Blue Beyond Consulting

The 9 Building Blocks for a Successful Remote Team

It’s officially official – remote work is here to stay (and we mean it this time)! According to the data scientists at Ladders, 25% of all professional jobs in North America will be remote by the end of 2022, and remote opportunities will continue to increase through 2023. 

Much has been written about the upsides of remote work for employees: better work/life balance (or not); more freedom and autonomy; increased productivity; decrease in life stressors such as commuting, limiting contact with sick colleagues, office politics, savings in childcare costs; and increased flexibility. 

Employers also enjoy benefits such as an increased talent pool, cost savings from deactivated rental space, reduction in absenteeism, happier and more engaged employees, and increased efficiency and productivity.

Now, some of you may have been remote pre-pandemic. To you, it’s as comfortable as an old shoe and you don’t understand what all the excitement is about. But for others – yes, we see you rubbing your forehead and muttering “remote worrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrk” – it’s a brand new or new-ish experience and the growing pains are, well, still growing. 

Remote fatigue 

Are your people teams and project teams coming together? Are you able to maintain productivity? Is your remote team thriving or has tech fatigue set in?

Many people are now experiencing what we like to call “remote fatigue.” Both managers and their teams are struggling with how to balance collaboration, communication, and engagement without Zooming folks to the point of insanity. There are also mental health and well-being issues that are materializing such as loneliness, the inability to unplug, decreased connection to colleagues, and the constant need to prove that remote work is work. 

The answer to the challenges is not to dismiss remote work; employees have made it clear that they want flexibility to work when and how they want. In the era of the Great Reshuffle, your organization can ill afford to alienate your existing workforce or potential candidates. The answer lies in establishing policies and practices that drive team effectiveness while also keeping everyone motivated and engaged. 

Building blocks to remote team success

To successfully build a remote team, it’s time to consider new or different ways to “mind the (virtual) gap” when connecting team members —new or old.

All successful teams need:

  • Deep trust (psychological safety)
  • High expectations for performance
  • Shared ownership of the team’s purpose and goals

Building an effective team takes time and thoughtful planning but here are nine building blocks that can help:

1. Your team members

To start building a successful remote team you need to start with – wait for it – your team. Understanding each individual contributor and who they are, what makes them tick, what brings them joy, how they like to work, etc. is critical to establishing the norms the team will need to thrive. 

Notice the workflow style of your team members and be open to embracing all of them:

  • Who consistently completes deadlines early? Who waits until the last minute?
  • Who sends a Hemingway novel everytime they send an email? Who sends four words and calls it good?
  • Who is extroverted? Who is introverted?
  • Who uses their hands to speak? Who do you have to ask to blink twice to make sure they’re still breathing?  

Once you understand people’s work styles, you can not only tailor your leadership style to match, but begin divvying up responsibilities in such a way that people compliment each other. Recognize synergies and potentials for conflict and build solutions to mitigate it before it starts. 

As you begin to understand your team members, think about ways for the team to learn more about each other. This may include:

  • Doing introductory calls before the first team meeting.
  • Asking team members to prepare a career timeline or short bio.
  • Having team members use LinkedIn to share their professional profile and experience.
  • Utilizing fun icebreaker questions before each meeting to connect beyond work.
  • Setting up a virtual team retreat or working session to advance collaboration.

BB Tip: Recognize synergies and potentials for conflict and build solutions to mitigate it before it starts. 

2. Shared language

Are there any language hurdles to overcome, especially if you’re working on a global remote team? Consider establishing (or re-establishing) language ground rules with the team. For example:

  • Use visuals and graphic facilitation to express ideas and brainstorm
  • Speak slowly but deliberately 
  • Break your sentences down into short, definable sections
  • Pause frequently to allow for questions 
  • Make it safe (and expected) to ask for clarification
  • Summarize frequently
  • Define common terms
  • Invest in a translation service
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help
  • Avoid jargon and sports terminology
  • Be respectful, be interested, and be humble



3. Timing

Managing a remote team means managing dispersed time zones and different circadian rhythms. Wait, what?? Let us explain.

Although it’s commonplace to frontload meetings in the morning, it’s important to recognize that not everyone is a morning person and vice versa. Some folks may thrive with an afternoon-evening schedule while others jump out of bed before the sun even rises. If at all possible, allow flexibility to account for these innate biological rhythms.

There may also be life things (children, doctor’s appointments, caregiving duties, etc.) that impact someone’s ability to join meetings on certain days and times. 

It’s important for you to recognize what days and times work best for each individual. It’s highly possible that teams may never share the same mornings or afternoons so consider alternating meeting schedules to give everyone a chance to be at their best and/or join. Regardless of time zones, keep your remote meetings as short as is practical, and build in breaks if they run longer than an hour.

If you want to build a successful remote team, you must embrace asynchronous work. It’s not productive or efficient to demand your employees all be online simultaneously with set working hours. Instead, lean into the flexibility and autonomy they crave whenever possible. When you work asynchronously, individuals can maximize their productivity without waiting for others to complete tasks. 

BB Tip: If you want to build a successful remote team, you must embrace asynchronous work.

4. Team norms

Team norms establish clear, agreed-upon behavior, how the work will get done, and what team members can expect of each other. This is a key way to build trust, which is critical for remote team success. The best way to set rules and behaviors is with the input of your team. As a group, decide what values and specific behaviors you want to follow. 

Focus on categories such as:

  • Team members as coworkers – how will each person show up to their coworkers 
  • Team member communication – what works best for who, what, when, why, and how
  • Team member meeting interaction – establish guidelines for camera on/off (be mindful of Zoom Fatigue) and other things like recordings, being on time and stopping on time, etc. 
  • Team organization and function – clearly articulate roles and responsibilities and establish workflows
  • Team problem-solving, conflict resolution, and decision making – create policies and processes for approvals and build a feedback loop for easy communication

BB Tip: The best way to set rules and behaviors is with the input of your team.

5. Clear outcomes

Building a successful remote team takes time and deliberate action but it’s vital to establish what goals and objectives each individual contributor is responsible for vs. what the team is responsible for. What does your team need to accomplish and how are they currently collaborating? How can you align team building goals with key deliverables or milestones in a project?

Measurement will be a key component but it’s important to not get caught up in the number’s game. Success can be measured in a variety of ways so be creative and establish that up front, before every project or as part of the overall organizational strategy. 

Always keep in mind the following when trying to optimize for successful outcomes:

  • Productivity
  • Quality
  • Consensus 
  • Satisfaction

BB Tip: Building a successful remote team takes time and deliberate action.

6. Clear roles

Remote team success cannot be achieved without clarity around roles and responsibilities. Role ambiguity is a setback that ultimately leads to unproductivity. Team members who are unsure of who owns what may work on the same tasks and projects, or work in different directions because there’s no alignment.

Understanding what needs to be done and by whom empowers your people to do better and be more focused on the work. Everyone’s roles and responsibilities should be clear and visible to everyone else on the team. Clearly define what success looks like in their role and take extra care to ensure that you’re balancing everyone’s workload. 

After each role is defined, understand how each position works in conjunction with another and ensure that everyone understands as well. Implement an open communication policy between your team members and yourself. Be transparent. Your employees will, and do, talk to each other so items such as salary, promotions, etc. should be out in the open. Not only does this increase trust but it also helps ensure equity. 

Flexibility is also important. Good teams are always learning and growing, which means roles may shift. Sharing leadership and ownership, especially as the project moves through different phases and requires different strengths, is an important way to keep team members engaged and developing.

BB Tip: Implement an open communication policy between your team members and yourself.

7. Tasks and processes

So, you have roles and responsibilities clarified and work is assigned. You’re ready to go, right? Well…maybe. Do your team members really know what to do? Do they know how to get it done? The steps they need to follow? How much time it will take to complete? What success looks like? You may feel like they should intrinsically know this but that assumption can lead to failure. 

Breaking down tasks and defining processes is an important way to make a team work more effectively. Even simple tasks and processes are worth a review, especially with a new team or a team with different levels of experience or different cultures. Take the time to evaluate workflows and make sure that they’re appropriate for each project or task. 

BB Tip: Even simple tasks and processes are worth a review.

8. Connections between meetings

Loneliness and lack of connection can drag down team performance so it’s important to stay engaged with each of your team members. Schedule one-on-ones with each individual and hold regularly scheduled team meetings to get input, provide feedback, and offer coaching. Don’t make every employee touchpoint about work though. Take the time to inquire about their well-being and make it a priority to know each individual personally. 

Encourage team members to do their own occasional outreach to each other to build relationships and give them the opportunity to create dedicated space on their calendars to do so. Create consistent connection rituals that focus on appreciation and encouragement. 

It’s important to remember that employees connect ideas, and ideas help the company scale. 

BB Tip: Loneliness and lack of connection can drag down team performance so it’s important to stay engaged with each of your team members.

9. Fun!

All work and no play makes everyone dull. Fun is the secret sauce that amplifies psychological safety, creativity, and stronger relationships. Fun is a great way to achieve better collaboration and communication across your organization. It’s a lot easier and more enjoyable to work with people you’re friendly with compared to people you’d rather avoid. 

Fostering a fun remote work environment can make your employees less stressed, more productive, more creative, and more engaged – all of which positively impact your organization’s bottom line. 

Building a fun, remote work environment begins by analyzing ways you can reduce un-fun things that impact productivity, aren’t efficient, waste time, or drain motivation away. Streamline processes and reduce work stressors as much as possible so that people can be focused on their work and creating connections with their coworkers. Never force people to try and have fun. The best fun has an element of spontaneity. You can encourage it, but you can’t mandate it.

Encourage your team to take quick, fun breaks and work to foster a positive work environment. If you decide to host a team-building event, take into account that everyone has different personalities and tolerances for socializing. Give your introverts space and flexibility without forcing them to do anything. Lead with laughter and find humor in challenging situations. 

BB Tip: All work and no play makes everyone dull.

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