Many companies find untold success with 100% remote teams. Yet, it is still not a company structure that is all too common. And, unfortunately, information about how to set up and managing a remote workforce is relatively scarce.

With the world currently in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic that has forced many companies to suddenly go remote, now is perhaps a better time than ever before to talk about one of the most important aspects of remote team management—establishing a remote structure that fosters engagement from remote employees. Without a sufficient level of engagement, any remote team will be doomed to fail.

Establishing Structure for Remote Workers

When team members have very little interaction with one another and managers, it can be hard to foster a routine and a sense of community. Without this, employees will be less inclined to apply themselves to their work and will generally work less efficiently. In contrast, employees that have regular contact with colleagues, feel that their individual efforts contribute to the overarching goals of their team, and have a set work routine will work more productively.

This is why establishing and sticking to both formal and informal remote working structures is one of the most important things that a remote team manager can do. But what are the differences between the two?

The Formal Structure

The formal structure is as it sounds—it involves everything that needs to officially be set in stone. Established organizational policies and procedures, regularly scheduled meetings, and comprehensive documented org charts all fall into this category.

Having this type of structure in place helps to reinforce consistent processes for how employees operate. This is key if a remote team is to be successful because when everybody is scattered around the country (or farther afield!), a lack of consistency can lead to missed or forgotten about meetings, disrupted communications, and a general level of inefficiency. What’s more, employees will feel that they are part of a single group that is working to reach a common goal under the same organizational framework. As we mentioned earlier, this is always a boon for productivity.

Regularly scheduled mandatory meetings can also prevent feelings of isolation, something which may be beneficial to remote working employees who may find the lack of social contact difficult.

The Informal Structure

Establishing a formal structure is great, however, it is nothing without an informal structure to back it up. Unfortunately, it is often the case that remote team managers focus all their efforts on the former and forget about the latter.

Without stating the obvious, an informal structure is less about strict organizational systems and is more about relationship building. Well-structured, regular informal communication with team members helps to stimulate engagement even more, something which is critical for productivity.

To establish an informal structure with remote employees, managers can quickly check in with team members individual via phone calls or online meeting tools such as Zoom. Instant messaging and email are also viable options. What’s important here is that this type of communication is done on a regular, semi-predictable basis. You don’t necessarily need to communicate with each employee at the same time each week, but they should know it’s coming. This is why this type of “structure” is “informal” —it isn’t something rigid that is set in stone.

As it does with a formal structure, this type of casual communication reminds employees that although they are working remotely, they are still an important part of a larger team with shared goals—a boon for engagement.

Formal vs Informal Structures

Having a formal structure in place is essential for holding remote teams to account and getting things done. It reinforces the fact that despite not being in an office environment, there are still set standards and definitive processes that must be followed, and targets that must be met.

In contrast, semi-structured, regular communication that develops through meetings and informal check-ins help to boost employee morale and engagement because employees will feel more included and understand the value they add to the organization.

Together, formal and informal structures help to build engagement among dispersed teams, ensuring it meets its goals and remains productive.