Building Effective Remote Teams With Atomic Habits

The remote paradigm shift has made many of the “old ways” of office culture obsolete. Whether you’re a work-from-home freelancer, distributed team member, or a manager, it’s time to build completely new remote habits and get things done in 2021.

The good news is you don’t need ambitious goals or a spectacular 180 to become “the best you can be.” Instead, you should implement tiny, incremental changes that’ll put you (and your team) an inch closer to success, every single day.

In this article, you’ll learn how to:

  • 🛠 Implement good remote habits
  • ❌ Uproot and replace bad habits 
  • 🚀 Gradually boost team effectiveness
  • 📈 Track team habits and performance

💡 Before you begin… This guide is part of our series on remote team management. Be sure to check similar articles on the blog when you’re done here:

  1. The Power of Checklists in Distributed Teams
  2. ☯️ A Holistic Approach to Remote Leadership
  3. 🤹‍♂️ Multitasking for Remote Cross-Functional Teams

So, without further ado…

Compounding Benefits of Atomic Habits 📈

In the 2018 New York Times bestselling book Atomic Habits, author and entrepreneur James Clear argues that there’s much more to incremental changes than meets the eye.

According to Clear, you can get much better results by consistently improving 1% each day than you can with big but inconsistent twists to your routine.

He calls those life tweaks atomic habits.

“The holy grail of habit change is not a single 1 percent improvement, but a thousand of them. It’s a bunch of atomic habits stacking up, each one a fundamental unit of the overall system.”

—James Clear, Atomic Habits(1)

Just like retired Navy SEAL and author Jocko Willink, Clear debunks the myth that habits and routines are obstacles. Instead, he believes that systems give us a degree of predictability, order, and accountability, the alternative to which is chaos.

And this takes us to our next point.

Why Distributed Teams Need Atomic Habits 🤔

While telecommuting has been flourishing for quite some time, many distributed teams are still struggling to figure out what the “remote culture” is all about.

  • “How often should we communicate?”
  • “What remote tools should we use?”
  • “Synchronous vs asynchronous? Which is better?”
  • “Which communication channel to prioritize?”
  • “How to find the fabled work-life balance?”
  • “How to coordinate work across time zones?”
  • “Where to find internal/external motivation?”
  • “How to effectively track progress?”
  • “How to overcome distractions at home?”

Sounds familiar?

Most of those dilemmas stem from a poor organizational approach that lacks both consistency and direction. For many, remote work is still the art of improvisation.

This is where atomic habits come into play.

How to Implement Remote Atomic Habits 🏆

In Clear’s system, building good habits and breaking the bad ones can be broken down into four steps or laws:

  1. 🎂 Law #1 – Make the habit obvious. Anchor your habit in space and time. If you want to engage in two hours of deep work at 6 am each morning, create and apply a formula like this: “I will practice two hours of deep work at my home office Mon-Fri.” The key is to add ample context and avoid ambiguity.
  2. 🍭 Law #2 – Make it attractive. Combine what you need with what you want. If your team notoriously wastes time on offtopic during meetings, allow 5-10 minutes of watercooler chit-chat to conclude a meeting. Communicate the new policy so everybody knows both the rules and the reward. 
  3. 🍰 Law #3 – Make it easy. Create a path of least resistance by optimizing the environment. If your team doesn’t adhere to communication etiquette, append its rules to every meeting agenda so it’s always there for reference. Stack habits (more on that in a bit) to build up flow and progress more easily.
  4. 🍪 Law #4 – Make it satisfying. Find instant gratification in performing good habits. If you struggle with getting work done at home, create instant feedback, e.g. by checking items off a to-do list. Keep up habit streaks and try not to omit a habit more than once. If you do, you’re back to square one.

All four laws complete what Clear calls a habit loop.


A graphical representation of the habit loop
based on the works of Charles Duhigg and Nir Eyal(2)

By iterating all four steps of the framework, your team will be able to improve communication, coordination, and collaboration by 1% every single day. It may not look like much, but the gain down the road is a whopping 37x annual improvement.

Clear’s approach involves several additional components like habit stacking and habit tracking. We’ll discuss them in relevant sections across this article.

So, what remote habits does your team need?

The Four Habits of Effective Distributed Teams 👩‍💻

Habit #1: Prioritizing Team Communication 📣

An accountability partner can create an immediate cost to inaction. We care deeply about what others think of us, and we do not want others to have a lesser opinion of us.”

—James Clear, Atomic Habits(1)

Imagine communication in a typical office environment. It’s a mix of direct, swing-by-your-desk engagements, communication tools, and socializing over coffee.

Replicating these interactions is key in a remote setup. In other words, you want to make remote team communication habitual. Here are a few tiny tweaks to get started.

  • 💬 Use consistent communication methods. Create a communication etiquette and specify the purpose of each communication channel. Default to async (chat, email, text) for most day-to-day interactions. Use synchronous communication (video, voice) for meetings, sensitive, and urgent matters. 
  • 🌱 Nourish team interactions. Stat a virtual book club, encourage video coffee breaks, create a team newsletter, or put together regular virtual coworking sessions. A flat organizational structure is a great way to boost the flow of information across the team and organization.
  • 🤝 Optimize virtual meetings. Be mindful of time-zone differences and find suitable overlap time for all attendees. Opt for short meetings (10-15 minutes) and run quick sync-ups to touch base. Always prepare and share an agenda well in advance and make sure to start and end meetings on the schedule.

🌟 Pro tip… Use habits stacking to make tweaks stick. Apply a simple formula “Once I’m done with X, I’ll tackle Y” to quickly progress from one habit to another in a series.

Schedule Meetings with Taskade ⏰

Habits with a great deal of friction are less likely to stick. The good news is you can use Taskade to easily schedule remote meetings and place them on the roadmap.

Habit #2: Managing Team Knowledge 🧠

“Being curious is better than being smart. Being motivated and curious counts for more than being smart because it leads to action. Being smart will never deliver results on its own because it doesn’t get you to act. 

—James Clear, Atomic Habits

Steady improvement in life and business stems from clarity and purpose. You can’t get great results by asking the same vague questions over and over again.

Investing in team knowledge will help your team become more autonomous, make better decisions, and always be one step ahead of the competition.

  • 🗃 Create a knowledge repository. Set up a single source of truth and define clear roles and expectations for storing, organizing, and curating data. Make it a habit to capture documents, templates, manuals, and other materials. Reuse and repurpose content and create templates to cut down on repetitive work. 
  • ✨ Keep pristine digital hygiene. Roll out a team-wide password manager, regularly clean up your team’s cloud storage, and choose a consistent file naming convention. Use one project management app to document projects, correspondence, templates, training materials, and more. 
  • ✅ Encourage knowledge sharing. Make knowledge sharing part of team culture. Encourage 1-on-1 video coffee-breaks, offer coaching sessions. And engage in collaborative writing/editing. Establish knowledge brokers who’ll help you tutor team members and curate team knowledge.

🌟 Pro tip… Use a habit tracker for extra motivation and visual feedback. Set daily reminders and never break the chain more than once (see #4).

Organize all Things with Taskade 📎

Good organization is the first step to success. Use Taskade to capture, store, and catalog your team’s assets so they’re always there when you need them.

Habit #3: Optimizing the Home Office 🏡

“Environment design allows you to take back control and become the architect of your life. Be the designer of your world and not merely the consumer of it.”

—James Clear, Atomic Habits(1)

The overnight pivot to remote work changed the way we work and communicate. But it didn’t correct the basic flaws of human nature: disorganization and procrastination.

Before you can effectively address both these foibles, you need to optimize your home office environment and make it your productive respite.

  • 🤫 Beat distractions at home. Put your phone into silent mode or turn it off during video meetings/coworking sessions. Install a browser extension to block distracting websites. Communicate your business hours to family and friends.  Keep snacks at hand and don’t leave the room unless you absolutely need to.
  • 🛋 Boost office ergonomics. Make sure your workplace has good lighting. Keep your desk clean and remove potential distractions. Maintain a good posture and take frequent breaks to stretch and let your eyes rest. If possible, alternate between sitting and standing position to get the blood flowing. 
  • 🧘‍♀️ Seek work-life balance. Create a consistent and manageable work schedule and stick to it. Don’t be afraid to unplug when you call it day or need to tackle deep work. Keep your work tools (laptop, phone, documents) in one, dedicated space. Work when you work, play when you play.

Unplug with Taskade 🌗

Tired of beeps, and tweets? Taskade comes with notification control so you can escape the daily buzz. You can also check when others are working via the local time indicator.

Habit #4 Fine-Tuning Workflows 🛠

“Your habits are modern-day solutions to ancient desires. New versions of old vices. The underlying motives behind human behavior remain the same. The specific habits we perform differ based on the period of history.”

—James Clear, Atomic Habits(1)

Your remote workflow is a combination of the tools you use, the actions you perform, and the techniques you apply to get things done.

All three components of your workflow should be constantly finetuned and improved. They need to complement each other and work in perfect synergy.

  • 🚀 Optimize remote tools. Use remote tools that are easy to learn, fun to use, and created specifically for remote teams. Unify software where possible so your team doesn’t have to juggle multiple apps or switch between windows. Preach the rule of “1 in 1 out” and don’t stack tools with duplicate functionality.
  • 🎧 Embrace deep work. The regular office environment rarely supports deep work so prioritize it at home. Block time for deep work sessions (notifications off, no multitasking) first thing in the morning. Maintain a razor-sharp focus on meaningful work. Tackle the most difficult tasks first. 
  • 🏓 Get some physical activity. Introducing physical activity into a work-from-home workflow is a great way to keep the creative juices flowing. Take a walk or practice mindfulness meditation whenever you feel stuck. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.

Track Habits with Taskade ✅

Taskade lets you create or customize over 500+ free templates to track your team’s performance. Oh, and don’t forget to set recurring reminders for all those habits!

And that’s it!

💡 To make tracking your team’s habit easier, here’s a handy template with all the tips from this article. Copy it to your workspace to get started!

Parting Words 🚀

Tweaking a seemingly insignificant aspect of team regimen will bring quantifiable gains down the road. Each new habit implemented and adopted by your team will become amplified by the number of team members who practice it every day.

So, why wait any longer? Identify the areas of improvement and start fine-tuning every aspect of your team’s day-to-day activities with Taskade.

Jump over here to sign up for a free account today!

Resources 🔗

(1) https://jamesclear.com/atomic-habits
(2) https://jamesclear.com/habit-triggers