When I tell someone how I work remotely, they usually get very interested and deeply curious about the idea of remote work.

After asking a few more questions, a lot of the time, I hear peers say how much they’d love to work remotely, too.

“Wow, I wish I could work from home!”

“You are so lucky you get to work from home!”

“I would be so much more productive if I worked from home. I’m envious! How’d you pull that off?”

While these conversations have continued over the years, I’ve also noticed that it’s also more and more often that other people are now “allowed” to work from home, too.

I’m glad to hear that virtual teams are becoming the norm—or at least more popular. After all, allowing people to WFH means they can enjoy life—and work. Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2019 found that 99% of those surveyed said that they would like to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers.

We know many companies and teams we work with are on a learning curve when it comes to incorporating remote work. With that in mind, here’s a strategic framework we’ve come up with at Edoc—thanks to 22+ years of working as a fully distributed team—that we’d love to share with you. It’s 4 C’s—Culture, Communication, Collaboration and Coordination—that can be the foundation for a thriving, high-performing, team-oriented remote team.

Here’s a glimpse at each of these tenets.

Culture

The foundation of any healthy remote team is Culture. Or, perhaps I should say a values-driven culture.

Culture is built on your core values and your shared belief system. Hopefully those don’t need physical walls to exist.

Get crystal clear on your purpose and principles—since that’s what’s the foundation of your unsaid beliefs and norms.

Your company needs to celebrate and live by its purpose. That purpose has to be for an existence bigger than just work itself.

It can’t just be the founder or CEO who celebrates this vision and purpose; make sure the company purpose is shared and lived out by all team members.

The purpose and core values you live by inspires the company, and it unites team members—no matter where they are located.

Culture can be hard to define, but the following questions can help you to shed light on your current culture:

  • What are a few of the top, common beliefs across employees?
  • What do we all stand for and believe in? (How does the business advance that cause?)
  • How do we respond to clients? What’s the norm for communicating with them?
  • What’s the norm for communicating with each other?
  • What’s our priority as a company?
  • What do people consider a “win” or positive outcome?
  • How do we support our own people, partners, clients, and community?
  • How does information flow within our company?

What we do: we recruit and hire people who are truly energized and inspired by Edoc’s purpose. If there’s any doubt people aren’t aligned with your company purpose and core values, don’t rush to hire them. In fact, be sure not to hire them!

If you have current employees who aren’t aligned with these beliefs, help them find another opportunity.

This likeminded team is going to be the glue that unites your remote team, so be as intentional as possible when looking for new candidates and hiring. People will either add to your culture, positively, or they will take away from it.

people will either add to your remote culture or take away from your culture

Remember that the criteria for “great work” may change with remote work, depending on your company culture today. If it matters when people clock in or how much time it takes to get tasks done in your company today, you may have to revisit these expectations with remote workers. After all, “great work” for remote teams is not dependent on a certain amount of time worked each day or when you clock in and out.

Keep in mind you’re providing a healthy life for your team members. The result? You have the opportunity for well-balanced, healthy, and very loyal employees in return for giving them that extra flexibility. For some, this idea may be a mindset shift, but it’s an extra edge you have the ability to create for your business.

Communication

The second critical component of any healthy remote culture is Communication. We inherently know communication is critical in any business, but take a step back and think about communication in another light.

Communication really, at the end of the day, is about trust.

So how do you build trust and effectively communicate on a remote team? 

Especially with new hires, be sure to define—and then make—proactive communication the norm within your company and with clients, too. In fact, at Edoc, always default to being proactive when it comes to communication with clients and with each other! 

Be sure to call or get back in touch with people (within the company and outside) in a timely manner. People, including partners, may have the misconception you are away, or just not as available when you are working virtually. Work against this misconception by being as responsive as you can be.

At first, that may feel like it’s overcommunicating, but I can tell you, in a remote environment, you can rarely overcommunicate! Use different formats to get your message across, too. You can never underestimate the value of communicating a message in different formats. People absorb information in different ways, after all. The trust will build naturally from there.

At Edoc, we use Slack for updates, direct messaging, and group messaging; text message for appropriate urgent messages; a shared calendar to help with coordination; Zoom for video conferences and one-on-one meetings; Dropbox and ShareFile for file sharing; and phone calls for other conversations. While we minimize the use of email thanks to Slack, we know it can be a useful tool that has its place in business, too, especially for communication outside our company.

For our version of a “virtual water cooler,” we use Slack, where we’re able to create a sense of camaraderie, connection, and community. As a real-time chatroom, Slack allows us to send and update others on non-work related topics that we enjoy talking about with each other. Out of town for a week? No problem, because you can easily catch up in all Slack’s channels. Every company is going to have its norms and desired way of communicating, so find the tools that best support how you work and enjoy communicating. 

Next, be sure you work on listening. (As a team at Edoc, we’ve worked on this together to help us grow in this arena.) We can all work to improve our ability to actively listen, and the power of active listening is only heightened in a remote environment.

Look to suspend judgement as someone as talks to you; in other words, as difficult as it may be, we try not to plan what we’re going to say as they talk since that takes away from our ability to fully listen. Allow them to finish and try not to interrupt (an area I can certainly work on.) Another key point we aim for: repeat back what someone has said to you, in your words, to show your understanding. That kind of reflection may sound something like: “So what I’m hearing you say is…”

listening takes practice remote teams

Then, that person you’re talking to has the opportunity to continue to explain themselves or they can add clarity if you didn’t get their message or issue right. Paraphrasing and repeating what you’re hearing back to someone is an empowering way you can help people and teams, together, to arrive at better solutions.

Another key point about virtual work that we’ve learned: if people are waiting around waiting for you to tell them what to do next, there’s a problem! And let’s face it, that’s a problem whether or not your team is remote.

Come back for part two of this blog, where we’ll take a quick look at Collaboration and Coordination in a remote work environment.

UPDATE: You can find part two in the series here.

Kim Sykes

READ MORE: “How to Combat Feeling Lonely as a Remote Worker”

Kim Sykes leads the eSign division at Edoc Service, Inc.