We studied successful virtual teams to understand how they work remotely. This is how to boost your team’s productivity.
Are you an entrepreneur or a business owner intrigued by the idea of building a remote business? Or do you lead a remote team but don’t feel like they're producing the results you want? How do you get the best out of your virtual team?
Does remote work really work?
Think remote employees are just chilling at home in sweatpants? Think again. A 2-year study by Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom of 500 employees at Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency, found that remote work improved employee productivity by 13%! It also reduced employee attrition by 50% and saved the company almost $2,000 per employee on rent alone.
On the other side of the globe, the American insurance giant Aetna saved $78 million by shedding 2.7 million square feet of office space, thanks to remote work programs. It doesn’t hurt that the flexibility of remote work is a catalyst for employee happiness and creativity.
So, yes, if you have the right processes in place, remote work works.
How to get the best out of your remote team
We looked at dozens of successful remote teams to understand how the best do it. They set clear goals, measure the right metrics, engage their people, foster accountability, and build trust through transparency. You can do it too!
1. OKRs, a goal system every remote manager needs
Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) create alignment and engagement around measurable goals. Objectives are your desired goals and the key results are measurable ways to track progress towards achieving goals. John Doerr, the venture capitalist who introduced Google to OKRs, described them best - I will (Objective) as measured by (this set of Key Results).
OKRs are public within the organization, so employees can see what their co-workers are working on. The likes of Google, Spotify, Walmart, and ING Bank use OKRs to set and achieve goals. So do remote teams such as Piktochart, Buffer, Coworker, and yours truly.
Learn more about setting measurable goals using OKRs.
2. Keep your projects on track with JIRA, Trello or Asana
Now that you have your OKRs, it’s time to get cracking on those goals. But how do you manage projects in a remote team where people work different hours and the majority of communication happens asynchronously? The answer, unsurprisingly, is technology.
Modern tools such as JIRA, Trello, and Asana make it easy for teams, remote or not, to work together on projects with hundreds of moving parts. For example, Wyeworks uses Trello to conduct sprint retrospectives for their remote team and they are in love with its simplicity and flexibility.
Closer to home, we use a mix of Flock’s Shared To-dos and Trello to manage day-to-day tasks within channels and cross-functional projects respectively. Not only does this help us be more transparent within the team about who is working on what, but it also fosters a sense of ownership and accountability.
“I have faith that my staff will get things done, as everyone is in charge of their own projects, and if they don’t … there will be accountability. Once people are aware of their responsibilities, they are pretty much left to their own devices. However, we do keep tasks up to date with to-do lists, especially as we do lots of funding requests. When a new one comes in, someone puts their name to it and we’ll know when it’s due. This is a helpful way of tracking and assigning responsibility.”
Alexi Breton Regional Manager at Cco.coop
3. Measure the right metrics to drive performance, not hours
Replace the flawed “hours at work” model of productivity measurement with result-oriented performance analytics based on goals. For example, at Flock, we analyze performance in terms of goals achieved using metrics relevant to each employee’s job - NPS, leads generated, bugs fixed, churn arrested etc.
Performance analytics done right helps every team, remote or not. To skyrocket your remote team’s productivity, you should:
Measure the output of team members working on similar projects and tasks to calculate median values for good performance. Essentially, you are A/B testing your employees’ output to benchmark performance goals.
Set fair deadlines for specific tasks and track how long it takes to complete them to measure productivity with more clarity. A team member missing deadlines a little too often? Talk to them to see how you can help.
Look to achieve goals on different levels, from small wins to reviewing the overall bigger picture. If a project will take a few months, it’s good to break it down into smaller sections, set weekly objectives and achieve a specific number of goals each week.
4. Balance engagement and freedom within your team
Communication is essential in any remote team but you need to strike the right balance. Spend too much time on calls with your team, and they will begin to feel micromanaged and become disinterested. Spend too little, however, and they may feel like they have been left out. The trick is to engage your team in meaningful ways while giving them the freedom to do their best work.
Start each day with a standup meeting - like Zapier does - where everyone lists one or two tasks they are working on. This level of transparency means that everyone in the team knows ‘who is working on what’ and that makes them feel more involved.
Use team chat to bring your team together. Encourage the use of team chat tools to quickly discuss ideas and tasks. Organize group video calls at least once a month to ‘just talk’ and address non-work related challenges that team members can help each other with.
Trust is what successful remote teams run on and a little effort goes a long way. When team members feel like they can approach you or a colleague about their challenges - even the small ones - they feel empowered, which leads to better working relationships, less micromanaging and a more motivated team.
“You want to avoid micromanaging at all costs when working in a fast-growing company that operates in the tech industry. My goal is to find how and where my employees add the most value, which I believe is hard to do when you create a list of small specific tasks and on top of them. It’s important to be clear about the company’s overall goals, what we are working on and why we are doing it. I’m clear on why certain decisions are taken in relation to the goals we set, and If people understand the global path, they will have enough information to work independently and at a higher level in their field."
Sunny Paris CEO of noCRM.io
How noCRM and Buffer engage their remote teams
Lead management software company noCRm uses a “3 Goals a Day” system, where each team member shares three things they are working on for the day. These don’t have to be major projects—its purpose is to show the team smaller goals that each members wants to accomplish within the day. Buffer goes a step further with daily pair calls that help remote employees connect and build friendships while also discussing work.
The secret to building a highly motivated and productive remote team is communication, trust, and transparency.
Remote teams that are more engaged and where team members are trusted to complete their work are happier doing it. Encouraging transparency and accountability using goal-setting and project management systems helps build a remote workplace that is more connected, informed, and productive.
The result will see everyone buying into the larger company objectives and producing high-quality work on a consistent basis. And that’s all any organization wants from their employees - remote or not.This blog was updated with new information in February 2019.