How to promote teamwork among remote employees

Published: March 3, 2020

From company parties to open-office layouts to innovative cross-functional team structures, managers are continually seeking new ways to improve teamwork so they can drive productivity and spur new thinking. 

However, all the trust fails if your employees aren’t collaborating as if they were in the office on a day-to-day basis. When promoting teamwork among remote workers, managers need to consider a different toolkit of tactics to ensure the best possible outcomes for their business. 

If you’re not already worried about promoting teamwork among your remote workers, you will soon. According to research conducted by IWG1 , 70% of professionals globally already work remotely at least one day a week, while 53% work remotely at least half of the week. Not only that, but Gallup2 research shows that telecommuting steadily increased throughout the last decade, while a study by Buffer3 shows that 30% of companies have fully remote teams.

All these stats point to one conclusion: working virtually is quickly becoming the new normal. That has many real-world companies scrambling to figure out how to manage their remote teams and encourage collaboration when their employees aren’t in the same room, building, or city.

To help you get started, here are seven ways you can foster teamwork in your organization for remote employees:

  1. Make remote work fit the individual worker: Different employees will react differently to working virtually. Some will love the freedom, while others might struggle with the lack of structure. Some might like to work at odd hours, while others will prefer to keep to a strict schedule. Rather than use the same one-size-fits-all approach for your remote workers as you do for workers in the office, individualize processes, goals, and outputs to fit each remote employee best. 

  2. Be clear about availability expectations: It’s hard to foster teamwork if you never know when the team is working. Set a schedule with remote workers based on when you and others should expect them to be available to talk, have meetings, respond to emails and meet deadlines just as you would for in-office employees. At the same time, don’t expect that working from home means working 24/7; respect their time outside of their established office hours.

  3. Provide a variety of communication tools: While office workers can walk over to a colleague’s desk to get an answer, remote team members need to use a wide range of technologies to stay connected with clients, managers, other remote workers and colleagues back at the office. Technology that makes it easy for employees to stay connected seamlessly with customers, vendors and coworkers in a mobile environment is imperative to maintaining workforce productivity. In addition to phone and email, remote teams should get in the habit of holding meetings using video conference software. This virtual facetime is essential for picking up on the social cues that are crucial for effective communication. In addition, a chat platform can help employees communicate and collaborate in a more casual, less intrusive way than a traditional email.

  4. Schedule regular check-ins and working meetings: A short daily check-in video call with remote team members can help keep everyone on the same page. By making the calls a daily routine, team members will begin to treat it less like a formal meeting and more like a casual conversation, further nurturing your team dynamics. In addition, encourage working sessions that allow employees to collaborate on a project together over a video call just as they would gather around a table if working in the same office. 

  5. Acknowledge the work of your remote team: When it comes to remote workers, out of sight can often mean out of mind when it comes time to handing out rewards, promotions or acknowledgment of a job well done. Make sure your reward systems treat both virtual and in-person team members equally.

  6. Schedule occasional in-person meetings: If your remote workers are located in town, have them come into the office once a week so they can gain valuable face time with others. If your team is distributed around the country, schedule in-person, all-hands meetings at least a few times a year. These can take place at your office for working sessions or as company retreats that allow you to focus purely on strengthening team dynamics.

  7. Go remote yourself: Perhaps the best way to understand the needs of remote workers is to encourage managers and company leaders to work remotely themselves. By working remotely at least part of the time, you’ll quickly identify gaps in your virtual workforce strategy and be able to test new technologies and processes more effectively. You’ll also help normalize virtual working among other company leaders and employees, encouraging them to be more thoughtful about the way they interact and collaborate with their virtual colleagues. 

With remote teamwork only expected to grow, now is the time to put in place the strategies, tactics, and technology you’ll need to manage remote workers effectively. The stronger you can make your foundation for promoting remote teamwork now, the more effective you’ll be at attracting and retaining workers in the future becomes more competitive.