Many of us were forced into working remotely when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Most of us had never heard of Zoom or Teams, never mind used them. I was still teaching English at a university when the pandemic struck. I had to figure out how to teach conversational English to classes of 40 students via Zoom. The technology wasn’t great, and the methods weren’t established. Trying to explain to students how to use new technology via a second language was a challenge. 

But that was 2 ½ years ago. Yes, it’s been that long. Schools and businesses have worked out how to use technology to function. Zoom meetings are so commonplace they’ve spawned memes about virtual meetings. “Now, let me share my screen…” Guilty!

Before the pandemic, businesses claimed that working remotely was impossible. But when forced to, most companies discovered their teams could work from home. Life is starting to return to normal in many parts of the world. But not everyone is excited about going back to the office full-time. Some companies are fighting the idea of remote employees post-pandemic.

A laptop screen showing an online meeting with several remote workers.

But learning how your team can work from home has opened up new possibilities. Companies are discovering that they are no longer bound by local talent. They can put together teams consisting of talent scattered across the globe—successfully.

What makes you an expert on working remotely from home?

I’m part of one such team. When I started with my current team, I was a freelance writer. I was given tasks, projects, and deadlines. It was up to me what hours I worked as long as I met my deadlines. 

But as my role grew in the team, my freelance position morphed into a full-time remote position. It was my choice to stay. I could’ve left for the freedom of freelancing, but I felt I had a good thing going and wanted to see where it would lead.

Until a few months ago, only our team director lived in Australia, where my company is based. She was the only member of the team who could go to the office a couple of times a week. The rest of us were remote. How remote? My team is scattered across five countries and as many time zones. Some of my coworkers start their shifts at 7 pm, while others begin at midnight. We’re truly scattered across the globe.

An image of a man staring at a laptop screen looking apprehensive

We recently added two more team members—both located in Australia. Shortly after one team member started, I had a video chat with him. He confessed that he was skeptical that our remote team could function effectively, but after a few weeks, he admitted, “It just works.”

But it doesn’t “just work.” A lot of effort, planning, and protocols go into making it work as well as it does. 

How do you successfully set up a team to work from home?

It starts with choosing the right team. This means two things.

  1. Choosing the right personalities for the team
  2. Being upfront about the position and expectations from the start

People can learn new things and be upskilled. Look at me. I started as a novice copywriter with minimal experience who got promoted to team lead in less than a year. My skills and knowledge grew (and continue to grow) through self-study and leadership. 

Personalities rarely change. It’s much easier to upskill the right person for the job than to hire a qualified candidate who doesn’t fit the team.

A computer screen covered in black and  yellow crime scene tape with the text "Unfortunately, we no longer need your services" written on the screen.

In my time with the team, we’ve only let one person go. That person wasn’t let go because of the quality of their work. Their work was fine. We let them go because they didn’t fit in with the team. That doesn’t mean there were personality clashes. It means they weren’t suited to our brand of remote working.

We gave them several chances to become more involved with the team and contribute more. We asked them to check in more often and respond to feedback and rewrite requests in a more timely fashion. But it soon became apparent this person wasn’t going to change, so we let them go.

I believe this person preferred being a freelancer over a remote worker. When that happened, I went from being one-third of the copywriting team to the sole writer on the team. You can read about my journey from novice writer to becoming the only writer here. 

A man conducting an online interview with a female applicant on his laptop screen.

Since shortly after I started, I’ve been part of the hiring process for most of the members who’ve joined the team. We find most of our applicants from freelance websites. But we’re very upfront about our expectations during the interview process. 

Define what working remotely from home means for your team from the start

I’ve mentioned I started as a freelancer, but my role morphed into being a full-time remote worker. This was a mind shift I chose to accept. I’ve made it clear to every applicant that they’re not applying for a typical freelance position. There are tasks and deadlines, but there’s more structure. The role they’re applying for is more of a part-time remote position. 

And this means two key things:

  1. Anyone joining our team has to be available during Australian office hours (9-5 pm AEST)
  2. Anyone joining our team has to attend morning meetings to align on tasks/projects

These conditions were laid out during the interview process. Applicants were aware they were not joining as full-on freelancers. We were very upfront with every candidate about these requirements. Contractors working less than 40 hours a week still need to attend morning meetings. They must be “generally available” for a portion of regular Australian office hours. 

Companies greatly limit their candidate pool by only accepting applications from people in similar time zones. Just because you’d never consider working from 10 pm to 6 am doesn’t mean a night owl living halfway around the world wouldn’t be happy with that schedule. Just be up front with applicants about when you need them to be online during the interview process.

A hybrid meeting, where some members are in a conference room and others appear online via a large wall-mounted screen.

Of course, contractors on our team are free to take on other freelance jobs as their schedule permits. I was working a 10-hour/week freelance gig at one point. I would bounce back and forth between my current job and freelance gig during the day. But after I got bumped up to 40 hours a week with my current job, I was relieved when that freelance position ended. 

Part-time contractors are free to work on their other tasks during “office hours”. We don’t expect someone on 20 hours a week to be available for the full 40 hours a week of office hours. It may be more accurate to refer to these positions as hybrid remote/freelance positions.

Sometimes a hybrid solution is the best option

This hybrid remote/freelance model has its pros and cons. You give up some of the freedom of freelancing—setting your own schedule and working when you want. But you also have steady work and know how many hours you’ll have in a given week. This system may not suit you if you’re set on the freelancer lifestyle. But I haven’t once regretted making the mental switch from freelancer to remote worker.

This model has allowed several of our team members to work while traveling. Two team members traveled through Europe for several weeks before arriving at their final destination. They worked most days, taking the occasional day off for travel. They made up their hours when they could. Another traveled with family for three months, again while working most days. Our team continued to function normally.

A many in shorts, sunglasses and a t-shirt, sitting poolside, working on his laptop.

Being contractors, we can take time off when needed. We simply need to provide advanced notice. I still have the freedom to run to COSTCO on a weekday rather than fight the maddening throngs on Saturday. I can take my son for some driving practice or cut out early to catch a concert. But I’m available during Australian office hours 95% of the time.

What is required of our team members?

There was one change I wrestled with when I still considered myself a freelancer. Our team adopted a morning sign-in.

When I started, we had our morning meetings a few hours after the work day began in Australia. Our director realized many of us didn’t log on until shortly before that meeting. Thus, when urgent matters arose, she was stuck sitting on them for 2 hours. The team was losing a quarter of the day when critical tasks arose.

So she implemented a system that we still use today. We all sign in (remote and local workers) by 9 am AEST (8 am for me). We leave a quick message, typically “Morning!” to let our teammates know we’re around. Thus, if there’s an urgent task, the team can get started without wasting a quarter of the work day.

I work 40 hours/week, so I start working after I sign in. Part-time workers are free to start logging hours straight away, work on other freelance tasks, or just chill. As long as they are “generally available” for things that come up, our system works.

A screenshot of my team performing their morning check in by greeting their fellow team members with "morning".

We also sign off at the end of the day with an “I’m outta here” sign-off. Again, this is a courtesy to let each other know that we’re done for the day and to not expect any work from that team member until the following day. Signing in/out isn’t used as a method of timekeeping. We don’t track who signed in five minutes late or who logged off early. It’s a courtesy between team members. No one has ever been disciplined for when they sign in or out.

One of our team members on less than 40 hours a week logs off mid-way through the work day. And there’s nothing wrong with that. He knew we needed him around in the morning for meetings and communication. But we also understand he’s working in a different timezone. When he logs off, it’s almost dawn for him. He knew our requirements when he accepted the position, and we knew his situation. 

Once you have the right people who understand what’s expected, they need to work together

During the interview process, we stressed that communication was vital to our team’s success. We encourage team members to over-communicate. I’ve told team members, “I’ll let you know when you’re asking too many questions or giving too many updates.” It hasn’t happened yet.

So how does our remote team communicate so we can work from home successfully?

In a word—Slack. Our company uses Slack for company-wide communication. There are public channels and private team channels. Of course, you can have private chats with one or more team members or coworkers. Slack is how we communicate during the work day. 

An image of a generic Slack screen on a laptop, showing channels on the left and Slack's messaging layout.

How much do we communicate? Over the past 30 days, Slack tells me I’ve sent 1,681 messages. Based on being active 28 of those 30 days, that’s about 60 messages a day. Some of those messages are daily sign-ins. Others are important task-related messages or banter between our team. As the team lead, I spend more time on Slack than most of my team members. But even one of our least active team members on Slack still posted four messages/day or 113 over the past month.

Slack is more than just a work communication tool—it helps remote employees feel connected

We use Slack to work, but it’s also a way to bond. We share photos, stories, memes, etc. in our team channel. We comment, support and take the piss out of each other. Even when team members are in the office, they’re on Slack to communicate with the rest of the team. It’s how we work.

Every team member knows they can Slack me whenever I’m online. They can reach out for clarification on a task, request help locating a file, or raise a concern. The lines of communication are always open. Team members are free to contact each other and maintain private chats. In many ways, using Slack makes it easier than going to someone’s office or another department to ask a question. 

A screenshot of the various Slack statuses you can set including Focus Work, Out Sick, and On Holiday.

Slack statuses help you keep your team up to date. For example, I sometimes use Focus Mode to let people know I’m buried deep in a task and may be slow to respond to requests. If it’s urgent, they can try reaching out to me. But if it’s a general inquiry, they can see when my “Focus Time” ends and can wait until then to contact me. 

I don’t eat lunch, but most of my teammates do. A food icon next to a person’s name and an expected return time lets everyone know who’s “at lunch” and when they’ll be back.

Have I mentioned this yet? Communication, communication, communication

Organization and clear expectations—that’s what I was promoted to ensure. We usually have our morning meeting an hour and a half after morning sign-in. These morning meetings allow us to align on tasks and identify blockers. They are also a great way to discuss new and upcoming tasks. 

As a marketing team, we have our own campaigns and get requests from other departments. We also pick up other random assignments that pop up from time to time. It’s my job to keep things organized and running smoothly and to ensure we meet deadlines. To do this, I use another tool.

A 3-d image of the Asana icon against a pink background.

Our team uses Asana. A year ago, I’d never heard of Asana. There are many other such tools: Jira, Monday.com, and Trello, to name but a few. They’re all project management platforms, but Asana is where I live. 

Like the Strava maxim, “If it ain’t on Strava, it didn’t happen,” I live by the motto, “If it ain’t in Asana, it ain’t getting done.” Any time I get a request from a team member or another department, I immediately put it into Asana. I review Asana several times a day. Adding tasks to Asana increases the likelihood they won’t get missed or lost.

To ensure a team working remotely from home is successful requires preparation and the free exchange of ideas

Before every morning meeting, I review Asana. I give each team member a rundown of their most urgent tasks for the day. This allows me to check in with team members to see how longer-term tasks are progressing. They can inform me of any blockers preventing them from completing their work. Our morning meetings allow us to brainstorm solutions or the best way to complete a task. 

With everyone in the meeting, we get various opinions from different perspectives. Writers comment on graphic designs. The web dev suggests ideas for campaigns. The graphic designers suggest copy changes. Everyone is encouraged to share their opinions, regardless of their area of expertise. 

Three people sitting around a laptop, all pointing at the screen as they share their opinions.

If something isn’t covered during a morning meeting or pops up later in the day, team members can always reach out to each other via Slack. When a text chat is inadequate, “Got 5 mins for a quick call?” is our ‘go-to’ on Slack. Often it’s easier to align on things over a quick call rather than 20 minutes of texting. 

The morning meetings are scheduled for 30 minutes. But if we get through everything early, I’m happy to wrap early. But these daily alignment sessions are crucial to keeping projects on track and incorporating urgent tasks that invariably pop up. It’s very rare that my day goes exactly as expected without a curveball or a fire to put out. That’s the way things are on our marketing team.

It’s easy to criticize, but it’s better to praise

Before my current position, I’d never been part of a corporate organization. I found one channel very interesting once I got set up on Slack. We have a company-wide praise channel (it’s actually called “praise”). Coworkers can publicly thank other coworkers for helping out on a task or for chipping in to solve a sticky problem. Sometimes people share customer feedback that the intended recipient may otherwise never have heard. 

That channel gets a lot of use. At some point, we started awarding people virtual tacos in the praise channel. Getting a virtual taco means nothing, but it’s great to see such a supportive network. I praise my team for project completions and coming together in a crunch. I praise people from other departments who help me out or provide me with information I need. It’s always a nice boost to your day when you get an unexpected notification that someone awarded you a taco for something you helped out with earlier. 

A wall of hundreds of post it notes in various neon colors

This channel really helps contribute to the supportive nature of our company and our team. I enjoy using it. Once, when interviewing a user of our product, she continually praised the onboarding person who’d helped her. She felt this person was top-notch, she’d gone above and beyond, and our company was lucky to have her. I’d never met this person, and I still haven’t. But after that interview, I made sure to pass on this client’s feedback in the praise channel. She deserved to know her efforts hadn’t gone unnoticed.

The final piece of the puzzle—online socialization

One of the biggest challenges of remote working is team building. Not the formal, 3-day workshop sort of thing, but the small day-to-day stuff that’s easier in person. Like water cooler chats, chatting during lunch, or grabbing a drink after work. Though this kind of bonding is tougher with a remote team, it’s not impossible. It just takes a bit more effort.

We’ve had a few online gatherings where we just ‘shoot the shit”. We’ve talked about the accuracy of our personality type test results. We had a Christmas party, and we’ve also played online games together. It’s not quite the same as drinks after work. But each time we do something social like this, we get to know each other a little better. We’re making progress in this area, but we definitely want to improve on this aspect of our team.

An image of a person holding a glass of beer, toasting the people in the online meeting visible on his laptop screen.

Working remotely from home can be successful—but it takes some effort. Two of the three local team members only go to the office once or twice a week. The third prefers going to the office every day. I suspect even if we were all local, the majority of us would still prefer to work from home. And when that’s possible, it doesn’t matter if you live 20 mins from the office or halfway around the globe.

To recap, here’s how my team manages working remotely from home

  • We built the right team
  • We mainly work during the same office hours
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate
  • We have someone dedicated to organization and coordination
  • We celebrate wins and acknowledge good work
  • We make an effort to socialize online

The way we work might not be the perfect fit for your team. But with a bit of tweaking, I’m sure you can get your remote team humming along. Some people will prefer working remotely, while others will want to be in the office. But with the right attitude and approach, your team can find a hybrid solution that accommodates remote and local workers.

Let me know how your remote team works from home in the comments below—I’m always keen to exchange ideas!

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