How to Successfully Manage a Remote Team

December 2, 2019
Written by Built In Staff

Despite it being an agreed-upon imperfect system (just ask your grandmother), the internet has provided us with professional luxuries and resources we wouldn’t have been able to even dream up years ago. 

One of those luxuries, of course, is the ability for companies to hire remote workers, as well as the ability for employees to contribute to the workforce from around the globe. Not only does this model increase the talent pool tenfold, it encourages a culture of diverse collaboration that would otherwise not exist. 

We recently spoke to eight managers about how they unite their team despite hurdles like time differences and technical malfunctions, and why they are better for it. 
 

Digital Ocean team meeting
Digital Ocean

DigitalOcean

A computer screen won’t stop Director of Engineering Suzanne Pherigo from connecting with her teammates at DigitalOcean on a personal level. She told us that managing a dispersed team means spending time on digital communication infrastructure to make sure employees have dedicated spaces for chatting the same way they ordinarily might around the water cooler. That’s not too difficult for the team at DigitalOcean, who’s all about software development in the cloud.

 

Describe your remote team. 

As a company, we have always embraced the remote culture because we want to hire the best people, regardless of where they live. And we want people to be able to live the lives that they want, whether that’s in New York, Minnesota or Colorado. One of the teams I manage offers an interesting dynamic since it includes both in-office and remote employees. This is a team of software engineers working on DigitalOcean’s billing system. Two out of the six work out of our New York office. The rest of us, myself included, are remote across the U.S. (so timezone issues aren’t too bad).

 

What team-building activities do you do with your remote team?

I am a firm believer in remote teams. But I also believe that personal connection is very important. We get together a few times a year as a team so we can build and strengthen our personal relationships with one another and have fun together. This helps us all work better as a team when we are remote.  

We also hold standups three times a week and have our own team Slack channel that is not just about work. We try to have “chatter time” a few times a month, which allows us to have break room conversations over video. The more you know someone as a person, the easier and more fulfilling it is to work with them as a teammate. Therefore, we make a point to find time to make personal connections even when we aren’t all in the same room. 

"Not letting things fester is critical!’’

 

How else do you ensure your remote team is engaged, challenged and successful?

Video is an amazing resource for remote teams. We hold all of our meetings over video. It is so much more engaging than just talking on the phone or communicating via email.  I work to understand what challenges excite each individual and try to craft their work to fit their personal desires. This, along with paired programming, mentoring, as well as work demos and deep dives into specific technical areas, all help keep the team motivated and productive.

Also, addressing any issues quickly is even more important with remote teams because you do miss out on body language and other in-person signs. So not letting things fester is critical!

 

CLEAR team
CLEAR

CLEAR

The CLEAR team is working on some Black Mirror type technical advancements...minus the dramatic meltdowns and time travel (at least for now). Their software uses your eyes and fingerprints to confirm your identity so that bag checks at stadiums and pat-downs at airports are uncomfortable elements of the past. We spoke with VP of Technology Operations Paul Parker about how they bring their remote team together. 

 

Describe your remote team. 

The technology operations team consists of two distinct functions, corporate IT and field technology. There are 20 team members, of which 12 are working remotely across the United States. These remote workers (from operations managers and field technology) are responsible for the performance and operations of CLEAR technology in their assigned region, which includes airports, sports and events/partnerships.

 

What team-building activities do you do with your remote team?

Once a year, the team meets offsite for a three-day session, which includes a reflection of what’s gone well and what hasn’t, opportunities for the year ahead and strategic plan creation. This allows everyone to contribute to our future success. When the work ends, the team dines together and participates in some fun activities that vary from cooking together to bowling.

"Once a year, the team meets offsite for a three-day session...’’

 

How else do you ensure your remote team is engaged, challenged and successful?

The team meets for a daily standup (video is mandatory!) to discuss the day ahead. Weekly meetings include brainstorming processes than can be eliminated or automated to provide the technical team time back to work on the stuff they really enjoy (not resetting passwords). Team members are urged to give each other timely and meaningful feedback and share their experiences (both good and bad) with the rest of the group. 

 

StackOverflow team meeting
Stack Overflow

Stack Overflow

It should come as no surprise that Stack Overflow’s mantra for remote work centers around the idea of empowerment. After all, that’s what their product is also about: empowering developers to do their best work by providing a platform for information sharing. We recently spoke with Director of Design Kristina Lustig about how she increases engagement and encourages critical evaluation on a week-by-week basis. 

 

Describe your remote team.

I manage the design and research teams. Almost everyone on my team is remote. Those people fill product design roles, UX research roles, brand design roles, as well as team leads who are managing other people. Being able to hire from wherever helps us make sure we’re bringing in the exact right people for the jobs we’re hiring for. Because remote work enables a better work-life balance, we can hire folks who are prioritizing that.

"Almost everyone on my team is remote.’’ 

 

What team-building activities do you do with your remote team?

We have a weekly team meeting where a different person each week runs an activity for the team. It’s very rarely work-related. Sometimes it’s a question of the week; sometimes it’s a silly drawing or design exercise. Activities like that really help a remote design team feel closer to each other. 

We also have weekly design critiques where we all get together in a room and talk about our work. I think that kind of environment wouldn’t work if we hadn’t already spent a lot of time and effort establishing trust and good relationships with each other, because critique is inherently about offering up the thing that you’ve created for critical feedback from your peers.  

 

How else do you ensure your remote team is engaged, challenged and successful?

Trusting the people on my team to do their work and letting them control how they’re engaging with it makes them more engaged overall. Also, I like to find opportunities for the people on my team to stretch their skills in ways they maybe haven’t before or that they may want to.  

A lot of successful teamwork comes down to communication, so we make sure that they have everything they need to do their jobs. We make sure that they’re getting timely feedback, both positive and critical. 

 

Smartling outing
Smartling

Smartling

When you’re working with people on the other side of the world, there’s no time for communication errors. This is especially true for Smartling, a translation service that helps brands succeed at a global scale. Jeremy Shankle, web applications team lead, told us how their team walks the walk. 

 

Describe your remote team. 

My team is split almost evenly between three offices. On my team, we currently have three developers in New York, four in Dnipro, Ukraine, and two in Kiev, Ukraine. We are currently hiring for additional developers in New York and Kiev. The other engineering teams at Smartling have similar structures. 

 

What team building activities do you do with your remote team?

Our most impactful team-building initiative is sending our engineers from all our offices to visit all the other offices. It is very valuable to have the opportunity to work side by side with your teammates to understand what gaps we have in understanding. More importantly, this creates the chance to sit down for a coffee or lunch and get to know more about each other in a way that translates into stronger working relationships when we return to our home offices. 

"Being a distributed team has to be baked into every part of your culture.’’

 

How else do you ensure your remote team is engaged, challenged and successful?

There’s no simple, one-time solution. Being a distributed team has to be baked into every part of your culture. Constant communication and trust-building is necessary for success. We have a seven-hour time difference between our New York and Ukraine offices, which does mean we have the ability to work together three to five hours a day. We use text-based communication some, but we often very quickly switch to audio or video calls to make sure we really understand each others perspectives on any given issue.

 

matchcraft managing remote teams
matchcraft

MatchCraft

Describe your remote team. Why has your company chosen to have remote employees or teams across several offices?

The client engagement team at MatchCraft personifies the spirit of the telecommuting culture since 80 percent of the team works remotely. It is a global group with team members in four different countries across the globe and in several states within the U.S. 

Having remote team members benefits both them and our company. The employees report increased satisfaction due to no or a reduced commuting time and a better work-life balance. The company, in turn, is able to reduce overhead costs and access talent in several regions rather than limiting ourselves to talent in a location with a physical office. As a bonus, we have also noticed some improvements in productivity. 

We also like the fact that we are able to be a good corporate sponsor and reduce costs and the carbon footprint associated with commuting.

 

What team-building activities do you do with your remote team?

Since a large part of MatchCraft’s workforce is remote, the company organizes events such as global happy hours, annual costume contests and volunteering opportunities through the MatchCraft Gives Back initiative #matchcraftgivesback. This month alone, MatchCraft sponsored three volunteer days in three different states.

"Having a view into when team members are online, out of the office for breaks, lunches or appointments is an important part of our remote team being successful and productive.

 

How else do you ensure your remote team is engaged, challenged and successful?

Our team has a group chat focused on problem-solving and meets on a weekly basis. Each week the meetings are facilitated by a different team member. The designated facilitators are the notetakers and have the ability to highlight topics that interest them. They can also bring in guest speakers from other teams at MatchCraft. 

Company-wide engagement is ensured via presentations covering a wide variety of topics, and we share training sessions with our partners like Google, &amp and Bing. We also have monthly all-staff meetings where the recipients of our prestigious Golden Egg award are recognized.

Many members on the team have personal growth goals such as improving their public speaking ability or learning another aspect of the business. Having a large remote team can make fulfilling these growth opportunities a challenge. Client engagement team members are asked to lead client-facing meetings and quarterly business reviews, which provide opportunities to increase communication skills, product knowledge and public speaking.  

MatchCraft is currently expanding growth initiatives to include communications workshops that will be hosted live and available virtually. 

With a growing remote employee population, we practice schedule transparency across the team and organization. Having a view into when team members are online, out of the office for breaks, lunches or appointments is an important part of our remote team being successful and productive. We accommodate flexibility when possible and promote work-life balance. The client engagement team and all teams across MatchCraft are required to have a set schedule to ensure that project deadlines are met. However, we look at team members’ needs and our clients’ needs to come up with schedules that work for our employees, our organization and our clients.

 

havenly
havenly

Havenly

Havenly works with hundreds of designers to help customers decorate their rooms based on responses from a short survey. Design Program Manager Melissa Wagner explained how remote employees allows for a team with diverse backgrounds, perfect for Havenly’s national clientele. 

 

Describe your remote team. Why has your company chosen to have remote employees or teams across several offices?

We have nearly 300 designers working from many cities and states across the country, including 30 designers working in-house at our headquarters in Denver, Chicago, and now, Austin. They have backgrounds in a variety of fields; primarily interior design, as well as architecture, graphic design, law and psychology. We’ve chosen to have remote contractors and teams so that we can quickly and successfully meet the demand and number of clients interested in using Havenly to redesign their spaces. Having designers on the platform that are spread throughout the country brings a lot of diversity to design styles that clients (also from all over the country) may be looking for!

 

What team building activities do you do with your remote team?

Most recently, we hosted a designer summit at our Denver headquarters where we brought our most senior designers and in-house teams together for two days of intensive ideating, sessions around upcoming changes and projects and company updates. We also included fun social hours, headshots and face-to-face time with each other.

"Having designers on the platform that are spread throughout the country brings a lot of diversity to design styles.

 

How else do you ensure your remote team is engaged, challenged and successful?

We regularly host webinars that are both informational and collaborative. We also have Slack channels set up for HQ and peer support with channels like “tech questions,”  “design collaboration,” and “sales tips.” We have regular check-ins with our designers either through one-on-one calls or personal emails to connect and discuss their performance in design quality, communication and metrics. We provide a variety of opportunities for our senior and high-performing designers to get involved with the professional growth of our designer base. We set them up with mentorships, peer reviews and leading webinars. We also get them involved with platform testing, and special marketing and content contributions.  

 

opentable
opentable

OpenTable

When it comes to dinner reservations, OpenTable, Inc. is the opposite of a snooty maî tre d’. As an online platform that allows users to make their own dinner reservations, there is room for everyone to have a great dining experience. Senior District Manager Bethy McCune shared how multiple forms of communication means no one is ever out of the loop.

 

Describe your remote team. Why has your company chosen to have remote employees?  

We have 14 total remote employees spanning Western Canada, the Pacific Northwest, the Rocky Mountain region and Hawaii. We find that remote employees are invaluable to our business. Our people are our greatest strength and human interaction in a technology space is more important than ever. We are an extension of our restaurants and hospitality is key.  

"We do all types of team-building, like languages of appreciation, team calls, Slack chains and more.

 

What team building activities do you do with your remote team?

We have multiple channels of communication amongst the team. We are more than a team, we are a family. We depend on each other day in and day out. We do all types of team-building, like languages of appreciation, team calls, Slack chains and more. It's less of an activity and more of a fluid daily conversation. 

 

How else do you ensure your remote team is engaged, challenged and successful?

Constant communication both as individuals on the team and collectively. Teamwork and communication are ingrained in our cultural DNA at OpenTable. Each person is unique and we strive to treat them as such. 

 

granicus
granicus

Granicus

Granicus is bringing the government into the future (or at least the 21st century) with a cloud-based platform designed to create seamless communication between government organizations. Kelda Stetson, vice president of state government sales, tells us how a spread-out remote team is optimal when working with government at the state level. 

 

Describe your remote team. Why has your company chosen to have remote employees?

I currently manage a team of eight enterprise account executives that are geographically dispersed throughout the U.S. and supporting our state government practice. My team is responsible for new business pursuits across the Granicus platform of solutions. We are committed to the work we do with our state government leaders to create a better citizen experience for those they serve. We embrace remote work for these positions because our team is in-market with our customers and they understand the nuances of each of their markets better than anyone else. It is where they live, work and play!

"My team also comes to D.C. for quarterly business review presentations, offsite meetings and in-person training.

 

What team building activities do you do with your remote team?

My team is extremely close-knit and we foster an open, collaborative environment for folks to thrive personally and professionally. We start each day reporting on our daily events through our team Slack channel, and share in our successes as we win new business and accomplish new goals. We have a virtual team meeting each week where we have a chance to connect. My team also comes to D.C. for quarterly business review presentations, offsite meetings and in-person training. We always make the best of this time together by sharing best practices, learning from one another and spending time with our colleagues. My team is fanatical about escape rooms so we make sure to hit a new one each time they are in town. 

 

How else do you ensure your remote team is engaged, challenged and successful?

I prioritize weekly one-on-ones and my team meeting each week to keep my team engaged and make sure they have what they need from me and the broader organization to keep their businesses thriving. I align clear goals for each team member and always make sure they understand the goals of our organization, and more broadly of Granicus. This helps each contributor understand their part and challenges them to deliver consistent results. Lastly, I think it is critical to understand what makes each individual tick, What matters to them personally and professionally? Once I understand their unique needs, I am best positioned to be a strong mentor and help them succeed in all areas.

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