Remote work is the most transformative labor trend of our lifetime. Long before ‘social distancing’ became a household term, businesses chose to operate with remote teams because of the countless benefits it poses.
In fact, a survey by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics found that there was a 159% increase in remote work from 2007 to 2019. Whether your company has been planning to be remote-based for years, or the need to adapt came suddenly, remote work is an opportunity for any business to operate with more efficiency, resilience, and flexibility.
At Microverse, we understand remote work like few other organizations: We are driven by a mission to help 1 million people build careers in remote work by 2030, and our team has been completely remote-based since our founding.
This is why we felt it was important to put together this Ultimate FAQ for Building and Managing Remote Teams. We’ve pulled all of the most common questions that we hear when it comes to building and managing remote teams.
We broke these questions down into sections:
So, rather than troubleshooting to figure out how to do it, rely on the knowledge of experts who have been operating successful remote teams for years. We hope you find this guide comprehensive, but we know there are more questions to be asked when it comes to remote work. If you find yourself asking a question we haven’t covered here, please get in touch with us: We’ll be happy to share our knowledge and help any way we can.
Recruiting becomes easier since companies aren’t limited to just hiring locally. Instead, they can choose from a global pool of talented applicants. In addition, companies experienced with managing remote teams are more resilient.
With the right practices and good structures in place - like the ones covered in this guidebook - team members become more resourceful, independent, and effective communicators. This means teams run smoothly, even in the face of unpredictable circumstances.
From the perspective of an employee working remotely, advantages go beyond saving money on transportation or meals. Employees gain more flexibility in organizing their work life and their personal lives. This can mean having more free time to spend time with family.
Many people also find they focus better working remotely because they encounter fewer distractions compared to working in an office. All of this makes employees want to stay at the company for longer.
Communicating while working remotely can be challenging for employees. When you work from home, you can’t just ask your co-worker sitting next to you when you have a question about something. Similarly, building social relationships with colleagues requires extra attention, since informal chats during coffee breaks or after-work drinks are not possible the same way they are for office workers.
Remote workers may also struggle with new distractions when working from home, like having kids, dependents, and roommates in close proximity. But these challenges can be resolved by rethinking work routines.
For companies, the main challenge is promoting more work autonomy and building more trust in employees. This requires better documentation and a different way of measuring performance - not by the number of hours, but by results.
Everyone is different. Some people find themselves more productive and enjoy the autonomy of working remotely. Some prefer an office environment, and others work best with a mix of both.
I recommend that companies maintain flexibility. Experiment with remote work but maintain the option to use office space for certain meetings or types of communication. This way, if employees need to work remotely because of an extreme circumstance, the company is prepared to handle it.
Definitely not! Digital nomads travel the world while working. They often juggle multiple clients and fluctuating workloads. They might work two hours one day and ten the next.
Remote work does not mean “working from the beach.” It requires the same level of commitment and productivity as if you were working in an office. Be mindful of this if you hire someone who wants to be a digital nomad: They might expect something different from their remote job.
Not necessarily. Working from home is one version of remote work. Some people find that surrounding themselves with others in a coworking space holds them more accountable to their work. Others prefer to save the commute time by staying at home.
GitLab has grown to 1000+ employees - all working remotely. Their team handbook and remote work playbook are great resources for how to operate and grow remotely. But when you think about it, almost any company operating at scale has to implement some form of remote work...
Companies like Microsoft and Google have offices around the world, so their teams have to cooperate virtually and across time zones. This means that the best practices of remote work are the same ones required to scale a business: autonomous work, proper documentation and transparency, and measuring outcomes rather than inputs or outputs, to name a few.
Remote work relies on three fundamental principles: autonomy, trust, and transparency.
First, working remotely means working autonomously to be productive. At Microverse, we embody that principle in a saying: “It’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.” This encourages team members to be proactive to solve complex problems rather than wait for approval to take action.
Second, autonomy requires trust. Managers need to trust that team members will do the right thing and do their job correctly. Team members can foster trust and enable more autonomy for themselves by getting the job done consistently.
And third, autonomous work is enabled by transparency. Team members need to have access to the right information at the right time, so it’s crucial to be diligent about documentation. That goes for every meeting, decision and action item, onboarding and staff processes, experiments, and metrics - almost every detail of your business.
With these three principles, you can create a virtuous cycle of autonomous work: Team members have the right information when they need it without depending on other people. They make better decisions based on the right data, increasing mutual trust between the team and management.
People who are great at working from home usually have strong boundaries between their personal life and work. They have rituals to disconnect in the evening, but also follow strategies to get into ‘work mode’.
Try starting your day the same way you would if you were going to an office. Wake up early and put on work clothes. Don’t stay in your pyjamas. It might sound like a silly thing to do, but don’t underestimate the psychological effect of “dressing the part.”
When you plan your work hours, make a distinction between ‘deep work’ and meeting times. For example, I am based in Europe with team members in the US, so most of my meetings can be held in the afternoon. This allows me to schedule several hours of focused work without distraction in the morning.
I recommend setting up a designated work space. If you are working from a certain room, you can communicate to your family not to disturb you there.
If you don’t have a spare room to use as an office, consider making it a rule not to interrupt you when you have your headphones on. It’s a good idea to keep your headphones on even outside of video calls to signal that you are focused on work.
Working asynchronously means that your team is able to communicate, make key decisions, and get things done without working at the same time.
It’s almost impossible to cut all real-time interactions and work 100% asynchronously. But if you transition the right components gradually, you can work much more efficiently. Start by asking these questions:
You can use the same computer hardware that you use in office spaces. Also, be sure to invest in decent headphones. Do not rely on the microphones integrated in your laptops or computers - they are typically not good enough for video conferencing. You don’t need to overspend on high-end noise-cancelling headphones, unless you have a noisy home and really need them for focused work. I use the standard Apple headphones.
Also pay attention to the right ergonomics. As a company, you should invest in furniture like chairs and classic or stand-up desks for your employees. At Microverse, we have a $750 USD stipend for each team member to set up a healthy and productive home office environment.
Make writing documentation as easy and frictionless as possible by using the right tools for your team.
At Microverse, we use Notion. Other options are Confluence, Slite, Coda or GoogleDocs. Whichever you select, the tool should keep documentation simple and make it available to everyone. In our company, we follow the principle to be transparent by default - only restrict access if there is a strong reason.
The trick is to make writing documentation not feel like documentation - it should write itself. For example, the Microverse team rarely responds to questions by typing an answer. Instead, the response is always a link (e.g., to Notion) where to find that information.
If it’s a novel question, we write the answer in our open documentation system and send that new link. This takes more time than typing a response, but it helps everyone find answers on their own.
First of all, you need a good tool for video conferencing. Our preferred tool because of the quality is Zoom, which we use at Microverse.
Second, a tool for high-bandwidth communication, meaning communication that captures and conveys more than written text. I recommend Loom to record and send short video messages.
Third, find a tool for easy and well-structured documentation of everything from meeting notes to your team handbook. We like to use Notion, as I mentioned before. For simple items like meeting agendas, Google Docs is also helpful.
Remote teams usually have a messaging tool like Slack for short, written communication. At Microverse, we use Twist because we like that it organizes conversations in thematic threads. Team members can easily search through threads and channels and since most conversations are publicly available, it is a great tool for documentation, too.
(Note: For informal conversations about family, pets, workouts or holiday plans, we use Slack.)
Remote work has many advantages that increase productivity in the long run. In transition, productivity may slow down as employees adapt to new practices. Keep in mind that temporary conditions at home can hurt productivity. For example, when schools are closed during a pandemic, parents struggle with the double responsibilities of caring for their children while working at home.
Employees need to avoid a feeling of social isolation. Companies can create structured opportunities for their team members to connect with each other. Virtual coffee breaks and other types of virtual meetings, from daily stand-ups to all-hands meetings are important.
It is really important to encourage remote employees to periodically disconnect from work, too. Setting fixed working hours and disabling work notifications while on a break and on weekends is strongly recommended.
Social connections at work are important. Many people don’t go to work every day just for a paycheque, but also because of the people they work with. These relationships often form naturally in an office, but with remote teams you need to be proactive to create opportunities for socializing.
One of the ways we do this at Microverse is with the weekly meeting we call “Beverage, Brag, and Beg,” or simply “BBB.” In this video conference, everyone shares what they are drinking, something they are proud of, and something they need help with. Between morning espressos and evening drinks, depending on the participant’s time zones, it’s a fun way to be social, connect and build better team relationships.
But your team members don’t need to always interact with a large group of people to stay social. Encourage one-on-one and smaller group coffee chats as well.
At Microverse, we use a tool called Donut. Every week, this software pairs an employee with a random colleague. They are encouraged to meet in a virtual conference and talk about things other than work for 30 minutes.
Some good conversation starters are travel plans, pets, or the books they are reading, to help them get to know one another.
Absolutely! I believe every manager should hold one-to-ones with their reports. Most ‘best practices’ of team management also apply to remote work. At Microverse we hold these weekly or every other week, depending on the team.
Those who work from home need to learn how to separate work and their private lives. This does not only mean to set fixed working hours, but also separate between tools you use for professional or private purposes.
At Microverse, we used to use WhatsApp to communicate with our team. But since most team members already use it to talk to friends and family, they kept responding to work messages during their personal time. In other words, they were never able to truly switch off.
Encourage team members to schedule personal downtime just like work meetings. As an example, my wife and I created a virtual calendar invite for our 1 PM lunch and 6 PM workout. This helps us to keep each other accountable for leisure time.
Just like in a traditional work setting, remote teams need clear objectives and goals. Employee performance should be measured by outcomes, not outputs.
Methodologies for setting goals vary between companies, but we stick to quarterly objectives and key results (OKRs). The Microverse team uses Goals in Asana to define and measure OKRs.
Many managers of remote teams want to know whether their employees work two, eight, or 15 hours a day. But measuring the hours employees work tells you nothing about their results.
I strongly advise you don’t measure inputs like work hours, or outputs like the number of meetings they held. If you want to know how productive employees are, measure outcomes. The amount of new software pushed in production, the number of bug fixes, or how many contracts the sales team closed are good examples of outcome indicators.
Even with remote teams spread across time zones, you need to find common time slots for meetings. If the time difference is significant, encourage as much overlap of working times as possible. At Microverse, we encourage people in Europe to be available for meetings from 4 to 6 p.m. and those in California from 7 to 9 a.m.
Creating a strong feedback culture is crucial in any business, but especially for remote teams. Feedback should be understood as a two-way conversation. Especially if you give negative feedback, you are likely to trigger an immediate and sometimes emotional response.
In a remote setting, managing serious conversations like these is even more challenging. Before giving feedback, it helps to ask yourself basic questions: What is our current working relationship? Will they understand how I communicate?
Holding synchronous, face-to-face meetings are important for complex conversations. But this may not always be possible, especially with time zone differences. If you try to address these things over email, you lose things like tone of voice, facial expressions, and body gestures.
Consider using a pleasant tone of voice and smiling when giving feedback. We find Loom useful for recording and sending video messages, especially when something requires nuanced communication (what I call a ‘high-bandwidth’), but we need to do so asynchronously.
Some work interruptions are inevitable. Parents who are working at home have a lot on their hands with schools and child care centers closed due to the pandemic. As a manager, showing empathy can alleviate a lot of stress for your team. Be sure to communicate with your team that they are not expected to be as productive as in normal times.
However, if family life keeps distracting employees from work duties, the company can advise on how to set up a proper work environment. Having the right hardware and a dedicated room free from distractions is a good place to start. Setting norms, like uninterrupted work hours, can also make a big difference.
Working in pairs can be a useful technique for employees struggling with distractions. Have team members call each other in pairs and keep the video and audio open while they work. Feeling accountable to another colleague like this helps some employees stay on task.
Lastly, if necessary, managers can install more regular check-ins or strict accountability mechanisms like daily stand-ups with affected employees. However, as trust and autonomy are fundamental for successful remote teams, these measures should only be thought of as short-term.
Implementing remote work requires more than installing video conferencing software. It takes intentional effort to change traditional processes and implement new practices.
I can’t stress enough the importance of trust and transparency, proper documentation, having a strong feedback culture, and setting boundaries between personal life and work.
Companies are likely to fail if a.) they don’t acknowledge the challenges that transitioning to remote work will bring and b.) they don’t tackle them. Always remember that implementing remote work is a learning process - but everyone can learn it.
The short answer is no. Implementing remote work overnight can be overwhelming for your team and management. Even if you have to shift to remote work suddenly - for example, because of a pandemic - change your processes gradually.
At first, move all meetings to video conferencing, but don’t cancel them. Start by implementing the ‘best practices’ for effective meetings: obligatory agendas, using headphones, writing notes and documenting outcomes. Once the team has improved meeting culture, you can start asking whether more of these real-time meetings could be moved to asynchronous conversations - like video messages.
It is important to remember that implementing ‘best practices’ requires many changes. You cannot expect to just announce a new process to the team once, but be prepared for insisting, repeating, and trouble-shooting. If you try to change everything simultaneously, your team members will inevitably get lost.
In general, I recommend transitioning gradually to remote work to minimize disrupting the team’s productivity. Of course, during a global pandemic, it might be inevitable that the entire company stays home for a period of time.
Under normal circumstances, it’s best to go step by step: Organize employees in small, autonomous teams. Shift each to remote work as a complete unit one at a time before you turn to the next.
Avoid creating ‘second-class citizens’ that work remotely: If some team members are working remotely while the rest are sitting together in the office, chances are they’ll be excluded from important information. Team members in the office will not understand nor address the new challenges of their colleagues working remotely.
This can be a good strategy to begin with. If everyone works from home during certain times, the team will start to appreciate some benefits like flexibility while learning how to set up a productive routine and work environment.
However, you won’t be able to reap all the benefits of a remote work structure. You need team members to be able to work remotely permanently if you want to flexibly recruit from anywhere in the world. Key requirements for remote work (e.g., more transparency, better documentation, and asynchronous communication) are only taken seriously if everyone is working remotely all the time.
The way your company’s founders and first team members communicate and make decisions lays the foundation for the company culture. If you are starting your company today, I recommend going remote from day one. This way, you can build remote work into your company culture from the start.
Remember that teamwork is best if everyone is on the same page: everyone works remotely, or everyone works from an office space. Hybrid teams are the hardest to manage, and you should avoid them by always slowly transitioning complete teams to remote work.
This also holds true for co-founders, who tend to work in the same location starting off. For teams that plan on becoming remote, I recommend founders shift most discussions to video conferences and meet only once a week (or month) in person. Be sure to also reserve time for socializing, like going for drinks or doing other activities.
As soon as you hire a new team member who’s not in your location, it is crucial that founders, too, start to work remotely on a full-time basis. If not, you will put those working remotely at a substantial disadvantage: They will have less access to information and feel more socially isolated.
Your manager should not try to measure your work by the amount of hours you put in. Metrics should be based on work outcomes, not work input.
Focus on meeting the goals and objectives you set with your manager, and report on the results every day, every week, and every quarter. This way, your work speaks for itself.
One of the main benefits of working remotely is that you can organize your day however it makes sense to you. But sometimes it may seem hard to draw boundaries.
Consider these two scenarios: In the first scenario, work life and personal time are mixed all the time. You jump from doing some work to cooking, you go back to do some work, a friend calls, you work for thirty minutes, then your partner needs help with something. If your day looks like this, it will be impossible to concentrate and be productive in your job.
In the second scenario, you usually have three or four hours of uninterrupted, deep work in the morning. You take a break to have lunch with your family or work out and relax your mind. Then you go back to have different meetings for about three hours, taking a break to pick up your kids, and maybe work a little bit more before switching off for the day.
Your work day does not have to follow the standard nine-to-five schedule, but it has to allow for blocks of two, three or four hours of concentrated, uninterrupted work time. This will help you maximize quality time in your personal life as well as your productivity when you work.
Most definitely! Meetings are absolutely necessary for the ‘high-bandwidth’ synchronous communication I mentioned before. However, try to reduce the number of meetings as much as possible and maximize their efficiency. Remember that if you are just beginning to implement remote work, the transition process should be gradual. Don’t cut every meeting overnight.
The best practice of remote work is not to abandon meetings altogether, but to a.) make them as efficient as possible and b.) reserve meetings for the communication that really requires them.
Why keep meetings to a minimum? Most of us have tasks that require deep work, and frequent meetings can be disruptive to this kind of work. I highly recommend you to try to organize meetings into certain time slots and free up blocks of several hours without distraction every day. Your team and manager may thank you for the rise in productivity.
Many, if not most meetings can be gradually replaced with well-structured, public documentation and smart asynchronous communication. Sending messages as mini-videos can reap almost the same benefits as talking face-to-face on video calls. Enabling team members to find the information they need by themselves rather than having to call a colleague saves everyone time. And lastly, cutting meetings does not mean cutting opportunities to socialize - there are better formats to encourage team bonding.
A basic rule is to have an agenda outlined ahead of every single meeting. Everyone needs to know the items to be discussed and the expected outcomes of the meeting. I would also advise to have a participant volunteer to keep a watch on time for each section of the agenda.
Every meeting also needs a note taker. This helps to keep the conversation focused and creates a record of the meeting for anyone who couldn’t be there. A meeting should close with a list of action items, including the ‘what’, ‘who’, and ‘when’ of action plans.
Start with a good work environment with little background noise and the right hardware. You don’t need to invest in the best headphones on the market, but a set of proper headphones - and microphones - not the ones that are in your laptop - are a minimum.
Next, invest in the best video conferencing software. As mentioned, Zoom is generally considered the best. Depending on your company’s budget and requirements of infrastructure or data regulation, you might opt for a different provider.
As the founder and CEO of a fast-growing company, I have a lot of meetings, so I appreciate a tool that helps me to organize them. My recommendation: Avoid having meetings spread out throughout your entire work day, or you won’t be able to get anything done. Clockwise automatically moves meetings into blocks to help maximize focus time.
Being able to hire talent from anywhere in the world is one of the great advantages of remote work. However, if you hire new team members from abroad, you will have to pay attention to local labor and business laws. Handling international salary transfers, dealing with tax payments and social benefits, compliance with laws and regulation on everything from contracting to privacy rights - all of this will take research and planning, or contracting an HR firm.
At Microverse, we are experienced in building a very international workforce. Feel free to reach out on Twitter, @arielcamus or @microverseinc if you have questions about this. Despite the effort, the benefits of hiring from around the world are tremendous.
If you are limiting yourself to only hiring locally - or in a single time zone - you are limiting your talent pool. If you can hire in any time zone, anywhere in the world, you are able to find the best person for the job regardless of where they live.
Having a team spread across time zones is a unique challenge for management. Paying attention to proper documentation, improving asynchronous communication with video messages, and measuring performance by outcomes instead of inputs work will make your team more successful.
Hiring employees in foreign countries may tempt you to hire team members as external contractors. In many locations, this may be possible as long as your company is small. Eventually, local laws might require you to transition them to full-time employee status. Incorporating a local subsidiary might be necessary.
An alternative is to work with HR service companies like Deel, Remote, Pilot or Papaya Global. These service providers have local companies set up in many countries of the world and can hire your employees on your behalf. This also ensures you are compliant with local laws, including taxes and mandatory social benefits.
You should first research the basic requirements for hiring employees in that country. If you are legally required to incorporate a company for hiring someone - or if you are planning to hire from so many locations that the research alone seems daunting - you may opt for an HR service provider. The companies I mentioned above - Deel, Remote, Pilot or Papaya Global - will take care of local contracts, including compliance with local laws and regulation.
If you hire team members from abroad, you will have to pay their salary to a local bank. To save international transaction fees, check out solutions like Wise. However, for larger volumes of international transactions, it might be worth hiring a specialized HR service firm. We use Rippling for our HR processes, such as onboarding new colleagues. Depending on where the hires are located, Rippling can process ACH or international wire transfers for managing the team’s payroll.
Hiring internationally gives you access to a larger and more diverse talent pool. Diversity of talent creates more diverse ideas. It enables your team to look at problems from more than one perspective, and can make your company more innovative overall. It also lends well to fostering an international client base.
Having a diverse team also creates a virtuous cycle for attracting a more diverse talent pool. New prospects are more likely to join if they can identify with people on your team, or if they’re drawn to working on a diverse team.
As an added benefit, hiring internationally enables you to hire more competitively. This also affects salaries, as talent is cheaper in many locations around the world compared to the US or Western Europe. By offering a salary somewhere in the middle between the local average and the US market, you will be able to pay a highly competitive salary while still saving the company money.
Make sure they want to join your team for the right reasons. It is not uncommon for a candidate to look for remote work because they want to be a digital nomad. Be wary if they only want the job so that they can constantly travel.
Some might interpret “flexible” work times as working some hours here, some hours there. Try to ensure that applicants have the level of commitment that the position requires. Ideally, candidates already have previous experience of working remotely and managing their own time. If they are new to remote work, plan the onboarding accordingly to give them the guidance they need.
As a basic rule, do not drop any interview step you would consider important in local hiring practices. Whether it is testing for technical knowledge or probing to see if the candidate is a cultural fit, make sure you find a way to implement every step remotely. Not all steps of the interview process have to be carried out through a real-time call or video meeting.
The interview needs to cover the experience with and expectations towards remote work. Be clear about both the benefits and challenges, and ask them about their own strategies to stay productive when working autonomously.
At Microverse, we use Hireflix in our first interview round with pre-recorded questions. Candidates have three to five minutes to record their video answer. This allows us to conduct the initial round in an asynchronous way, without the pain of scheduling across time zones. In addition, you gain some “superpowers” - like being able to watch the responses at 1.5x or double speed. We can also share the interview with other team members for diverse feedback, which helps to avoid bias in the process.
Companies are split on this: Basecamp, for example, pays equal salaries regardless of the location, while companies like GitLab and Microsoft adjust the salary to the local conditions.
While it may seem unjust at first to pay a different salary for the same position, consider this scenario: You have employees in, say, Eastern Europe (a low-cost location), and the San Francisco bay area (a high-cost location).
If you pay a salary that averages both locations, you will not pay competitively enough to recruit any candidate from San Francisco. If you adjust to the location with the highest cost and pay everyone the salary level of San Francisco, your payroll expenses will be sky-rocketing. Overspending on salaries in low-cost destinations is inefficient.
If you want to hire the best talent from diverse locations with different costs of living, you will need to adjust salaries. At Microverse, we strive to stay both fair and competitive by adjusting 70% of salaries to the local cost of living. Numbeo is a good reference point to compare local living costs. Taking San Francisco as a baseline, we use the 50th percentile of San Francisco salary levels. Seventy percent of that will be adjusted to reflect your local costs, while 30% of this salary is granted to everyone. This is a more efficient way to use our resources.
Employees are happy, too, because our salaries are competitive enough in San Francisco and above local averages in most other locations.
The short answer is yes. If you are hiring flexibly in locations and time zones across the world, you will be able to access talent at lower costs than in most Western countries.
However, saving money should never be your main motivation to transition to remote work. The main benefit of a remote workforce is access to a more diverse talent pool - and the advantages that team diversity brings to your business.
Remote work is one of the most transformative economic trends the world has seen in generations. For employers and workers alike - not to mention our global society and our natural world - the rewards are too compelling to ignore.
We’ve done our best to provide thorough and insightful responses to the questions we hear the most when it comes to running and scaling a business through remote work. But there are plenty more questions to be asked, and we are always more than happy to answer them.
We’re also happy to be a resource for remote teams. If you are looking to hire talented remote developers, we’d love to help. Learn why hiring a Microverse alum might be the best fit for your company.