How to Build a Successful Remote Team: Our Challenges

Posted by Billy Gray on

How to Build a Successful Remote Team: Our Challenges

Our team at Boost Commerce has been fully remote for the last three years. Our members are located in five countries, each with vastly different time zones, and none of them works in a traditional office environment. 

It hasn’t been easy. But the best things in life never are.

 how to build a successful remote team

Building a successful remote team has huge benefits to your team’s productivity and wellbeing. 

Our network of developers, content wizards, customer support gurus, and all their pets wake up five days a week ready to bring you a better product search and filtering solution for your eCommerce store. 

The cities our genius and dazzlingly attractive team members call home doesn’t matter. The amount of desk time they clock in doesn’t matter. 

It’s what each one achieves in the month that we care about. The smiles they put on our customers’ faces; the patches they make to our app; and the support that they give each other when problems arise. 

Goodbye, stuffy office

The world as we know it is showing wrinkles. It’s time for a new one to step up and take her place. The coronavirus pandemic shook the way we work and play. 

Many companies were forced to switch to remote work without any preparation. At Boost, we fully appreciate how difficult this must have been for those firms. 

Still, research indicates that many top companies expect some of their workforce to permanently remain working from home. On top of that, 99% of employees surveyed said they’d choose to work from home at least some of the time if given the option. 

empty office remote work

Many companies were forced to switch to remote work due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

If you’re reading this right now then I have to assume you’re part of a team that’s in the process of switching to remote work. 

You’re probably already experiencing some pretty poor communication at times and you might be struggling to delegate tasks effectively. This happens. You can’t just turn your chair around and tap the marketing team on the shoulder anymore - you have to set up the proper channels. 

We’ve been through it all. 

I’m going to share some insights from our three-year remote journey at Boost. We could have saved ourselves a lot of hassle if we’d had this information back in 2017. I’m confident it’ll help you and your team to traverse the road ahead. 

If you’re managing a remote team then I suggest you have a look through our employers guide to managing remote workers. Or if you’re making the switch to remote work as a freelancer or as part of a team, then check out our employees’ guide to working remotely. The information in these guides compliments what you’ll read here and goes into added depth. 

Our challenges and how we overcame them 

Rubbish internet connection. Hungry kids busting in on conference calls. The constant battle of willpower between you and the fridge. Working remotely has many challenges, some of them related to team coordination, others related to personal wellbeing, and of course, the dreaded time difference. 

You have to take care to keep these ‘leaks’ from bursting if you want to build a successful remote team. 

remote work coronavirus

Remote work isn’t without its challenges. 

Miscommunication due to different working hours

Your whole team would be working the same hours in an ideal world. Unfortunately, the world is round, my night is your day, and your team members will likely live in totally different time zones. 

At Boost, we have members working in South East Asia, the Latin Americas, and Europe. Such a mix of timezones makes quick and responsive communication very difficult. 

We’ve found that the easiest ways of dealing with these issues are: 

  1. Frequent team meetings
  2. Cross-team channels for communication 
  3. Updating each team’s progress at the end of the week

Frequent team meetings

We find a time of day to hold team meetings that suits everyone at Boost so team leaders can update the troops about progress and expectations for the rest of the week. 

Ensuring everyone knows the tasks they’re working on for the week or month pushes the focus away from desk-time and towards results. Such prioritizing is better for any working environment and it’s especially important in a remote team. 

remote work communication

Communication is the cornerstone of a successful remote team.

At Boost, we’ve found team meetings to be really helpful not just in keeping progress updated, but also in keeping relationships between colleagues alight and building a rewarding remote work culture. 

Tools like Zoom and Google Hangouts are great for virtual conferencing calls. You can also stick to trusty old Skype. 

  • Set a goal for each meeting, whether it’s to update, inform, set targets, or just catch up. 
  • Make sure meetings aren’t too long - short and sweet makes information easier to digest 
  • Encourage team members to invest in a webcam and mic 

Creating cross-team channels

Tools like Slack and Jira allow teams to communicate with each other really easily. Keeping in the loop with neighboring teams keeps you all moving in the same direction. 

Communication within your own team is just the first step. You need to be able to message other teams quickly and easily to get answers when problems arise. Fostering cross-group communication is the cornerstone of building a successful remote team. 

Project organization tools like Trello, Jira, or Asana are life savers when it comes to task delegation and tracking. You can also use roadmaps in Jira and Asana to mix up the way you stay in the loop. 

Update the progress of each team every Friday

Knowing what’s been achieved once the week is done helps to keep the team motivated and on top of what’s going on. It’s critical to keep everyone updated, whether through a team meeting or just through your messaging channels. 

A good update lets the team go into the weekend feeling accomplished and thinking clearly about what lies ahead next week. 

Feeling isolated due to lack of social interaction among the team

Mental health is a genuine concern when it comes to remote work. You don’t have the same level of social interaction that you’d get in an office and this can bring team members down. When surveyed, 19% of remote employees said loneliness is their biggest challenge. 

remote work how to reduce isolation

More than half of remote workers report feeling more isolated than in-office colleagues. 

It’s important to build an open and supportive - and fun - remote working culture. Here are some of the ways we’ve done this at Boost to build a successful remote team. 

Create out-of-work channels

It’s nice to know you can talk to your colleagues on a personal level. Creating out of work channels lets everyone share a lighter side and builds relationships that will boost their wellbeing. Isolation is a serious issue if it isn’t dealt with. 

You can’t always expect your team to be best friends outside of work - not if they live on different continents. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to get everyone together outside of work. Some activities we’ve enjoyed include: 

  • Movie nights - you can have Netflix parties with the Netflix Party browser add on. 
  • Casual chats and maybe a drink or two over a team video call. 
  • Book lovers groups - sharing fiction and non-fiction gems 

Friday free talks 

Not everyone wants to go out on the town when Friday rolls around. One thing we’ve tried before is dividing members into small groups and choosing a personal topic for everyone to discuss. This kind of thing helps us to get things off our chest and can be a great way to hear different perspectives on issues that affect us. 

Budget for get-togethers and team-building events

The ease of getting your remote team together will obviously depend on how spread out they are around the world. For Boost, it can be pretty challenging! 

remote work team building activities

Getting the team together is a great way to boost morale. 

Try to set a realistic budget to get the whole team together. If you live in the same city then aim for once per month. Once every six months or a year might be more realistic if you live in different countries. 

The important thing is that the team gets to hang out in person from time to time. Events like paintballing, adventure days out, and even just vacations to the beach are all great ways to build relationships and keep morale up. 

Interruptions and technological issues

Ah, dreaded network failure, how we all hate you so. Poor internet connection is one of your worst enemies when working remotely. Power outages are also an issue for some - depending on where you live this might be more of an issue for you than for others. 

Even still, only 25% of companies compensate remote workers for internet costs and just 29% will support coworking space membership. 

Family interruptions can also become an issue if your team members are working from home. Of course, we’re not suggesting anyone turns off their family! But having a dedicated working space can make a big difference to employee productivity. 

Here are some solutions to interruptions and technical issues that we’ve put in place at Boost to help us build a successful remote team.  

  1. Providing a MacBook for employees
  2. Funding for 4G to ensure a smooth connection 
  3. Funding for co-working space memberships 

Providing a MacBook for official employees

You’re probably buzzing if you’re reading this as an employee. And you might have butterflies in your stomach if you’re reading it as an employer! 

macbook for remote work

A builder is only as sharp as his tools - and a developer is only as sharp as her laptop. 

If you want your team of tech gurus and content wizards to be as productive as possible, then it’s time to sharpen their tools. MacBooks are fast, powerful, and they support the best software for creatives. 

You want your full-time employees to be able to perform their job without interruption. A one-off investment in a top-of-the-range laptop will pay off in the long run. It’ll also show your employees that you value their skills. 

Funding for 4G to ensure a smooth connection 

WiFi can be hit and miss. A smooth internet connection depends on where you live and work and it can run into problems any day of the week. Being able to switch to 4G is a guarantee of a constant smooth network connection. 

This investment in your team members will ensure that they’re never forced to stop working. Your conference calls will always be smooth and your customer support team will never lose connection with the people they’re trying to help. 

Funding for co-working space membership 

Anyone who’s ever tried working from home for longer than a couple of days will have experienced distractions. This could be due to family, housemates, or just the temptation to look into the fridge every 15 minutes. 

remote work coworking space membership

Co-working spaces are a great place way to create a dedicated workspace. 

Co-working spaces are unrivaled places to get some work done. Your employees will feel productive and like they have a place dedicated for work. 

Having a place to set up for the day also helps employees to ‘switch off’ once the working day is finished. This is something that 22% of people ranked as their number one struggle when working from home. 

The coffee is also free! 

Final thoughts 

We’ve used the aforementioned solutions at Boost Commerce to help us build a successful remote team with high morale and productivity. Smooth communication, positive mental health, and minimal interruptions and the key ingredients to a powerful remote company. 

You might find that your own recipe needs to be a little different - but what we’ve mentioned are the pieces of the puzzle that have worked for us. Managing a remote team is a constant challenge and a constant learning experience.

We wish you the best of luck.