Companies worldwide are jumping on the remote work bandwagon, and entirely remote teams are the new normal. We know how challenging it can be to stay productive while working from home. But managing remote employees can sometimes make you want to pull your hair out.
Remote team management requires a different kind of business culture than the traditional office-based environment. To overcome the challenges of going remote, you'll probably need to change the work culture of your business from top to bottom. And you'll need to make sure that the right tools are on your side to facilitate this culture shift.
Here is a quick look at the key challenges that even experienced managers of remote teams usually face:
Lack of clarity and direction;
Wrong task and project management approach;
Tracking remote employees performance;
Remote collaboration and communication;
Lack of trust and cohesion in a team.
In this article, we will be exploring these challenges and ways you can deal with them. We've collected some useful tips that managers/employers can use to efficiently manage remote teams.
1/ Set expectations clearly
Remote work tends to be less structured, so you need to define your expectations precisely right from the get-go. All the members of your team must know the short and medium-term objectives. Provide everyone in your team with their own meaningful goals and measurable metrics (KPIs) that align with the company's ones. The sooner this is done, the better.
You should set clear expectations for:
Work hours: how many hours employees have to work and how much work has to be done daily/weekly;
Availability: level of availability you expect from employees during the workday;
Communication: how does the team communicate, and which tools are used and when;
Meetings: discuss which meetings are mandatory and which can be attended by preference;
Key projects and deadlines: define clearly the deadlines of every project your employees are working on.
Responsibilities and tasks: make sure that every new employee gets a consistent onboarding process and understands his/her role and functions.
2/ Build trust with your employees
In an office environment, you can usually see who is coming in every day and when, even if you are not tracking the attendance. In a completely virtual environment it can be challenging to understand what is going on and what is each team member working on.
Yes, there are ways to take control of every step that your remote teammates make. For example, using time tracking software like Time Doctor, you can trace in real time what project your employees work on, websites they visit, applications they use, and how much time is spent on breaks. But think about it – is this the kind of relationship you would like to build with your team?
We believe that the best way to maintain trust in the team is to give remote workers flexibility instead of control. If employees feel that they are trusted and have more freedom, they tend to be more engaged and show better results. Trust and freedom ensure a friendlier and more relaxed team environment, which will positively affect work outcome.
3/ Choose a good video conferencing software
To implement a solid communication process, you need the tools that you can rely on. Communication and collaboration software form the basis of the remote team's work organization.
If you can, make sure all your team calls are video calls. Using the leading video conferencing tools, such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams or GoToMeeting, you can video chat and collaborate in real time with ease.
If your team used to work in an office environment before, regular video calls are especially vital, as it can recreate or maintain the familiar meeting culture. Video calls are proven to be an excellent way to improve your work relationships and raise the team spirit. For some teams it can be beneficial to have a constant-on video connection between colleagues, even if there's no active discussion. Just having someone else working "in the same room" often increases productivity.
4/ Use productivity tools to enhance virtual team collaboration
Since Infolio is a collaboration suite, and productivity is our favorite topic, we had to say a few words on this!
If you still haven't found a suitable collaboration platform for remote team management, time to start using something! A good collaboration software can help any team, from the smallest startup to the largest enterprise to streamline their workflow. But for remote teams, collaboration software is a survival kit.
The functional collaboration hubs like Infolio, Monday, Clickup, Trello, or Asana can hit multiple targets at once. These apps will not only provide a safe space for team collaboration in real time but will also simplify project management, task planning, and tracking. And better yet, you can usually replace many tools you use with just one or two.
Keep in mind that most software providers offer a trial evaluation period. During this time, train your team and test how this tool affects your team's overall performance. Gather the feedback from your team and make the final decision based on it.
P.S. We know the struggle of choosing the right app – our summary of the remote working tools can help you. We compiled a good overview of the best tools in 2020 in three categories — video conferencing, task and project management, and content collaboration. And you can always give a try to Infolio – it’s free.
5/ Implement a new communication procedure
The biggest challenge for remote team managers in 2020 is bridging the digital divide between remote employees across multiple locations. Going remote means your previous in-office communication rules don't apply anymore. As a manager, you have to create a whole new standard communication procedure that will work for your team.
Meetings (although widely hated) are still crucial to team collaboration: they're places to strategize, align on shared goals, and come up with creative ideas. We suggest that you create a mandatory team meeting schedule first. Not too many and not too long, but still regular. Remote meetings require more preparation compared to the standard ones, but you have the power to turn this difficulty into an advantage. Structure the meetings with a detailed agenda and stick to it (after you test the tech and check the sound, of course), so that they are not a waste of time and energy for the whole team. Then it is highly recommended to create a virtual collaborative space the entire team has access to (tip #4).
6/ Establish rules, response times, and boundaries between the team members
Often remote teams are distributed between different time zones, and each employee might have a different schedule. In order to respect each other's work-life balance, remote teams need some boundaries to separate their work and personal life. Barrage of notifications and emails without any restrictions can distract an employee and break into his/her personal life. Of course, it is possible to turn off notifications, but then something significant can be missed. We suggest using scheduling tools (tip #7), where employee's availability is clearly visible to everyone in the team.
It helps to define hours, when the majority of the team can be available for chat, collaboration tools, and quick emails. Try to create a friendly and open communication line for everyone in the team and set some restrictions as well. For example, define the time slot when it is not okay to bother anyone unless it is something really urgent.
7/ Boost employee's accountability with scheduling software
Finding time for a group of people to meet can be a logistical nightmare, especially if your team is large or distributed or both. To simplify this process, use scheduling software for automated scheduling of events, employees, rooms, and other resources. Among the useful tools, we would highlight Calendly, Doodle, and When I Work. The primary purpose of these calendar tools is to reduce email clutter and confusion, to simplify time-consuming tasks like scheduling and organizing meetings. Scheduling apps also offer additional features, such as time and attendance tracking, meeting reminders, overtime management, time-off, and shift change requests. According to the needs, pick the one that suits your team best.
8/ Daily check-ins as a starting point
Starting a workday with daily check-in meetings or standups can be reasonable, but not for every team. Some teams prefer to make a quick daily meeting not longer than 15 minutes. These small daily meetings can help to stay more organized, but if some teammates work independently, it may distract them from doing what really matters. However, if you are working on a challenging project with a strict deadline, where proper planning and fast iterations are critical, we recommend implementing this practice and sticking to it.
9/ Weekly meetings are a must!
Yeah, we know that meetings are counterproductive, any meeting can be skipped, and so on. But hear us out. For a distributed team mandatory weekly meeting can be a gamechanger. Organize a video call for the entire team, ask everyone to tell about his/her week, what's been done, which challenges have been wrestled with during that time, what is planned for the next week. Make sure that everyone can attend this meeting regularly, select the time slot that suits everyone, but try to make it an unmissable event.
Don't make it too formal. Laugh, make jokes, discuss. Such meetings are usually held at the end of the week, and it's like a week's closure, where everyone can be relaxed that another five days of hard work are over. One of our favorite questions to ask everyone at such weekly meetings — what is the most interesting thing that happened to you during the week, or what did you find out that excited and stuck you?
At first people are hesitant to share things like that, and not everyone likes the idea of group video calls. But be insistent, and it will pay off. Events like that do bring the team together.
10/ Don't skip one-on-one meetings
Weekly meetings should be a meaningful habit for your team. But for most of the team members, it won't be enough. One-on-one sessions are always more honest because they offer privacy. During the weekly meeting, not every employee will talk about some serious difficulties that he/she was facing when performing a task or share something personal.
One-on-ones are one of the best ways for managers to build a strong rapport with their teams and create a culture of trust. They are more flexible and create a dedicated space for a manager to address an employee's growth, long-term plans, and provide personalized feedback. Beyond engagement, one-one-ones provide managers with an opportunity to coach and train their employees. Besides, these types of meetings can be extremely beneficial to employees, who work together on the same task or project, to share their progress, ideas, and concerns.
11/ Face-to-face team building activities strengthen the team spirit
Don't underestimate the bonds between team members. Many do love team building activities, and it is known that they are crucial for both regular and remote teams. As a manager, you should put in an effort to come up with non-trivial activities that help increase those team bonding factors. You'll probably ask: how to organize a team-building when your team is distributed across different locations? The solution is simple (but not easy): you have to do your team building virtually.
Virtual team meetings usually include organizing online games and activities to socialize with co-workers. These activities and funny games are relatively easy to organize these days, and they do not take a lot of time. Here's the list of something funny to try for your team-building: https://miro.com/guides/remote-work/team-building.
Just to give an example – there is a game called "Guess the artist." The rules are simple: everyone should upload their images/photos to an online whiteboard (Infolio's collaboration spaces can also help with that), and then everyone votes with the stickers or comments, guessing who's the author of each picture. Once the correct guess is made, that person shares a story, related to the photo. This game could be useful to learn something new about your colleagues, and just to have some fun.
12/ Focus on the result, not activity
We have previously mentioned how important it is to trust your employees. And we don't support any activity tracking software, as it most probably will stress out your employees more. It's not possible to manage every aspect of the work done by a remote team. And we also don't recommend you doing this. Instead of focusing on hours worked, focus on outcomes, and measure your team's results accordingly.
You should try to implement some rules regarding the deadlines so that all team members follow them. If the work is done on time and of good quality, then it's a work well done.
Punching a clock for eight hours is out. And regular work hours don't make sense anymore for many people. In the remote work environment, you have to give more freedom and flexibility to your employees. Let them get their job done on the schedule that helps them to stay more productive, not stressed. That's a great practice for your team in the long run, anyway.
13/ Establish a culture of ownership and accountability
This is something that every leader wants the most from his/her team, and it can be achieved if you are serious about all the previous tips. Ownership is about initiative, and accountability is about being fully responsible for the result delivered. Ideally, each team member should answer for his/her own actions and results, and understand how these actions affect the rest of the team.
Such culture will take root in your team when employees are engaged, trusted, and have a sense of shared purpose. If the expectations are clearly set, goals defined, communication processes and tools are professionally set up, you have all the missing jigsaw pieces, which will nurture the culture of ownership and accountability in your team.