Justin Champion is a part-time digital nomad, author of Inbound Content, and Principal Content Professor for HubSpot Academy. Justin created HubSpot Academy’s Digital Marketing Course, which has awarded thousands of certifications to professionals across the globe. You can find him on Twitter @JustinRChampion.
As a manager, you’re responsible for overseeing and leading the work and safety of a group of people.
Consider the weight of that sentence. Let it sink in for a minute.
If you’re a new manager of a remote team or a work-from-home veteran, check out Aircall’s free toolkit on how to build and manage effective remote teams.
For any team to survive and thrive, there needs to be a culture of inclusion, collaboration, and respect. As the manager of a remote team, developing and promoting this type of culture is an especially important task. When coworkers aren’t physically in the same place, there may be fewer opportunities to foster interpersonal interaction and connection, so it’s important to be proactive and creative. Really, an effective remote team should feel pretty similar to a team with a physical office.
Humans are social creatures who want to feel safe and have a sense of belonging—the key here is relationship building.
Creating a positive social vibe will help your team members build relationships with each other. Building strong relationships across your team can increase psychological safety, strengthen attachment to the team and organization, and elevate performance.
You may be asking yourself, “how do I create an inclusive and productive work-from-home culture?”
I had the opportunity to interview Debbie Farese, HubSpot’s Director of Global Web Strategy. Debbie has been leading a 100% remote team for more than two years. Based on Debbie’s experience—through trial and error, research, and the knowledge of others—below is a list of five suggestions on how to build an inclusive virtual office for your business (with 20 tips on how to put it into practice).
Before getting started, one note on technology: I’ll be mentioning Zoom and Slack as communication channels. We use Zoom for video meetings and Slack for instant messaging. You don’t need to have those—apply the learnings to your situation no matter what technology you use.
1. Be open and available for your remote direct reports.
When you work remotely, especially if your team is new to remote work, your direct reports might not know how to ask an impromptu question when they can’t swivel their chair around to do so.
Seek out ways to open up virtual channels for spontaneous communication—it shouldn’t feel any more interruptive to ask for a Zoom than it does to have an on-the-fly meeting in the office.
Let your team know you’re around and accessible—even though they can’t see you.
Tips to practice
Use Zoom to replace the quick questions and problem-solving chats that happen casually in a physical office. As a manager, you might need to be the first one to do this to set the right tone. If you find yourself going back and forth on Slack or email with one of your team members, casually suggest “Want to hop on a call to chat this out?”
Consider having longer or more frequent 1:1s than two people in an office might schedule. This can vary a lot based on how proactive someone is in communication, their level of work experience, tenure at the company, nature of work, and so on.
Create opportunities to check in with people. This is especially important if you haven’t heard from them in a while, are concerned about them, or if they’re more introverted.
And lastly, after a presentation, consider connecting with a team member right after to talk about it. This mimics the experience of walking out of a meeting room and debriefing in person. It can be to discuss small things that were funny or to discuss feedback and next steps.
2. Make time for informal bonding in your remote meeting schedules.
It takes longer to get to know one another when you don’t sit together. And getting to know each other is essential to building trust. So it’s really important to make time for conversations that aren’t all grounded in work projects. These conversations probably won’t happen as organically as they would inside an office, so you have to be a bit more intentional about making them happen.
As a manager, you should be proactive and diligent to carve out time for both individual and team bonding.
Tips to practice at an individual level
Start your regular one-on-one meetings with each of your team members by asking about their day or following up on something they’ve mentioned in the past. If this isn’t something that comes naturally to you, keep notes and a list of conversation-starting questions.
Remember that you can Slack your team members about non-work things. Start the week with a “how was your weekend?” Slack, or check in to see how someone’s week is going later in the week.
Tips to practice at a team level
Set up a recurring virtual team lunch or morning coffee hour where team members can just hang out. My team often uses ours as an opportunity to share photos and stories from vacations or other life events.
Use the Donut app for Slack to randomly pair up team members for coffee chats. This helps team members get to know each other. It also shows that they don’t need to have a specific project to discuss to take time to chat.
Carve out five minutes at the beginning of a meeting each week for team members to share something. My team started by taking turns each week to share a video tour of our home offices.
3. Plan for virtual team activities.
Distributed teams come in different flavors: Chances are that your team could be made up of some remote workers and some people working in an office—all of which could be in different time zones. Your team’s specific makeup will factor into the best solution here, and the key is to be really thoughtful of each person’s circumstances.
Make an effort to have additional virtual team gatherings over Zoom—don’t just wait for the rare occasion when you’ll all be in the same place.
And be creative! These can be kind of awkward if you don’t have a plan. But it doesn’t take much effort to put some structure behind them. And you can always recruit volunteers who are particularly social or creative to take the lead.
Ideas for virtual team get-togethers
Charitable causes. My team once made crafts together over Zoom that we sent into an organization that supplies them to children’s hospitals. Another team I know decided to each make a donation to a charity and just spend time together sharing their chosen charity and why it’s important to them.
Holiday parties. For any holiday, you can put on some festive music and eat festive treats together. Maybe even wrap presents or share different cultural traditions.
Baby showers. There are a ton of fun games you can play like guessing the baby’s arrival date, birth weight, and so on. My team has played a baby version of The Price Is Right, baby Mad Libs, and more!
There are always birthdays, work anniversaries, and so much more to celebrate. Again, be creative!
4. Be thoughtful and show gratitude to your remote team.
Any manager should do this, remote or not. It’s just extra important when you’re remote to make sure you are deliberate about thanking your team members for a job well done or going above and beyond what they’re asked to do.
There’s a danger that an employee will feel that their efforts are going unnoticed when you’re not there to see them putting in extra hours or getting recognition from their stakeholders, so make an effort to let them know that you virtually see and are grateful for it.
Tips to practice
Send unexpected thank-you notes or small gifts—these can be electronic or sent in the mail.
Make time in one-on-ones to simply say “thank you” and recognize work that is challenging, meeting unexpected obstacles, or exceeding expectations.
And lastly, at the end of a big project, hold a short team meeting to just blow off steam and reflect on the results and what went well in the process to replicate.
5. Create a culture of over-communication.
The first tip was about making sure you seem open and available to your team. The last tip is about making sure your whole team operating model is really built on a culture of transparency.
Making an effort to over-communicate is the best way to make sure everyone feels like they are in the loop and therefore equally included.
In the beginning, people might feel like they are over-communicating, but I think they’ll soon find that everyone around them appreciates the messages and they’ll be encouraged to continue.
Tips to practice
Use a shared one-on-one document with your team members to keep track of project progress, blockers, and ongoing feedback. This will help keep all of you on the same page.
You might want to implement daily or weekly “standups” on Slack, especially if you have more junior team members. This would be a place for each team member to share the top three-ish things they plan to accomplish in that time period.
Be diligent about setting your own Slack status and letting your team know when and why you’ll be unavailable during regular business hours. Set the expectation that your team members should do the same.
Hold team meetings on a regular basis and give everyone on the team an opportunity to choose the topics and contribute content. For team members who are more reserved, it will give them time to prepare something to present.
Make sure you have technology in place that makes it easy for your team to communicate with each other. If you’re looking for some remote communication tools, below is a list that offer a free option that you can trial:
It Takes Time
There’s just one last thing I want to mention: Know that it may take time to become an effective remote leader. Equip yourself with remote work resources that you can use to guide you through new situations. You’ll have to learn a lot through trial and error. These recommendations are meant to give you a starting point. You’ll want to collect feedback from your team over time to see how you can improve your own virtual office.
Interested in learning more on how to become an effective remote leader? See why Aircall is the modern choice for remote teams working from anywhere.
Published on January 2, 2024.