For many small businesses, having team members who work remotely is the norm. In fact, at Masthead Media, most of our team is remote!

Working with remote employees gives companies an opportunity to attract diverse talent, offer flexibility around work schedules, and create a dynamic, collaborative environment.

I've found that it helps to be mindful of the unique challenges that come with both working remotely and managing a remote team. Here are a few ideas for creating a remote work structure that enhances your company's culture.

Create a Communication Playbook

How does your team communicate best? Just ask them! A quick survey could ask employees to list how they'd like to be contacted about quick questions versus larger, more involved asks.

According to Harvard Business Review, teams at the pharmaceutical company Merck use acronyms like NNTR ("No Need to Respond") to add more color and clarity to digital conversations.

As someone who manages several remote employees, I've noticed that being transparent about my communications preferences has made a huge difference in my team's productivity (and my own!). I always let my team know what hours I'm typically online, and the best medium for getting in touch with questions (G-chat, Basecamp, Email, etc).

Set Crystal Clear Expectations

This is crucial for any team, but it's especially important that remote teams are on the same page about deliverables, timelines, and metrics for success. Managers should have a clear picture of what success looks like for each team member, and then communicate it effectively. For instance, if employees should submit a weekly progress report, consider sharing a template for the report and set a deadline for submitting it.

Lean Into a Software Suite

With countless tools for project management and team communication in the market today, how do you choose which ones to include in your company's unique "software suite"?

When selecting software for my company, I keep in mind the size of our team, communication preferences, and ease of use. We use Harvest for time-tracking, which has made it seamless for our remote freelance team to log their hours and submit timesheets. (This also helps us pay our freelancers on time, every time!) Time-tracking allows our team to take ownership of their time, and boosts productivity as they're more aware of how each hour is being spent.

Project management software is also helpful to keep everyone aligned on progress and better understand what other teams are working on. Our team uses Basecamp to organize our projects, but there are dozens of software options worth exploring.

Organize Team Retreats

This takes time, a bit of planning, and perhaps some budget, but a team retreat can be a healthy blend of thoughtful work time and leisure activities that encourage team bonding.

Masthead Media hosts at least one event annually that brings together our remote freelancers and in-house employees live and in person. Despite its flexibility, working remotely can be a little isolating, so it's always fun to host our remote team to connect, brainstorm, and learn from one another.

Don't forget, regular virtual meetups are important too! Something as simple as a quick sync over video chat each week can help make remote employees feel like they're part of a tight-knit team, even if they're miles apart.

Celebrate Big Wins, Birthdays, and More

Creating virtual spaces, like a chat room or team newsletter, to highlight great work helps bring remote employees closer together and builds a culture of support. This also allows a remote team to get to know the rest of the group and have a chance to toast to accomplishments together.

And business success stories aren't the only things worth celebrating. A shout-out for birthdays and personal milestones goes a long way in making remote teammates feel included and appreciated.

Published on: Nov 13, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.