Building a Remote Team: Everything You Need to Know | Teami

Building a Remote Team: Everything You Need to Know

Everything you need to build and lead a thriving remote team. Proven strategies around communication, culture, tools, and legal considerations.

Remote work is redefining the future of business. But many struggle to manage distributed teams. Between communication barriers, legal complexities, and technology learning curves, remote work poses hurdles. This leaves managers worldwide craving guidance. How do you build rapport with virtual colleagues? What tools revolutionize collaboration across time zones? Which remote work pioneer sets the gold standard? 

This comprehensive guide unlocks it all. You'll discover proven practices around transparency, security, hiring, and culture building. The data shows these strategies enable the immense productivity and cost benefits of remote teams. Follow this playbook to lead your distributed team to new heights.

The Evolution and Significance of Remote Work at GitLab

GitLab's Remote Work Journey

GitLab started out in 2011 as a small startup with team members working together in a shared physical office. However, right from the beginning, the founders planned for GitLab to eventually become a fully remote company. In 2014, after three years of operating with a traditional office setup, GitLab took the plunge into remote work.

The transition was gradual, with team members slowly shifting to working from home over the course of a year. This phased approach allowed GitLab to carefully build up the infrastructure and processes needed to support an all-remote workforce. It also gave team members time to adjust to the new way of working.

One of the biggest initial challenges was ensuring communication and collaboration remained seamless despite employees being distributed worldwide. GitLab overcame this by being very intentional about implementing practices like asynchronous communication, documentation of processes, and virtual social interaction.

Within a year of going remote, GitLab was already seeing tremendous benefits. Productivity increased by 20% across teams and the ability to hire talented team members globally supercharged innovation. Cost savings from eliminating office space also enabled quicker expansion.

Today, GitLab has embraced being an all-remote company as a core part of its identity. With over 1,300 team members in more than 65 countries, GitLab is living proof that remote models can enable immense growth and progress. The company's successful remote journey continues to inspire other organizations to make the shift.

The Role of Transparency and Documentation

Transparency and documentation have been pivotal to the effectiveness of GitLab's remote work culture. All company information is documented and publicly accessible through the GitLab handbook. This includes details on goals, metrics, salaries, processes, and team structure.

Such radical transparency enables all team members to stay aligned despite physical distance. Anyone can look up information needed to collaborate smoothly with other teams. Explicit documentation also minimizes reliance on tribal knowledge that's often lost when working remotely.

In addition, GitLab makes all company OKRs (objectives and key results) visible to everyone. This allows each team member to see how their role ladders up to broader company goals. Transparency around OKRs is credited for faster execution and better alignment at GitLab.

Embracing Informal Communication

While documentation helps align distributed teams, informal social interaction is still vital for bonding and creativity. GitLab replicates the social aspects of office life through initiatives like virtual coffee breaks.

Team members are encouraged to use video chat to take quick casual breaks together. The conversations may have nothing to do with work and simply involve getting to know colleagues better. This fosters meaningful connections that inspire collaboration.

GitLab also provides a stipend for team building activities and hosts virtual trivia nights. Birthdays are celebrated across the company with video calls. Such purposeful efforts to enable playfulness and informal socializing are key to keeping remote teams engaged.

In summary, GitLab's successful evolution into an all-remote company exemplifies how remote models can enable growth. The strategic emphasis on transparency, documentation and informal communication continues to be instrumental in nurturing an aligned, collaborative remote culture. GitLab paves the way for other companies to unlock the myriad benefits of remote work.

Challenges and Solutions in Managing Remote Teams

Common Challenges in Remote Work

Remote work can pose unique hurdles that require proactive solutions. Communicating effectively despite distance barriers tends to be the primary difficulty. With team members spread across locations, crucial in-person interactions are lost. This can lead to feelings of isolation and misalignment around goals. Bridging time zone gaps also proves challenging. Finding mutual times for collaboration gets harder with global dispersion.

Building trust and camaraderie within distributed teams is another common obstacle. Lack of face-to-face rapport can result in misunderstandings and low morale. Onboarding new remote team members smoothly can also be an issue. It's tougher for them to grasp company culture and feel connected when working remotely.

Managing a remote team across countries involves navigating various legal complexities. HR policies and regulations often differ between regions. Employers must ensure compliance with labor laws based on where each employee resides.

Taxes represent another consideration. Withholding and remitting payroll taxes correctly requires understanding each location's requirements. Data privacy regulations like GDPR also apply when company data is accessed globally. Failing to meet security standards has steep penalties.

Solutions to Remote Work Challenges

Virtual communication tools like Zoom and Slack enable teams to collaborate despite distance. Encouraging constant, open communication alleviates roadblocks. Daily stand-up video calls and persistent chat channels keep everyone looped in.

Proactively discussing potential time zone challenges is prudent. Core collaboration times when all employees overlap should be established. Individuals can further indicate preferences for meeting times in their time zone.

Fostering camaraderie within remote teams requires creativity. Virtual coffee breaks, trivia sessions, and "water cooler" chat channels facilitate informal bonding. Company-funded lunches and gatherings build rapport. More structured efforts like mentorship programs, buddy systems, and new hire orientations also help nurture relationships and alignment.

Seeking qualified legal counsel is key to ensuring compliance across regions. Robust data security and access control policies must be implemented to meet regulations. Leveraging HR software streamlines managing policies, taxes, and payroll locally.

In summary, challenges like communication barriers and legalities are common but surmountable pitfalls in managing remote teams. Purposeful use of technology, structured socializing, and expert guidance enable distributed teams to collaborate smoothly. The solutions outlined equip organizations to unlock remote work's myriad benefits.

Embracing Flexibility and Balance in Remote Work

The Benefits of Flexibility

One of the most touted advantages of remote work is the increased flexibility it offers employees. With a distributed team, the emphasis shifts from mandating rigid in-office hours to embracing a "work from anywhere" mentality. As long as excellent work is delivered on time, employees have the freedom to choose when and where they get their work done. This flexibility enables better integration of personal and professional life.

According to a recent survey by Teami, over 75% of remote workers reported higher job satisfaction thanks to schedule flexibility. The autonomy to manage their own time allows employees to be more productive when they feel energized. It also means accommodating personal responsibilities like doctor appointments or caring for children. Remote workers can take advantage of flexibility to avoid wasting time commuting and maximize meaningful working hours instead.

Embracing work from anywhere philosophies also unlocks new possibilities for employees. Remote team members can choose to work while traveling, or even live somewhere more affordable without changing jobs. Such location independence expands opportunities for a better quality of life. The inherent flexibility of distributed teams is redefining how work can be structured around living rather than the other way around.

Balancing Work and Life

While autonomy and flexibility are advantages of remote work, they also require employees to be proactive about work-life balance. Without the physical separation between office and home, remote workers must make conscious efforts to disconnect and prioritize well-being.

Strategies like maintaining regular work hours, taking hourly breaks, and designating separate workspaces at home help avoid burnout. Managers should encourage remote team members to take advantage of flexible schedules to switch off during the workday when needed. 

Disconnecting from work while on vacation and after work hours is also vital.

Remote teams must nurture a culture that values mental health and prevents overwork. Enabling employees to work asynchronously means trusting that work will get done without constant monitoring. Managers should offer incentives for taking time off and lead by example when going on vacation.

Formal company programs promoting wellness provide additional support. Remote fitness classes, virtual social events, mental health days and more demonstrate a commitment to holistic employee health. By proactively embracing balance alongside flexibility, remote teams gain all the advantages while avoiding potential pitfalls.

The Role of Technology in Remote Work

Essential Tools for Remote Teams

The rise of remote work would not be possible without the array of digital tools and platforms that enable effective collaboration and communication regardless of physical location. Tools like Zoom, Slack, Asana and Trello have become indispensable for connecting distributed teams and streamlining workflows.

Video conferencing apps like Zoom facilitate meetings, presentations, and casual virtual interactions through features like screen sharing and real-time video/audio. Messaging platforms such as Slack enable quick communication through channels, direct messages and integrations with other software.

Project management tools including Asana and Trello empower teams to organize workflows, assign tasks, and track progress on a shared virtual workspace. Such software replaces physical whiteboards and sticky notes to align distributed teams around priorities.

The market for remote work tools continues to expand with cutting-edge solutions focused on everything from documentation to security. Choosing the right mix of tools for each team's needs and ensuring proper onboarding is key to improving engagement and productivity within remote organizations.

Security Considerations in Remote Work

While software unlocks new ways of remote collaboration, it also poses potential security risks that companies must mitigate. Sensitive company data is more vulnerable to leaks or exposure when accessed remotely on personal, unsecured devices.

Tools like virtual private networks (VPNs), endpoint protection software and multi-factor authentication provide encryption and access control to minimize data breach risks. Monitoring systems can also detect abnormal activity and unauthorized access attempts.

Comprehensive employee cybersecurity training is equally important. Distributing security policies and best practices, like strong unique passwords and software updates, reduces employee-related vulnerabilities.

For companies with field teams, mobile device management (MDM) software secures and controls how corporate data is accessed on smartphones and tablets. Overall, proactive security steps allow businesses to benefit from remote tools without compromising data integrity.

The Importance of Continuous Learning

The fast pace of technological change makes ongoing learning vital for remote teams. Online learning platforms like Udemy and Coursera enable remote workers to develop new skills anywhere, anytime through on-demand video courses and certifications.

Companies should subsidize such e-learning tools and allow time for employees to pursue development opportunities aligned to current role needs. Learning pathways tailored to building skills in areas like virtual communication, time management, and project management can boost remote work success.

Informal peer learning powered by tools like Slack or LinkedIn groups also lets distributed team members share expertise. Along with structured training and mentorships, continuous remote learning sustains employee engagement, capability building and career advancement despite physical separation.

A robust technology stack empowers collaboration, while ongoing learning and security enable teams to optimize remote work. As tools continue advancing, embracing the right solutions unlocks productivity and innovation.

Building a Strong Remote Team Culture

Virtual Team-Building Activities

Fostering a cohesive team culture can be challenging when working remotely. Virtual team building activities are essential for bringing remote teams together and facilitating trust and rapport between colleagues who may never meet face-to-face.

Some fun and engaging virtual team building ideas include:

  • Virtual escape rooms - Team members collaborate to solve puzzles and escape from a themed room within a set time limit. The goal is to promote communication and problem-solving skills.

  • Online games - Playing games like, a virtual Pictionary, and Geoguessr, where you guess locations on Google Street View, sparks friendly competition and camaraderie.

  • Virtual cooking classes - Cooking the same dish while on a video call and then enjoying the meal together is a unique shared experience.

  • Remote movie/TV watching - Services like Teleparty enable teams to synchronize their streaming and chat while watching movies or shows, replicating hanging out together.

  • Virtual talent shows - Team members can showcase creativity and humor by performing skits, music, comedy routines, magic tricks etc. for their colleagues.

  • Online "water cooler" chats - Informal video calls without an agenda foster social bonding. The conversations don't have to be work-related.

  • Remote volunteering - Giving back together, even virtually, such as preparing care packages for those in need, brings fulfillment and unites teams.

Making team building a priority rather than an afterthought is key to nurturing relationships, boosting morale, and strengthening alignment across distributed teams.

Celebrating Achievements Remotely

Recognizing achievements is an integral component of maintaining high employee morale and engagement within remote teams. Without being physically present together, managers need to be intentional about identifying and celebrating shared team successes virtually.

Publicly highlighting excellent work on company chat channels with specific positive feedback nurtures a culture of appreciation. Send congratulatory video messages for completed projects or milestones met. If appropriate, connect team-wide accomplishments to company objectives met to showcase alignment.

For significant achievements, personalized virtual notes, e-cards or remote gift deliveries make employees feel valued. Support teams in organizing their own virtual celebrations on meeting targets. Enable peer recognition by creating reward systems where team members can nominate colleagues for acknowledgement.

Annual virtual award ceremonies offer opportunities to celebrate top contributions company-wide, with categories likemost innovative campaign, rising star, and team player of the year. For remote teams, taking the time to recognize achievements prevents disengagement and sustains workplace culture even without in-person celebrations.

Case Studies of Successful Remote Teams

Studying real-world examples of companies with thriving remote work cultures provides valuable insights. Software company GitLab attributes its all-remote journey to over a decade of sustained growth to radical transparency practices.

All essential company information lives on a public handbook accessible to everyone in the organization. This allows employees to stay aligned and move fast despite being distributed across over 65 countries.

Automattic, the developers behind Wordpress, credits its remote work success to embracing asynchronous communication. With team members dispersed globally across time zones, relying on real-time collaboration is inefficient. Instead, Automattic focuses on written, documented conversations that enable workers to concentrate without constant interruptions.

Zapier, builder of workflow automation software, has a remote team of over 300 across 17 time zones. To engage employees, Zapier replicates informal office socializing through daily group chat channels on non-work topics and providing co-working stipends for coworking memberships.

Such purposeful efforts to adapt management strategies and foster connection are why these companies continue to thrive as remote-first organizations. Studying their remote team best practices provides actionable guidance.

Virtual team building activities, celebrating achievements remotely, and learning from proven remote team success stories are key ingredients for nurturing cohesion and engagement within distributed teams. Prioritizing team culture establishes a solid foundation for remote work success.

Tips for Leaders and Employees in Remote Teams

Best Practices for Managing Remote Teams

Leading a remote team requires adopting strategies to foster alignment, collaboration, and engagement despite physical distance. Here are some best practices for managers to enable remote team success:

  • Maintain open communication through regular video calls, persistent chat channels, and asynchronous forums. Encourage questions and feedback.

  • Build trust and relationships by scheduling regular virtual coffee chats and social events. Get to know team members personally.

  • Document processes extensively and make information transparent to keep distributed teams aligned. Leverage tools like wikis.

  • Set clear objectives and key results (OKRs) to provide direction. Track progress through project management platforms.

  • Recognize achievements publicly and celebrate wins virtually to boost morale. Spotlight excellent work.

  • Onboard new hires smoothly with comprehensive virtual orientations on culture, systems, and introductions.

  • Listen to concerns about isolation or burnout. Adjust workflows to prevent fatigue. Lead by example with healthy work-life balance.

Adopting remote leadership strategies focused on communication, transparency, and relationship building enables managers to unlock the potential of distributed teams.

Tips for Remote Employees

To maximize productivity and wellbeing while working remotely, employees should:

  • Set up a dedicated workspace with proper ergonomics - screen height, chair support, external keyboard etc.

  • Structure your day by creating routines and sticking to regular work hours. Take breaks.

  • Minimize distractions by silencing phones, closing extra browser tabs, shutting email pop-ups.

  • Overcommunicate with managers and colleagues to avoid misalignment. Confirm next steps.

  • Practice active timeboxing to tackle tasks efficiently. Specify blocks of focused time.

  • Enable location flexibility but change settings to avoid working from bed. Alter scenery outdoors.

  • Prioritize relationships. Suggest virtual coffee chats. Participate in remote social events.

  • Avoid isolation and disconnecting after work hours. Maintain social rhythms.

  • Proactively flag any issues like unclear goals or obstacles. Ask for support early.

Equipping yourself with discipline, communication skills and time management will help you thrive as a remote employee.

Actionable Checklists for Remote Work

For Leaders

  •  Set team objectives and key results (OKRs)

  •  Implement project management system

  •  Facilitate daily check-ins

  •  Document processes on wikis

  •  Schedule 1-1s with each direct report

  •  Recognize employee achievements publicly

  •  Develop virtual onboarding program for new hires

  •  Frequently request feedback on workflows

For Remote Employees

  •  Define your workspace setup

  •  Map out ideal daily routine

  •  Set communication preferences

  •  Download collaboration tools

  •  Outline policies on focusing hours

  •  Enable do not disturb settings

  •  Plan for social interaction

  •  Request needed hardware

  •  Log any pain points

Following structured checklists helps leaders and individuals implement proven remote work practices for maximum success. Being proactive with preparation prevents potential pitfalls.

GitLab's Hiring Process

GitLab has pioneered a radically transparent hiring process that gives candidates unprecedented insight into compensation and role expectations. Right from the job posting, interested applicants can access a transparent compensation calculator to estimate the salary range based on their location and role.

This upfront salary transparency helps attract qualified candidates who can assess if the compensation aligns to their expectations. It also builds trust in GitLab as an ethical employer. Further, the interview process involves conversations with future potential coworkers, not just HR, providing the candidate visibility into day-to-day working relationships.

GitLab ensures hiring transparency extends to outlining regional differences in contract terms and benefits based on local laws. Their publicly accessible country hiring guidelines cover key considerations when hiring remote employees internationally. Such steps demonstrate how remote-first companies can hire effectively at scale while championing transparency.

When building a remote team with employees distributed worldwide, navigating local legal and regulatory requirements is crucial. Employers must ensure compliance in areas like:

  • Employment contracts - The terms for full-time hires may vary by country based on labor laws. Multi-region legal review is prudent.

  • Payroll and taxes - Withholding and remitting payroll taxes correctly requires understanding each location's laws and tax treaties between countries.

  • Data security regulations - Rules around data access and storage location (e.g. GDPR) must be followed to avoid steep penalties.

  • Benefits - Health insurance, retirement contributions and leave policies need to align with legal minimums per country.

Tools like Deel and Remote enable automated, compliant hiring and payroll in over 150 countries. Still, securing qualified legal counsel to customize contracts and provide localized support reduces liability risks. The level of cross-border legal complexity makes transparency around regional hiring differences and intentional compliance key for remote organizations.

The Future of Remote Work

Predictions for the Future of Remote Work

The remote work revolution is still in its nascent stages, with ample room for evolution in the coming decade. As global connectivity improves and collaborative technologies advance, remote work adoption will likely see exponential growth.

According to Global Workspace Analytics, the remote workforce could grow to 60% of all US employees by 2025, a drastic increase from pre-pandemic levels of 5%. Enhanced virtual communication driven by AI, automation and VR/AR will enable seamless collaboration at scale. Distributed teams are projected to become the norm rather than the exception across most industries.

Globally, increased acceptance of remote work provides access to talent and growth opportunities irrespective of geography. Emerging freelancing economies centered around online work will redefine employment. Developing countries specifically stand to benefit from tapping into remote roles.

The Role of AI in Remote Work

Artificial intelligence promises to transform virtual teamwork by automating repetitive tasks and enhancing human capabilities. AI-powered tools like Teami's Timeline feature automate time tracking and timesheet management, freeing up hours.

Intelligent virtual assistants can schedule meetings, take notes, transcribe conversations and translate languages in real-time during calls. They act as always-available teammates to offload work. AI will also create hyper-personalized remote experiences curated to individual working styles and needs.

Natural language processing enables smoother communication with virtual colleagues. Solutions like Anthropic's Claude can clarify questions, summarize conversations and suggest responses via AI-powered chat.

Continuous Adaptation in Remote Work

The remote landscape will continue rapidly evolving. To harness the benefits amidst ever-changing dynamics, companies must commit to continuously adapting and experimenting.

Nurturing a culture of flexibility and growth mindset is key. Tools and systems need regular reevaluation to ensure optimal collaboration. Employees should be empowered to regularly give feedback on improving remote workflows.

Training and re-skilling will become continuous endeavors as roles change. Hybrid models combining remote and in-person work also show promise for the best of both worlds. Overall, the future of remote work will be defined by constant learning, iteration and innovation.

In Summary

The remote work revolution is transforming the future of work. As discussed, tools like Zoom and AI assistants are making distributed teams more productive than ever. Radical transparency from pioneers like GitLab is setting new standards. The data shows remote work unlocks immense benefits: 20% productivity boosts, access to global talent, and cost savings.

However, embracing flexibility alongside balance is key. The research on preventing burnout proves companies must prioritize employee wellbeing. Legal considerations also require due diligence when hiring globally.

Remote work undoubtedly faces evolving challenges. But the proven strategies around communication, documentation, security, training, and culture building provide actionable solutions. Managers worldwide now have a blueprint to enable remote team success.

Distributed models are the future of work. The question is not whether teams should go remote - but how well they can adapt. Companies who continuously innovate and experiment will shape the remote revolution. The rewards for committed adaptation are boundless.

As GitLab's Sid Sijbrandij predicts, location independence unlocks "better lives for everyone." The remote genie is out of the bottle. The future is now.

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