With companies all over the world being plunged into the world of remote work, there’s no better time to brush up your knowledge of how to manage a remote team.
Managing a remote team is hard.
There are fundamental differences in managing a remote workforce compared to a team in the same office as you.
You have less face-to-face time, less overview of how projects are progressing, and need to trust your team to get the job done.
However, just because your team is remote, it doesn’t mean they’re at home watching Netflix or falling behind on projects.
Stanford University found that remote work leads to an increase in productivity equal to a full day’s work each week.
If you manage your remote team correctly, your team is going to be happy, productive, and get results.
In this article, I’m going to walk you through some of the significant benefits, challenges, and best practices for managing a remote team.
By the end, you’ll have a list of takeaways that you can go and test, then implement in your company.
Let’s jump into the guide.
What are the Benefits to a Remote Team?
If you’re apprehensive about your team working from home, stop.
Your team may be out of sight (except on video calls), but they’re not going to stop working.
In fact, 82% of people say working remotely leads to lower levels of stress.
30% of people say they get more done in less time.
Remote work is going to make your team happier, and their productivity levels may even increase as they can more easily manage their work-life balance.
Allowing your team to work remotely is also proof that you, as a manager, trust your team to get things done without needing to be in the office.
However, this doesn’t mean that managing a remote team doesn’t come with challenges.
Challenges of Managing a Remote Team
Working from home is very different from working in an office.
You’ll need a different set of tools to manage your team and facilitate excellent communication and enable your team to do their best work.
Let’s take a look at some of the main challenges to remote work.
1. Communication Issues Can Be Exaggerated
When you first go remote, you’ll soon realize that you don’t have defined processes for communication in place.
Without face-to-face contact, communication becomes even more critical.
But, without protocols in place, communication can be disjointed and confusing.
The key here is to encourage long-form, clearly articulated messages over short-form messages.
If your team takes time to put their thoughts into coherent memos, they won’t need to rely on implied meanings or losing the core of their messages in unclear chat logs.
2. Having Dedicated “Office Hours”
When your team goes remote, their schedules may end up changing slightly.
People’s real-life responsibilities, such as childcare, pet care, or general errands, will sometimes need to take place during regular work hours.
To get around the varying schedules, we’d recommend scheduling a daily stand up call (or ask people to send a message in Slack) where your team shares what they’ve been working on, what their plans are, and if there’s anything they need help with.
This means that everyone stays on the same page and also means people have the flexibility to manage their time how they see fit.
It may feel unnatural at first, but trust your team to get the work done, and the results will follow.
3. Setting Goals and KPIs
Working from home doesn’t mean results and progress will slow.
One of the best ways to ensure that your team stays motivated is to set goals.
However, these need to be results-based.
Sit down (virtually) with your team and create plans for the coming quarter.
Set goals based on business results for your team to work towards.
Then, they can get down to work and hit the targets you set.
Avoid using tools that track your employees’ time to the minute, or that take screenshots of what they’re working on at intervals throughout the day. Your team won’t feel trusted and it’ll lower productivity, rather than increase it.
With a results-based work environment, you won’t need to micromanage your team and they’ll be glad to see that you trust them to get their work done to a high standard.
4. Avoiding Burnout
One issue with remote work is that your team may find it harder to separate their work and home life.
If your team gets burnt out, they’ll be unmotivated and unlikely to do their best work.
To counter this, we’d recommend that you actively encourage your team to take time off and stay away from their work in the evenings and weekends, where possible.
It’s easier to prevent burnout than to recover from it.
5. Building Company Culture Remotely
You want everyone on your team to feel included and part of something bigger.
It helps keep everyone motivated, and a good culture is vital to employee retention.
A significant pain point for remote teams is the ability to build company culture.
There are a few ways you can approach this.
Firstly, you should be deliberate about your company culture. Don’t expect something to emerge.
Schedule weekly team catch-ups where people can discuss whatever they want. Create a Slack channel for random, off-topic chat. Set guidelines for how communication should be done.
Don’t let your culture create itself organically and then try to change it.
Best Practices for Managing a Remote Team
You need to be deliberate and prepared to manage a remote team.
Here are some best practices you should follow early to make sure your company runs smoothly even when everyone is working from home.
1. Get the Right Digital Toolkit
When you’re working remotely, you need to have everything done digitally.
Luckily there is a vast range of tools to facilitate remote work.
Here are some to consider:
- For video conferencing: Zoom, Whereby
- For workplace chat: Slack, Hangouts
- For project management: Trello, Basecamp
- For shared assets: Google Docs, Google Sheets
- Tracking customer-facing email productivity: timetoreply
As long as your team can easily collaborate, share assets, and track projects remotely, everything else will fall into place.
2. Set Availability Expectations
With your team living in different time zones and working on various projects, you need to be clear about expectations.
Here are some things you should consider and let your team know your expectations:
- How many hours they work per week
- At what times they should be available (different teams may have different requirements)
- How communication is handled
- Your standard email response time policy
This list isn’t exhaustive, but it should help you get started.
Remember to be realistic with all of the above.
3. Run Daily Check-Ins
When you’re working remotely, it’s easy to lose track of projects and what’s being done.
To counter this, establish a routine on when and how your team will check-in with each other (and with you) on work that’s being done.
A daily stand up is a format that works well for this.
You may need to have multiple meetings with multiple teams.
After all, your development team doesn’t necessarily need to know what your people on your sales team are up to every day (and vice versa).
You could run an all-hands meeting every month with your whole team to ensure everyone is on the same page.
4. Encourage Interaction
When your team is fully remote, it can be hard to create comradery between your team.
Consider how you can encourage interaction between your team, as it will build trust, and help with your team’s happiness at work.
There are no rules over the best way to do this.
However, here are some ideas for inspiration:
- Run meetings with no agenda where your team discuss what they did on the weekend
- Hold a monthly company book club
- Have a Slack channel for “wins” so your team can share in each other’s success
Basically, we can’t tell you what to do here.
Your company and people are unique, and you need to build a remote culture that enables people to feel good and do work that they care about.
Resources to Help Guide Your Remote Management Philosophy
Sometimes, it’s hard to create something out of nothing.
When building your remote company culture and designing a management style that lets your remote team thrive, it’s worth looking at what successful remote-first companies are already doing.
Here are some useful resources that may help you find your footing:
- Basecamp’s employee handbook and
- Zapier’s principles for remote company culture
- Buffer’s team values
There are no secrets to managing a remote team.
You’ll need to experiment and find what works for your unique company and situation.
The experience of going remote is entirely different from working on-site, but it can lead to big productivity and happiness gains for your team.
You’ll need to ensure your team has the right tools for the job, and everyone needs to be on the same page.
Once you start seeing results, you’ll understand the hype behind remote work and why more and more companies are allowing their teams to work remotely around the world.
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