Building A Remote Team? 5 Factors To Determine If It Will (Or Will Not) Work For You

This article was first published on 9 March 2020 and has been updated.

Remote work is increasingly embraced in recent years, as more employees are allowed to work from home or wherever they choose to.

During Circuit Breaker earlier in the year, Singapore effectively conducted a work-from-home experiment, where nearly half of all local employees worked from home due to COVID-19.

Even before COVID-19, according to a study done by software firm Condeco, about half (43%) of the organisations in Singapore surveyed have employees working remotely, for some or all of their time.

Going forward, remote working or work-from-anywhere will have to be considered as more companies adopt such arrangements. For business owners considering to build a remote team, you should know that it is not just about working from a home office or cafe. It’s about how you can engage, manage and encourage a remote team, while run a business where employees don’t see one another.

If you are at the crossroads on deciding whether you should allow your team to work remotely, here are five factors to consider before you dissipate the traditional office.

Read Also: Pros And Cons Of Managing A Virtual Team

#1 The Right Talent Your Team Needs

Remote work is best suitable for certain career fields. The 2019 State of Remote Work report released by social media management platform Buffer shows 31 per cent of remote workers surveyed were in Engineering, followed by 18 per cent of them in Marketing and Advertising. 

Writing or designing are tasks that can be easily done remotely. But for certain positions such as IT or finance, where employees have to be at the office to manage on-site servers or to file receipts and invoices, it becomes much more challenging to let these employees work remotely. 

A remote team also allows you to tap on a wider pool of talent. This could help you tackle the local talent shortage that is felt across various industries today. According to specialised recruiter Robert Half, almost nine in ten CIOs find it hard to source for qualified IT professionals. With a remote workforce, it opens up opportunities to recruit overseas candidates too. 

#2 Budget For Unexpected Overheads

An advantage to having a remote team is the lower overhead costs. For a fully remote team, office space is no longer necessary. Even for partial remote teams, where only some of your employees work on site, cost savings can be significant since you do not need a big office space to fit everyone. When American Express implemented their remote working programme, it estimated that it saved about US$10 to $15 million of annual real estate costs.

In a traditional office, each employee needs about 100 – 200 sq ft of space. This may increase due to safety management measures due to COVID-19 in the short-term future. Assuming you choose an office in Raffles Place, where rentals is about $7.50 psf or more, a team of ten employees occupying 1,000 square feet of space will cost you about $7,500 per month. For a less central location, such as Changi Business Park for about $4.00 psf per month, that will come up to about $4,000 a month.

So, if you are trying to cut down on overhead costs, going remote can be a smart way about doing so.

#3 Team Size

There is no hard and fast rule for size limits of a remote team. But generally, the bigger the remote team, the easier it is for miscommunication. If it is just a remote team of three, you might still be able to work efficiently with each other by getting onto a call once or twice a day. But as the team expands, it will become harder to manage the team without ground rules and best practices and still expect optimal collaboration. 

Another consideration would be the distribution of your team. Is your team going fully remote? Or partially—with some employees still working from an office? 

A partially remote team remains as challenging to manage. Without proper communication flows, there might be information inequality, where remote workers are left out of the loop, or are at a social disconnect, where the team goes out for a meal or drinks without the remote workers. These could hinder team chemistry, especially if the decision on remote work was not thought through properly.

Read Also: Here’s Why Small Businesses In Singapore Need To Care About Employee Retention

#4 Level Of Trust Within The Team 

Not all employees will make for good remote workers. In a similar vein, not all bosses are good remote managers. The basis of remote working is built on trust. For work to be done most efficiently, there must be greater employee autonomy. 

You may worry about tracking the performance of remote workers or ensuring that employees are getting work done. Monitors may be implemented to counter those concerns, but you should be aware of not crossing the line. Ultimately, relations with employees are built on trust. If you need an overabundance of ‘check-ins’ to ease anxiety and be in control of things, it reveals more of your management style (all signs point to micromanaging) than an issue with the remote working system. 

For a remote team to thrive, managers must kick process-obsession to the curb. So before you start hiring remote workers or converting your team remote, identify your leadership style and work on your blind spots. 

#5 Investing Effort And Tools For Remote Management

You don’t just put together a high-performing remote team. Figuring out what type of communication guidelines or online collaboration tools work best for the team takes time and effort. 

And even after ironing out the details, it’s always an ongoing process of maintaining strong relations with your employees. Keeping your team engaged and motivated is a constant process. It’s like a long-distance relationship. You have to go the extra mile to check in on them to compensate for the lack of face-to-face interaction.

The point is that building and managing a remote team takes commitment. So while the Internet might sing praises of remote working, you will need the patience and determination for it to work.

Read Also: 5 Free Tools To Help You Be More Productive When Working Remotely

Remote Work Is Not A Bed Of Roses 

While remote work might be touted as the future of workplaces, what is often neglected is the amount of effort that goes into building a successful remote team. As tempting as it is for you to just ditch the office and opt for the digital nomad lifestyle, managing a remote team has plenty of pitfalls. 

For those in a quandary, dip your toes into the water and start off by having your employees work some days from home. From there, you’ll be able to identity the main challenges and figure out if you have viable solutions for them. 

Read More: For The Digital Nomad: 5 Asian Cities To Live And Work Remotely

Leveraging On Digital Tools To Enable Remote Working

Digital tools will become essential in your drive to implement remote working arrangements. Due to COVID-19, more such tools are becoming mainstays in offices – whether they are partially or fully working from home.

As a business owner, you can tap on an array of online collaboration tools in HR and payroll management, online accounting, digital marketing and cybersecurity to equip your remote team with the right tools and help you better manage your team remotely.

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