7 things you need to know about managing remote teams
Approx. time to read: 15 minutes
The amount of people who work remotely at least once per week has grown by 400% since 2010. But what do you need to know and do to get the best possible outcomes for your business and the people in your remote teams?
Key Take Aways
- Why work remotely?
- What are some of the main challenges of remote work?
- What are the key things you need to set up to manage your remote workers?
- What tools do you need to communicate remotely?
- How do you supervise remote workers?
- What tools can you use to keep your remote team on track with their routine work?
- How can you best manage video conferencing?
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kerry Anne in the Small Business Matters Segment of Connect-Collaborate-Contribute on 26th May about the importance of having great systems when managing remote teams. You can watch the interview here.
In this article Kerry Anne expands on some of her answers from the interview and shares the answers to some questions we didn’t have time to talk about.
1. Why Work Remotely?
- Save money on the costs of performing all business functions in a physical site.
- Do business in global markets with no geographical limits.
- Increase the value of the business itself by building significantly better, more dynamic infrastructure.
- Tap into a greater talent pool to hire the best fit, regardless of geographical location.
- Hire to suit your staffing budget with local and off-shore options readily available.
- Enjoy the benefits of greater staff attendance and retention.
- Keep productivity and engagement high with remote workers voluntarily taking less time off for holidays and other leave.
- Work in real-time with online connections that work faster than face to face exchanges.
- Increase productivity with output being measured in outcomes, not hours.
- Enhance collegial relationships by connecting team members who may not previously have had anything to do with each other.
- Automate routine tasks to create more efficiency and reliability whilst saving money.
- Increase the amount of hours worked with remote workers literally working longer.
- Engage remote workers and drive their performance with flexibility which leads to innovation and ultimate employee empowerment.
- Reduce the wasted time and frustration of redundant commutes and other workplace distractions.
- Increase work-life balance with more control over health and other lifestyle choices.
- Enjoy reduced amounts of burnout and psychological stress.
- Derive higher levels of satisfaction from your work and greater control over ways of working.
- Access global opportunities for wider experiences, increased skills and career advancement.
- Engage remote workers and drive their performance with flexibility which leads to innovation and ultimate employee empowerment.
- Improve client contact with small, frequent touchpoints for seamless connection.
- Use online data sharing platforms to make communications more accurate and reliable.
- Use video conferencing to save the client the inconvenience of having to come to you for service.
- Develop your leadership skills to foster authentic relationships and team connectedness.
- Maximise the greater amount of choices available across every area of the business.
- Expand your vision of what is realistically possible for your success.
- Use messaging, remote meetings and pre-recorded videos to communicate this vision with more consistency, so greater impact.
- Enjoy the benefits of your own enhanced work-life balance.
Benefits To Humanity
- Reduce greenhouse emissions associated with using cars and other transport to get to work.
- Experience intercultural connections like never before.
- Share your daily lives with those from across the world.
- Bridge ethnic differences with mutual efforts and shared goals.
- Develop first hand understandings of difference to breakdown stereotypes and associated fears and prejudices.
2. What are some of the main challenges of remote work?
Loneliness and Disconnection
Being separated by time and space can make for a very isolated experience at work. 19% of remote workers report feeling more lonely now than when they worked onsite. Business owners and managers need to make sure that members working apart don’t feel isolated or forgotten.
Distractions At Home
Many people face more distractions at home than they would at the workplace (especially workers with families and kids). As the business owner, it can be almost impossible to help your staff overcome the interruptions they face when working from home, but passing on advice and welcoming a flexible approach to working hours is a good start.
Communication can be more difficult when the team is logging in to work from different locations. 44% of remote workers say communication problems affect the relationships employees share with their managers. Make overt efforts to stay in touch with your team.
Blocks To Collaboration
Working together is also challenging when you’re all apart. Brainstorming and shared creative work is not easy to do when the call drops out or the sound is poor. Success with collaborative remote projects rely on having a good internet connection and the right tools for the job.
Keeping Healthy Boundaries
The biggest problem for 22% of remote workers is unplugging after work. Encourage your staff to adopt healthy work practices where they start and finish on time, and take regular breaks to rest and recharge. A healthy employee will work more effectively for you in the long run.
While modern technologies provide the tools for us to be more connected and productive than ever before, you have to know how to use them first. Often the process of learning and using new tech can exclude many from working well in a remote setting. Provide regular training and support with tech, and manage change processes carefully.
If your team is still stuck in the workflows they used in the office they will quickly come to feeling a disconnection in their work. Workflows must be optimised to suit the context, eliminating inefficiencies and maximising flow. This is how remote workers will stay engaged.
associated fears and prejudices.
3. What are the key things you need to set up to manage remote workers?
Keep The Tools You Use To A Minimum
The more tech tools you’re using at work the more confusing your workplace gets for everyone. Always working from a “single source of truth” is the only way to keep things crystal clear and flowing smoothly. Stick with a small and standardized set of communication tools. Slack, Zoom, Google Docs remain our favorites.
Ensure Everyone Has What They Need To Work
If people can’t find the files they need, they don’t have information about a project, or they don’t have access to key contacts or platforms, they simply can’t work. Go out of your way to ask each member of your remote team if they need anything they don’t have, and explain how they can get that access if those roadblocks come up in future.
Stay Connected With Your Staff
79% of people who quite say they did so because they don’t feel appreciated. Feeling like you are connected and that you belong is important in any workplace, but when working remotely it can literally be a deal breaker. Keep people at the front and centre of your operations and develop routines and habits to enjoy happy social connections as well as professional ones.
Manage Workflow With A Cloud Based Tool
Your remote team needs to know how to do their work, but they also need to know when that work needs to be done. Keep track of projects and communicate task requirements clearly by using tools to manage tasks and projects. Automate the management of routine work with tools built specifically for the job, then make sure your team is well trained in those tools.
Use Video Conferencing Regularly
Jumping into a quick video call keeps us working in “face to face” mode so it helps to prevent that disconnect. It can also save the hours of confusion and miscommunication that can come when you try to deal with everything through email or chat. But a word to the wise. Video call fatigue is real! You can turn off the camera in the call or even simply pick up the phone to keep things moving whilst maintaining a healthy video conferencing balance.
Keep Expectations Realistic
The aim with leading a remote team is not to control minute by minute behaviours, but to support them in their independent achievement of goals. Accept the fact that the environment your team works in is simply not in your control. Make sure your team understands what you need, then approach their management with trust and respect for their individual circumstances.
Seek Out Feedback Regularly
You don’t have an “office door” or a watercooler, so your team can no longer approach you informally or indirectly. Keep lines of communication open and positive during meetings, and in calls and chat, by creating space for feedback and conversation. Make it clearly known that challenges need to be addressed just as much as wins need to be celebrated.
Be Flexible and Stay Positive
When challenges arise it can be easy for people to become disgruntled, resentful and pessimistic. When working online these feelings need to be dealt with assertively and directly by opening direct pathways for productive communication. All members of the team will be able to navigate tough times with grace, respect and transparency if you lead them in that yourself.
Encourage Healthy Work Habits
Even a happy, productive team needs to maintain healthy boundaries when they’re working remotely. Support them with “unplugging” by embracing self care and holistic development. Insist that workers take regular breaks to recharge and eat well. Encourage your team to start and finish work on time, and to pursue a fulfilling lifestyle outside of work.
4. What tools do you need to communicate remotely?
- Less is more
- Free is fine!
- If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
- Go with tried and true
- Make a plan, Stan!
Day to day communications for all members of your remote team will work best with instant messaging chats. Encourage your team to engage with their peers here, passing on information quickly, responding to others promptly, and interacting with a positive, good nature.
Work on mastering “asynchronous” communications which allow for times when real-time exchanges simply aren’t possible. Create instant messaging guidelines to clarify how and when to use different channels to avoid excessive distractions.
Keeping your team connected and collaborating means using video conferencing. Choose a platform that allows you to share screens, record the call, send files and links, chat in the call, and include multiple people. Being able to control a peer’s screen in the call is also handy.
Use video calls for more structured scheduled meetings as well as impromptu calls to quickly pass on information or solve problems immediately. Decide on the approach you want your team to take with having their microphone and video on or off
Sometimes the fastest way to get onto someone is to pick up the phone and have a conversation. Sending quick updates, reminders and information is sometimes best done with a text message. When other channels are bursting, the phone is a perfect tool to cut to the chase.
Take utmost care with protecting the privacy and well-being of your team members by keeping phone numbers secure and calling in set hours only. Asking your team members’ permission to use the phone is a smart way to keep things positive.
Emails will continue to be a tried and true method of remote communication for a long time to come. While other platforms offer more effective, efficient modes of communication, emails are still useful for more formal matters where things need to be kept “on the record.”
Never use emails for task management or passing on task related information. Make sure your team turns off email notifications from their other work platforms to avoid their inbox filling up with items that will be dealt with elsewhere.
Keep communications about current work happening right there alongside the tasks themselves for instant, inclusive exchanges that keep everyone on the same page. Make sure everyone involved in the task can access and contribute to the messages being shared about that work.
Ask each team member to keep their task management software open at all times, or integrate notifications with your messaging platform, so people see notifications as soon as they come in and can respond quickly.
Passing on the files, documents and other resources that people need to work is a central part of making communications run smoothly for your remote team. Create a comprehensive bank of resources and make these available centrally to the team to support their daily work.
The platform you use for storing resources is NOT where messages and feedback should be sent about the content, or related tasks. If your resource library needs updating, this should be communicated immediately by email or instant message.
There’s something really special about receiving a letter or a parcel in the mail. Old school postage services are a fabulous way to send personalised letters, cards or gifts in the mail to keep your remote team feeling the love!
Snail mail is not necessarily cost effective or efficient with time, so use it sparingly to celebrate special days and show appreciation. Parcels in the mail can create unexpected surprises and magic moments that really can’t be created any other way.
5. How do you supervise remote workers?
Make Performance Tracking A Routine
The best way to do this is to make performance tracking, support and rewards all part of the routines you already have in place. As you and your key leaders develop your own Performance Tracking Schedule, think about simple ways you can use the information already available in your Task and Project Management software. This approach makes the connection between performance and outcomes clear and obvious.
Set Motivating Rewards
Confirm there are rewards in place which connect directly to daily achievements. Make these rewards appropriate and aligned with your business values. Ensure they’re actually motivating for your staff. Keep your rewards connected to outcomes that are meaningful for them. If you’re expecting consistently excellent performance from all your team members, make sure they love earning the rewards you have in place.
Gather Data Each Week
Leaving performance information just sitting there without being noticed can send a message to your remote workers that what they do on a daily or weekly basis doesn’t really matter. Make sure your team members, or their leaders, are collating information about their performance each week. This keeps them connected to how they’re going instead of putting off this reflection until their review.
Review Performance Each Quarter
If weekly performance data is not reviewed regularly it will sit there gathering dust instead of contributing to the improvement of your teams’ performance. You or your team leaders should be checking in personally with each member of your remote team to discuss their performance with them, offer support if it’s required, and issue rewards where they are deserved. Set goals for the next quarter in this meeting too.
6. What tools can you use to keep your remote team on track with their routine work?
- Dashboard Online
The Task Management software you choose must have these features to work for you:
- Automatically schedule each task to become due at repeated frequencies you choose
- Allow for fast updates/corrections to task descriptions
- Assign team members to their own set of tasks
- Include hyperlinks to information online that will support the completion of the task
- Require users to mark tasks as complete when each item is done
- Track the task completion rates of each team member
- Track overall performance across each area of the business
- Make tasks reviewable by other team members for accountability
- Enable the completion of one task to trigger the next task in a sequence
- Allow for Routine Tasks that are not done to a set schedule to be assigned as needed
- Provide for chat between team members to facilitate communication about tasks
The software should:
- Have all the functionality listed above.
- Be well supported with real humans to help you implement and troubleshoot when problems arise.
- Be affordable and not break the bank of your business.
- Allow you to grow and scale over time within that one platform.
- Have a user friendly interface that creates a feeling of clarity and calm.
- Provide for 24/7 global access for you and your team.
7. How can you best manage video conferencing?
Limit The Frequency Of Calls
Too many video calls leads to slowed output and staff burnout. Ensure the number of calls people are expected to join have some limits, and empower each team member to monitor and manage these limits themselves. Allow people manage their own workflow for real progress.
Limit The Duration Of Calls
After about half an hour in a call people’s energy and concentration begins to wane. Try to keep calls to less than an hour. If you need longer calls for a larger collaboration or project, invite your team to use screen share or presentations so the intensity of the face to face contact is reduced
Schedule Call Times
If the call is a routine meeting for some or all of the team, schedule the appointment so people know what to expect and how to plan their time. Ensure the time suits everyone across different time zones, and record the meeting if someone is unable to attend so they can stay up to date.
Set A Call Agenda
Rambling meetings are a boring waste of time in any setting, but death by meetings in your remote team will suck the energy and motivation right out of them. Create an agenda before each call and distribute it to all participants so everyone can be in and out of the meeting quickly
Create No Call Zones
If video conferences are running like a free for all, with people jumping every time a call comes through, nothing will get done and people will quickly become disengaged and massively unproductive. Have set times each day where people are able to work without interruptions.
Use The “Quick Call”
Video calls are valuable when working remotely because emails, chat messages and other written text can create gaps and misunderstandings. With the No Call Zone established, the “Call Zone” can open the chance for quick calls to instantly resolve confusion or fix a problem.
About the Author
Kerry Anne Nelson is known for her obsession with making workplaces run smoothly and has become Australia’s most passionate advocate for systemising businesses. Her clients accelerate the achievement of their business goals by leveraging the decades Kerry Anne invested into growing her own companies. She accelerates the pathway to lasting expansion by developing customised tools which allow owner operators to scale their business.