Jory MacKay
Jory is a writer, content strategist and award-winning editor of the Unsplash Book. He contributes to Inc., Fast Company, Quartz, and more.
October 15, 2020 · 22 min read

How to Build Products While Working Remotely: The Ultimate Remote Work Guide for Project Managers, Entrepreneurs, and Startups

🎁 Bonus Material: Free Remote Work Guide eBook!

Build Products While Working Remotely

The great remote work debate is over: Working remotely is here to stay.

After years of dipping our toes in the water, the global coronavirus pandemic has abruptly forced teams to dive straight into working remotely. And you know what? It’s not so bad.

Despite the fears of what working from home would do to our productivity, focus, and even culture, most teams are thriving in the new normal.

But what about you?

If you’re here, you’re most likely new to working remotely or leading a remote team and feeling a bit stressed about the whole situation. And that’s ok.

Switching from physically being in the same room with the people you work with to communicating and collaborating sometimes across the globe isn’t easy.

Jump to a section:

At Planio, we’ve helped thousands of teams work remotely through our in-depth content, free resources, and, of course, powerful project management software. We’ve seen firsthand how the best remote teams can thrive in everything from hiring and managing remote employees to empowering remote workers to do their best work every single day.

In this guide, we’ve put together a crash course on working remotely successfully.

Whether you’re a project manager dealing with a remote team or a developer, designer, or manager working from home for the first time, here are the tips, tools, and best practices that will help take the stress out of remote work.

Understanding remote work: The key benefits (and biggest issues) of working remotely

Here’s the good news about remote work: When it comes down to it, working remotely isn’t much different than working in a modern office.

Most companies have spent years setting up systems and tools that remove the need to work and meet in person on a daily basis. In fact, a recent study found that when teams share an open-plan office, face-to-face communication actually drops by roughly 70%.

Instead, we’ve become used to using virtual meeting software such as Zoom or chat tools like Slack or Planio Team Chat to keep in touch. Even when we’re in the same room.

In other words: Working together doesn’t mean being together anymore.

However, this doesn’t mean that you can just send your team home and keep working the same way. Working remotely requires a nuanced approach to communication, collaboration, and cooperation that takes into account the unique benefits and challenges of not being together.

Working remotely requires a nuanced approach to communication, collaboration, and cooperation.

So before we dive into how to work remotely and manage remote teams, let’s understand the landscape of remote work.

The most important remote work benefits

Studies have found that working remotely is more productive, less distracting, and helps teams feel happier and more accomplished.

The most important remote work benefits

If you want to get more specific, the main remote work benefits are:

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

No wonder Gallup found that 60% of Americans working from home want to continue to do so after the pandemic restrictions have been lifted.

The biggest remote work challenges

Now, before you get too excited, let’s address the giant pink elephant in the home office: The biggest challenge of working remotely is that not everyone can do it.

Many jobs require people to be in a shared space or to use specialized equipment. And beyond that, some home situations make remote work all but impossible. (Many researchers are now starting to see just how much harder working remotely is for women and people with families.)

And let’s not forget the golden rule: We all work differently.

Many of the benefits of working remotely can just as easily be challenges depending on your personality and working style. But if you and your team can work remotely, there are still challenges you’ll face. Here are some of the worst remote work challenges:

The biggest remote work challenges

That’s a lot to deal with. But now that you know what you’re up against, you can start to learn the secrets of successfully working remotely.

Working remotely: Best practices and tips for how to be a successful remote worker

The trouble with tips on how to work remotely is that there’s no single best way to do it. Whether you’re a veteran of working from home or someone looking for an entry-level remote job, you have a unique circumstance that can make working remotely difficult at times.

But when it comes down to it, being a successful remote worker depends on two things:

  1. The right environment (for both work and life)
  2. The right support systems and workflows

Whether you’re a remote worker or managing a remote team, you need to have both of these factors if you want to succeed. So let’s look at both:

What is the best work environment for working remotely?

Most resources on working remotely would dive into how to work remotely right away. But we’re going to take a different approach.

How you work is often less important than where you work.

Especially when you’re working remotely, your work environment is the “invisible hand” that guides your productivity, focus, and energy throughout the day.

As Atomic Habits author James Clear explains:

“We tend to believe our habits are a product of our motivation, talent, and effort. Certainly, these qualities matter. But the surprising thing is, especially over a long time period, your personal characteristics tend to get overpowered by your environment.”

Your home office–or wherever you work remotely from–can be a source of stress or calm. It can be distracting or push you to get more done. It can be your sanctuary away from your other obligations, or a constant reminder to work more.

To build the right remote work environment, you need to do what behavioral scientist BJ Fogg calls designing for laziness.

This means creating a workspace where it’s easier to do the things you want to do–like focus, connect with your team, and disconnect at the end of the day. And harder to do the things you don’t–like get distracted by family, pets, chores, or even the TV.

Here are a few best practices to make the ultimate remote work environment:

When you’re working remotely, your work environment is the “invisible hand” that guides your productivity, focus, and energy throughout the day.

What workflows and systems make remote working easier?

Along with your work environment, you’ll want to make sure you have the right workflows, systems, and support in place.

As we mentioned before, one of the best parts about working remotely is the increased control, autonomy, and flexibility you have over your day. But those benefits can quickly become issues if you don’t take them seriously.

Too much flexibility can leave you spending your peak productive hours on non-work and scrambling to make up for it later on. Instead, working remotely requires structure and discipline–especially now that you don’t have a manager or team lead breathing down your neck.

We’ll cover what remote work tools to use later on. But for now, here are a few workflows, schedules, and best practices for how to work remotely:

Read more: For more in-depth working remotely tips check out our full Guide on How to Work Remotely

Managing remote teams: Communication, goal-setting, and motivating your remote employees

Working remotely is hard enough. But leading remote teams is a whole other beast.

Shifting from having your team around you can cause all sorts of miscommunication and misunderstanding. You can’t simply treat managing a remote team as business as usual.

As former Upwork CEO Stephane Kasriel explains:

“It’s easy to overlook how essential the skill of remote management is because, for many, the classic picture of a ‘manager’ still means someone sitting at a desk in an office surrounded by (or overlooking) their team.”

So how do you go about managing a remote team? Here are the top leadership tips from remote managers at some of the biggest remote companies out there including Zapier, Dribble, Remote Year, and more.

1. Communication is key: Set up systems and processes to understand when your remote team needs help

It’s easy to see when someone needs help when you’re working alongside them each day. But managing remote teams means learning how to recognize when your team needs help without seeing them.

No one wants to cram their schedule full of meetings. But quick catchups with your team on a weekly basis are a powerful way to stay current and show them you’re looking out for them. Here are a few questions to ask during these meetings:

  1. Where are we today/this week?
  2. What are our long-term goals?
  3. How will we get there together?
  4. Who will take the lead on different phases of our plan?
  5. What do they need?

2. Use “office hours” to save your team from non-stop meetings

Speaking of communication, it’s also easy to become a micromanager when you’re managing remotely. But non-stop communication–whether through emails or chat or calls–kills productivity, makes your team feel unmotivated, and destroys trust.

“Office hours” is a concept pulled from academia in which everyone has specific times they’re available for meetings and informal chats. The rest of the time is blocked off for heads-down work (you know, the stuff your team was hired to do!)

You can have specific office hours (as in, I’m online and available from 1-5pm each day but mornings are for focus). Or, you can create a more ad-hoc system based on awareness and respect.

As Planio CEO Jan Schulz-Hofen explains, they use Planio Team Chat to show their status and when they’re available:

“Our etiquette is: When someone is logged on to chat, it's okay to ping them by mentioning their name to start a conversation. Whenever we need time to do concentrated work, it's totally okay for everyone to be offline in chat and to have our phones in silent mode as well."

3. Focus on results (and use data to help you)

Working remotely is hard for a lot of managers because it’s often the quietest contributors who are doing the most work. But when all you’re seeing is an empty chat log or someone’s status as “offline” what are you supposed to think?

This is where data and outputs become so important. One of the main benefits of working remotely is being able to spend more time on meaningful work. But both you and your team need a way to measure that output.

One-on-ones are a great place to talk through progress and issues. But you don’t want to always have to reach out and disrupt someone’s flow to find out what they’re working on.

A project management tool like Planio gives you a 10,000-foot view of your team, company, and projects.

Use the Agile board to quickly see the status of each task in your project.
Agile Board in Planio

Or you can filter by assignee to see how much work each person on your team has, what they’re working on, and even the time they’ve spent on specific tasks (using the built-in time tracking feature).

Time Tracking Planio

Make the effort to look into your remote team’s responsibilities before reaching out to them. They’re most likely busier than you think.

4. Update your old processes and communication style to work in a remote world

Even if your team is using the same tools at home as in the office, that doesn’t mean you’ve got working remotely all figured out. As Deep Work author Cal Newport explains:

“In theory, we have the technology we need to make remote work workable. And yet most companies that have tried to graft it onto their existing setups have found only mixed success.”

One of the most important places to update your process is giving feedback.

Every manager struggles at times with giving and receiving feedback. But it’s one of the core elements of a successful remote team.

Recognize that your remote workers want to get and give feedback in different ways and you need to tailor your approach accordingly.

As Kevan Lee, VP of Marketing at Buffer writes in our Guide to Managing Remote Teams:

“I need to be mindful of how a person prefers to receive feedback: do they like the real-time nature of a video call, or would they prefer an email so they can sit and reflect on the feedback before responding?"

If you need help keeping all this in order, use a communication plan template to organize how you’ll interact with your remote team.

Your remote workers will want to get and give feedback in different ways and a good manager will tailor their approach accordingly.

5. Use documents, wikis, and knowledge bases to keep your team unblocked

Working remotely is all about flexibility. The unfortunate downside of that is it often means teammates miss out on meetings or don’t know where to find important documents.

However, the best remote management style is a ‘pull’ style–where everyone always has access to the resources and information they need and aren’t blocked.

In other words, you need to ‘default to open communication.’ As much as possible, you should create documentation, wikis, knowledge bases, or other pieces of content that are readily available to your team.

To help you get started, here are a few guides (with free templates):

Building a culture of documentation has the added benefit of helping your team learn to write. In a remote world, clear communication is king. The more your team gets used to writing and communicating clearly, the better.

Hiring remote workers: How to hire remote developers and other talent

Hiring a remote team comes with its own challenges. Where will you find your new teammates? How will you know they’ll be a good fit when you can’t even meet in person? Plus, what even makes someone a good candidate for a remote position?

If you’re used to in-person interviews and luring away local talent to join your team, the lack of in-person connection can be hard to get over. But it’s not impossible.

In order to successfully hire remote developers, you need to adjust your workflow to be more remote-friendly. Luckily, tons of great companies have experimented and learned how to do this.

Here are their best tips for how to hire remote developers and other talent.

(For a more detailed guide, check out our full article on building and managing a remote engineering team!)

Decide if it’s the right time to hire remotely

There’s no lack of people searching for a remote job (especially now). Before you post a remote job listing, you need to prepare to get inundated with responses. This means being absolutely sure that it’s time to expand your team with new remote workers.

Here’s a simple exercise you can use. Create a shared doc as a team and answer a number of questions:

  1. What are the objectives of the role?
  2. What goals need to be achieved in a year for us to consider this hire a success?
  3. What will the candidate need to do in their first 30-60-90 days?
  4. What are the traits and skills this person needs to be successful?
  5. Who’s involved in the hiring process and at what point?

This gives you a good baseline for creating your job description and understanding the role. You might find that you’re unclear and should wait before hiring. Or, that you’ve got enough responsibilities to hire more than one person!

Start small: Reach out to your network for referrals

The best candidates are usually just a few degrees of separation from your company. That’s why it’s good to start close to home before expanding your search.

During your search for places to hire remote developers, make sure to include:

It’s a good idea to use some sort of software for tracking applicants to make sure everyone’s clear about the process and gets timely updates. You can even set up a Planio project to track applicants, keep notes, and organize your entire hiring process!

Hiring remote workers agile board workflow

Don’t forget: The key skills and traits of great remote workers

What makes a great remote developer or other teammate is different from what you’re probably used to. There are a few key traits and soft skills that are pretty big signifiers that this person will succeed in a remote position.

The key skills and traits of great remote workers

As you talk to potential remote teammates, look for signs that they hit the mark on these qualities:

Set up calls (or chats) to move remote candidates from “maybes” to either a “heck yes!” or “no way!”

With a ton of applicants coming in, you’ll want to quickly move them out of the “maybe” pile. If someone looks good, set up a phone or video “screener” to get a feel for them.

Use this time to let them talk (i.e. don’t spend the whole time explaining the role). The goal here is to either move them forward or cut the process off early.

With remote roles especially, you’ll want to get multiple team members on calls. So think about breaking out the interview process into a few steps:

Calls and video chats are a great way to do this as it gives you a feel for how they’ll be working remotely. However, you might also want to think about hiring using the tools you use each day.

For example, Matt Mullenweg, the founder of Automattic (the company behind WordPress), hires over chat:

“Hiring through chat removes a ton of opportunities for unconscious bias. We’re always looking at what we can do to make it as much about the work, and not extraneous stuff, like how you’re dressed, how you showed up, how you sound, how you look, where you live. All those things ultimately don’t matter, particularly for an internet company. So let’s just remove it from the process entirely.”

If you’re unsure or undecided, make the last hiring phase a paid project

Sometimes, you’ll find the perfect match early on. While others, you’ll be unsure or stuck between multiple people. At this point, your best bet is to get them working on something meaningful.

A small paid project is a great way to not only get a feel for their skills but also how they’ll interact with the rest of your team.

Get more tips on hiring remote developers (plus step-by-step instructions and a free remote job listing template)!

The 5 essential remote tools every team needs

A lot of what makes remote work successful comes down to soft skills like communication, prioritization, and empathy. However, the rise of working remotely wouldn’t have happened without the incredible remote tools now available.

Collaborating and communicating with your team from around the world requires tools that are intuitive without being invasive.

So what is needed to work remotely from a tools and software perspective?

1. Task manager and project management software

Remote work is all about organization. The easier it is for your team to see their current work, priorities, roadmap, and goals, the easier it’ll be for them to work independently, autonomously, and productively.

The most important remote tool you can have is a powerful task manager and project management software.

For example, Planio is a comprehensive project management tool that keeps all your team’s tasks, issues, project planning, communication, and even files in one place.

Think of Planio like the command center for your remote team. Anyone can quickly see the status of any project or task, get an update from a teammate, or search for files and knowledge.

Asking Teammate for help

Plus, with integrated cloud storage and repository hosting for Git and SVN, you know everyone’s working on the same files and codebase.


  1. Best overall: Planio
  2. For smaller projects: Trello
  3. For those who love spreadsheets: Airtable

2. Communication tools

It’s hard to overestimate the power of communication for remote teams. While a powerful task manager will give people a way to stay on the same page, few things are more important than being able to ask questions, find information, and connect with your team.

Remote communication tools run the gamut from chat apps to video conferencing, audio “hangouts”, and even good-old email.

Whatever tool you choose, remember that it can quickly become a distraction if you don’t create a set of rules around how your team communicates. For example, “We use video chat for daily stand-ups and weekly all-hands, but use chat when something is urgent.”


  1. Video conferencing: Planio Meet
  2. Team chat: Planio Team Chat
  3. Audio chat: Discord

3. Remote collaboration (for docs and design)

Team collaboration tools have taken a huge leap forward in the past few years, mostly thanks to the demands of remote teams.

It’s now easier than ever to collaborate on documents, designs, or pretty much anything else in real-time without worrying that you’re working on the wrong file or baking in conflicts with your changes.

Cloud-based collaboration tools for remote teams are a must-have when you’re working across timezones and continents (or even just across town).


  1. For documents: Planio Wikis and Dropbox Paper
  2. For code: Planio Repositories and BitBucket
  3. For designs and prototyping: Figma and InVision

4. Cloud storage and file sharing

Team file sharing has become increasingly important in the age of working remotely. With the right cloud-based tools, your team gets access to everything they need without compromising your organization or security.

The most important aspects of a team file sharing tool for remote teams are that it’s secure, accessible, always available and up-to-date, and integrated with the other tools you use.


  1. Best for seamless file access: Planio Storage
  2. For one-off transfers: WeTransfer
  3. For large organizations: Microsoft OneDrive for Business

5. Knowledge management

The most innovative remote companies have found ways to make up for the lack of “in-person magic” and share their team’s knowledge with everyone. The easiest way to do this is with a knowledge management system.

A knowledge management system is an internal guide that points people towards the resources they need to join your company’s collective consciousness and grow off the knowledge and experiences you’ve all been through.


  1. Easiest to use: Planio Wikis
  2. For large companies: Zendesk
  3. If you’re just getting started: Google Docs

Pro Tip: Limit the number of remote tools your team has to use

Not only has the culture shifted, but we’re also in a place where the technology allows a seamless transition from office to the home office. However, there’s such a thing as too many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to remote tools.

The more your team has to switch between tools and software to get their work done, the worse off they’ll be. In fact, research has found that every context switch (i.e. jumping between apps or tools) reduces productive time by 20%!

That’s why an integrated communication, collaboration, and project management tool like Planio is such a great option. Here’s how Planio CEO Jan Schulz-Hofen explains it:

"We built Planio to be a comprehensive project management tool and collaboration platform where everything is in one place. We advocate against having too many tools because you'll never find files or past communications again if you have to search for them in 5 different tools.”

“It's also much harder to control who should be able to see/edit/comment what. Plus, you have almost no ownership of your data with everything scattered across X different cloud providers.”

Here’s how Planio provides everything your remote team needs:

As Jan explains, “The beauty of Planio is that everything is in one place with a unified user interface and centralized control."

Remote work and culture: Building connections within a remote team

In the middle of the remote work success Venn diagram–between the remote tools, hiring, managing, and best practices–is your culture. Working remotely isn’t just a practical problem to solve. It’s a personal one.

As the authors of a recent Harvard Business Review article write:

“One of the most essential steps a manager can take is to structure ways for employees to interact socially (that is, have informal conversations about non-work topics) while working remotely.”

Building a culture as a remote team takes patience and purposefulness.

Just like you can’t assume your workflows and tools will transfer seamlessly to a remote scenario, you need to expect that your culture will have to shift as well.

Creating a team culture on a remote team is an ongoing process. There’s no easy fix but rather a bunch of little steps that need to be taken over and over to ensure everyone feels connected to your purpose and excited to come into “the office” every day.

Staying sane while working remotely: How to keep you (and your team) productive, focused, and happy while working from home

If you’ve come this far, you’re in the best possible shape to start running or working on a remote team. However, we’re not quite done.

Working remotely is still a new situation for most people. Even “veteran” remote workers rarely have more than half a decade of remote experience under their belts. This isn’t just because remote work is new. But also because it can be hard on the mind and the body.

We’ve spent a century creating a work culture and environment based on coming to the office. And it will take time and effort to shift those norms to make sense when working remotely. One of the biggest issues we’re going to face is creating a proper separation of work and life. Remote work can be isolating for a lot of people. But it can also just as easily be all-consuming.

Working where you live makes it hard to disconnect from work, which, according to research, leads to burnout, higher turnover, lower productivity, and other “undesirable outcomes.”

Unfortunately, this problem can’t be solved by a tool or tip.

As Deep Work author Cal Newport writes in The New Yorker about Jack Nilles who coined the term telecommuting in the early 1970s well before the internet or networks were on anyone’s mind:

“Jack Nilles dreamed of remote work replacing office work, but the plan backfired: using advanced telecommunications technologies, we now work from home while also commuting. We work everywhere.”

The single best thing you can do for your productivity, well-being, and focus is to learn how to disconnect from work when working remotely.

As a team member, this could mean:

While for managers, you can help your remote team disconnect and stay productive by:

This isn’t the only way to stay healthy when working remotely, but it’s a start. To learn more about how to build a healthy work routine, read our post on 21 Daily Routines and Habits of Highly Productive Founders and Creatives.

Become a remote team all-star with all of our best resources for working remotely

Remote work is here to stay. And overall, that’s a great thing!

At Planio, we’ve been champions of remote work and flexible working arrangements for years. And it’s amazing to finally see so many other companies and industries getting on board.

If you need more help or inspiration to get the most out of your remote team, check out the rest of our resources on working remotely: