Working as part of a remote SAAS sales team is the future; more people than ever are working virtually. 

And though remote work was already a growing trend, the pandemic has really pushed virtual work to the forefront, leaving some companies scrambling to adapt.  

Changes can be difficult, especially when we’re unprepared for them, and it takes time to get used to doing things differently. 

Certainly, technology provides businesses with lots of tools to help their team stay connected, but it takes more than gadgets to put an effective remote team in place that performs well. 

Over the last couple of decades, I’ve spent a lot of time working with virtual teams, and in that time, I’ve learned a few things that will help to improve any remote team’s performance. 

1. Communication

Communication is key. It needs to be open and fairly frequent to be effective. 

Ineffective communication can lead to frustration and a reduction in individual and/or team performance. Just as they would in an “office environment”, employees need to see their manager communicating effectively. 

Some things to consider that will help: 

  • Share your daily agenda and/or status updates
  • Write down key processes and guidelines
  • Schedule a weekly meeting with the entire team where people can share updates, ask questions, and even just talk about what’s happening in their lives.
  • Schedule one-to-one meetings 

2. Be transparent

Make sure that people know why and how their efforts support the company vision and mission. 

Here are some ways you can help facilitate this goal.: 

  • Don’t pretend that you’ve got everything figured out. Share your vision and mission with your team and ask for their input on how they could help make the vision a reality. 
  • Watch your focus. Your team needs both the “big picture” and the smaller, day-to-day tasks and goals to help motivate and encourage them. This is even more important when they’re part of a remote team. 

Be brief. Make your vision/mission statement as concise as possible. This helps your team to easily remember, and it encourages them to adopt the vision for themselves. 

3. Set clear goals and accountability

Working remotely has its own share of challenges when you’re an individual. Add in the need to work with others and you’re adding another level of complexity. 

Make sure the goals that you and your team set are clear and attainable. Use the well-known and effective acronym “SMART”, when creating goals and tasks. 

  • Specific – state exactly what needs done and who needs to do it 
  • Measurable – when necessary, use mini-goals or milestones to measure progress 
  • Achievable – make sure that they’re attainable in the time allotted
  • Realistic – make your goals “results” based, not “efforts” based
  • Timely – set deadlines, making sure that you’ve allotted plenty of time for the task(s) that need done 

By having goals that are clear and attainable, your team won’t feel unproductive or frustrated.  

Rather than have daily goals, set them weekly. This allows your team to schedule how they get things done in a way that fits with their life. 

For daily goals, encourage each team member to set their own goals and to measure those goals against the overall objectives of the work that needs done.

4. Acknowledge each person’s contribution

There’s no faster way to undermine a work environment than by showing a lack of trust either as a manager or as a co-worker.  

Managers who show confidence and trust in their team encourage each person to find meaning and purpose in their individual contributions to the organization. 

Take the time during weekly meetings to highlight the achievements of both individuals and teams; sharing recent wins and challenges that were overcome. 

Doing this helps team members to feel valued and spurs them on to repeat their success going forward.

5. Use the right tools

There are a lot of tools out there to help remote teams be successful. So how do you know which ones you need and/or which ones are the right ones for you? 

Look for tools that: 

  • Are easy to learn/implement 
  • Work across different platforms and that includes cloud based features
  • Offer multiple views of tasks, projects, etc. (calendar, list, Agile, Kanban, etc.)
  • Include collaboration through chat or video
  • Have a built-in CRM
  • Allow both local and cloud storage for documents 

6. Design a workflow that works for everyone

Set a particular range of hours where everyone is available to at least check-in and/or answer their teammates’ questions. Aside from this, however, if possible, allow each team member to manage their own schedules. 

Team management tools make it easy for everyone in a team to see what needs done and to update the status of projects. Many of these tools also allow time tracking so that you can see how much time was spent on a project and if possible, spread the work out more evenly if needed.

7. Schedule face time

Schedule both a weekly video conference for your entire team and one-on-one meetings.  

This helps everyone get to know each other better and encourages a spirit of teamwork that can really boost both productivity and employee retention. 

When attending one-on-one meetings, if you’re the lead, ask open-ended questions, then let your co-worker share; try to spend twice as much time listening as you do talking.

8. Be flexible

Be flexible in your communication channels; too much video is exhausting.  

Chat and email are perfectly acceptable ways to share information between team members, but as noted earlier, ensure that everyone knows what’s expected of them in terms of both productivity and communication. 

For example, have at least one video meeting each week where everybody checks in with status updates and to connect with everyone else on the team.

9. Set a meeting agenda

Make sure everyone has an agenda ahead of time so they can gather the information and materials they need for the meeting to be productive.

10. Enable opportunities to build relationships

Team building will look different when done remotely, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.  

Help your team forge stronger relationships and discover how they can support and encourage each other. 

For example, designate team “cheerleaders”. 

We’ve all known “cheerleaders” in our lives; those people who are naturally gifted at building rapport with others, and whose genuine enthusiasm for what they do is contagious.  

Enlist these individuals’ help with designing “team building” activities and their enthusiasm will naturally spread to the entire team.

11. Encourage recovery time

It’s important for people to take some time off to recharge for both their mental and physical health. 

And while there are a lot of benefits to remote work, the temptation to do “just one more thing” can lead to burnout. 

Smart managers encourage their team to take some time off to unwind; people need recovery time to be at their best. 

Some recommendations to doing this include: 

  • Encouraging team members to create a literal boundary between their personal and professional lives. One suggestion is to provide a stipend that helps them to create a dedicated workspace which is not a part of their personal space. 
  • Have them turn off their work and email notifications after “leaving work” for the day.
  • Encourage team members to take vacations.
  • Volunteering can have a significant impact on mental wellness. Offer paid time off for those who want to volunteer their time to a worthy cause. 

Model work-life balance in front of your team. When they see that you’re always “on”, they’ll feel obliged to do the same. Likewise, when you “practice what you preach” in terms of taking time off, they’ll feel relaxed about doing the same.    

12. Don’t “micromanage” your team

Give teams permission to manage their time as they need. Do this by setting the focus on the big picture result, not the individual tasks to get there. 

This frees up people to work in the way that best suits them and their personality, and by trusting them to do the work you empower them to bring their best to the table every day.  

One way to implement this is to set up routine reports, like the team at Zapier does. Here’s what co-founder and CEO Wayne Foster does with his team: 

“We have a few rituals for this[regular check-ins] at Zapier. Managers start the week off by having one-on-ones with their direct reports. These are critical, and everyone does them weekly—no exceptions. Regardless of where you work, your relationship with your manager is your primary connection to the company. This connection can’t happen informally. One-on-ones are time for direct reports to share their priorities, advocate for their needs, ask for advice, and talk about their struggles. It’s also a chance to get more personal. How are people doing personally? How can we still meet home commitments? Things like that. This kind of trust building is critical. 

Then, at the end of the week, everyone publishes a Friday update. This is a weekly internal blog post written by every Zapier employee, outlining what progress was made on the top priorities of the week and sharing what their top priority is for the week to come. It’s an easy way to hold people accountable without micromanaging. It also fosters transparency.” 

Image courtesy: Zapier

Bonus tip: Routinely check processes 

Finally, be flexible and determine what is working and what is not.  

Remember…processes are just tools; don’t be afraid to make adjustments along the way if needed.  

After all, which is more important…whether a certain process is followed in a certain way, or that goals are met without sacrificing the well-being of everyone on the team?