If you’re not already managing a remote team at your company, chances are, it’s only a matter of time. With the rise of broadband technology and a global move towards the pursuit of a healthy work/life balance, the number of employees working remotely has increased exponentially over the past couple of decades.
The share of employees working outside of the office four to five days a week is up 24% from just four years ago, according to a 2017 Gallup poll. By 2020, over 40% of the US workforce will be in some way freelancing as asserted by intuity. This only points to one thing, the entire globe would soon grab this work/life balance and Africa won’t be an exception.
Already, managing employees takes time, communication and constant patience. Add in the challenge of managing remote employees, and there is a whole new set of obstacles. Organising a meaningful process, monitoring team members’ activities and keeping track of work process is much harder in remote than at an office. However, with some simple rules, we have put together, you can have a group of loyal, hard-working and productive employees that will help you reach the company vision sooner.
Set clear expectations
Obviously, every business person has diverse views of what doing something swiftly or well means. Make it very clear what you expect to be done by your team. You could share a calendar and the likes, the central point is the more prepared they are, the better they can serve.
A proper structure is one factor that boosts any business. Managing people across the globe without knowing what everyone’s working on and having many projects on your hands can easily turn work into chaos. That’s why you need to create procedures and implement project management systems, set rules and share them with everyone on the team.
Set clear deadlines and make sure everyone knows the next steps on the project. Make use of the collaboration and sharing options that project management tools offer so you can see what others are working on and what’s left to be done.
Treat remote as local
Treat your remote team like they are local. That gives them as much access to you they could possibly get. Local people get to see you in the offices, may even eat with you at lunch, stop by your office, etc. however, on the other hand, the remote people don’t have that access and can feel distant. Hence, responding to them as quickly as possible is key.
According to Tim Hagen, if we do not schedule time or talk with one another and hopefully face to face, silence becomes very loud and dangerous, as remote employees might end up wondering how they’re doing.
Communication is very essential for any human growth and relationship. Therefore, engage your remote team on a daily basis through some kind of communication. You could implore multiple channels to communicate.
In addition, plan a regularly scheduled face-to-face meeting–this can be weekly, monthly, or annually, and could be combined with a training or coaching programme. This constant interaction and engagement will help remote workers feel included in an important aspect of the team. Not to mention the need for a scheduled Video-Based Coaching. This comes handy as maintaining eye contact when you’re speaking with a team member usually drive home the point faster. You could use Zoom to work with your remote team.
I think one reason companies are not willing to embrace a remote workforce is because there’s uncertainty about whether or not the job will be done at the same level as if they were in the office.
To contest this belief, you could set up work-from-home guidelines, such as emails must be responded to within specified hours, no calls between certain hours to make sure teammates are not working around the clock etc.
Have reliable tools first
Before you set out on a remote team, first of all make sure they have the necessary tools to get the job done and done effectively. Tools ranging from electronic devices to internet service providers are necessary for working remotely. Invest in reliable tools to make collaboration possible.
In addition to this, develop clear processes to use such tools. If remote employees can’t download files, struggle hearing on a conference call, and consistently receive meeting invitations for times when they are still asleep, you have failed to address the basics.
Create a communication strategy
Managing a productive team remotely begins with a strategy for communication. First, arrange for the appropriate number of weekly formal reports. Second, set guidelines about daily needs/targets. Some people work better with a shopping list of questions and thoughts while others like a trickle. An understanding of what is obtainable and urgent will further mitigate inefficiency, allowing ultimate productivity at the end of the day.
Multi-tasking may be good, however, not everyone can cope with it. Figure out how to avoid multitasking at least for those you discover can’t handle it. Video conferences instead of phone conferences work well. Encourage people to stay in working mode and off email back-and-forth as much as is possible. Email trails with extensive “reply all” can be stifling on productivity.
Establish close bonds, help and be transparent
Empathise and appreciate their life by discussing personal issues ranging from family, commonalities and shared beliefs. On the management end, check-in frequently using collaboration tools, shared docs and spreadsheets, phone calls, chat, and video to invest in the relationship. Show you are supportive of their success by using inquiry to help them achieve their goals rather than a check on their progress and numbers.
As a manager, you also need to lead by example. You can’t expect your remote team to open up, get to know you and each other or discuss projects and share their opinion, if you don’t do that yourself. Get them involved in all aspects of the business, share with them the company vision and objectives, let them resonate with that. Then, set clear expectations, tell them some things about yourself and let them talk about something other than work too.
Hold regular meetings
This is one of the challenges of working with a remote team as everyone’s in a different location or even on a different time zone. However, this can be handled. You can understand what kind of people you have on a team by meeting at least once a month and just create a friendly and honest environment where everyone can talk about anything.
Use animated gifs and emoticons to convey emotion.
Given that communication may be complicated and so much of it is non-verbal , it’s hard for words alone to convey how you feel about something. Especially in work, words can come across more aggressive than or not as impactful as you may like.
For instance, you could send a mail to appreciate someone for a good job done with a smiling emoticon at the end, watch how much better a reaction you get than when you just email, “Good job.” You can get a similar effect if you want to diffuse an email by putting an emoticon at the end to show you’re not too serious.
Allow a degree of flexible work hours but also keep some consistency
People working from home will rightly want flexibility with their work hours. And it’s important to allow a degree of flexibility when managing remote employees. On the other hand, if things are totally erratic then it will be difficult to get a shared collaboration window when all of your team are online at the same time and able to chat.
Track work output and another basic measure of productivity
Whether your team is virtual or not, you need to try to measure their productivity. What are the key indicators of success for each job? Get transparency around this so that you will know quickly (in a couple of weeks and not in 6 months) whether each team member is being productive or not. Tools like SalesHandy are useful for this especially if you want a streamlined communication and analytics for a remote sales team. If you are paying based on hours worked, then it makes a lot of sense to track how many hours each person works.
In an office environment you can see who is coming in each day even if you are not tracking attendance. In a completely virtual environment it could prove difficult to understand exactly what is going on, how long each person worked, and what they are working on. There is a minority of people who are self-motivated enough that they do not need any tracking of attendance or hours. However there is also a large majority who need some level of discipline when working at home.
Look out for suitable time tracking software you could use to check whether a team member is working or chatting with friends on Facebook.
Do a quarterly review
To see how your virtual team members are coping, a quarterly review is advised. One of the issues with working from home is that people can feel lonely and isolated. Most people do not have this issue and love the freedom that comes with working from home, but it’s important to check in from time to time and make sure everything is working for them and how what isn’t working for them can be addressed.
Beware of a mixed office and remote culture
When your entire team is remote you will adjust more easily because you have to and you will be forced to implement strategies that work for a remote team. However when you have half of the team in an office and the other half remote it can cause problems.
For example, your office team might decide to hold a quick meeting and leave out the remote team members who end up not having their voice heard or decisions even taken for them on their behalf. The aftermath of this can really pose a big challenge.
So you need to make sure that all of your meetings are remote friendly. This means you all log into Zoom or whatever technology available to you.
Have any other ways one could manage a remote team you think we may have left out? Share with us in the comment section.