You’re one step away from mastering remote team management. All you have to do is read this article till the end.
First, let’s get something straight: working from home is not going away. It’s essential to admit that a majority of workers have begun operating out of their homes in 2020 and will continue doing so even if the pandemic is officially over. Stats support us: 74% of organizations allow employees to work remotely.
However, managing a remote team and cross-team collaboration come with their own set of challenges. It’s very important to find innovative ways to bond your teams together, regardless of where they’re working from, in order to maintain a sense of cohesion and keep their morale high. While technology has made remote work more accessible than ever before, it’s important to remember that it can’t replace the leadership and real unifying force that you provide as a manager. As such, it’s up to you to foster a productive and supportive work environment, leveraging technology as a tool to help facilitate remote team collaboration.
Stick with us to learn how to manage remote teams and deal with all the stumbling blocks that might get in your way!
The challenges of remote team management
Research shows us that:
- 86% of employees who work from home full-time experience burnout.
- 48% of remote workers feel as though they have no emotional support from their employers.
Now, if you’re asking us, that’s a lot. It’s up to you to prevent that from happening, and (in unfortunate situations) to manage it. (*No pressure, we’re here to help!)
Unlike a traditional office setting, remote work blurs the boundaries between work and home life, leading to longer work hours and reduced productivity. Therefore, it is crucial to:
- Establish clear working hours for every team member
- Encourage them to disconnect from work outside of these hours
To mitigate the challenges of working across different time zones, managers should consider:
- Conducting asynchronous meetings to ensure all team members can participate
- Re-evaluating and rethinking work policies and procedures in order to accommodate remote work
- Prioritizing the well-being of our employees by finding new ways to support their productivity and engagement.
2. Poor communication
Another challenge in remote team management is, obviously, communication. Effective communication is essential for a successful remote team.
It’s important for team members to be in regular contact to facilitate the efficient completion of tasks and promote collaboration. However, without the ability to easily communicate with colleagues, individuals may be inclined to work independently, reducing the quality of their work and slowing down progress. The lack of face-to-face interaction that remote work can cause may exacerbate this issue. As such, managers of remote teams must carefully consider how to establish effective communication channels that can replace the interactions that would typically occur in a physical office setting.
3. No purpose
A shared sense of purpose plays a critical role in motivating individuals and teams. This feature has been linked to numerous benefits such as improved employee retention, increased productivity, and better performance in the stock market. However, when communication is limited within a team, a shared sense of purpose may not be effectively cultivated or communicated, leading to a lack of motivation.
Motivating remote employees can be a challenge due to various remote-specific factors such as a lack of communication with teammates, social isolation, distractions at home, and a lack of acknowledgment and guidance from management. As a manager, it is crucial to address these challenges by proactively identifying and addressing them through methods such as:
- 1-on-1 meetings
- Employee surveys
By addressing these challenges, remote employees can feel more engaged and motivated, leading to improved productivity and job satisfaction.
The issue of loneliness among remote workers can lead to significant negative consequences. A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that remote workers can feel excluded and isolated, which can lead to physical and mental health challenges if not managed properly.
To tackle this problem, regular team building sessions should be scheduled, allowing employees to get to know each other better and to discuss non-work topics. Here are some great examples you can find on eTeamBuilding:
These meetings can be held directly in Slack or Microsoft Teams if you find it difficult to organize them in person.
Finally, outdoor team buildings can be organized to provide an opportunity for team bonding and to help combat social isolation. It is important to note that these group retreats do not need to be elaborate. Make sure you involve some team building games, and you will definitely achieve the desired effect. You could also go for a virtual happy hour!
5. Lack of knowledge distribution
Another challenge that needs to be addressed if you’re managing remote teams refers to the lack of knowledge distribution. Within a team, some members may possess a greater degree of expertise and knowledge than others. However, in remote teams with inadequate communication, this knowledge gap can remain unaddressed, as senior team members may be preoccupied with their own tasks while new team members may be reluctant to seek advice. Over time, this knowledge gap can lead to tension and missed opportunities, as new team members may learn at a slower pace than they otherwise could have. Make sure everyone is involved in the work process and don’t forget to give special attention to the newbies.
Addressing productivity-killing distractions is crucial for maintaining high performance levels. Although remote and non-remote teams face similar distractions, remote distractions are harder to manage, as managers have limited control over external factors like household distractions.
However, there are ways to help employees deal with work-related distractions:
- Automate routine tasks. Automating repetitive tasks through tools, such as Zapier and Geekbot, can help employees save time and focus on more important work.
- Outsource mundane or administrative work. To minimize distractions, managers can outsource non-core administrative tasks that can be handled by freelancers available on various online platforms. By doing so, team members can focus on work that requires their expertise and creativity.
- Encourage Pomodoro sessions and DnD statuses. To boost productivity, managers can encourage team members to use the Pomodoro technique, which involves working for a set amount of time, followed by a short break. Additionally, using a ‘Do Not Disturb’ status on messaging platforms during focused work periods can help minimize interruptions.
How to manage remote teams?
Now that we’ve seen the difficulties of remote team management, let’s give you the solutions as well. Here are the best strategies to manage remote teams:
1. Build trust
Establishing trust with remote employees is essential, but micromanaging is not the way to go.
It’s important to show confidence in your team’s abilities to work remotely and maintain productivity levels similar to those of in-office employees. Constantly checking in on remote workers may send a message that you do not trust them, so it is best to strike a balance between communication and giving employees the autonomy they need to get their work done. By providing support, clear direction, and demonstrating trust, managers can help remote employees feel more connected to their team and the company, which in turn can lead to improved performance and job satisfaction.
2. Enhance communication
In a remote work environment, it can be challenging for team members to communicate with their manager without having physical access to their office. To overcome this, it is important for managers to establish clear channels of communication and remove any barriers that may hinder effective communication.
One way to ensure regular communication is by setting aside specific times of the day for employees to book short sessions with their manager. The manager can maintain a calendar to indicate which time blocks are available. Additionally, managers should create a communication strategy that outlines the frequency and format of team meetings, as well as expectations for background noise, decorum, and meeting templates.
To identify any communication-related issues within the team, managers can conduct an employee survey. The survey should inquire about the number of meetings, their efficiency, length, and level of engagement. Tools such as Slack or MS Teams can be used to conduct the survey and gather all the responses in one channel for quick analysis and follow-up.
3. Establish rules of engagement
This includes setting expectations for the frequency of meetings, tools to be used for different types of communication, and specific times when leaders are available for inquiries.
For instance, town hall meetings can be scheduled via Zoom, while project-related discussions can be conducted on Slack or through personal phones for urgent matters. By establishing clear guidelines, employees will have a better understanding of how to engage with their leaders and colleagues, leading to more effective and satisfying communication.
4. Have daily check-ins
In order to effectively manage remote teams, scheduling daily check-ins can be an important strategy, particularly for managers and teams who are new to remote work. While email, phone calls, and texts can be effective communication tools, many successful remote leaders are now prioritizing more frequent use of video conferencing to simulate the face-to-face interaction that can be lacking in remote work environments.
5. Turn your 1-on-1 into more efficient meetings
To fully capitalize on the benefits of 1-on-1 meetings, managers must be well-prepared by determining the meeting’s objectives, identifying how they can assist their colleague, and outlining a system for tracking meeting outcomes. Because answering these questions necessitates significant preparation, managers may be inclined to forego or ad-lib the meetings.
6. Allow them to be flexible
Managing remote teams in the current environment presents a unique challenge. Each team member has a distinct home environment, which may include family members, varying workspace arrangements, and personal circumstances that may impact their work.
As such, managers must recognize and accommodate the unique needs of each employee. Adapting to this reality is vital in light of the extraordinary events of the past few years. Though the challenges may seem daunting, with a spirit of perseverance and resilience, successful remote team management can still be achieved.
7. Make predictable structures
To increase productivity in a remote workplace, it is essential to establish predictable structures. The lack of physical proximity among employees can lead to disconnection, making it necessary to create a team rhythm.
This should include a clear timetable for meetings, and each employee should have an understanding of their role within the process. To avoid placing an undue burden on any individual, it is important to rotate meeting times for remote employees working in different time zones. Additionally, it is crucial to create structures within meetings to ensure they are efficient and focused.
8. Ask for feedback and support personalization
Establishing procedures and expectations for remote team members is crucial for effective management. However, recognizing the unique circumstances of each individual team member is also important, as they may have valuable insights into their own work preferences and styles.
Therefore, it can be beneficial to solicit their input when creating the framework for remote work. For instance, allowing employees to choose their preferred communication methods or setting core hours for collaboration can enhance their productivity and job satisfaction. As exemplified by Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, who gives his teams the autonomy to determine their own work practices, involving team members in decision-making can foster a sense of ownership and empowerment within the remote team.
9. Be empathetic
In order to effectively manage remote teams, it’s essential to show empathy towards team members. This includes frequently checking in with employees to understand how they are feeling and if they are experiencing any feelings of isolation.
It’s important to talk to them about the methods being used to stay in touch and how they are coping with disruptions at home. Additionally, providing tips to help others work from home more easily or productively can be very helpful. Any updates or information should be shared regularly, even if it is just to let them know that there is no news to share.
10. Offer them the right resources
It’s crucial to ensure that all remote employees have easy access to essential resources such as production schedules, project timelines, and background documents.
To accomplish that, we recommend you establish a centralized online location like SharePoint, Smartsheet, Dropbox, Google Docs, or a wiki. Using a shared online calendar will help ensure that everyone on your team is up-to-date with the latest schedule details in a single location. By implementing these measures, managing a remote team will become more manageable.
11. Use the proper tools
Remote team management requires the use of various technological tools. These can be classified into 3 main categories:
- Communication tools – Using communication tools such as Zoom and Slack can facilitate rich and organized communication between remote team members.
- Project management tools – Using Asana, Trello, and JIRA can streamline remote project management.
- Productivity tools – Using Zapier and Pomodoro can help keep team members focused and productive.
It’s important to regularly discuss the role of technology in remote work during conference calls and to ask for feedback from team members about which tools and features they find most helpful or limiting. Regardless of the tools used, it’s crucial that everyone understands how they work, why they are being used, and who can assist with troubleshooting issues. To facilitate that, consider setting up a chat feature with a designated IT representative who can address technical difficulties as they arise.
12. Make sure everyone is involved
In managing remote teams, it’s important to ensure that all team members are included and feel supported. While experienced remote workers may require less support, new remote workers may feel disoriented and require additional guidance. Collaboration and teamwork are still crucial for remote employees, just as they are for those working in the same location.
In remote teams, there may be team members who prefer to take a back seat and not actively participate. To prevent them from becoming disengaged, it’s essential to encourage each team member to contribute during meetings, even if it’s something as simple as sharing their best experience since the previous meeting. One effective approach is to start meetings with a ‘word and number’ exercise where each team member shares a word to describe their current mood and a number to indicate their energy level out of ten. This can help foster open conversations and encourage everyone to participate.
13. Keep your eye on the results
A widely recognized best practice for increasing engagement and empowering remote employees is to focus on outcomes, not just activity. It involves defining clear goals and desired results and enabling trained and resourced employees to develop a plan of execution, fostering creativity and ownership. In a remote environment, micromanagement becomes even more difficult, which can be a positive thing for the team.