more so for a remote company.
When work happens asynchronously, runaway tasks can be difficult to spot. Keeping track of the time spent on different projects is critical for identifying bottlenecks, but also for adjusting future estimates.
Taking care of culture
Remote teams don’t have team lunches, or watercoolers to chat next to. Building and maintaining bonds within and between teams is important. People who work completely remotely are also at risk of feeling isolated – feelings of loneliness can have a big impact on their mental health, and consequently performance.
The easiest way to address isolation is setting up regular communication between team leads and their team members. Doing surveys with tools such as CultureAmp helps managers see wider trends on how people are coping. Creating chat groups based on non-work-related things gives people much-needed social interaction, and helps build and maintain relationships.
But ultimately, while new technologies help maintain relationships across vast distances, these relationships must first be built face to face.
Toggl’s solution to this is to host biannual team retreats, giving people the chance to meet one another in person. When most of your communication happens on your computer screen, you’ll miss out on cues like body language and tone of voice and misunderstandings are all too easy to happen. Face-to-face meetings, then, are not just about building freindships, but also about creating an understanding of how your remote colleagues work.
While the idea of switching to a fully remote team may seem daunting, its potential rewards are huge. Remote teams are not geographically limited in the hiring pool, and are able to focus on sourcing the best talent without needing to worry about competing for it.
Moreover, with the generational shift, younger people are expecting more and more flexibility. In a 2019 Stakoverflow survey of over 90,000 software developers, 31,7 per cent said remote work options were a crucial factor they are looking for in a job.
100 years has passed since the introduction of the eight-hour workday – it’s probably high-time we rethink the way we work once more.
To learn more about how to build a remote team, check out Toggl’s full remote work guide.