Google Project Aristotle: How to build more effective teams
Teams turns strategy into reality. In this article we focus on the inner workings of a team and what it takes to thrive as a business with healthy, happy and highly effective teams.
While many industries have been hit hard and may take months, or even years to recover – some will be lucky enough to survive (and even thrive) by transitioning successfully to working remotely. Those able to adapt to the new environment in the coming months may very well determine the future of their company, if they manage the transition effectively.
The reality is that the workplace was heading in this direction already, and will likely never be the same again even as things go back to ‘normal.’ What is reassuring at least, is that there are plenty of companies that have built strong, successful businesses with fully remote or ‘distributed’ teams, such as GitLab, InVision and Automattic – so a blueprint for success already exists.
This article aims to list and describe the tools adopted by HR and Ops professionals from the world's leading distributed organizations – to help you build successful, connected and engaged remote teams.
We’ve included a combination of HR tools, as well as others that can be used to facilitate remote team collaboration, so you see how they all fit together to form an ecosystem that supports the best work possible. We’ve listed them in order from most urgent through to less urgent, as an indicator of priority – but you know what is most important to you given your current challenges, goals and budget. As you progress in remote work maturity, you can move further down the list to serve your teams even more effectively.
The exact tools you select aren’t necessarily the most important thing – our goal is to help you prioritise what you value most for the employee experience you seek to provide, and then offer suggestions for some of the most commonly used tools by companies in the same position as you, so you can decide for yourself.
Single vs. multi-function
Finally, in some cases, there are tools that provide you with a single function (often referred to as a ‘point solution’), such as Zoom video calling. In other cases, you might be able to solve a range of your challenges all at once (a ‘platform solution’). It’s important to evaluate your short vs. long-term needs, so you can set yourself up for success in the future – not just for the coming weeks.
Most urgent: Essential
Less urgent: to be added as you progress
There is obviously no substitute for face-to-face conversations with your teammates, but if you’re not in the same room, let alone the same time zone, then you’re going to have to invest in communication tools. From quickly syncing face-to-face to gather feedback on a draft document, through to including everyone in company meetings – communication tools are essential when working remotely.
There’s a good chance you already have tools or processes in place at this level, but if you haven’t deliberately invested in remote work, then you may still need to spend some time ensuring this is clear for everyone across the company – including clear working agreements on how each tool should be used.
Beyond email, which is still a common standard, you may want to consider including something that facilitates real-time communication. Many leading tools such as Slack offer hundreds of integrations with other tools and allow people to customize automations like reminders and much more for optimizing workflow. You may also like to include tools for planning and executing on 1:1s between managers and their team members. This means there is a record of items discussed and a shared space to ensure action is taken to complete tasks.
This is another essential item to allow richer interactions across 1:1s, daily team standups or brainstorming sessions, or company meetings. The additional visual cues help reduce communication breakdown, and often lead to faster resolution for conversations that may go back-and-forth over email or Slack.
Especially when remote, sharing ideas, getting buy-in or making decisions needs to become a much more conscious process – as you can’t just swing past someone's desk, or have a quick conversation following a meeting.
Having platforms and/or processes in place can help increase the quality of decisions made, as people get a chance to read, react and then respond in the time that makes sense for them. New platforms have arisen to serve remote teams that help share, discuss and make decisions more asynchronously, so time-zone is less of an issue.
No matter your business, there is a good chance you’re going to be creating and sharing word or spreadsheet documents from day one – and the list will only grow from there. Creating a space for people to create new project briefs, onboard remote team members, or forecast quarterly results, is crucial. Google Suite and Microsoft are the main options here, as they offer industry standard documents that most people are familiar with.
They both also offer storage solutions, to help ensure everything can be filed and easily retrieved. For this to work effectively, you should have an agreed structure to your filing system. It pays to plan for this up front so you don’t have come back and re-organize things later, but also so people can quickly find and/or store documents without taking too much time or brain power – helping you scale faster than your competition.
These workspaces act like a company wiki, and are a staple for remote teams to help know where to get answers to frequently asked questions – as they can no longer simply ask the person next to them. We use Notion here at Impraise, but there are a range of tools available to get you started. Where can I find our logo as a .PNG? When do I need to submit my expense claims by? Where can I find the most up-to-date org chart? The answer is usually “on Notion!”
Each team can have a space where anyone can go to learn more about how they work, or FAQs so people don’t need to interrupt the team unnecessarily with common requests. Workspaces like this can also work nicely alongside your documentation system of choice, as you can easily link to word documents to provide additional context, or sheets for more complex forecasting. The options are seemingly endless, but it does pay to agree where they are up front, so you’re all using the space to your advantage.
The ability to manage timesheets, payroll, org charts, employee benefits and contracts etc. in one place, just keeps things clean and organized – for both you and your people. Making these documents and processes accessible becomes even more important with remote members.
Many of these tools have evolved steadily over time to include most of the functions required to make you successful in your role, which is great news for you. You should be aware, however, that they haven’t necessarily solved every piece of the HR puzzle – particularly Performance Management. Check out this article, if you’re interested in learning more about the possible downsides of using an HRIS for employee performance and development.
Obviously security becomes more of a concern as people work remotely and you are working across unfamiliar networks. Having clear security guidelines is a must, but tools like Okta provide single sign-on access to many tools, while others like 1Password and LastPass allow you to manage passwords of all the different tools and apps used across each team.
One of the most important ingredients for any remote team or company is process. It provides structure and direction for getting things done, and once you have an agreed way of working for commonly faced challenges, people can get moving faster – making everything more scalable and efficient as you grow.
This doesn’t mean they need to be written in stone, as there should always be a feedback loop to improve – but it allows for everyone to agree on an approach, and iterate from there.
We always love getting in a room to discuss ways to solve complex problems, but that’s obviously not possible with remote teams. The great news is that there are some great tools out there to support these exact scenarios – as long as you’ve got a crossover in timezone (sometimes, even if not!).
Miro acts like a virtual whiteboard with unlimited post-its, which is great for gathering ideas and clustering them as you go – with flexibility to allow for almost any use case. Don’t worry if it sounds daunting. There is a huge template library for common workflows across all teams to help get you collaborating quickly, with minimal effort or learning required.
Parabol is another great option if any of your teams are working in Agile, or you like to review the way you work together as a team (in sprints, or not) using retrospectives. In both cases, you will want a video chat tool in place to make the most of this, so you can do it in real-time and make it most effective.
When it comes to planning and execution of projects, there are a number of tools that have really pushed the boundaries over the past couple of years providing comprehensive planning solutions for teams. They can help you go well beyond to-do lists to facilitate high quality planning, effectively assign tasks for accountability, execute, and then review performance.
Some of the best tools we’ve used are Asana, Airtable, and Trello. They offer similar functionality, but you can check out their buying guides, or blogs from others to help identify which might be best for the way you like to work.
Most of the tools mentioned above offer comprehensive execution functions too, but there are some that are really designed for to get things done. Some of them are team or specialty specific, such as Salesforce (Sales), Jira, GitHub and GitLab (software engineering and web development), but then there are some that have managed to roll much of the value provided above into one, simply because they have been working on solving this challenge for a long time now, such as Basecamp.
When it comes to remote teams, one of the most common business challenges that filters down from leadership, through to managers and their teams – is clarity and alignment on company goals. This HBR article highlights a company where fewer than a third of all management could recite even two top strategic priorities. And they weren't even working remotely!
What are you doing to ensure people know the overall mission and vision for the company, and how you plan to get there? One of the most effective ways to do this is a framework developed at Google, called ‘Objectives and Key Results’ – or OKRs for short.
Once you’ve identified these, one of the most important things you can do as a business is to create visibility so everyone knows the Key Results they can contribute to. This can be done simply with something like Google Docs or a Slides presentation shown at each company meeting, through to purpose-built point solutions or HR platforms that support OKRs alongside other valuable performance management features. This allows everyone to understand how their work contributes to the success of the company, which can help create alignment and can also significantly boost engagement.
By clearing the line of sight to everyone’s objectives, OKRs expose redundant efforts and save time and money.”
For optimal results, one of the best ways to keep your people aligned on company goals is to support 1:1s. This is particularly important following company OKRs, so managers can help their teams identify ways they can contribute. Ideally this should be a recurring meeting, with notes and action points added to a shared space, so they remain on track throughout the quarter.
Tools: Impraise Goals & OKRs, Google Docs template, Asana, Gtmhub.
When you’re in the office, it’s possible to get a gauge of morale or engagement through body language and how people are interacting with each other. When your people are remote, however, this becomes almost impossible. In order to understand what matters to your people, and how to take action – you need to measure this in a different way.
Engagement and/or Pulse Surveys are a great way to do exactly this – so you can quickly understand the impact of business changes on morale, engagement and productivity. By regularly asking a couple of simple questions, you can identify changes over time and take immediate action rather than waiting until it’s too late.
Looking for examples? Here is a list of questions you can ask your teams straight away.
Another major benefit is that you know your decisions are better informed, as the insights you receive are from the most reliable source you have – your people. It becomes a lot easier to get support from leadership when you can point to tangible data, gathered directly from the source.
Pulse surveys have been placed quite a way down the list, but they could easily be placed at the very top, so you can use the data received to better inform your decisions about the challenges you need to address first.
36% of employees say a lack of recognition is the top reason for leaving their job, which might be alarming enough for many companies – let alone those with remote teams, where this becomes even harder to support. GitLab even asks people directly if they receive enough recognition or praise in their ‘Stay survey’, which is designed to ask people why they joined, what makes them stay, and what would make them consider leaving.
It’s very easy to hear about the work your colleagues do organically when you’re in the office, where you can unknowingly provide kudos or feedback on the work they have done. But these interactions occur less naturally and frequently when working remote. For this reason, it becomes incredibly important to offer more opportunities to provide feedback. Not sure if people are receiving enough guidance, feedback or recognition? Try asking people in your new engagement surveys, as described above.
By supporting more real-time feedback, you offer people the opportunity to get more frequent guidance on how they’re performing against expectations – offering chances to course correct, so the performance conversations are less surprising when reviews come around. A baseball coach wouldn’t wait 1000 pitches to give feedback on pitch 347 – so why would you do the same for your people?
Some options here provide integrations to other commonly used tools, like Slack, and in some cases can even sync this feedback into other areas of your performance management. Imagine being able to automatically store and retrieve all the feedback you’ve received throughout the year? This certainly helps form a more accurate picture of performance when reviews come around.
When it comes to remote teams, feedback is crucial for both the alignment and professional development of your people, but it can also provide much needed psychological security that they’re not going to get fired – which can be a real thing.
Providing moments for structured feedback throughout the year helps to ensure people are receiving feedback on how they can grow professionally, but it also serves as confirmation that they’re meeting or exceeding expectations – or if they need to develop in certain areas they didn’t know about. Receiving constructive feedback on areas for improvement can often lead to people feeling even more clear, motivated and engaged – if done correctly.
Done well, performance reviews improve performance, align expectations and accelerate your report’s career. Done poorly, they accelerate their departure.”
When evaluating performance in remote teams, it is important to remember that each employee has a number of relationships with their co-workers, so there are valuable insights to be gathered beyond their manager. Asking each team member to select 3-5 people they work with regularly can be a great way to build a more well-rounded picture of performance, as well as removing manager bias from the review process.
This input can be gathered by the manager before running the performance review, to help identify common trends and collate feedback into manageable take-aways following the review. This can be managed in something like Google Docs, although privacy can become a concern when docs are being shared frequently. To avoid this (and generally make your life easier), there are comprehensive platforms available that can store 360 feedback for use in performance reviews, help show areas of strength or weakness, and show improvements over time.
The 360 feedback gathered in the previous step can be incredibly helpful for individuals and their managers by itself, but it can also be used to add even more value to performance reviews. By asking individuals to complete a self-assessment, the manager can identify misalignments where they each see performance going well or not so well – and then offer advice on how to improve. When used alongside the feedback from peers, you can begin to get a much more accurate and fair representation of performance, which is especially helpful when you're not working in the office each day.
In the past, running peer reviews and performance reviews with this many moving parts on something like Google Docs or Survey Monkey was a daunting task for a company of reasonable size, let alone considering running this process multiple times a year. Purpose-built performance management platforms have now made this a reality, allowing your people to self-select peers they work with most, automatically sending out questions and reminders, as well as collating reports for managers and the feedback recipients once everything is complete.
Finally, if you want to allow your teams to work asynchronously, then make sure to select a platform that lets them work from mobile, for maximum flexibility.
Not only does offering learning and development opportunities help to grow the skills of your current people and help them achieve personal goals, but it also attracts the type of people you typically want to work in your organization – especially if you’re fully remote.
Offering structured (or formal) programs like online training and courses are ideal for remote teams, as people can select and choose the ones most relevant to them and their position. You can support this by offering access to a full Learning Management System (LMS), or by offering an allowance for people to select the courses they would like to complete, or conferences they might like to attend.
Unstructured (or informal) learning is what happens when knowledge is transferred between colleagues. This requires a lot more planning for remote teams, although it is incredibly important, as some studies say this can account for up to 75% of on-the-job learning. GitLab provides some insight into how they support informal learning through things like live learning sessions on the L&D section of their handbook. Offering to connect team members with people in their network is also a great way for managers to provide additional opportunities for learning.
Finally, beyond offering learning opportunities, there is also the need to provide a visible career path for growth within your organization. There are some really interesting companies like Fuel50, which can help create a space where your people can clearly see the opportunities for growth in front of them.
So, here you have a range of tools to help support remote teams. There are a wide range of challenges being solved – by an equally diverse set of tools. Your goal now should be to prioritize the challenges most important to you. This will help identify which tools you should focus on making available to your team.
In some cases, a point solution may make sense as you want to create focus to solve a specific pain point. For video conferencing, Zoom simply might be your best option. There are opportunities, however, to consolidate your options into platform solutions, which can help solve many of the challenges you’re facing at once. This can help reduce the load on both you and your people by introducing a single tool that solves many challenges – rather than constantly asking them to adopt something new.
Impraise is one solution that fits this description perfectly. It has been designed to support the performance and development of your people in one place – even when your people aren’t. The People Enablement Platform, offers you a range of features, which are all designed to help your remote teams remain connected, aligned and engaged.
We understand how daunting it can be to drive adoption of multiple processes at once, so every Impraise customer is assigned a dedicated Customer Success Manager to help build and implement the features that are right for you – over time that makes sense for your people.
Good luck exploring the tools listed above, and please feel free to contact us at email@example.com if you have any questions or suggestions of helpful tools that we’ve missed out.
If you would like to explore the Impraise platform, feel free to contact us for a personalized demo, where we can show you the features that matter most to you, and answer any questions you might have on the spot.
The worlds best employers have already adapted their work environment so people can do their best work – driving both employee engagement and a competitive edge. Impraise helps you achieve both.