The Ultimate Guide to Building and Managing a Remote Team

Working in a remote team might sound difficult but in reality it’s not. Leapfrog has been providing remote teams for startups and SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) for 8 years. Today with the proliferation of technology, it is more convenient than ever to work from anywhere in the world without compromising quality of work.

Hiring and working with a remote team has its perks, but there are also challenges that managers and leaders need to be aware of and ready to overcome. On-boarding and managing the remote unit in your organization is daunting, but with our detailed checklists, you are just a step away from building your remote team.

Topics we will cover:

How working in a remote team has evolved over the years?

Wikipedia defined Remote Team in 2005 as a group of individuals who work together from different geographic locations and rely on communication technology such as email, FAX, and video or voice conferencing services to collaborate. However, communication technologies today are not just limited to fax, email, and conferencing. Different communication tools like Slack, Zoom, and others enable remote teams to communicate and collaborate in real-time. The geographical boundaries are no longer a barrier for remote engineers to solve problems effectively.

The innovation of telephones, telegraph, typewriters, and public electricity profoundly influenced the early establishment of modern offices. These tools led the foundation of communication for the remote team in early 1900. With personal computer hitting the shelf in 1975 and the birth of the internet in 1983, the organizations swiftly adapted to remote working. Further workplace revolution in the 90s introduced “new ways of working” where information technology played a significant role to transfer business process outside organizations. 

From then to now, the technology has further evolved, and the internet is more easily accessible. The digital revolution has changed the dynamics of business, eliminating the need to collocate. More and more business processes today are outsourced. For a company located in Boston, software development is distributed around the globe. Remote team is a new way of working, and organizations like Google are adapting to it as it adds diversity of skills and expertise in an organization. 


Timeline evolution of remote work

(Source: Wikipedia and Toptal)

Myths about working with a Remote Team

Most Startups and SMEs hesitate when it comes to hiring a remote team. Most of the reasons they portray are unfounded. They are cultivated by people who could not successfully manage the remote team, or perhaps could not risk experimenting with a remote team for one reason or another.

Let us now debunk a few of the myths that might have chained your company from hiring a remote team.

1. Remote workers have low productivity.

Remote workers are not productive. They waste their working hours on “Netflix and chill.” They are distracted as they do not have a proper workplace. You cannot track the productivity of a remote team.

You might have more assumptions like these to why remote equals zero productivity. However, how much of it is true? If remote workers were not productive, companies like Toptal, Buffer, Dell and Google would not be investing in a remote workforce. A survey by SurePayroll revealed 2 of 3 managers believe employees who work remotely increase the overall productivity. They demonstrate higher efficiency and productivity. 

The productivity of your remote team can be tracked with the proper implementation of tools and frameworks. At Leapfrog, we make use of tools like Trello, Time-Sheets, Jira and Kanban frameworks to track the efficiency of our remote team.

2. Clear and concise communication is impossible in a remote team.

Though it’s true, employees are not always physically present in a remote team, but the clarity of communication does not always depend on it. Synchronous and asynchronous communication can aid your interaction process. Use of real-time communication mediums as video conferencing can help you set up virtual meetings to set and align goals. The real-time chat tools like Slack and Zoom work as a means of synchronous communication between teams for both formal and informal interaction. 

The key is to find people with excellent communication skills, written and verbal. They should be able to communicate clearly and provide updates and feedback when needed. Our team at Leapfrog believes that with practice, the remote team will be able to showcase brilliant communication skills resulting in clear and concise conversations.

3. Remote workers overseas do not have the same level of skills as local talents.

The misconception that is hurting remote work most is the belief that remote workers overseas are not as skilled as local talents. The companies have not been able to explore the global talent ecosystem. Today works demanding high technical skills are outsourced to countries in Asia and Africa. Talents around the world deliver quality work in a designated time. Because of MooC, open source projects, and proliferation of startup culture and ecosystems, the cutting edge technologies are reaching to the global audience on the first day of the release.

It’s no longer an era where startups and SMEs should be bound by borders when it comes to finding the right fit for the job. 56% of startups partner with remote development companies to overcome talent scarcity . This would not have been possible without the availability of skilled human resources around the world.

Why should startups and SMEs consider investing in remote?

Deloitte’s 2018 Global Outsourcing Survey focused on how disruptive outsourcing is going to transform businesses. Among 521 organizations who participated in the study, some companies have started piloting the concept, while others are on the verge of implementing it. Why are these companies investing in outsourcing? Because they believe that when disruptive outsourcing is done right, it can foster competitive advantage, effectiveness, and efficiency.

Further, are some more benefits that companies can garner utilizing remote team

1. Cost optimization

Cost optimization is a priority when organizations decide to hire remote teams. As startups and SMEs, your funds must be invested in the right place and is generating value. Hiring a remote team from developing countries will cost you less than hiring someone from major cities in the US. You would also reduce the cost of finding individuals with various skill sets and building them as a team suitable for your organization.

2. Access to world-class talents

When you consider hiring a remote team, the borders of your country no longer bound your access to expertise. Your team will come from the global ecosystem of talent with unimaginable capabilities. Witty, creative, detail-oriented, problem solvers- the chances of discovering talents with these traits are high with remote. You can choose people from various backgrounds and cultures, which in return will also bring variations in ideas and processes that companies can benefit from.

3. Focus on internal process

As startups, it is a good idea to begin lean. Scaling up companies in the early stages of business will only add hassles and distractions. Most of our clients hire a remote team to achieve specific tasks, freeing up their local resources, who then can contribute to the core business processes. 

4. Competitive Advantage

When done right, working in a remote team can enhance the productivity, effectiveness, and efficiency of the employees. They get to interact with like-minded people from around the world and collaborate on ideas. The integration of technology with social skills from different corners of the world will undoubtedly add to your advantage. 

5. Diversified workforce

With your remote team working from around the world, your organization is no longer a monocultural company. You will have people from diverse cultures interacting and collaborating with your internal team. While managing a diverse team can be a challenge, it is an opportunity for the company to gain different perspectives to problems. Multiple perspectives open doors to more ideas and solutions. 

Building your Remote team

Building a remote team is easier said than done. However, it is not impossible. From large companies like Apple and Dell to smaller companies like Trello and Buffer,  companies have built remote teams as core parts of their workforce.

Planning and thoughts on building a remote team are crucial for organizations. So is hiring the right people for your team. In fact, building a remote team begins with hiring the right talent. Even we would not have been successful in managing remote teams today without hiring people with the right skills and attitude. However, how do you identify one from the other? What is the definition of right?

Hiring for remote is similar to companies hiring for onsite jobs. The recruitment process is pretty much the same, the difference is in the medium used. The complexities will surely increase as hiring methods and practices for finding the person job-fit will differ. There are two things you need to focus on:

1. The core competency of individual

While recruiting, the first thing to decide on is the level of skills one will require to do the job you want. It is crucial that you take steps to test the competencies of people before you move on to explore more about the person. In our recruiting process, we make sure an assignment relating to a project is sent to the candidate so as we can test their technical knowledge and problem solving skills. Live interview sessions with detailed questioning regarding the skills and types of previous works done can also provide an overview of the person’s capabilities.

2. Traits of Individuals

Even when you find the person with the right technical acuities, there can be chances of a person not being fit for the remote. After all, not everyone can handle working remotely. It would be best if you were attentive enough to identify the personalities and traits of people who can adapt to the remote. A subtle hint that the person might require an extreme level of supervision and micro-management is a ‘NO’ in a remote team.

Some traits to focus on while selecting your remote team are:

1. Self-Management

Try to screen people who are good at managing themselves. They can organize tasks assigned and also follow best practices to solve the problems. Individuals who can keep themselves motivated is a plus when it comes to choosing people for a remote team. 

We tend to search for people with prior freelancing, the entrepreneurial, remote experience could be a few things you can check into to know how well this person can adapt to the remote environment. Entrepreneur mindset can also be an asset to look for while recruiting individuals.

2. Communication Skills

Strong communication is the foundation for remote teams. When people are located globally, it becomes crucial to keep in contact with everyone and be updated with what everyone is involved in. In remote teams, both verbal and nonverbal communication play an equal role. Various communication tools come in handy while collaborating with the remote team, but it would fail miserably if an individual lacks proper communication skills.

3. Ability to work in a team

Even in normal conditions, it might be difficult for some people to be able to work in teams. Although the team may share the same work-space and interact daily, there are high chances of low team coherency.

The beauty of remote is having people from diverse backgrounds working in a team. However, this is also the challenge. When people do not adapt to team dynamics, it hurts the effectiveness and efficiency of the group. The value they provide as a team diminishes. Hence, it is essential to hire someone who can adapt to working as a team and understands how best he/she can contribute to the idea as a whole.

4. Learning Attitude

As startups investing in remote teams, we might not always have the luxury to spend time on providing guidelines or aligning best practices to the employees. When identifying best fits for your organization, make sure to find curious problem-solvers who do not hesitate to learn new things and imply in their work. We want individuals who can solve problems on their own with minimum or no supervision. 

It is also essential to look for individuals who match to your company culture and can add verticals. Though remotely located, they will have to interact with your team and understand the organization in every way possible to deliver the product or their service.

Managing your Remote Team

While you are moving one step further to having your remote dream team, how do you plan to manage them? Imagine a group of 5 located in 3 different time zones and your headquarters in a separate time zone. Undoubtedly, interacting and communicating with the team will be affected by the time zones. So without frequent interaction and communication, the remote team will fail. So, what best practices could you follow to keep your team intact?

Here we discuss a few tips and practices that will make your remote team strong:

1. Onboard your remote team

Onboard your remote team following the on-boarding practices in your organization. Set up video conferences with tools like Zoom and get to know the team better. Share with them the vision, mission, culture, and goals of your company. Share your organizational structures and hierarchies and provide them with the access they require to company resources. These are the first thing we do prior to starting projects. We call it “kicking off the project” where team members introduce themselves, talk about their skills, set goals and expectations and define overall processes . Make them feel like a part of your company from the very beginning of your remote journey. Follow best practices when it comes to them taking up roles in your company though working remotely.

2. Set clear expectations and goals

Make sure that your team is clear about what is expected of them. You should help your remote team to transform your aspirations into goals so as they have a clear vision of what they are supposed to do. Setting clear expectations and goals for the teams keep them focused regardless of the distance and work areas

3. Frequent Communication practices

For teams residing in different locations and time zones, the major challenge will be communication. It is necessary to respect the difference in time zone and variability in the communication practices they follow in their countries.

Teams need to interact with each other daily, updating one another about the task updates. We focus on both verbal and written communication when communicating in a remote team.

We encourage the practice of daily standups in remote team via chat tools like Slack. For synchronous communication, we rely on video conferences that can be arranged as required to keep the remote team and local team on the same path. Chat tools can also act as a platform where the team can informally interact and converse, which will help them build a relationship with one another. Emails, shared drive files can work as tools for asynchronous communication.

4. Do not differentiate them from your local team

Never differentiate your remote team from your local team. Trust your remote team and guide them to be responsible and accountable not only for the task they are assigned but for your organization itself. Make them feel like they are a core part of your organization even when you don’t work in the same office building.

5. Schedule visits or meetups

Plan a gathering where all the remote teams and local teams can come together for a few days or a week. We suggest quarterly all-hands where everyone is in location and can share updates on past, present, and future projects and goals. It will also be a good time for the remote team to interact face to face with other members of the organization and feel like a part of a bigger team. While they can relax and retreat from daily work schedules, you can also indulge in informal goal settings and relationship building.

6. Make optimum use of technology

There are so many tools evolving every day that has enabled in real-time communication, project management, and organization of tasks in the remote team. Get the best out of these tools by implementing it in your team. Be it Slack, Zoom, Trello, Asana, there are so many options that you can choose from to pave the path towards productivity in a remote team.

7. Track productivity

Following the agile methodologies, your remote team can quickly adapt to change. At Leapfrog, you’ll find us experimenting with frameworks like Scrum and Kanban that helps us prioritize tasks and also keeps us updated on the job in progress and the people responsible for it. It can be a useful tool to track the productivity of your team by identifying the right metrics.

8. Respect cultural differences in the team

Always respect the cultural differences among your team. You can still avoid cases of unconscious discrimination and differentiation by being mindful about the culture of your teammates. It is essential that you have a basic idea about what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to their values and beliefs.

9. Find time for Documentation

Document your processes. This makes it easier for new hires to understand the processes with minimum guidance. Documenting your work progress, updates, issues, solutions can bring ideas in a single place. From our experience, we suggest the use of tools like Confluence for organizing, sharing and collaborating on your documents. The access to these documents allows team members to build an understanding of the subject matters and find the best answers to the issue.

Reference: toggl

Remote engineering is here to stay and is the future of work. Moreover, we as startups, SMEs, and individuals need to explore ways to adapt to and manage our remote teams. The complexity of building and managing remote teams will increase with your growing team. However, following the best practices and relevant tips and tricks as per nature of your organization will boost your remote strategy, giving you an edge in the world of business.


About Leapfrog

Leapfrog is a full-stack technology services company that specializes in SaaS products, Web and Mobile Applications, and AI.
Our world-class teams have capabilities such as product design ( UI and UX), Front End and Back End Engineering, DevOps Engineering, Product Management, Data Engineering, and Machine Learning.

If you enjoyed this article,  follow our blog for more insights on Product Management and building digital products.

Suja Manandhar

Suja Manandhar is a Business Development Officer at Leapfrog Technology Inc. She is an avid reader and loves to explore about the impacts technology creates in businesses.

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