In today's business world, more and more companies are embracing remote work. Not only does this provide employees with greater flexibility, but it can also lead to those magic words every owner wants to hear: ‘reduced overhead costs’.
However, fostering high-performing remote teams isn’t as simple as nudging them out of the office and hoping they can grind out results from their living rooms. There are key things companies need to do to set their teams up for success. For example, clearly defining roles and expectations, and providing the resources and support they need to flourish. Employees should always have access to the tools and information they need to do their jobs effectively.
In this guide, we explore exactly how companies can create an environment that is conducive to high performance, no matter where they set up their base of operations.
Chapter 1 An introduction to remote work
What is remote work?
Remote work allows employees to carry out their daily duties from a location outside of their employer’s offices. This could be anything from a dedicated co-working space, to the corner of their own bedrooms. You may have heard this new breed of work referred to as working from home (WFH) or telecommuting. This flexibility may be temporary (as was the case for some companies during the national lockdowns in 2020 and 2021), or it could be a permanent way of working.
Remote working may be combined with other modern business practices, such as flexible hours. An employee may use remote working as an opportunity to become a digital nomad — which means they travel from place to place, perhaps even country to country, while working.
Some businesses choose to implement a hybrid option, where employees work from home on some days and travel into the office on others. However, this prevents them from being fully remote, as employees will still need to live within commuting distance.
Why might a business choose to go remote?
Our ideas about what a workplace should look like have changed over the years, especially in the wake of the pandemic. The days of making wisecracks about workers spending all day in their pyjamas are on their way out. Business owners and employees alike now know that it’s possible to work productively, cohesively and successfully without being in the same place, and this revelation has led to an increase in our desire for the flexibility that remote working can provide.
Statistics on remote work
Businesses and workers are struggling to get on the same page about remote working at this point in time.
of companies worldwide are fully remote.
of global workers believe remote working is the new normal.
want their work to be at least partly remote in future.
In a recent survey, 21% of respondents who quit their jobs in 2021 said they’d done so because of the lack of flexible hours or location.
And it’s affecting the decisions people make about their careers. In a recent survey, 21% of respondents who quit their jobs in 2021 said they’d done so because of the lack of flexible hours or location, while 87% of candidates say it’s very important that an employer offer location flexibility.
The benefits of remote work
For business owners
Increased employee satisfaction and retention
We’ve all heard of the Great Resignation, a phenomenon which was first coined by psychologist Anthony Klotz in 2021. One of the key factors driving employees to look for new jobs is their previous employer’s lack of flexibility post lockdown, with some companies demanding that everyone return to the office regardless of their personal circumstances. (Others cited burnout, poor working conditions and low pay as reasons for leaving, and some simply started seeing stories about the Great Resignation in the news and decided to quit. Put simply, people had had enough.)
Remote work provides employers with the opportunity to give their team the job satisfaction they’ve been looking for, which in turn makes it less likely for them to look for roles elsewhere.
People want to be able to balance their career with their other commitments —their job is just a part of their life, not their whole life.
Not everyone is suited to the traditional office environment. Giving your team the space to set up their working routine and environment the way it works best for them can work wonders for their productivity. Plus they won’t be distracted by all the issues that come with a commute (traffic jams, train delays) or the goings-on in an office. There are only so many times Amy in accounting can tell you about her new hobby before your mind starts to melt.
Wider pool of applicants
Geography is no longer a limiting factor when you’re hiring, which means the number of candidates you attract when looking to fill roles is much greater. As a business, you can decide whether you want to hire nationally or accept applications from even further afield.
Reduced running costs
A fully remote business won’t need to rent an office space or pay the associated water and energy bills, dramatically reducing your monthly overheads (although you may still want a business address ). You may decide to offer employees a budget for working from home.
Less energy is used, as we’ve mentioned above, plus employees don’t have to commute, which cuts down on the number of car, train and bus journeys made (and therefore the amount of carbon emissions produced). As we all know by this point, releasing carbon into the atmosphere contributes towards climate change, so any reduction is a win for the planet, a win for your company’s carbon footprint, and a win for your team’s time and bank balances too.
The most recent transport and environment statistics from the government show that in 2020, when many more people were working from home than usual, there was a 19% reduction in domestic transport emissions — the largest fall in emissions on record. While this figure will have undoubtedly risen as the world opened up again, it just goes to show what sort of difference can be made.
Less time and money spent on commuting
The working day goes beyond your set hours, with commuting extending your morning and evening routine. It can also be a considerable expense when you factor in the cost. 63% of commuters use their own or a household car, while 24% use public transport — that’s a lot of petrol or tickets. Remote working removes the need to travel to an office each day (although some may seek out a nearby co-working space).
While this can vary depending on what home life looks like, many workers find they have fewer distractions at home compared to an office, where it’s easier for co-workers to strike up conversations. The lack of a commute can also be beneficial for productivity, as it means a later wake-up call and (hopefully!) more energy. Over 50% of professionals believe productivity is the biggest perk of working from home.
Wider range of career opportunities
When location isn’t so much of a factor, job hunters can look beyond their usual geographical limits in order to find the right role, bringing about opportunities that might not have presented themselves otherwise.
More opportunities for travel
Not needing to be close to the office gives people greater freedom to travel, either around the UK or further afield. They may choose to work away from home for a set period of time, or travel around indefinitely in order to see the world whilst working. Remember the digital nomads we mentioned earlier? That’s them.
Chapter 2 How to foster a high-performing remote team
So much of a business’s success depends on the work of the people employed there. And you may worry about being able to nurture that from a distance, especially if you’re a relatively new start-up, or you don’t have much experience with remote working. But rest assured: it can be done. Before we explain how, let’s start by defining what a high-performing team might look like.
What are the characteristics of a high-performing team?
They understand your business’s purpose and values, and feel invested in them.
They understand the roles and responsibilities they have, both individually and collectively.
They take accountability for their work and actions.
They are given opportunities for professional development.
They feel valued as employees, with their thoughts and ideas listened to (and acted upon where appropriate).
What can business owners do?
Hire the right people
Set yourself up for success by hiring people who are motivated, have a strong work ethic, and are able to communicate honestly and effectively — all qualities which bode well for employees regardless of your set-up, but especially well for a remote position. Having trust in your team gives them the autonomy to do their job and prevents micromanagement.
You have a better chance of finding your ideal candidates if you follow these steps:
Build an online presence
This is most likely something you’re doing anyway, but it’s a great way to give potential employees an idea of your company’s culture and values, how you make remote positions work for your business, and how your team makes them work too. Testimonials and real-life examples go a long way. Perhaps you could share them on a careers page on your website and on your company’s LinkedIn page.
Advertise jobs in the right places
By all means, use the more traditional job posting websites, but look beyond them too. Try specialist sites like FlexJobs, RemoteOK, We Work Remotely, and Working Nomads, or consider posting on social media communities like Remote & Travel Jobs or Digital Nomad Jobs.
Make the most of video calls
They’ll be one of your main methods of communicating, whether that’s for one-to-one chats, department meetings, or gatherings of the entire company, so ensure you’re happy with the software you’re using and research alternatives if you need something better. And, most importantly, remember to turn your mute button off before you start talking.
Assess cultural fit as well as skills
It’s important that your employees are able to do their specific job roles, yes, but there are also some soft skills which go a long way towards creating an efficient remote workplace. Don’t hesitate to ask candidates about:
What they look for in a company when they’re searching for a job role
Their working style
How a manager could best support them
How they’d approach the first month of a new job
These sorts of questions will give you an idea of whether a candidate is motivated and whether their values align with yours. Remember, cultural fit is not about having similar interests, it’s about whether they’d work well as part of your business.
Provide clear communication
Communicating regularly and openly means everyone in the business is informed and on the same page. Lack of information, or misinformation through speculation, can create a sense of uncertainty (or worse, gossip), which doesn’t allow people to do their best work.
It’s important that communication works both ways. Give your remote team the chance to share their own feedback and ideas, listen to what they have to say, and provide feedback and updates throughout the process. This open discussion can lead to changes which benefit the business, plus employees who feel listened to and respected are more likely to feel invested in the company.
Lead with integrity
Employees look to their leadership team for guidance and support. Part of being a leader is providing this and establishing trust, which means people feel comfortable and confident coming to you. You can do this by:
Demonstrating consistent behaviour
Doing what you say you will
Giving employees the opportunity to provide feedback and share issues, then actively listening to what they have to say and addressing it
Demonstrating empathy with your employees and seeing them as well-rounded human beings, not just workers
Define roles and responsibilities
Each employee should know what their job role entails and what they are responsible for, as well as how this fits into the structure of their department and the wider business. This includes more granular detail, such as project timelines, desired results, deadlines, and how often you’ll check in with them to discuss progress. Being clear about this will empower employees and ensure they’re doing the tasks you need them to do — everybody benefits.
In order for your remote business to operate cohesively, everyone needs to be on the same page. That means defining your expectations and clarifying them if necessary.
What are the performance expectations for their role?
What is the employee code of conduct they must follow?
What are the guidelines your employees have to follow while working remotely?
Do they need to be online at certain times?
Is their lunch break a specific time of day or can they choose when they take it?
Do they need to log their hours in time tracking software?
What are your policies around equipment use?
What happens when equipment needs to be replaced?
What security measures must they abide by? (E.g. network security, password use)
Provide opportunities for connection
Many business owners worry that the lack of a physical office will impede opportunities for employees to develop a rapport. Thankfully, there are still ways remote teams can be social and feel connected, creating a feeling of community.
Video conferencing tools like Google Meet and Zoom allow everyone to meet in real-time to share news, catch up on company announcements, and celebrate wins for the business or milestones like employee work anniversaries. Other platforms like Slack, Workplace, and Microsoft Teams allow everyone to chat and view relevant company conversations. And of course, you can also use these platforms for work social events. The quality of virtual games and activities has increased significantly since the beginning of the pandemic and they can be a fun way for teams to bond and get to know each other.
While regular in-person catch-ups aren’t possible when a remote team is spread out across the country or even the world, you could consider arranging an annual get-together so everyone has the chance to connect outside of work.
Provide resources and support
Ideally, your team should be able to access everything they need in one place, including:
Projects and all the associated files
Tasks and all information relating to them
Timelines and how much progress has been made
Deadlines and whether or not they’ve been met
This provides visibility, with everyone able to see where things stand and what they need to do.
Your employees should also be able to access support when they need it, whether it relates to their training and development opportunities or their own wellbeing. Again, everybody benefits from this: your employees can advance their skills, share their learnings with each other, and improve the quality of the work they do for you, whilst feeling like you’ve truly invested in their growth.
Don’t underestimate the importance of looking out for your team’s health, too — people do their best work when they’re happy and healthy. It’s also a weight off someone’s shoulders if they know they’ll be supported during times when this may not be the case.
In an ideal world, everyone would perform at their best all the time. However, no one is a robot (that we know of), and what constitutes a person’s best on one day may be different to their best the next. These fluctuations are normal, but what happens when an employee begins to consistently underperform?
It’s vital to address underperformance quickly and compassionately. Keep up to date with employee performance by regularly assessing their progress and holding reviews to discuss it — from both sides. You’ll be able to discuss what’s going well and what could be better, as well as receive feedback from the employee. If their performance needs to improve, you can make a plan together. This collaboration will ensure both parties are listened to and understood.
Provide good employee benefits
There was a point in time where table tennis, beer fridges and beanbags were considered to be the ultimate employee perks. But businesses have learned that this is superficial; most employees want meaningful benefits instead…and maybe still the table tennis. We’ve already gone into detail about the value and flexibility remote working can offer, but what else might be part of an appealing benefits package?
It should go without saying that a fair salary is a right, not a benefit.
A budget for training, conferences, online courses and other development opportunities.
Health insurance and life insurance that covers the employee and their immediate family.
The option to take out membership at a coworking space near their home.
A generous holiday allowance
The statutory paid annual leave entitlement for UK workers is 28 days, which can include bank holidays if the employer would like, but you could offer more than this, or even implement a scheme where people earn more holiday the longer they stay at the company, or if they achieve certain milestones. Whatever you decide, make sure your policy gives clear guidelines and that your team is able to take an adequate amount of time off. This prevents burnout and helps people stay motivated and happy.
The switch to remote working may still seem like a big undertaking, even post-lockdown. But it gives business owners a real opportunity to build a high-performing team and a meaningful workplace culture, even if everyone is a hundred miles apart.