How to Successfully Manage Remote Teams
Managing remote teams brings unique challenges. Most frequently reported challenges by remote managers are definitely the lack of in-person supervision and poor communication within the team. But just as there are a number of challenges, there are also a number of solutions on how to manage a remote team.
In this blog post you will find:
Issues with Managing Remote Workers
An obvious one is that you have to manage remote employees from a distance and ensure targets are being met, both on time and on budget. The less obvious issues with remote work fall in the realm of the employees’ experience itself. Part of your focus should most definitely be on ensuring that your remote employees are happy, healthy, and productive without the constant need to check up on them individually.
Before you dive into any type of “secret sauce” to become the best remote manager possible, make sure to properly analyze your own- and the team’s needs to identify which areas to truly focus on. In the end, every manager is different and every team has different needs. Once you’ve identified focus areas specific to your team, develop strategies and tactics relevant to those areas. There’s no need to strive for perfection in everything - you may be risking spreading yourself too thin.
Which Areas of Remote Management to Focus On?
As said above, this will depend on your team’s needs, but the following are areas that apply to everyone and will help guide you through analysis and identification of the specifics unique to you. This list should also provide you with ideas on how to solve some of the remote management issues, but don’t limit yourself - never stop learning and keeping an eye on new tools to make your remote experience that much better.
Your Remote Management Solutions Checklist
- Bolster Remote Communication
Communication may be obvious as an issue since it is often a difficult area to tackle even in an office. But when you work remotely, communication in a remote office environment could become a multilayered disaster. Instead of risking your team always playing catch-up, use a tool like Slack with a clear strategy in mind. Remember that your team doesn’t have an opportunity to chat during a coffee break - e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g needs to be shared with everyone. While short and witty messages may be cool on social media, they’re a killer at work. Overcommunication never harmed anyone - it only helped facilitate information sharing with everyone. If your marketing team isn’t always on top of what’s happening with the product team or sales, this communication gap will flow over to your customers, ultimately hurting your brand.
For example, you could do a periodic check of Slack channels your team uses and identify gaps. Is your marketing team from the example above able to communicate with product regularly? If not, create a dedicated space for that and encourage engagement. If you want to check out alternatives to Slack, you may want to take a look at Troop Messenger and Blink.
A tip: consider using emojis to communicate the vibe. Written text isn’t exactly like verbal communication, and you don’t want important things to get lost in translation. At Nixa.io, we use emojis to give a virtual pat on the back, to celebrate, to laugh, and to express ourselves. It’s a gamechanger for the team spirit.
- Technology - use it
You’re probably aware of many of the amazing tools the tech era has enabled, but busy schedules often don’t allow one to really sit and think about how many obstacles various affordable tools could solve. Email and Slack are great for communicating important things in general, but to truly have everyone on the same page by enabling seamless workflows, consider onboarding tools beyond the basics. At Nixa.io, we use Monday.com and make sure the boards are transparent, so each team member knows what the other is working on. Monday.com can be used in its most basic forms, but the capabilities are endless - from Kanban view, to charts and calendar, all the way to activity tracking and bundling subtasks into achievements of the main task group, Monday is likely to solve all your internal workflow needs (and prolly more). For a more affordable alternative, check out Todoist.
Top tip: Use Krisp with Google Meet, Zoom, Slack, and other communication apps to cancel background noise. It will give everyone a peace of mind. See what we did there?
Be a remote leader, not just a remote manager
Every leader is a manager, but not every manager is a leader. Trust that you can be both. You only ought to embody what you expect from your team. Consider what makes a healthy and productive team, such as open and transparent discussion about work, issues they may be facing, etc. Now take the lead. If you want them to be well-organized, show them how you approach a day at work. If you want your team to communicate better, take the steps needed to encourage them to do so. If you want them to care about their job, share the vision beyond their specific role with passion. In a nutshell, demonstrate, but also inspire and influence. This will ensure that even the teams that can’t high five one another in an office can have the same sense of accomplishment and support.
Set clear expectations and equip your team
They are here to delivery work so give them everything they need to successfully deliver. First things first - set clear expectations for your remote team. Don’t expect that they “figure it out”, especially in an environment where employees are scattered all over the country, continent, or even the globe.
But no matter how clear the expectations, any team will struggle without the right resources to hand. As a remote team manager, it’s down to you to ensure they have the right equipment, technology, security and more. Consider sponsoring some of the basic equipment, such as computers, headsets, or even an alternative workspace. You are bound to save on office space, utilities, office perks, and all the rest that comes with the physical world, so this shouldn’t be too much to ask. They want to deliver, give them the tools they need to do this.
Be flexible and focus on output
Remote employees may work better at different times of the day, and in combination with time zones, it can be hard to keep track of when people are around. Have two to four hours where there is crossover between your team and arrange key meetings in that window, but aside from that, do not attempt to micromanage your team’s working hours. Remote work isn’t only “working from home” - it’s a working model that disrupts the traditional approach, and rightly so. Bygone are the days where workers were flipping items on conveyor belts.
As you adjust to this mindset change, consider that giving your employees the freedom to work when they’re at their most productive will greatly influence their output. And that’s your ultimate focus anyway. What’s the value of an employee working for 8 hours straight and being present during hours you choose, if they aren’t performing at their best?
Have a structured approach to remote work
While you can be flexible with time worked and working time, be structured in your work schedule. Plan out tasks and projects, give deadlines, arrange meetings along the way so that your team knows when they have to deliver. It also allows you to track progress of your team and make sure everything is on track. Having a structured approach is particularly important in remote environments, because remote workers can often feel isolated from the team, so keeping a close eye on the organizational aspects can help employees avoid being sidetracked.
Show empathy and understanding
Remote working has unique challenges that just aren’t there with on-site work. From children and pets distracting at home, to being socially isolated, prepare yourself and the team to cope with these challenges. You must be flexible and empathetic. Your team will look to you on how to react and cope when situations arise; don’t panic, stay calm and focused and your team will be, too. One thing is for sure, whether your team is on-site or remote, when your employees feel valued, you can be certain that they will provide value.
Every team needs to kick back and share a beverage and jokes with each other. It’s an important part of building company culture and trust. With remote teams, being mindful of socializing activities, i.e. increasing their frequency and depth, is particularly important. While remote work offers undeniable benefits to both the company and the employees, it also may increase the feeling of isolation. This is nothing to fear as long as you’re committed to your team. Set out specific times each week where the team can chat over a coffee. Use Slack app Donut to randomly pair team members for coffee dates and water-cooler convos, play Pictionary or MadLibs with the help of this random word generator. Set up a quiz and encourage the team to get involved. The possibilities are endless.
Give frequent feedback and facilitate proactiveness
As part of being open and transparent, give feedback often. Don’t wait until the annual review to let them know, feedback as much as possible as it will resonate with them more. Construct your feedback to be positive as much as possible as, generally, people respond to positive and constructive feedback better than negative. Receiving bad feedback can really affect morale which could bring them and the team down. Not to mention that negative outcomes, which may facilitate negative feedback, might just be a symptom of your team lurking in the dark. If you give feedback often, the team will be more aware of the expectations and is likely to have better output.
But don’t forget to collect feedback, too. You definitely want to give your employees the chance to be heard. Not only that, but you need to be able to adjust to your employees’ expectations just as they adjust to yours. It isn’t a zero-sum game. To facilitate this, use a tool like Chimp or Champ for regular, anonymous feedback.
Don’t forget to make this strategy your own. Happy managing!
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