December 20, 2022

Leading Remote Teams

Thoughts on leading remote teams and how to build a good remote work culture.

I've worked in a number of companies leading various remote teams, sometimes where the team was already remote, and other occasions where the team went remote for the first time. I've also worked in remote teams as a team member. Here are some notes I've learned along the way about remote teams - however, I think many of them apply equally to non-remote or hybrid teams.

Trust you(r team): I think the fundamental part of remote/distributed working comes down to trust - you need to trust your team to do the job without micromanaging and they need to trust your leadership. I think this applies to all teams, but especially in a remote situation where you don't see your team on a regular basis. That means involving your team in decisions (even if you ultimately make the decision). I make realistic estimates/plans with my team's input and then I let them get on with their job while being available for support/clarification.

Occasional in-person meetings: Lots of work can be done remotely but there is no substitute for in-person meetings when it comes to team-building, fostering community, planning features, creating a product roadmap or higher-level activities like strategy or company direction. I think the frequency comes down to the needs of the individual company and the 'remoteness' of the team, but a goal of 3/4 in-person meetings a year is a good rule of thumb in my opinion.

Regular virtual catch-ups: Even if you don't meet regularly in-person, checking in with your team is important - these don't (always) have to be formal in my experience but spending 5/10 mins at the start or end of a meeting asking someone how they are, if they've any concerns, or issues they need help with, is very useful. This can be in addition to any scheduled catch-ups like standups. It is also a good way of catching any problems/changes in attitude/demeanour in your team before it becomes a bigger issue.

Provide the necessary tools and resources: This ties into trust - I  want my team to be able to do their job without anything unecessarily restricting them. Things like a good computer, a nice chair, the right software or applications that are necessary for their work can cost just a little more but make all the difference in productivity and happiness.

Set clear expectations: Set clear expectations for your (remote) team, including expectations for communication, availability, and meeting deadlines. This means using tools like JIRA to track work and review progress regularly with the team (such as through a daily standup, or retrospectives).  

Foster open communication: Communication is key in any team, but it is especially important for remote teams. Make sure to encourage open and honest communication among your team members, and make yourself available for questions or concerns. It also means that you directly address if expectations are (not) being met and try and understand the reasons why BEFORE making a judgement on it.

Promote a sense of community: It can be easy for remote team members to feel isolated, so it is important to promote a sense of community within your team. This can be done through regular team meetings, virtual happy hours, or other activities that bring team members together. The in-person meetings mentioned earlier can also help with this. Some companies provide a budget for a local office and this is a great idea where possible. I like to read the local news or weather for my team members as a easy discussion point. You can do the same.

Recognise and reward good work: Just like in any work environment, it is important to recognise and reward good work from your remote team members. Typically we do this in meetings or sometimes through the shared comms channels like Slack or Teams.

Overall, cultivating a good remote work culture takes effort and dedication, but it is essential for the success and happiness of your team. By setting clear expectations, providing the necessary tools and resources, fostering open communication, promoting a sense of community, and recognising and rewarding good work, you can create a positive and productive remote work environment.