Remote Team Agreements: What Are They? | Teami

Remote Team Agreements: What They Are, and How to Create One

Learn how to create effective remote team agreements to empower and align distributed teams.

With remote and hybrid work becoming the norm, structured team agreements are now essential to success. Without clear processes and expectations in place, distributed teams risk misalignment, confusion, and plummeting productivity across locations and time zones.

This article will explore what exactly remote team agreements are, their immense benefits, real-world examples, and most importantly, how to create effective agreements tailored to your team's needs. 

You'll discover best practices for drafting through facilitation and team input, overcoming obstacles, components to include, and maintaining agreements as living documents that evolve. 

Historical Context of Remote Team Agreements

Over the past few decades, remote work has evolved from a niche arrangement to a mainstream way of working embraced by organizations and employees alike. With this growth, structured remote team agreements have become increasingly vital to success.

Evolution of Remote Work

Remote work first emerged in the 1970s and 1980s as technological advances enabled employees to occasionally work from home or on the road. However, it remained relatively uncommon until internet and mobile technology accelerated in the 1990s and 2000s.

As video conferencing, instant messaging, project management software, and cloud-based collaboration tools improved, remote work became more feasible and popular. Organizations began to see the benefits of tapping into talent outside of traditional office locations. Employees appreciated the increased flexibility and work-life balance.

According to Gallup polls, the number of employees working remotely at least some of the time in the United States has risen from 24% in 1995 to over 60% today. The COVID-19 pandemic also spurred a major remote work boom.

Early Challenges of Remote Work

In the early days of remote work, many organizations and teams struggled to adapt. Lack of structure, communication issues, and feelings of isolation were common challenges among distributed team members.

Without clear expectations, guidelines, and processes in place, remote employees often felt disconnected from their teams and managers. Collaboration didn't come as naturally when working across locations and time zones. Miscommunications and confusion around responsibilities frequently occurred.

Over time, leading companies realized structured team agreements could help overcome these obstacles and enable success. Outlining everything from communication protocols to work schedules provided the missing framework.

What is a Remote Team Agreement?

Definition and Purpose

At its core, a remote team agreement codifies the norms, responsibilities, schedules, and policies that will enable seamless collaboration. It outlines everything from daily standup times to documentation conventions and communication channels to individual workstyles.

The overarching purpose is to provide a clear framework for productivity and accountability within remote teams. By proactively addressing potential sources of misalignment, confusion, or frustration, organizations can foster harmony and reduce conflicts.

Comprehensive remote team agreements give distributed employees clarity around goals, workflows, and peer expectations. This leads to smoother coordination across time zones, increased transparency, and faster issue resolution when problems arise.

Benefits of Remote Team Agreements

Well-constructed remote team agreements offer numerous benefits that directly impact productivity, morale, and business outcomes.

Improved clarity around roles and workflows. With clear documentation around individual responsibilities, project plans, and success metrics, remote team members understand how their work fits into broader goals. This enables seamless collaboration.

Proactive conflict resolution processes. Remote team agreements allow organizations to get ahead of potential conflicts by outlining escalation procedures, feedback norms, and mediation plans. This fosters psychological safety.

Enhanced trust and communication norms. By aligning on daily standup times, response expectations, and communication tools, organizations build trust and transparency across distributed teams.

Smoother onboarding. Comprehensive agreements allow new remote team members to quickly get up to speed on guidelines and expectations through a single source of truth. This shortens the onboarding curve.

Increased accountability. With measurable targets, visibility into work status, and periodic peer reviews enshrined in the agreement, remote workers are more accountable for outcomes.

In today's complex business environment, remote team agreements provide the structure and clarity needed to execute rapidly. Without clear expectations, even the most talented teams waste time and energy navigating ambiguity.

Real-World Examples

Effective remote agreements exist across various industries. The popular collaboration tool Notion provides new employees with a Remote Handbook covering cultural values, work habits, and preferred practices.

Tech giant GitLab relies on its 140-page remote team agreement to maintain transparency. Sections cover communication cadences, meeting protocols, social interactions, security policies, and benefits.

QuickBooks' agreement specifies core hours for collaboration along with norms around response times. InVision's agreement sets standards for meeting preparation, calendar sharing, and document organization.

These comprehensive agreements enable the level of coordination required in complex, fast-paced remote environments.

The Role of a Facilitator in Creating Team Agreements

Bringing together distributed employees to co-create a remote team agreement requires skillful facilitation. The facilitator promotes inclusion, surfaces divergent views, and builds consensus.

Importance of Facilitation

Without proper facilitation, creating a productive remote team agreement can be challenging:

  • Dominant personalities may overpower quieter team members, resulting in a lopsided agreement.

  • Hidden frustrations around work styles or communication preferences may not surface.

  • Conflicting needs between departments may not be discussed and resolved.

A trained facilitator makes the process inclusive by encouraging equal participation. They ask targeted questions to uncover challenges and foster healthy debates. By synthesizing divergent views, they build alignment.

Facilitators also safeguard team psychological safety and well-being during potentially contentious discussions. This leads to agreements that work for the entire organization.

Step-by-Step Guidance

An effective facilitator guides teams through creating comprehensive remote work agreements while ensuring high engagement. Key steps include:

Set the stage: Discuss goals, agenda, participation guidelines, and logistics. Explain that disagreements are natural and lead to better outcomes.

Uncover needs: Facilitate activities and discussions asking about individual workstyles, communication preferences, pet peeves, and desired changes.

Identify core themes: Synthesize key takeaways, areas of alignment, and priority needs. Outline a draft agreement.

Refine through dialogue: Guide respectful debate around areas of disagreement to reach compromises. Update the agreement iteratively.

Build consensus: Once the agreement reflects all voices, have each team member confirm their support. Discuss future renewal plans.

Ensure adoption: Keep the agreement top of mind through reminders, audits, and renewals. Update it as needs evolve.

Ensuring Team Alignment

The facilitator's focus should be on setting up the remote team for success. This involves ensuring:

  • All voices are represented equally in the agreement.

  • Individual needs are openly discussed and incorporated.

  • Points of conflict are resolved collaboratively rather than ignored.

  • Solutions balance both business and human needs.

  • The team feels bought into the agreement as their own creation.

With the facilitator promoting transparent dialogue, psychological safety, and compromise, the team ends up aligned around shared guidelines. This empowers the remote team moving forward.

Key Components of a Remote Team Agreement

Constructing an effective remote team agreement requires clearly defining expectations around availability, communication protocols, performance metrics, and more. While each organization has unique needs, certain key components should generally be addressed.

Work Hours and Availability

Establishing aligned team-wide work hours and availability protocols is crucial for organizations with globally distributed members across time zones. Details to outline include core collaboration hours when all team members should be online for meetings and real-time discussion. For example, 10am-4pm EST could provide a reliable daily overlap for team coordination.

You'll also want to document whether remote staff follow standardized hours or have flexibility in their schedules, including common start and end times. Response time expectations should be defined, such as acceptable latency for responding to messages during core hours compared to evenings or weekends. For example, you may set a 4 hour response time during the day and 24 hours on nights and weekends.

Time off policies and procedures for requesting vacation, sick leave, and sabbaticals while handling work coverage are important to establish. And focus time indicators should be determined, so remote workers can communicate their availability status and avoid disturbances when concentration is needed.

Communication Protocols

Specifying how team members should communicate day-to-day is another key component. This includes defining primary platforms and tools for messaging, video calls, documentation, and file sharing.

Meeting policies should establish norms around agendas, prep documents, note taking, and following up on action items. Interruption etiquette can specify when it's acceptable to interrupt urgently versus protocols for non-urgent matters.

You'll also want to determine how your team will align communication practices across different cultures and personalities. And outline how team members can communicate accessibility needs for optimal inclusion during interactions.

With communication protocols defined upfront, team interactions will become more fluid. Frustrations like delayed responses or ineffective meetings can be minimized.

Performance Metrics and Accountability

Proactively establishing metrics for success is pivotal. This includes setting individual and team targets for quantitative goals like sales, launches, customer satisfaction, and releases. Milestones should be defined around project timelines, sprint completion, and product roadmap checkpoints.

You'll also want to determine how productivity will be tracked, whether through time logs, progress reports, task management or other means. And establish routines for feedback cycles like peer reviews, 1:1 manager check-ins, and self-assessments.

With clear metrics and accountability processes, remote teams can stay focused on achieving results. This also equips organizations to better support professional growth.

Steps to Draft a Remote Team Agreement

Gathering Team Input

The first critical step is gathering authentic input from all team members. Effective ways to solicit feedback include conducting surveys to uncover pain points, best practices, and desired changes. 1:1 conversations can provide two-way dialogue personalized to individual work styles, motivations, and needs. 

Focus groups allow exploring themes and solutions in small group discussions. And collaborative workshops guide teams to align on priorities and practices through highly-interactive sessions.

It's important to proactively address any concerns around micromanagement during this process. And promote psychological safety so team members feel comfortable contributing candid perspectives.

Drafting the Agreement

With broad organizational input gathered, the next step is thoughtfully drafting an initial agreement. This involves synthesizing key themes from team discussions to translate into policies and guidelines. 

Content should be organized into navigable sections for readability. A balance of structure and flexibility is important to enable focus while supporting individual workstyles.

Existing team agreements can be reviewed for inspiration, but each organization has unique needs. Simple language works best initially, allowing for more nuance over time as required.

Revising and Finalizing

The final step is revising and finalizing the agreement through an iterative process. Before finalizing, verify all voices have been reflected equitably. Establish a review cadence for future updates, an approval process for changes, and success metrics to continually gauge effectiveness. Treat the agreement as a living document that evolves alongside remote work needs.

Challenges in Remote Team Agreements and Solutions

Time Zone Differences

Coordinating work across global time zones poses difficulties when creating agreements. Without care, team members may feel excluded from collaboration or inconvenienced by odd hour meetings.

Fair solutions involve defining reasonable core hour windows that work for all employees. For example, having a consistent 2-3 hour overlap where distributed team members can connect for standups, spontaneous discussions, and non-urgent meetings.

Allowing flexible scheduling outside of core collaboration times empowers people to adapt hours to their region and productivity rhythms. Asynchronous communication via platforms like Slack enables seamless coordination outside simultaneous work periods.

Clearly documenting expectations within the agreement itself mitigates confusion. For instance, team members in California begin work at 10am Pacific Time, which equates to 1pm for colleagues in New York.

When scheduling events, time zones should be accommodated to avoid very early or late meetings for certain team members. Occasionally varying meeting times provides balance.

Most importantly, any time zone-related frustrations should be discussed transparently during agreement creation to find equitable compromises upfront. With compassion and flexibility, teams can overcome geographical coordination challenges.

Cultural and Language Barriers

Teams comprised of members from diverse cultural backgrounds or languages may struggle to fully understand certain perspectives and norms during the agreement process.

Scheduling sessions for open dialogue around cultural differences enables finding common ground. All values like quality, accountability, growth and wellbeing should be discussed.

While a common corporate language may be agreed upon for formal communications, remaining flexible around multilingualism during informal interactions fosters inclusivity. Provide professional translation services during the drafting process as needed.

Within the agreement itself, using simple phrases and defining any unfamiliar terms brings additional clarity for non-native speakers. Idioms and colloquialisms should be avoided.

Sections explicitly addressing cross-cultural communication expectations also prove helpful. For instance, articulating norms around direct versus indirect communication styles.

Misunderstandings can be minimized by checking for mutual comprehension during conversations and restating key points using multiple phrasings. Follow up bilaterally if any lack of clarity arises.

With compassion and concerted efforts toward inclusion, teams can bridge diverse perspectives constructively. This strengthens alignment.

Technological Challenges

Remote team members across regions may encounter incompatible tools and platforms or technical constraints that complicate agreement creation.

Researching tools and solutions that reliably work across countries and contexts enables standardizing primary platforms. Outline contingency protocols if localized limitations exist.

Testing tools and connectivity proactively among team members during the drafting process surfaces any capability gaps that can be remediated.

Detailing policies within the agreement itself for handling technical difficulties provides reassurance if challenges like network outages arise during critical discussions.

For team members struggling with new platforms, having dedicated technical support specialists can assist one-on-one with getting up to speed and comfortable collaborating virtually.

Developing training programs and reference resources helps upskill team members on key technologies and approaches for engaging remotely. The required learning curve is shortened.

With adequate preparation, infrastructure, support, and training, the most common technical barriers faced by multinational teams can be overcome.

Best Practices for Maintaining Remote Team Agreements

Regular Reviews and Updates

Agreements must evolve alongside teams. Instead of revisiting only when problems emerge, proactive reviews at defined intervals realign agreements with changing needs.

Quarterly or biannual cycles provide a cadence for reflecting on what aspects of the agreement are working versus needs adjustment. Anonymous surveys give a safe means for input. 

Collaborative half-day workshops enable transparent dialogue around proposed revisions.

Designating an agreement review task force empowered to analyze suggestions between review cycles speeds responsiveness. They determine which changes should be adopted based on benefits to the broader team.

With continuous refinement, teams prevent agreements from becoming outdated relics. Regular tune-ups keep them living documents.

Open Feedback Mechanisms

Ongoing feedback mechanisms foster continuous improvement. Instant messaging channels where anyone can propose changes enable organic enhancements. Anonymous forms allow input on sensitive topics like work-life balance. Short monthly pulse checks gauge effectiveness and surface needs.

Agreement components in status reports empower discussions during recurring touchpoints. Annual focus groups provide an opportunity for deeper examinations of recurring themes and ideas.

With confidentiality and psychological safety emphasized team members contribute candid insights. The agreement evolves to better serve all.

Balance of Structure and Flexibility

While agreements codify helpful structure, retaining flexibility enables responsiveness to changing business circumstances. Teams must be empowered to modify policies accordingly while providing sufficient notice of impactful changes.

This balance of stability and adaptability empowers teams to operate dynamically. They have the scaffolding needed to execute rapidly without rigidity constraining their ability to shift course.

The Living Nature of Team Agreements

Regular Proactive Updates

As teams grow and change over months and years, revisiting agreements proactively keeps them aligned with evolving needs.

Quarterly offsite reviews provide an opportunity to step back and reassess with fresh eyes. Biannual update cycles incorporate accumulated learnings into agreements. Ongoing suggestion surfacing through messaging, forms and surveys provides continual input.

Empowering a dedicated team to monitor agreement effectiveness and propose changes between reviews incorporates insights systematically. Updates become business as usual rather than occasional upheavals.

Adapting to Team Dynamics

Watch for shifts in team dynamics or recurring feedback indicating areas where agreements could better reflect evolving team needs and norms.

Confusion around roles, responsibilities or priorities signals misalignment. New tools or processes rendering agreement sections outdated indicate a need for refresh. Policy tensions arising show areas for negotiation.

Addressing acute issues immediately while recognizing agreements morph gradually through incremental enhancements keeps them living documents. Consistent minor improvements add up to significance.

In Summary

Remote work has come a long way over the past few decades, evolving from a niche arrangement to a mainstream way of working. However, this transition did not happen without challenges. Early remote teams struggled with lack of structure, communication issues, and feelings of isolation.

It took time, but leading companies realized that implementing structured remote team agreements could enable success. These agreements outline everything from communication protocols to work schedules, providing a clear framework for productivity and accountability.

Comprehensive agreements offer immense benefits, including improved clarity around goals and workflows, proactive conflict resolution, enhanced trust and transparency, smoother onboarding for new hires, and increased accountability through performance metrics.

Real-world examples at companies like GitLab, QuickBooks, and InVision prove that strong remote team agreements provide the coordination distributed teams need, even in complex environments.

The creation process itself also matters. Skilled facilitators ensure all voices are heard during drafting and help build consensus around shared guidelines. They promote psychological safety so the end result is an agreement the team feels bought into.

While challenges like time zone coordination, cultural barriers, and technology limitations persist, organizations can overcome these through flexibility, transparency, and compassion. The agreement creation process reveals issues to address proactively.

Once created, agreements must remain living documents. Regular reviews, open feedback channels, and adapting to evolving team dynamics keep them current. Consistent minor improvements add up over time.

In summary, remote team agreements enable success when treated as living documents tailored to each team. With care and iteration, they provide the structure distributed teams need to perform at their best. The future remains bright for remote work.

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