The Most Common Questions About Building a Remote Team (Answered)
Building a remote team isn’t the norm, and most founders have questions. Here’s some help.
Being a remote team is no longer unusual or contrarian.
Sure, the overwhelming majority of businesses are still colocated, but more and more of the founders I talk to are considering starting their next businesses as distributed teams, or even transitioning their existing businesses to the remote model.
It’s easy for most people now—in the startup community, anyway—to point to a handful of remote “success stories.”
And as the movement grows, I see more and more questions about successfully running and growing a remote team.
In emails, comments on this blog and in our Friday Q & A, questions about remote work continue to come in every day.
Today, I want to share the four most common questions that I still get. I’ve answered several of them before, both on this blog and in the Q&A, but I wanted to take this opportunity to update and expand on what I had written and put all of these questions in one place, so that those looking for answers have an easier time finding them.
The Four Most Common Questions About Building a Remote Team
1) Where do you hire remote workers?
I love this question, because it hones in on an undeniable truth: not every good worker is a good remote worker (yet).
Successfully working from home is a skill, just like programming, designing or writing. It takes time and commitment to develop that skill, and the traditional office culture doesn’t give us any reason to do that.
We had some early hires—very talented people—not work out, only because they had never worked remotely before and we were unsuccessful at helping them develop that skill.
Now, we don’t just look for good startup employees, but we look for good startup employees with experience working remotely.
So, where do we find these people?
We’ve had three great sources of leads:
- WeWorkRemotely.com. I have yet to find a job board online that consistently attracts high-quality candidates. It’s simple and easy to navigate, and we’ve hired two full-time employees there.
- Networking. Building relationships has a lot of benefits, and access to great talent is one of the biggest ones. Once you’ve put in the work to build a strong relationship, incredibly valuable introductions are often only an email away.
- This blog. We get 50+ emails per week from readers of this blog who want to work with us. That’s how Matt, one of our awesome developers, joined the team.
Everyone on our team has either worked on a distributed team before, or been a freelancer or entrepreneur in the past.
2) How do you interview remote job candidates? What questions do you ask?
I’ve said this many times before: a good worker isn’t necessarily a good remote worker. That’s because working remotely is a skill just like any other. It’s why we prefer to hire people who have successfully worked remotely in the past, or who have run their own businesses.
And while I’m not sure there’s a foolproof method, there are two questions that I’ve found very valuable in helping gauge whether a candidate will be an effective remote employee:
- Tell me about how you like to work. Here, I’m listening for a thoughtful, deliberate workflow. Does the person have a dedicated space to work from? Do they take regular breaks? Are they methodical about communication and choosing what to work on next?
- Why does working remotely appeal to you? Some people want more time with their family, while others are simply more productive at home. Both are perfectly valid reasons. Hating being around people or being averse to being managed, however, are not (at least not for the way we work).
Between these two questions—provided that the candidate answers them thoroughly and honestly—I feel confident that I can get a good enough sense of how effective someone will be at working remotely.
3) How do you measure remote employee performance?
It’s been said many times, but whether deliberately or not, one of the biggest problems with the traditional office model is that for many companies, it has turned “hours worked” into a performance metric.
We don’t work on production lines where we need specific stations staffed at specific times, nor do we simply need warm bodies to be “present.” Showing up isn’t the same as getting things done.
In a perfect world, co-located businesses would realize the same thing, and the best approach for measuring remote employees’ performance would be no different than measure the performance of someone who works from the company’s office.
To me, that means measuring employees based on:
- Output: Are they productive in whatever hours they choose to work? Is their work product good? Does their work contribute to the business?
- Drive: Do they set and strive to achieve aggressive goals? Do they try to be better this week than they were last week?
- Teamwork: Are they a positive influence on the team? Do they make the people around them better? Do people like working with them?
To actually measure these things, take a combination of:
- Your own gut instinct (see my answer to question #1).
- Peer reviews from the team.
- Metrics that are specific to their role; each role is different, so you need to find metrics that can measure the effectiveness of their output (for example, a customer support agent might be measured in customer satisfaction).
4) How do you build culture as a remote team?
@Groove Question for Alex's Friday Q&A: How do you celebrate successes as a team, remotely? Thanks !— Guy Riese (@Guy_Riese) March 10, 2016
I love this question, because it’s a huge challenge for so many remote teams.
With co-located teams that have strong cultures, it’s obvious what you can do when your team has a big win. Parties, dinners, even a quick group gathering in the break room can be a great way to celebrate a success.
But when your team is spread across the entire world, as ours is, that becomes harder.
Yes, retreats are important. And when you meet in person, you should celebrate the big victories that you’ve achieved since your last meeting.
But what about smaller wins? Or ones that happen well before your next planned in-person meeting?
There are two key things that we do that any team can duplicate:
Celebrate in Slack
We have a Slack room that’s used for nothing but celebration, called #lil-bit-of-awesome.
Here, we share good news about Groove; positive emails from customers, press and blog mentions, metric milestones and more. Importantly, it’s also where people can give their teammates shout-outs for jobs well done.
It seems like a small thing, but having this dedicated space is actually a big deal for us. Anytime I see that room light up in the sidebar, I know that there’s good news, and I rush over to see what it is. It’s like getting a power-up multiple times per day.
Celebrate on Regular Calls
We have a short team huddle on Google Hangouts every day. They last ten minutes (except for Mondays and Fridays, which last one hour and 20 minutes, respectively).
There is dedicated time in each call for sharing good news and celebrating it as a team. It’s 2 minutes every day, which might not seem like much, but it adds up to 40-50 minutes per month, which is 40-50 minutes more than we would’ve spent otherwise. That’s not insignificant, and it’s a great way to start the day on a positive note.
Celebrating—and doing it very regularly—is a massively important part of your team’s culture. As a startup, you go through a lot together, even if you’re not in the same room. Being able to commemorate those wins when they happen helps to keep morale high and the whole team motivated to fight on.
As I mentioned, it’s really important to meet in person on a regular basis to celebrate the big wins (and for lots of other reasons). But that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate remotely, too.
How to Apply This to Your Business
I hope that this post answers some of your burning questions about building and running a remote team.
If you read this blog—and our Friday Q & A—every week, some of this information might not be new to you (though I updated these answers as much as possible). But I still hope that seeing this conversation continued (and these points reinforced) helps you reconsider some of your objections about remote work.
And if you’re already remote, I hope that it helps you work through some of the tougher challenges that your team is facing.