As working from home starts to look more like a revolution than a stopgap, it’s never been more important for managers to know how to build and manage a remote team.
Although management fundamentals apply wherever your team is based, handling a remote team requires different attitudes and skills. In some cases you’ll be building relationships from scratch without ever having met your colleagues. But that’s no reason not to succeed in building a powerful, productive, results-oriented team.
Here are my five tips for managing a happy, healthy and accomplished remote team.
1. Check in with your team daily.
The first thing under threat of decay when a work-from-home policy is introduced is our routine. Some people are better than others at getting out of bed at the same time every day and following consistent working hours. And even a subtle misalignment between each team member’s routine can make it tougher to maintain the same levels of productivity you had at the office.
The very least you can do, as a manager, is to check in with your team every day. This anchors everybody to a routine and maintains the feeling of connectedness that’s so critical to a highly-functioning team.
By having a daily check-in, preferably at the same time each day, you’re also helping to combat feelings of loneliness and isolation that can affect remote workers. Even if nobody has an update to share, it can be powerfully beneficial to see each other’s faces and make small-talk for 10 minutes.
Science shows that without social interaction our brain cells actually start to die off. And this is where anxiety and depression can develop. So by maintaining daily check-ins with your team, you’re not only boosting productivity but also protecting the wellbeing of your colleagues.
2. Communicate a lot.
When you’re not seeing your team members face-to-face it can be easy to slip into your own world and become less present. As a manager, you have the greatest responsibility of everyone to be the lynchpin that keeps the team communicating. And with the technology available to us, there’s no excuse for communication to be less strong for remote teams.
Communicating a lot helps to keep team members on the right track, instead of working on the wrong thing and only discovering that during the next day’s check-in. Remember that a lot of communication is non-verbal, so without those cues it’s more likely that a concept or instruction is going to have been misunderstood.
In the long-term, communicating a lot also helps your team members to feel secure. Remote workers can quickly start to feel ‘left out’ when they don’t hear from their colleagues. They might even assume that what they’re doing is no longer important or is not being acknowledged. Don’t neglect your managerial duty to recognize performance and get feedback from your team. This sometimes means being available for lengthy one-to-ones. These are not easy to schedule, especially when you’re working across different time zones, but you have to make the time.
3. Take advantage of technology.
While you might not be able to completely recreate the team rituals you had at the office, you should look to technology to fill those gaps as much as possible.
Your first goal with a remote team should be to have multiple methods of communication at your disposal. Video call should be your preferred method of communication for daily check-ins, because it gives everybody the chance to see each other’s faces. But text-based communication tools like Slack are also critical for keeping team members connected throughout the day. Ensure that your team members can access these tools from their phone, so that if they need to be on the move or have sudden family commitments at home, they can still communicate with the team on some level.
You should also look into project management tools that help you to organize your team’s work. This really goes without saying for any manager, but it’s more important with remote teams because you don’t have the luxury of walking over to them for a status update.
And there’s no reason not to have those office whiteboard brainstorming sessions anymore. It could be as simple as collaborating on a Google Doc, but try to make it as visual as possible. Tools like Ideaboardz, Mural and Lucidchart are excellent for recreating the experience of scribbling on a whiteboard or stacking sticky notes.
4. Be flexible with your team.
Not all of your team members will be able to work uninterrupted from home. Childcare commitments will leave some of them having to drop everything at certain times of the day, and often at short notice. Others might feel they need to take regular breaks to move around and get fresh air.
It’s critical, then, to be flexible with your remote team, particularly when it comes to working hours and deadlines. Focus on results instead of process. Be OK with the fact that one of your team members appears to be offline at 3pm. Due to circumstances, it might be more convenient for them to finish their work at night when their kids have gone to bed. And at the end of the day, as long as the work is done on time, it shouldn’t matter to you when they worked on it.
This really comes down to trusting your team. When you’re new to the remote system, it can be unnerving to see people offline during peak hours. You start to wonder if they’re even working at all, and if you’re going to be able to hold this team together. But by trusting your team and allowing them the flexibility to work at unconventional times, you’ll be able to keep productivity high and reduce the risk of burnout.
5. Reinforce your company values.
Brand identity can be tough to maintain when everyone’s working from home. Just the lack of social interaction can take away that ‘family’ feeling pretty quickly, especially if your team members were used to branded decor, demo days, team building events and social hangouts.
It’s even tougher getting a new hire to feel that vibe from afar. So it should be a priority for you, as a manager, to reinforce your company’s brand values in any way that you can. This can be as simple as reiterating the company mission when you’re discussing your team’s projects, so that they understand how their goals fit into the overall vision of the organization.
But you should also ramp up your company’s intranet so that it becomes a lively hub for internal communications. Feed your employees inspiring branded content on a weekly or even daily basis, if you have the resources. You can also send them branded desktop wallpapers for their laptop or phone, and name your video calls using expressions or phrases that people associate with your brand. These little details make a huge difference.
So there you have it.
Communicate well, use the tools at your disposal and have trust in your team to do the job, wherever they are the world. These are the ways to ensure that your remote team is working as effectively as possible.
We could find ourselves relying on remote teams for a long time to come, and it’s not a bad thing for companies. Remote teams allow us to tap into pools of talent from all over the world, and can even help us to cut costs.