Is your company going remotely full-time? Learn how to do it well and the steps you need to follow to make it a success.

In 2019, only 7 percent of civilian workers worked remotely.

According to the 2019 National Compensation Survey, only 9.8 million employees out of 140 million in the United States had access to a flexible workplace. In a few short weeks, COVID-19 accomplished what 10+ years of advocacy could not.

We have to work remotely.

The quarantine and social distancing measures taken by world governments to combat the coronavirus pandemic have accelerated our move to remote work. Organizations all over the world have a tough choice to make. If they want to continue doing business, it has to be done remotely, or in a limited capacity.

Why Do Some Companies Fail At Remote Work?

Marissa Meyer, former CEO at Yahoo!, decided that remote work had failed to produce the results they needed to perform well as a company. She made the controversial move to demand that remote workers relocate to the company's facilities.

Remote work failed for Yahoo!.

"Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home," said Jackie Reses, HR head in an internal memo "We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together."

The unspoken demand from executives to employees was clear, comply with our new mandate, or quit. What is sobering about this move is the fact that other large blue-chip companies, like Best Buy and startups like Reddit, followed their example.

Then there are the success stories.

Hundreds of companies large and small place a specific amount of emphasis on flexible remote work culture. The list includes established companies like, Dell, Humana, Oracle, and other top names with flexible work options.

Why was it so difficult for Yahoo!, a company with a massive war chest, to extract the kind of value the companies above attract consistently?

Remote Work Failures Focus On The Wrong Details

Sean Graber, co-founder of Virtuali, states organizations focus on the wrong things:

"The answer is simple: Many companies focus too much on technology and not enough on process. This is akin to trying to fix a sports team's performance by buying better equipment. These adjustments alone might result in minor improvements, but real change requires a return to fundamentals."

What should corporations focus on instead? Creating a plan of action for their remote workers. Successful organizations focus their attention on communication, culture, and coordination. And managers will have to adjust their expectations when managing a remote team.

Who is doing what, when, and where?

High-performance remote teams are synchronized; they have the systems and procedures they need in place to ensure everyone is on the same page. There is no confusion about the work that needs to be done or who should do it.

Remote teams must coordinate. Follow these 10 steps to develop your remote work program:

1. Trust The Process & Trust Your Team

None of this will work if you don't believe in it. First you have to believe and trust this can work for you like it has for so many other companies.

Remote teams need trust to function, and trust depends on your culture. You need an influential culture to build trust. A strong culture means leaders will give remote workers the trust they need to produce their best work. Remote workers, in turn, will deliver exceptional results for their leaders.

  • Cognitive trust is knowledge-driven and is based on competency and consistency over time. It is dependent on your co-worker's willingness to rely on your competency or reliability.

  • Affective trust is based on emotional connection and relational bonds. This trust is based on the demonstrated level of care and concern showed by your co-workers/leadership.

  • Behavioral trust is a consequence of the actions that flow from a state of both cognitive and affective trust.

Why is trust so crucial for remote teams?
  • Trust improves team performance
  • Trust increases the probability of creating a successful company
  • It is essential because it's increasingly difficult to rely on formal policies and rigid rules
  • Healthy rivalries between team members enable the team to perform at a high level, but only if the team is built on robust trust
  • Trust develops via shared experiences
  • Trust requires openness, informing, honesty and arguments

A remote work culture that is built on trust boosts productivity and performance. A remote work culture that is oriented around healthy values, rituals, and habits creates a healthy culture. This is important because coordination requires trust to function.

2. Clearly Communicate Your Objectives

If you haven't already, determine what you are looking to achieve by adding remote work. Then, you need to communicate the shared mission and vision at the company and team level.

With remote work, communication is key. Get communication wrong, and you will have misunderstandings that ultimately lead to mistakes, inefficiency, and failure.

Communication breakdowns are highlighted by the following exercise Sean Graber uses in his remote workshops:

• He divides participants into groups of three.

• He shows a picture to team member number one.

• He asks him to describe it to team member number two over the phone (without naming the picture explicitly).

• Team member number two is then tasked with emailing team member number three with instructions on how to draw the image.

It goes about as well as you would expect. There is a lot of confusion, strange drawings, and laughs. This is a fun exercise, but it drives the point home. Clear communication is an essential part of your company; it is a make or break issue.

But for remote work?

Communication is the lifeblood of remote work.

The obvious truth about communication is that your organization needs a process that makes communication simple, efficient, and clear. Less obvious, is that you also need protocols in place to ensure communication is safe, truthful, and accountable.

Successful communication does two things (1.) It codifies corporate values and exemplifies culture and (2.) It trains employees to become communication matchmakers, ensuring the message and medium match.

To find great communication tools for going remote work, review our post on

3. Establish Expectations And Values

Ask the average employee what their organization's values are, and you get a different response every time. Ask them to describe their company's culture, and you get blank stares. It is common for executives to assume employees are not paying attention.

Jeff Lawson at Twilio shares a simple formula your organization can use to codify your values and culture.

"Culture is living values."

Your values are written down and shared with everyone throughout the company. Your culture is how you live those written words.

This is where most companies fail. Most leaders decide they need to come up with the values for their company. This is immediately doomed to fail because values, to be effective, come from the tribe. Values are not created from the top-down; they are projected from the inside out.

See for yourself in this video from Jeff Lawson of Twilio.

If your culture is living values, the team dictates the values of your organization; then, the tribe works together to live these values out in their day-to-day work life.

Codifying your values sets your culture.

Talk with your employees. Invest the time needed to get a sense of the values they are looking for in your organization. Ideally, this is an organic process that exposes the desires, goals, fears, and frustrations bubbling beneath the surface. You will want to give this process the time it needs to develop naturally.

It does not have to be done overnight.

It also does not have to be done before you begin working remotely. If your employees see that you are making the effort, they will most likely invest the time and effort needed to establish your values and cement your culture.

When you cement your culture, you set the tone for the kind of employees you will attract to your business. If your organization is looking for employees who are aggressive go-getters, you are going to draw more of those people to your business.

What you give, you receive.

Assign clear roles and responsibilities for remote work.

4. Assign Clear Roles And Responsibilities

Research shows new teams make 50 percent more mistakes than established teams. In fact, the research consistently shows that teams underperform. With that in mind, how can remote teams coordinate successfully, increasing their efficiency and productivity in the process?

  • Provide each remote worker with a clear, succinct description of their role in the company
  • Make a list of your expectations, tasks, and requirements (most of this should be present in your job description)
  • Outline each worker's responsibilities and the requirements needed to complete their responsibilities
  • Define the style and approach towards these roles and responsibilities in your organization. Are employees expected to adapt and change their roles and responsibilities on an as-needed basis? Or are they expected to maintain a rigid adherence to a set role or structure.
Doing this gives remote workers the tools they need to gauge their performance and measure success in the organization.

5. Create Project Plans, Performance Metrics, And KPI's

You'll need to know how to measure success. Your remote workers need the right measuring stick to assess their performance. They also need to know how to assess their peer's performance when working with groups. Each of the teams in your organization should be able to assess the team's progress towards a predetermined goal.

This is achieved by:

  • Creating detailed project plans ahead of time
  • Establishing project benchmarks
  • Outlining the performance metrics and KPI's at the start of the project
  • Setting success targets for each project
Each remote worker needs:
  • Contact information and appropriate contact procedures
  • Access to the general corporate policies
  • Documentation of the above in a trusted repository (e.g., Trello, Basecamp)
Email, as a communication channel, is not enough. You'll want to ensure that you provide your remote workers with a repository to store the above data, and an instant communication tool (e.g., Slack, Skype, Zoom, UberConference, etc.) to exchange ideas and discuss details quickly.

6. Ensure Your Files Are Secure

Research from the Insider Threat Report lists too many users with excessive access privileges as the most significant security risk factor to businesses. The Ponemon Institute states 62 percent of users have access to company data they should not see.

This means they don't have control over:

  • File storage, retention, and access
  • Security and user rights management
  • User access and version control
How can remote teams manage something as complicated as user access management? Third-party services like LastPass Enterprise and JumpCloud provide cloud-based directory-as-a-service, enabling organizations to manage their systems, apps, files, and networks.

Set user roles and rights.

To protect your data you will need to verify:

  • Implement user rights and access management following the principle of least privilege so employees only have access to the data they need to complete their job.
  • Remote workers receive access on a need-to-know basis via group policies, ensuring the right remote user has access to the correct data, at the right time.
  • Use self encrypting drives or software to encrypt all of the data written to your hard drives. Self encrypting drives are beneficial because encryption takes place on the drive itself, there's no performance loss as a result
  • Use password verification and identity management tools to verify and manage employee access
What if you can't verify this? How would you know this is happening? With Data Loss Prevention (DLP) tools.

Using DLP tools, you can locate, manage, and monitor your data, whether it is data-in-use, data-at-rest, or data-in-transit, and you can do it without a decrease in productivity.

Use DLP to:

  • Locate and map your sensitive data
  • Inspect, classify, and filter data leakage, regardless of the channel (e.g., printer, email, web, external storage)
  • Block or encrypts data transferred to external media or devices. Block connections to any unsecure wireless networks
  • Immediately flag security risks, identifying any device that's currently or historically connected to any one of your remote workers
  • Generate regulatory compliance reports and security log summaries
Security is vital for your remote team, but it's nowhere near as important as the people you choose to join your team.

7. Attract A-players For Remote Work

Research by Dr. Bradford Smart found that a single mis-hire costs organizations 5x to 27x base salary. In his research, Smart found that mis-hired employees with an average salary of $114,000 would result in a total mis-hire cost of $2,709,000 or 24x the salary!

The cost of a mis-hire is high.

There is a lot at stake for organizations, especially in our current economic climate. How can organizations ensure that they hire the right remote workers?

  • Use your network. Reach out to people you have worked with in the past. If you had a great relationship, ask if they are in touch with any other candidates.

  • Meet-ups and events. Reach out to specialty clubs or groups, e.g., product manager groups on Facebook, Hackathons for developers, etc.

  • Employee branding and reviews. A strong employer review portfolio leads to a 50 percent increase in qualified candidates and a 50 percent cost-to-hire reduction.

  • Employee advocacy. Give engaged "patriot" employees the tools they need to pursue A-player candidates on their own. Incentivize employees with a strong offer, e.g., if a referred employee is still an employee after six months, you reward both the referred and referee with $1,000.

  • Freelance remote workers. Working with freelance remote workers allows you to evaluate potential employees in a live setting. You can attract and convert high-value talent at a considerable bargain.

Consider using a remote job board of talent developers to find trusted freelance developers, designers, finance workers, product managers, and project managers.
  • Traditional sourcing approach. If all else fails, you can take the conventional method via job boards, ads, social media, referrals, etc.

Use personality-job fit theories to map a candidate's personality to the appropriate role. The degree of confluence between a candidate and your organization is known as the Person-Organization fit (P-O) fit. Matching the right candidates to the right roles increases your P-O fit enabling your team to minimize challenges like high turnover and low job satisfaction.

8. Sort Applicants And Begin Interview Process

Sort potential applicants via your applicant tracking system. Determine which candidates you want to reach out to for the interview process.

You can use a remote-friendly interview tool to screen candidates via text, audio, and video interviews.

If needed, test candidates with a live project or other pre-employment screening tools.

Vet candidates further by asking them to schedule a three-way call with the references on their resume (A-players will jump at the chance to show off their skills, B and C players will abandon the hiring process). Use the Tandem Interview methodology created by Topgrading founder Bradford Smart, PhD to vet remote workers with a high degree of accuracy.

9. Onboard Remote Workers

With remote work it is even more important for your onboarding procedure to be focused on welcoming and properly supporting your new hire. Successful onboarding is less about a knowledge transfer and more about seeding relationships and establishing connections.

Here are some steps you can take to establish connections for your remote worker:

  • Introduce new hires to the entire team
  • Make sure each new hire has the necessary credentials, docs, software, IT hardware, and handbooks they need.
  • Send new hires the paperwork they need (e.g., HR, healthcare, legal, tax, and financial documentation).
  • Provide your new hires with the training aids, modules, and materials they need to get up to speed.
  • Pair new hires with an existing buddy hire, make sure new hires have someone they can reach out to for help, guidance, and connection.
  • Send them a welcome care package to ensure they feel like part of the team.
  • Schedule training for your new hires with IT, product, or service demo experts in your organization.
Ask new hires for their feedback before, during, and after the onboarding process. Instead of asking them what they thought about the onboarding they received, ask them about the challenges or obstacles they experienced during the onboarding process.

Use this information to improve your organization's remote work onboarding process.

10. Review Goals And Schedule Regular Follow-Ups

Have you heard the saying, "Trust, but verify?" Communication may be the lifeblood of remote work, but it doesn't remove your responsibility to manage your remote team well.

You will have to strike the right balance between confidence and accountability. You want to trust your team to cover their responsibilities, but you don't want to be taken advantage of by poor performers.

Check in as needed to make sure things are running as expected. Adjust goals and expectations when appropriate.

  • With each new hire, ping leaders and managers to outline goals, objectives, and expectations.
  • Schedule regular follow-up meetings and check-ins with all new hires for the first 90 days to 1 year.
  • Use individual development plans to assess remote worker performance and increase accountability.
  • Arrange an in-person get-together if they are near your location or the location of their buddy hire.

Use individual development plans with monthly, quarterly, and annual check-ins to assess remote worker performance. These assessments are more about providing your team with the things they need and less about checking on them to verify that they're doing their job properly.

Conclusion: This Is How You Go Remote Successfully

Remote work failures focus their attention on technology instead of focusing first on people and processes. Successful organizations recognize the importance of communication, culture, and coordination.

Remote work starts with trust in people.

Remote teams need trust to function, and trust depends on your culture. You need an influential culture to build trust. A strong culture means leaders will give remote workers the trust they need to produce their best work. Remote workers, in turn, will deliver exceptional results for their leaders.

You can create your own success story.

Hundreds of companies large and small have achieved significant gains with remote work. Use this opportunity to accelerate your move to successful remote work. With the right structure, you will find remote work is a win for those who are prepared. Here are more remote work resources on how to manage distributed teams if you're looking to make the transition.