How to improve organisation and communication in a remote team

How to improve organisation and communication in a remote team

Posted: Tue 18th Feb 2020

Reduced office costs, a greater pool of applicants and the potential for increased productivity and employee retention are some of the important benefits remote working can bring to your business.

Business owners are increasingly considering this way of working. The number of people remote-working in the UK has increased by nearly a quarter of a million over a decade, according to the Office of National Statistics. It expects that half the UK workforce will work remotely by 2020.

We speak to business owners and HR experts to get their advice on building strong foundations for remote teams.

Embedding the right tech into your operations

Technology is undoubtedly driving the remote working boom. Thanks to improved connectivity, cloud-based storage and an ever-growing choice of apps and software.

But, with so many options, it's important to pick the programmes that work best for you. Start by considering the key aspects of your business:

  • Project management: Most businesses will need a tool to help remote workers collaborate on projects. Look at Basecamp and Asana to see how they enable you to share documents, have discussions, create to-do lists and allocate tasks.

  • Collaboration: Tools like Slack give remote teams the ability to communicate in real time. Many organisations notice an improvement in efficiency because email use drops dramatically when these tools are introduced.

  • Communication: No more dialling into conference calls thanks to communication platforms such as SkypeZoom and Google Hangouts, which connect you to multiple people in different locations on your mobile or computer at no cost.

  • File sharing: Share and edit documents across your team with cloud systems like Dropbox and Google Docs.

  • Team management: Google suite and Outlook allow staff to see teammates' calendars, book meetings and manage email. If your team is global, Timetastic can help to manage holiday requests and automatically handle each country's public holidays.

Talk to other companies in your industry who are using specialist apps and programmes to find out how this kind of technology could benefit your company.

Focus on building a strong company culture

Creating a workplace culture that permeates through to everyone, no matter where they are based, takes careful consideration and dedication.

Claude Schneider, CEO and founder of social media management tool SmarterQueue, believes that this starts at the recruitment stage, in the same way that it would if you were sitting together every day. "A large part of our hiring involves thinking 'would I hang out with them outside work?'. This means we invariably hire people who are going to be a cultural fit - they'll be friendly, helpful, communicative, and have similar values," he explained.

The SmarterQueue team has tweaked platforms it already uses to help develop a company culture, with a #banter channel on Slack where people share photos from where they're working and what they did at the weekend. They use a Slack plugin called Donut, which randomly pairs you with someone else in the company each week, setting up a social chat with someone who you wouldn't normally work directly with.

Of course, there's no substitute for meeting someone face-to-face to help build rapport, so make it your mission to do this as often as possible and try pairing people that work near each other.

Father-daughter duo Owen and Emily Bannister run a software development company, Bulldog Clip, and live 170 miles apart.

"It's important to get together from time to time. Plan ahead by writing a list of topics to cover and tasks to complete - make the most of your time," Emily said . "And remember it's not all about work! Plan some social time with your co-workers; building strong relationships will help you get the best out of your team and work when you aren't co-located."

Hiring and training tips for remote teams

If you're running a remote team with a wide geographical spread, you may well find yourself hiring and onboarding staff without meeting them in person. While this may seem daunting, many businesses manage it seamlessly. Here are some pointers:

  • Keep all your applications in one place: Services like start-up job board AngelList can help keep track of the whole hiring process.

  • Opt for online 'face to face' interviews: Skype, Zoom or Google Hangouts all offer a brilliant next-best option to meeting in person.

  • Create a water-tight onboarding process: Create onboarding checklists in your project management apps and build a knowledge base covering all the frequently asked questions that new starters might think of.

  • Buddy up: Pair new starters with anyone in the organisation that can help them settle in socially - not necessarily someone they will work closely with.

  • Arrange meetings with key contacts: These are the people that can help your new starter understand the business and their role within it.

How to successfully integrate remote freelancers into your team

Freelance staff are a great option to bring in expertise without having to hire permanent staff. More often than not, they will work remotely.

it's crucial that you engage with them and make sure their part of the team, said Karen Kirby, founder of Greenshoot HR.

"It will engender loyalty and they will support you. They're often out of sight and out of mind, so good communication will keep them on side. It's also very useful to involve them in decisions. Not all freelancers want to run a business but involving them in your business means that they get benefit out of it as well," Kirby added.

Watch Kirby's presentation on How to find, manage and motivate freelancers and temporary staff.

Depending on the nature of their role in your business, you could consider inviting them in for team meetings or get them to dial in remotely.

If they freelance for you on an ongoing basis, invite them to team away days and outings so they can get to know the people they don't work with directly. And, don't forget to offer them feedback, so they know if they're delivering work to the standard that you expect.

Chris has over a decade of experience writing about small businesses and startups. He runs Inkwell, a content agency that helps companies that sell to small business owners grow their audiences through content marketing. You can find him on Twitter at @CPGoodfellow.

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