Managing a Remote Team: How to Build Rapport Through Laptop Screens

What can you do to stay in sync with your remote workers and build a robust relationship with the team? Here are some proven ideas from successful remote teams like Hubstaff, Zapier, Buffer, and Atlassian.

How do you know if someone is in a bad mood?

You often notice that first in their face, their composure or their withdrawal from casual conversations.

In a remote team, these telltale signs aren’t exactly available. It’s a lot harder for you as a manager to tell if someone feels uneasy and distracted.

What can you do to stay in sync with your remote workers and build a robust relationship with the team?

Here are some proven ideas from successful remote teams like Hubstaff, Zapier, Buffer, and Atlassian.

  1. Make it a priority

We all know it’s vital to build rapport in your team. Here is how to make it a priority when your crew works remotely.

Make time to stay connected

Make up for the loss of the spontaneous five minutes here and there in the office with scheduled meetings. The key word here is “scheduled.” Once it’s on the calendar, it’s happening. Stick to at least one 1-on-1 session per month.

If your team is not 100% remote, make sure the in-office people and the out-of-office people have the same information. It’s not just about work progress. You want to make sure that nobody feels left out. If there are any spontaneous discussions in the central office, spend the time updating people who aren’t there.

Prioritize your budget to help with communication

Communication is the key to make people feel closer when they are physically apart. Invest in tools and gadgets that help your team communication more contextual.

Video conferencing tools

A video chat gives a lot more context than a phone call via Skype. Zoom is a great option, used by successful remote companies like Buffer because of its capacity to hold meetings with many calls-in and its recording feature for the ones who couldn’t make it to a meeting.

Team communication tools

With Slack, for example, you can divide team discussions into different topics. Users can give extra context to chats by adding links, images as well as fun stuff like emojis and GIFs. Hipchat is another option that you can try.

2. Stick to a short team meeting, every work day

Touch-base meetings are significant to building team rapport. The key is to have a meeting that everyone looks forward to.

Here’s how to do it:  

Everyone has a say

Give each person his or her turn to talk about “done” and “to-do” so everyone feels involved while visualizing how the team is moving forward.

Keep it short

Two to three minutes is a sufficient time for each team member. Set it a rule for everyone to be prompt. The last thing you want is for this daily routine to keep people from the actual work they are doing.

Keep it light

Jokes and personal stories are allowed, as long as everyone adheres to the brief rule.

Keep it well away from micromanagement

The daily meeting is not the time to investigate why a particular person fails to do his or her task. That’s a private meeting some other time.

Keep it regular

Stick to the same time that works for all your team members, and do it every day.

The regularity sets a routine, which remote workers highly appreciate. Though the flexibility in remote working is priceless, too much flexibility can mean a drift into the void. The accountability carried with a fixed meeting helps tremendously with motivation. We also have some tips on the blog to successfully contact remote meetings.

3. Adhere to strict deadlines

Managing deadlines efficiently helps to keep your remote team happy and productive.

Here’s what  you can do:

Make a deadline as transparent as possible

Make sure you cover:

– A specific time, such as 11:30 pm EST Monday 11 November 2017

– Delivery method: how the work should be delivered

– Notification: who should be notified and via which method


Make sure the deadlines are written somewhere, accessible to everyone involved.  

As your team spread out in many offices and possibly a few countries, a sticker on the notice board no longer works. Emails could work, but they are not entirely searchable.  

Slack is a good alternative. You can announce deadlines on a channel like #general which everyone in the team has access to.  

The project management tools like Trello, Asana and Zenkit,  enable you to set a deadline to a task card and assign it to any team member. A user can also subscribe to a task card and get notifications when the deadline is near.

When you get a remote worker from DistantJob, he or she will follow the company’s regular working hours regardless of their base. That helps with communication throughout the day and progress check-in.

4. Create online replacements for coffee break chit-chat

You won’t have the coffee breaks and lunch-time chats when colleagues get to know each other personally, but here are some ideas for replacement:

A #random Slack channel

Set up a channel where one can find cat videos or give thumbs-up for GIFs of the day – a virtual entertainment room. Other more informal options are SnapChat and WhatsApp Group.

Facebook Group

Hubstaff recommends using a private Facebook Group to share interesting articles and encourage conversations. One can simply wish another “Happy Birthday.”

If you do it right, these small channels can help to make remote employees feel more like a part of the team.

5. Arrange for remote team to be together

After all, certain things work better face-to-face, like a brainstorming session or a fun gathering. At some points, you need to leave laptop screens behind and get together. Those incentives can be expensive but will be worth the dollars. Also, consider all the money you have saved from having a small office in the center.

If you have one or two people working remotely, fly them over to the headquarters every other month or on special occasions. When your team starts a new project with a big client, it’s always an ideal moment to bring the remote workers over. You can show your client that everyone is on board. If this is the case for your company, you might also benefit from these tips on integrating remote workers to your local team.

Atlassian holds a practice of secondments, which are temporary assignments in a new job role or location. They help to build rapport and spread culture across the team. Also, employees have an excellent opportunity to experience a different culture.

Zapier holds a company retreat every few months, and accommodate the whole team in a big Airbnb or HomeAway home. You can also copy YNAB and hire a gigantic cabin in the mountain.

When your team gets together, don’t just work. Spare half of the time for fun activities like going on a hike or playing a group game. If you don’t have much time, a drink after work still does wonder.

Building rapport through laptop screens isn’t easy but possible if you make it a priority. Try to set up processes and routines that work for everyone and find the right balance between flexibility and deadlines, productivity and happiness. As long as you ensure some quality time together, hiring remote workers could be an excellent solution for the future growth. Contact DistantJob if you are interested in our remote recruitment services.

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Quynh Nguyen

Quynh Nguyen

Quynh Nguyen writes about productivity for individuals and teams while travelling the world. She loves learning languages, riding a bike and having many nice cups of tea.