How to Create Standard Operating Procedures for Remote Teams

Sam Puckett
October 24, 2022
min read
September 19, 2023
Photo credit
For WFH teams, SOPs can help you collaborate, train and align efforts from anywhere. Here are some tried and true tips for how to create standard operating procedures to keep your team together.
Generate SOPs!


Let’s face it: a new standard operating procedure isn’t exciting. It’s not a shiny new tool your teams can’t wait to use! But it’s tried and true — and it’s the foundation of efficient and consistent business results.

Standard operating procedures (SOPs) provide your teams with clear guidelines for completing specific tasks so that anyone — even a new hire — can do them.

They’re particularly critical for remote companies that are onboarding new employees at a breakneck pace as workers leave their in-office jobs for more flexibility and where new hires can’t shoulder-surf over their neighbor to see how things get done.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a new small business with three employees or an established company of thousands. If your teams do any process repeatedly, you need to document it to make sure it gets done right every time. Here’s how to create standard operating procedures (or SOPs) for your remote teams.

Plan your SOP documentation project

As with almost any project, investing time upfront in planning will save time in the long run. You know what they say: Measure twice, cut once. Thorough planning will prevent you and your teams from wasting time on unnecessary documentation, document revisions, and reinventing the wheel the next time you want to create a new SOP.

Here are the three steps of SOP planning:

Identify the processes that need SOPs

Not every business process needs to be formalized — just those that are done repeatedly by different people and are critical to your operations. Prioritize creating SOPs for the processes that new remote employees will execute so they don’t need to disrupt veteran teammates for instructions.

Start by connecting with your team members via Slack, Zoom, or another remote-collaboration tool to brainstorm a list of processes that may need to be documented (or that need their current SOPs reworked). Talk to the people who are executing the tasks every day, as they will have a clearer picture of what the processes entail. Plus, including them in the project gives them a feeling of ownership and investment in the SOP. Then meet with your fellow managers to determine which SOPs to move forward with, identifying any redundancies or dependencies that would benefit from collaboration between teams.

Decide the format of your SOP

SOPs can take multiple forms, and what makes sense for one workflow may not work for another. The three main SOP formats are:


These work best for processes that don’t require decision-making and have a list of associated tasks that need to be completed but not necessarily in a specific order. Think of a grocery list, for example. You need to purchase several things before your trip is complete, but when you put each item in the basket doesn’t matter — what matters is that you get everything on the list. Checklists aren’t just for basic business processes with simple steps. For more complex workflows or processes with hierarchical steps, you can break your checklist into sections with sub-steps.

To continue with the grocery-list analogy, it would look something like this:

  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Produce
  • Beets
  • Onions
  • Cauliflower

Step-by-step instructions

Scribe captures processes as they’re completed and auto-generates step-by-step guides with screenshots.

For workflows where the order in which tasks are completed does matter — but there’s no decision-making involved — you should create a step-by-step guide. Washing dishes, for example, is a step-by-step process: it’s important to rinse them after applying the dish soap.


Flow charts

This is the proper format for processes that require decision-making and includes different possible courses of action. For example, say you’re cleaning out your closet. As you pick up each article of clothing, you ask yourself, “Am I ever going to wear this again?” If the answer is yes, you put it in pile A. If the answer is no, you put it in pile B. Once you’ve chosen your ideal format, create a basic SOP template. This gives you a starting point for the current project and will save you time creating future SOPs.

Determine who will create and manage the SOP

Creating SOPs is a group effort, but you should choose one person on the team — ideally an SME or someone with know-how about the process — to physically create the document. The writer will receive support and feedback from other stakeholders, but designating a single person to create the SOP will prevent duplication of efforts and confusion over which version is the “real” one. You should also determine at the outset who will be responsible for maintaining the SOP once it’s been published, ensuring it gets periodically reviewed and updated when necessary.

Once you’ve completed these steps, it’s time to collect the information you’ll need to write the SOP.

Research the process you’re documenting

It’s important to thoroughly research the process before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, whichever the case may be). This can be more challenging for remote teams, but it’s even more critical in order to avoid repeatedly disrupting process doers — who may be in other time zones, engaged in focused tasks, or even off the clock. The SOP writer may know the process well, but other team members can offer valuable perspectives to help them create a more effective document. The information-gathering process consists of three steps:

Find existing documentation

If you’re revamping an existing SOP, the current version will contain information that will be useful for creating the new one. But even if you’re starting your SOP from scratch, some kind of informal process documentation — someone’s personal checklist, a Slack message, or an instructive email — likely exists if people have been doing the process for a while.

Interview SMEs

Talk to the people who know the process best — the ones who are doing the actual work — about their methodology. They’ve probably established best practices, discovered shortcuts, and understand the associated variables and how to handle them. You should interview other stakeholders (for example, the people who need this process completed in order to do their jobs) to learn what they need the end result to be and determine where it sits in the company’s value chain.

Observe the process

Schedule a video call to observe someone going through the process. Ask them to share their screen and take notes every step of the way. Do this a few times — ideally watching different people complete the process, since each person may have a slightly different way of doing it. Watching the process a few times also helps you catch subtleties that you may miss the first (or second) time around. Once you’ve gathered the necessary information, it’s time to get to work creating your document.

Create and publish your SOP

To make sure your documentation will create the optimal results, it may need to go through several iterations before you get it just right. Remember: though one person is responsible for creating the actual document, feedback from stakeholders is critical to ensuring its effectiveness.

Write your first draft

Using your template, create the first draft of your SOP (or start by writing or typing out detailed instructions in a doc and then plugging them into the template). Some best practices for writing SOPs are:

  • Put the objective at the top of the document.
  • Keep it concise — don’t include unnecessary descriptions or explanations.
  • Know your audience and what prior knowledge they have so your document isn’t redundant.
  • Include photos, screenshots, or other imagery where helpful.
  • Spell out any acronyms or abbreviations, either in a glossary at the end or the first time they’re used.

If you find yourself writing “and” within a single step, consider breaking it down further. And if your document starts getting too long, consider whether it makes sense to break it down into several SOPs.

Review your SOP

To make sure you end up with a high-quality SOP, ask other stakeholders — an SME and another manager, ideally — to review it. Make revisions as necessary, then send the SOP back around for another review.

Test your SOP

Before giving your document final approval, have someone test it by completing the process using your new process documentation as a guide. If your SOP is replacing an old version, have one person do the process with the old SOP and another with the new one to confirm that the new process is more efficient or produces a better end result.

Publish the SOP

With a remote team, you can’t just print out your document and pin it to a bulletin board. But you do need to store it in a centralized location that anyone in your company can access at any point in time, like a knowledge base or company wiki, then alert the appropriate team members by sharing a link to the document via email or Slack. Your SOP is complete, but the work isn’t over. Effective SOPs are living documents that require regular maintenance.

Now that you know how to create standard operating procedures, make the most of them

After all the work you’ve done to create your SOPs, you want to make sure they stay useful and up to date. Establish a schedule — quarterly or annually, for example — for the person you designated during the planning stage to revisit the document. Have them set a virtual meeting with the employees who execute the process to walk through the steps while viewing the SOP. This way, they can quickly identify steps that are no longer necessary or new efficiencies that can be put into practice across the team. Regularly updating your SOPs will enable you to continually improve processes and to increase efficiency and the value your team brings to the company.

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