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10 ways to build a productive and happy remote team

“You’re on mute." Three familiar words that rang throughout households across the globe, starting in March 2020. Three words acting as a metaphor for all the small, yet meaningful ways we’d have to adapt as we scrambled to function in our new remote world. 

Last updated

18 Aug 2022

Reading time

8 min


10 Ways to Build a Productive and Happy Remote Team

Our altered reality made it impossible to work in-person. Lockdowns and stay-at-home orders led to a mad rush for businesses to set up their processes in a way that worked from anywhere. 

There’s plenty of generic information out there on building a remote team. So we wanted to walk you through the specifics—the ways we ensure we’re making a people-focused working culture a top priority.

1. Use remote features to your advantage

There are certain advantages to in-person interviewing. The opportunity to see a person, to interpret body language, to get a sense of their comfort level. Or exchanging a look with your fellow interviewers to convey your excitement about a prospect.  

That said, we believe that remote interviewing actually helps you make better, less-biased decisions. 

For instance, conducting interviews over Zoom gives each interviewer the chance to share feedback directly without influencing their peers (like exchanging a look). After each interview, we independently score candidates between one and four. 

It looks like this:

  1. Yes, let’s move this candidate to the next stage

  2. Yes, I think we should move the candidate to the next stage, but I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise

  3. I don’t think we should move this candidate to the next stage, but I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise

  4. No, we should not hire this candidate

When the interview has wrapped, we count down from three and put a number in the Zoom chat. This way, you can see everyone’s unfiltered input. 

Leveraging remote features to enhance the hiring process—or any other process for that matter—creates opportunities that the in-person hiring experience just can’t. 

2. Be a different kind of manager

As a manager, it’s vital that you trust your team. You have to be a manager who’s willing to measure people on what they deliver and not on the way they go about doing it. 

In a remote world, you can’t observe the time a person starts and leaves work. In fact, remote work has taught us that this wasn’t overly important when we were working in person. Instead, observe employees’ output, the quality of the work, and the outcomes. 

3. Encourage employees to turn on their cameras

It makes a huge difference to team morale if it feels like everybody is there. 

We’re sticklers for seeing people’s faces. It’s a simple thing, but if you’re on a video call with your team and half of them don’t have their camera on, you instantly lose that connection. That feeling that we’re all in this together.

It’d be like someone reading a book during an in-person meeting. 

It’s completely possible, even likely, that someone with their camera off is 100% focused on the call. But when we can see people’s responses, it makes us feel heard and respected. This is why we ask that team members have their cameras on. 

4. Implement asynchronous communication 

Asynchronous (async) communication gives team members the time to receive, absorb, and process information in order to provide thoughtful feedback when they’re ready. 

Asynchronous communication matters in all companies, but it matters even more in a remote company. Not surprisingly, remote companies are actually better at it. 

Async also leads to better documentation. Often teams share links in a comms tool, like Slack. This way, team members have access to the link when they need it and have time to retrieve it. Video recordings allow people to catch up on meetings as their new schedules allow. The list goes on.

Because of this, it’s really important to check that people can communicate asynchronously before you hire them. Written communication skills are only becoming more and more important to daily tasks and task management. Be sure to check into them when hiring.

5. Get to know your new hires with fun games 

We’ve all experienced icebreaker meetings where we’ve had to share two truths and a lie or offer up something that makes us unique—and it can be awkward. 

Instead, we do something called ‘10 facts' instead. Rather than putting someone on the spot in a circle, we ask them to publicly post 10 things about themselves by the end of their first day. It can be anything personal, like where they’re from, what they like to do in their spare time, or their favorite type of food. 

It’s surprising how quickly you can get to know someone through ‘10 facts.'  It always invites further questions and helps form connections with other team members who have similar interests or backgrounds.

#Sharon’s 10 facts
Sharon’s 10 facts

6. Create a user manual to discover working styles 

Everyone works differently. It can be tricky trying to accommodate unique wants and needs. This is why we created a ‘user manual' to guide team members in how best to work with one another. 

#Hotjar user manual
Hotjar user manual

The user manual invites each team member to share their favorite working conditions, their preferred working hours, how they like to receive feedback, and areas where they struggle. 

For example, I’m an introvert. I wrote down that I find it tough being in a room with a lot of people for a long period of time and that I need to take regular breaks. Letting people know that information ahead of time sets the right expectations.

Ensuring that each team member gets to work in a way that allows them to thrive allows the business to thrive. And managers have the opportunity to treat each person the way they would like to be treated.

7. Foster a connection between departments

Working remotely means team members have very little interaction with other departments even when they’re all working towards the same goal. It’s easy for teams to go for months without interacting with each other or even knowing who is in a different department. This can lead to discomfort or avoidance when working together.   

We encourage people to have one-on-one video calls with as many people as they can in their first week—regardless of whether they’re in the same department or not. 

On an ongoing basis, we have something we’ve named the ‘donut call,’ which randomly matches two people from across the company for a 30-minute call. It aims to replicate standing around the watercooler having a chat about your weekend with someone from another department. 

Fostering connections between different departments creates a more cohesive team and introduces a level of comfort for people who are working together remotely. 

8. Give people clarity on their job role 

It’s important that the manager defines what success looks like for every role. Each team member needs to know how they measure up. 

I’ve found that in many jobs, this simply isn’t available. You don’t know what your role is supposed to include, what success looks like in that role, or how well you’re doing. 

This is something we spend a lot of time on. We have set criteria for every role (and every level of every role) so that anyone and everyone knows exactly what they’re supposed to be doing. 

It also provides insight into what’s needed for the next level up. This way, team members know how to be successful in their current roles and how to grow into another. 

9. Supplement work events with personal events 

We ensure team leads only have between five and eight people to manage. This means they have ample one-on-one time with each member of their team. On top of this, there are weekly events for each department.

We supplement these work-based events with personal meetups. Every Friday, we host something fun for the entire company to get involved with. Recently, we had a shark expert give a talk—but it can be about anything. The goal is to bring people together in an activity that’s not centered around work. 

This complements our department-wide social events. For example, in the marketing department, we have ‘coffee and learn’ sessions. One person shares something from their personal life and what they’ve learned from it. One team member talked about insomnia and how they deal with it. Another spoke about cold water swimming and its benefits, and another talked about making pottery—it’s really diverse. 

10. Introduce agile practices

There’s a strong connection between remote and agile working practices. Agile works well because you tend to have a small squad or team with natural rituals built into processes—like daily standups and retrospectives. These are particularly useful for remote teams because they offer human touchpoints. 

If you’re not already working agile, but you’re considering remote working, try to bring in agile practices across the company, not just in engineering.

Do or do not—there is no try with remote working 

You either do remote or you don’t do remote. There really isn’t a hybrid—at least, there’s no hybrid that works well. 

Trying to meet in the middle is next to impossible. When some people are in the office and some people are working remotely, you tend to create subgroups. Next, half of the team has some information and the other half doesn’t.

Consistent communication also becomes an issue. The motivation to document meetings by making and sharing a video is easily forgotten by those attending. People working remotely miss out on a lot of communication that has been transferred during impromptu meetings and events.  

To avoid this, you have to go all in. Everything you do has to be configured for remote working. From your hiring process to onboarding to monthly meetups—lead with intent, and you may find that remote work was the ideal solution all along.

Want to be part of the Hotjar team? 🔥

We believe people from different backgrounds, with different identities and experiences, make our product and company better. We would love for you to check out our current roles and keep following our jobs—we’re growing fast!