What makes a remote working team successful?

What makes a remote working team successful?
(Image credit: Pixabay)

Success at work just became much harder to define. Now that many of us are working at home due to the worldwide pandemic, there’s a level playing field. We can track sales metrics or how many tasks a worker performs in a week, but intangibles (such as being a team player, encouraging others, thinking of new strategies, or putting in a little extra effort) can be easy to overlook. 

The people working at a company are not in close proximity. They all perform different tasks with varying levels of complexity. And, while we can look and sound our best on a video chat with everyone up on the screen, it’s hard to know what someone is doing off-screen.

That’s why every company needs to start re-thinking how they measure the success of a remote team. It’s a different world. The guy who talks the loudest in the breakroom about his amazing success as a salesperson can’t overshadow the quiet and responsible accountant anymore. At the same time, that responsible worker who keeps checking off tasks might seem incredibly successful but could merely be good at finishing projects on a team.

The challenge is to think of remote worker success in a fresh way and to follow a few simple principles for how you encourage and measure that success in this radically new environment. To make your remote team successful, you’ll need to make some big changes.

Strategy one: Overcommunicate with your team

Good communication leads to more success. The problem is that in this new world of remote work and the stay-at-home lockdown due to the pandemic, workers will be isolated and alone. They won’t be able to walk over to another department and chat about projects. While some companies might be considering running a live feed over video chat all day long, it’s not exactly a great work condition for most. Most employees will likely only attend Zoom or Skype meetings a few times per day, and they won’t like the intrusion otherwise.

That’s why one key to success with remote teams is to overcommunicate. Sending more text messages, posting on Slack or other collaborative messaging apps, sharing even more documents with each other can all help. It’s interesting that from a leadership perspective, overcommunicating has always been a good practice to help teams complete projects, know what is expected of them at work, and understand the core objectives in the workplace.

Now it’s even more important. By overcommunicating, you make sure that everyone knows what to do in their jobs and what the company objectives are. You could argue that a simple video chat call is only about 10-15% as valuable as an in-person conversation. You can’t read as much body language or see what might be causing distractions. That means it requires even more effort to check in with employees, for departments to hold regular meetings, and to share even more documentation and planning with each other than ever before.

Strategy two: Track more than tasks

It’s too easy to track checkboxes in a remote work environment. As a measure of success, it is valuable to use an app like Asana to see what people are doing, but it is only one part of the picture. Companies that only track tasks might actually be deceived into thinking they are seeing success with remote workers when in reality what they are seeing is that some of the employees are just really good at demonstrating what they can finish in a day.

That’s not enough anymore. Companies need to track everything in a remote environment. This might include who has come up with innovative workarounds, who has made more calls to customers, whether there is an uptick in website traffic. There are other intangibles like who is doing most of the motivating and encouraging, whether employees are leading by example, and if the customers feel engaged with your products. There’s a reason why a business dashboard is useful for tracking certain parts of a company like the finances or the website traffic, but falls short when it comes to things like employee morale, innovative thinking, and teamwork.

Interestingly, this is where technology can also help. There are business dashboards that only track website traffic or tasks and finances, but survey tools like SurveyMonkey or even Google Forms can help you measure employee morale and engagement. Other apps like TinyPulse help you track employee sentiment -- they are way more important these days.

Strategy three: Focus on wellness

As mentioned already, success is more than checking off boxes. It’s too easy to measure employee engagement that way when everyone is remote. Yet, success is more than what the worker completes during the day. There are many other factors including engagement, sentiment, teamwork, and overall morale. Success is now harder to define because merely focusing on what the employees produce is not going to give you a clear enough picture. Instead, it’s better to focus on overall well-being and wellness. 

For example, any company that shifts their thinking to encouraging employee welfare will find that the entire business improves -- not just financially but in terms of whether it is a great place to work and what your customers think. Teamwork also improves because employees that feel secure, healthy, and mindful about their colleagues tend to work harder and smarter.

Here’s the most important reminder of all. Success is not a number. The one thing the pandemic has reminded us about is that we can’t measure success on a spreadsheet. Mindfulness and a healthy approach to life, reminding employees about a good work-life balance, and focusing on personal connections is a far better way to find success.

There’s a worn-out cliche about success: a rising tide lifts all boats. Companies tend to use that phrase when it comes to financial health or product sales. Yet, it comes into play in a remote work environment as well -- a healthy and well-rounded approach to work creates a more vibrant and healthy company, and that often leads to long-term, sustainable success.

John Brandon

John Brandon has covered gadgets and cars for the past 12 years having published over 12,000 articles and tested nearly 8,000 products. He's nothing if not prolific. Before starting his writing career, he led an Information Design practice at a large consumer electronics retailer in the US. His hobbies include deep sea exploration, complaining about the weather, and engineering a vast multiverse conspiracy.