How to keep remote teams productive

Edsel Mendoza — №28 with Preston Ni

Keeping employees both happy and productive requires more thought and effort than most think.

The Internet is brimming with articles on studies that reveal higher productivity among remote workers. You’ll read that remote employees are happier and more satisfied, due to less commute and more flexibility, among other things. They tend to have more drive to work, whether they’re at home or in a co-working space.

The thing is, like with any team, remote teams aren’t always productive by default. You have to optimize your system for productivity. Then within this system, you need to integrate the right tools that will ensure maximum performance.

Here are the building blocks for a productive remote work setup.

1. Overcommunication

To keep your team productive, you need to keep them engaged. Hassan Osman, author of bestselling book Influencing Virtual Teams, emphasizes that you need to err on the side of overcommunicating. “The key to persuading people to do their job is knowing their motivating factors, and learning these factors requires genuine engagement,” says Hassan. “You cannot pick up on body language or facial expressions, so you have to spell everything out.”

Although regular communication is important, according to Walter Chen of iDoneThis, you have to communicate deliberately. “A virtual team must use a number of different tech tools to facilitate those varied employee relationships and interactions,” says Walter. “This requires deliberate thought on how the team needs to communicate.”

Which tools should you use?

Choose communication tools that integrate smoothly into common work habits.

My suggestions

Sqwiggle provides a tap-on-the-shoulder experience for remote teams. Through webcam shots that Sqwiggle sends every few minutes, you’ll know who in the team is available to talk. Instead of having to schedule invasive video calls, Sqwiggle users simply click on their remote staff’s image and start a conversation.

Speek, on the other hand, lets you start secure conference calls quickly without the need for PINs, passwords, or new equipment. Since using Speek, our teams have communicated with our customers better via browser-based conference calls.

2. Effective asynchronous working

Asynchronous work is Zach Holman’s favorite aspect of working at GitHub. “If you let responsible people handle their own priorities on their own timeline,” Zach says, “they’ll end up getting the important stuff finished and still be able to work productively on other work.”

You want your team to have the right mindset and the right mood whenever they do their tasks. So how exactly do you do that with a distributed team, with workers who enter the zone at different times?

Walter Chen recommends team focus; everyone can do their tasks in different timelines, but all toward a specific team goal. It’s easier for a team to collaborate and fix problems together if everyone has more context on what each other is doing. “There’s a stronger sense of cohesion and teamwork, because we’re all working on the same thing.”

Which tools should you use?

A number of collaborative tools meant for teams to simultaneously work on projects are also great for working asynchronously.

My suggestions

Nozbe allows your team to share a virtual workspace where you can store and organize your projects and related tasks, files, and notes. So while you hit the hay, your team on the other side of the globe can continue your work. Our remote teams and our customers like collaborating with tools like this, because we can all wake up to updated work without having to go spelunking into our files.

Campfire is a web-based chat tool that lets you instantly create private chatrooms. Because it requires no software installation, you can invite anyone to chat — your team, client, vendor, or supplier — and brainstorm. Campfire keeps a history of your chats, so you can check your transcripts for discussions or work done while you were in bed or out for lunch.

3. Progress tracking

Productivity is a measurement of output; it’s less about doing and more about finishing. After performing any process for any plan, you have to ask yourself, “Does this actually work?” With results as basis, you have to track progress to determine how well your team performs.

Which tools should you use?

The best tools for tracking productivity focus less on your laundry list and more on your accomplishments.

My suggestions

Yesware is a lightweight plugin that tracks email activity. It notifies you when your recipient opens your message and views your attachment. In our experience, Yesware has helped us gauge how effectively we communicate, whether we’re addressing teams or talking to customers.

For teams, iDoneThis offers a great way to keep the team updated on everyone’s progress. Your team receives email reminders to list finished work, and a digest will report everyone’s daily accomplishments. With iDoneThis, our teams monitor actual completed work, so we can better measure room for improvement and celebrate success.

Is it worth the work?

You need to actively work to ensure your remote team’s productivity, but the results your team can deliver is worth that effort. “You can get work done even while you’re sleeping,” says Hassan Osman. “So you make the most out of your time.”

Encouraging good communication, allowing flexibility, and focusing on results can improve productivity, as well as maintain good remote relationships. Fostering your team’s bonds will drive them to help you grow, simply because they’ll want to grow with you. With you, they’ll see that they can be productive and happy.

Photo: Flickr/Ian Sane CC BY 2.0

Edsel mendoza

Edsel Mendoza

Edsel Mendoza is a brand ambassador for Bolton Remote, a remote staffing company that provides 100% dedicated offshore hires for growing businesses. He is currently on an educational crusade to help people understand the benefits of remote offshore hiring, as well as how to successfully manage virtual teams.

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