In today’s connected world, the prevalence of globally dispersed, remotely based teams is soaring. Savvy businesses are increasingly using remote and "distributed" workers to find skills in short supply locally or to be closer to customers around the world. 

In New Zealand, both start-ups and established businesses are adopting this practice more easily thanks to technology smoothing a path through the traditional barriers to cross-border working imposed by compliance, language and culture.

"Distributed" means remote working, but not all remote workers are distributed.  

Simply put, a remote employee works away from a central HQ either full-time or part-time, whereas a "distributed workforce" reflects the discipline an entire organisation follows to enable employees to work from various locations. 

Untethered from a dedicated physical location, distributed companies can employ employees and contractors anywhere, based on talent and customer needs rather than proximity to "the office". Yet managing remote workers does present challenges and, if done poorly, can lead to disengagement, low productivity and low morale. 

My advice on what makes a good remote team is based on both my learned and lived experience at Deel, which was founded as a distributed-first workplace and still operates without an HQ – despite growing to a global team of 2500. 

Invest in building your culture

Whether the company is fully distributed or hybrid, people do their best work when they feel they "belong" in a firm and share its culture and values. 

Numerous tech tools are available for work-related collaboration and communication, but you need to find a way to connect people on a personal level, too. 

Where workers live in the same general vicinity, bringing people together for offsites or social events promotes the office-style camaraderie that is so beneficial for strong working relationships.  

The concept of "show me" is a valuable practice for solving problems among remote teams. Empowering people to help colleagues reduces feelings of isolation, especially among younger or less-experienced staff. A simple offer of, “Hey, could you show me? Share your screen and walk me through the problem you’re stuck on”, is very powerful. 

Keep communications always on and open 

Establish a regular cadence of check-ins where employees openly share their experiences and feedback. Intentionally prioritising this dialogue enhances remote relationships and brings satisfaction to the whole team.

Document everything

In a traditional office-based environment, many of the so-called soft skills are learned "organically" from observing others and having casual conversations. We have found that our remote employees are more confident in their day-to-day transactions if they have clear guidelines and expectations. At Deel, we document everything in an online Knowledge Base, using this tool as our “HQ” to stay connected and organised. 

To maximise information flow, use one of many project management or collaboration tools, such as Slack, to track the team's tasks. It saves time, emphasises roles and responsibilities clearly and effectively, and will decrease the need for countless conference calls and unnecessary virtual meetings.

Ensure consistency and transparency 

A remote-first work environment is collaborative, so everyone should have equal access to tools and information. At Deel, our public channels take priority over private chats to maximise knowledge-sharing across the entire company and reduce the emergence of silos.   

Nail asynchronous work

The reality is that your team will not necessarily work at the same time every day, or even on the same days.

A handover meeting isn’t an option in every case, so having some guidelines about asynchronous work best-practice can help. These include:

  • Create crossover times. That way, employees can collaborate on tasks, solve problems together, brainstorm, or simply catch up. This could mean that one employee works slightly earlier or later to ensure some crossover, so be mindful of how this time is scheduled, or develop a rotating roster to share the load.
  • Use collaboration tools to their full advantage – for example, live documents that can be worked on at the same time and version controlled. Or team chat groups where teams can clearly communicate their working hours.
  • Create a template for handovers. There’s nothing worse than trying to find a link for a document or forgetting which part of a project needed your attention. Having a simple, formulaic approach to handovers simplifies the whole process and saves time.

Take work to where the people are

Consider how you can take work to where the people are, instead of taking people to where the work is. A remote workforce can turn out to be the most versatile, diverse and productive team you’ll ever have the pleasure to manage.