What it takes to build a successful remote team in today's climate

You've probably spent the majority of your career in an office. The commute, the quick chats at the coffee maker, the cleanest bathroom on the third floor -- these trivial details became as much a part of your workday as spreadsheets and meetings.

Then, just like that, everything changed. IT teams scrambled to find a secure way to keep people working from home. Managers questioned how to keep productivity up, and the C-suite kept a wary eye over everything (that, at least, didn’t change).

Despite those early days of uncertainty, our teams came together and got the job done. But those early days are in the rearview, and offices are opening back up. Does that mean we need to rush back to the way we've always done it?

A history of doing it differently

Since a decade before the global pandemic I have worked with global companies who have experienced significant growth largely due to embracing remote and hybrid work.

Coming on board to Plugable in 2021, I'm the "remote CEO." Plugable is a hardware company that has fully embraced the hybrid model since the start of the pandemic. Of our total headcount, 8 percent come to the office every day, 22 percent are hybrid (coming into the office at least twice a week), and a full 70 percent are entirely remote.

Lessons learned along the way

If there's one thing offices excel at, it's collaboration. A quick question in the hall, a last-minute huddle before a meeting, easy access to IT -- it all adds up.

Still, despite the perceived advantages of having everyone under the same roof -- happy, productive employees -- the office is limited by the talent pool within easy driving distance, especially when you consider hard to find skills such as software developers, digital analysts and even diversity candidates. By enabling remote work, you suddenly have access to a much broader pool of resources. Though the evidence is anecdotal, it has been my experience that the longer a person's commute, the shorter their tenure in a position.

People, Process, Tools

People deliver your business value. When you're open to remote or hybrid workers, you gain access to a much larger pool of candidates. But how do you hire them? And more importantly, how do you keep them?

Remote work might not be for everyone. When interviewing a candidate, try to get a feel for their work style. In what sort of environment would they thrive? Where are they in their career?

Consider the support system they'll need to work effectively. Someone fresh out of university might do well with a mentor or a peer group to lean on for support. Someone with more experience might only need credentials to access the files.

Remote employees need to feel connected to the company. They need to know how their work is contributing to the team. And they need feedback. Don't wait for an annual performance review to acknowledge a job well done or an area for improvement.

Communication is key. Consider setting up a weekly cadence that might include all-company or all-department stand-ups to discuss ongoing projects and milestones. This ensures the company leaders are present and accessible, despite being remote. Just don’t go overboard -- you want to avoid Zoom fatigue (trust me, it's a real thing).

Process powers people and how they work together. It enables the business to scale and function effectively. In a traditional office, if you aren't sure how to do something, just shout over the cube wall. But when working from home, some employees may be hesitant to fire off a chat if they feel their question isn't important.

Create documents that clearly explain the expected process for everything from project requirements to approval flows. The idea is to create a living library for frequently asked questions, easily accessible and kept current by the process owner. Employees at every level should have the ability to add new documents or add to existing processes.

Finally, make this part of the onboarding process. Explain how the system works and point out the folders a new employee will most commonly access. Lean on the team lead or hiring manager to customize this experience.

Tools enable the team. Your team is probably already using some form of collaboration software. Even working in an office, a chat program and project management software is important to keep things efficient

When your team is remote, the investment is critical. Employees need a place to feel connected and keep tabs on projects. But software is only the start. To ensure productivity remains high, you'll also need to roll out the right set of hardware.

According to a survey commissioned by Plugable, the most productive desk setup includes a laptop, at least one extra monitor, and an external mouse and keyboard.

With IT no longer just down the hall, consider adding a docking station to the list of hardware you're sending home. To keep things easy, try to standardize on one docking station for all employees. And if your team has a mix of computers, look for a universal dock that works for Mac and PC. Hybrid workers should have the same setup at home and in the office. With this set up, I have the freedom to move locations with just one cable to pull. I can take my laptop outside on a nice day, then back to the desk, and with just one cable, I am fully functioning again.

When a plan comes together

When I took over as CEO for Plugable, a hardware company specializing in connected workstations (hardware that empowers remote and hybrid work), I'd never even seen the office -- I still haven't. I'm in Canada, and Plugable is in the U.S.

Despite being in a different country -- and on the opposite side of the continent -- Plugable's investment in onboarding, collaboration software, and hardware for my home office, I've managed to avoid the feeling of isolation that some experience when working remote. That doesn’t mean we will never have to meet at the office, future-facing work such as strategic planning and periodic team building are much easier to do in person.

One final thought. If you're considering building a remote or hybrid team, you need to trust your employees. Make sure the team has access to the systems and resources they'll need for success. This isn't an environment for micromanagers. 

Lynn Smurthwaite-Murphy, CEO of Plugable Technologies, is a long-time Executive in the I.T. industry who has led  North American and International P&L’s in excess of 2.7B USD. Throughout her career Ms. Murphy has experienced the various stages of a company’s lifecycle.  She was part of the executive team that drove Westcon Comstor (IT distributor) from a small, owner-operated through to a multi-billion dollar international corporation over an 18 year period. Her trademark is driving high growth through transformation around the employee and customer experience.

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