How To Build a Remote Work Strategy for Modern Teams

How To Build a Remote Work Strategy for Modern Teams

If your company offers remote work options, that’s great—but they may not be enough. Of those working remotely some of the time, half say they’d like to do so all or most of the time, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

The Pew survey underscores what numerous past surveys show: remote work is here to stay. But remote work can only succeed if it’s put into practice thoughtfully. And a few things have changed since the ad-hoc, work-from-home scramble of the pandemic days. Here’s what you must know to build a remote work strategy for modern teams:

  1. Understand the dynamics of remote work
  2. Establish effective communication practices
  3. Build a robust remote team culture
  4. Promote accountability and transparency
  5. Leverage the right technology tools
  6. Prioritize work-life balance
  7. Encourage continuous learning and development
  8. Develop a remote work policy
  9. Embrace diversity and inclusion
  10. Prepare for the future of remote work

1. Understand the dynamics of remote work

Remote workers face a different set of work challenges and needs than their in-office counterparts. Time zone differences can slow productivity, relying on emails and instant messaging may increase miscommunication, and working alone all day may make them feel isolated and neglected.

But when done right, remote work benefits the business and employees in many ways. The business can save money on office space, hire the best people for the work, and make good on their diversity goals. Employees feel less stress, have a healthier work-life balance, and are more engaged.

Making remote work deliver as promised requires a mindset shift that starts with:

  • Gaining control by letting go. The biggest reason managers resist remote work is they fear losing control. The antidote to that is trust. Trust that your remote employees are professional and responsible enough to still deliver on time when someone isn’t standing over their shoulder.
  • Managing for outcomes not time-in-seats. Judging how good a worker is by how early they arrive at work and how late they leave is outdated. Modern teams want autonomy and scheduling flexibility. Some people are most productive at night after the household has quieted down. Some are more creative after a short afternoon walk. Some brainstorm best by staring out a window instead of tossing around ideas in a meeting. So, set clear goals and let workers achieve them in their own way. Get more tips in this video.

  • Creating intentional connections. When people share the same office all day, it naturally creates impromptu connections between coworkers. People may chat while waiting for coffee or share a joke while passing each other in the hall. Remote workers don’t have those opportunities, which can leave them feeling lonely and forgotten. You can facilitate connections by using remote collaboration tools to engage in team-building activities, socialize, and share personal content like a music playlist or vacation photos.

Read: 17 Successful Management Tips for Leading Remote Teams

2. Establish effective communication practices

Miscommunication can easily occur between people speaking face-to-face. Imagine how communication problems can run amok when conversations are made up of brief emails and short comments on a shared document. That’s why you need to establish effective virtual team communication practices.

Here are some ways to improve remote team communication:

  • Set response-time expectations. Honor time differences and work-life balance by agreeing on rules like when emails should be replied to; if appropriate, times that everyone should be available no matter where they’re located; and how quickly managers should follow up with employees who bring up issues.
  • Know which tool to use. Help employees know which mix of synchronous and asynchronous communication tools to use for the greatest clarity and efficiency. For example, you may want to confirm a meeting time on Slack instead of email. And have difficult conversations over the phone instead of a video call where their discomfort is on display.
  • Practice transparency. Be upfront about company changes, take responsibility for your mistakes, and admit when you don’t know the answer or can’t resolve an issue fully.
  • Offer communication training. Training can include giving personality tests, asking HR for a development course, or contracting an independent specialist to deliver training online.
  • Define meeting agendas and outcomes. Set a regular cadence for one-on-ones and team meetings, only require attendance from people relevant to a project, and narrow the scope of meetings so there’s enough time to discuss details.
  • Prioritize inclusivity. Record video meetings for people who couldn’t attend, ensure every person has a chance to speak up, and keep a running agenda of weekly meetings on a shared document.
  • Start the week off together. Spend 15-20 minutes updating the team on initiatives, aligning everyone on daily tasks and objectives, and providing members a chance to share ideas or concerns.

3. Build a robust remote team culture

A strong remote team culture is integral to fostering a sense of belonging, encouraging collaboration, and motivating individuals to work out differences when issues arise.

Many business leaders believe that a company’s culture is built within its four walls, but a Gartner survey from December 2021 shows the opposite is true. More than half (53%) of remote workers who had the most flexibility in where, when, and how they work reported high culture connectedness.

Culture does not require office

Here are a few ways to help build remote team culture:

  • Encourage team subcultures. Since the pandemic, most people connect with the company through their teams; encourage managers to organically tailor their subculture to the nuances of their members.
  • Host meaningful virtual gatherings. Create opportunities for both work-related discussions and fun, team-bonding events.
  • Remind team members they’re valued. Regularly show employees you appreciate them through acts like thanking them in front of the team and offering time off to take care of loved ones.
  • Ask for feedback. Send out surveys that members can respond to anonymously, lead with empathy so that members feel safe sharing their opinions, and follow up in a timely manner.
  • Proactively prevent burnout. Be clear about expectations and what success looks like, ease heavy workloads by contracting on-demand talent to handle some of the work, and help employees deal with burnout.

Dive deeper: The End of Corporate Culture (and Here’s What’s Next)

4. Promote accountability and transparency

6 Tips for building trust

Establishing transparency and accountability within a remote team is essential for building trust between team members and keeping them aligned toward common goals. Because remote employees often work alone and feel as if they’re functioning in a vacuum.

So if they don’t see improvements after voicing a concern, they may think nothing is being done. If a project is delayed without explanation, their fears may lead them to assume the worst. If they don’t receive honest feedback, they may feel people are withholding information from them. Eventually, trust erodes, misunderstandings balloon, and they feel less enthused about their work.

You can avoid this negative chain of events by building accountability and transparency within your team. Understand that this is an intentional and ongoing process that may need adjustments occasionally. Here’s a good place to start:

  • Set an example. Do what you say and be consistent in how you recognize and discipline members to avoid favoritism. Be willing to be vulnerable by admitting when you made a mistake or don’t know something; read the article “6 Tips for Building Trust Within Your Team” for more suggestions.
  • Set measurable and achievable goals. Set clear goals that each member is able to achieve within a realistic timeframe. Consider using capacity planning to determine if you have the required resources and if you don’t, extend capacity by skill sourcing.
  • Be open to constructive feedback. Create a work environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing concerns. Follow up as quickly as possible; if you can’t fully resolve an issue, let the interested parties know why.
  • Make accountability a habit. Put assignments and deadlines in writing on shared documents. Schedule regular individual and group meetings to monitor project progress and encourage people to voice concerns early.
  • Give updates consistently. Celebrate milestones and successes. Share project, decision, and company updates. Admit when challenges arise and make plans to work through them.
  • Be thankful. Create a culture where employees feel appreciated and valued for their contributions. Use tech tools that encourage team members to acknowledge each other.

Related: Working With Freelancers: Trust, Accountability, and Preparing for Success

5. Leverage the right technology tools

The right technology tools enable teams to increase productivity, streamline communication, and serve as a central hub of truth. These tools may be a platform, software, or app. Although they’re essential for remote employees, they benefit everyone, whether their workspace is in an office, at home, or both.

Tech tools fall into several categories, including:

  • Communication tools. Choose the right mix of asynchronous and synchronous tools to support how your team works best.
  • Cybersecurity tools. Keep the company safe as remote employees and independent professionals access files and systems.
  • Workforce management tools. Streamline processes and communication between teams and functions companywide.
  • Project management tools. Monitor budgets, plan projects, share data and documents, and track progress for each team member.
  • Content creation tools. Create all types of content faster and collaborate with others in real time on articles, graphics, music, videos, and more.

6. Prioritize work-life balance

Whether team members are in-office or remote, supporting their ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance can reduce burnout, quit rates, and employee stress. The happier and healthier they are at work, the happier they are in their personal lives. The happier they feel personally, the more enthusiastic, productive, and creative they are at work.

Here are a few ways you can help all of your employees attain better work-life balance:

  • Don’t send messages or expect replies to emails after work hours
  • Offer flexible scheduling
  • Take team days off so people aren’t tempted to log in or feel guilty for being off work
  • Provide mental health benefits
  • Encourage them to take time off as needed
  • Check in regularly to see if employees are struggling and see how you can help
  • Provide enough resources to keep workloads manageable

Read: How To Deal With Burnout and Recover from Exhaustion

7. Encourage continuous learning and development

When companies provide quality learning and development (L&D), remote workers can maintain their professional growth, effectiveness, and satisfaction with their jobs. In fact, younger generations are so eager to learn that L&D opportunities ranked as a top reason they chose their jobs, according to a Deloitte survey.

Survey generation result

Be sure to invest in the right technology to provide equally high-quality training for both remote and in-person workers. Look for tools that adapt the training to multiple learning styles and to remote work.

If you don’t have a formal learning and development program for remote teams, you can create a learning-friendly culture that promotes curiosity. Encourage team members to carve out time during the workweek for learning through sources like industry articles, skill-specific online courses, and webinars.

Whenever possible, balance their workloads so they can make time for learning. If you don’t have the resources internally, you can offer some of the work to independent talent.

When someone learns information that may interest or be relevant to the whole team, ask the individual to share highlights of their learnings. Let them choose a method that’s comfortable for them. Some may prefer typing a bullet-pointed list of highlights on the team’s Slack channel. Others may enjoy presenting an overview during a regularly scheduled team meeting.

8. Develop a remote work policy

A remote work policy lays out the rules and expectations of both the employer and employee. The agreement may also protect the business and the worker should a legal issue arise.

Note that your remote work policy applies in addition to regular company policies. Rules around things like sick leave, code of conduct, and confidentiality apply the same way to people working from home and in the office.

What’s included in your remote work policy depends on your business, industry, and applicable laws. Aim for transparency and clarity so that everyone knows what’s expected of them, their rights, and how they will fulfill their duties when they work from home. Most policies include these fundamentals:

  • Who can work remotely. Which roles can and can’t? Is it based on past performance or years at the company?
  • Where they can work. Can they work in another state or country? Can they work from public spaces?
  • When they’re expected to work. Do they have set hours? Do they work in the office on certain days?
  • Equipment usage. Can they use personal laptops or public computers? Do they pay for their own internet?
  • Cybersecurity requirements. Can they work from public spaces? Should they always log in through the VPN?
  • Expectations around communication. What tools should they use? How fast should they respond to messages?
  • Policy abuse. Is remote work a privilege? Do they return to the office if they aren’t meeting expectations?
  • Worker classification. Are all remote workers classified correctly under employment laws in their jurisdictions?

If you regularly work with external remote talent, such as consultants and freelancers, you may want to include them in your remote work policy.

And keep in mind that technology, employment laws, and employee and business needs change, so be sure to review your remote work policy on a regular basis.

Download the white paper: Securely Working With Remote Freelancers

9. Embrace diversity and inclusion

Remote work allows companies to look for people outside of their typical talent pools, giving them more potential to meet their diversity and inclusion commitments. And if you contract independent talent, work marketplaces like Upwork have built-in tools for companies to manage their supplier diversity.

Diversity is critical because everyone has different experiences and backgrounds, which causes them to see and show up in the world differently. When a company has a culture that embraces that diversity, and is committed to making everyone feel included, the business benefits.

Benefits may show up as higher levels of creativity, stronger customer connections, and greater employee engagement. Consider the Harvard Business Review study (HBR) showing how inclusivity brings out people’s potential. In the study, teams with inclusive leaders were:

  • 17% more likely to report that they are high performing
  • 20% more likely to say they make high-quality decisions
  • 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively

Business benefits aside, your remote work strategy should embrace diversity and inclusion because it’s the ethical and moral thing to do.

Dive deeper: How To Be an Inclusive Leader

10. Prepare for the future of remote work

The younger generations intend to make remote work a permanent option. Millennials and Gen Zers famously prioritize work-life balance and flexibility, and believe remote work is one of the top ways to achieve them.

So what will the future of remote work look like? Research suggests that companies may use more freelancers—most of whom work remotely. According to an Upwork survey, most Gen Zers (61%) believe in using freelancers to fill skills gaps. Just as the younger generations expect flexibility in where and when they work, they’re also flexible in who does the work.

Using freelancers is effective

Related: How We Work Now: 5 Keys to Remote Leadership

Technology will continue playing a critical role in remote work. In fact, Upwork research suggests remote workers tend to be early adopters of the latest technologies. As the chart below shows, the more a company embraces remote work, the more they embrace gen AI.

Remote work and AI

Company culture will remain the bridge connecting workers and inspiring teams, so tend to yours often. Establish policies and processes that support virtual work so that everyone feels included. And provide the tools and training to help everyone—both in-person and remote—work smoothly together.

You can see more of what’s coming down the road by visiting reputable information hubs like the Upwork Resource Center. There, you’ll find thought leadership, guides, and research to help keep your remote work strategy relevant and effective.

Implementing effective remote work strategies with Upwork

Modern teams are seeking a work environment that provides it all. They want the flexibility and autonomy to achieve work-life balance. They want a company culture where everyone feels included and has equal opportunities for career growth. And they want all that while working from home part or full time.

Achieving a work environment that provides it all requires an update of processes, tech stacks, and mindsets. Yes, it’s a bit of work upfront, but studies show when companies do it right, teams produce higher quality work, employees are happier and more loyal, and customers are more satisfied.

Upwork can help you access skilled professionals ready to implement your remote work strategies on your terms. You choose the exact expert you need. Then you choose how you want to work with them. You could book a consultation, buy a prepackaged project, or contract an expert for a specific project.

An added bonus is that these on-demand professionals are used to working remotely. So, they may offer insights and tips that enable you to create the best remote experience for your teams.

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Author Spotlight

How To Build a Remote Work Strategy for Modern Teams
Brenda Do

Brenda Do is a direct-response copywriter who loves to create content that helps businesses engage their target audience—whether that’s through enticing packaging copy to a painstakingly researched thought leadership piece. Brenda is the author of "It's Okay Not to Know"—a book helping kids grow up confident and compassionate.

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