12 Surefire Ways to Manage a Remote Team Efficiently [with Real-Life Examples]How to
If you have ever handled a team, you would know how difficult it can be to get everyone together on the same page even when working under the same roof. Just imagine how chaotic things can become when you are dealing with a distributed team.
This is why they say that managing a remote team is a task that's easier said than done. It's quite unlike managing an in-house team, where you can have face-to-face meetings to collaborate and solve complex problems. You cannot have that office chit chat, those face-to-face interactions, and team bonding becomes quite a big challenge. Proper planning, resourcefulness, and a well-thought-out strategy is a must to manage a remote team successfully. If you plan to manage a remote team successfully, you need to bring together all these aspects.
But wait! Those were the things of the past. We live in a technology-driven world, where there are solutions to simplify everything. And, remote work is no different.
In fact, look at the current scenario. The only good thing that many people think Coronavirus has given to the world is remote work. The ones who are doing it claim that they have become more productive and can better balance their work and personal life.
It has had such a positive impact that even now when businesses have started going back to normal, and offices are getting opened, many have decided to stick to remote work forever since it brought them unprecedented benefits.
All this has been possible because of the vision they had for the future and their trust in technology, helping them stay connected even when their teams are distributed across different locations. Because, let's face it, remote work is the future, and those who will embrace it will be able to better adapt to the changing times and come out as winners.
We are here to share the best possible ways to manage a remote team efficiently with real-life examples, while also discussing the challenges that managers have to face when dealing with distributed teams. So, let us begin.
1. Challenges that Managers Can Face
1.1. Lack of Clarity
One of the first challenges generally associated with remote work is not having a clear picture of things. Team members don't have clarity of how things are going to work. If not planned meticulously, everything, from tasks to communications and individual roles, can become confusing.
Trust issues are significant contributors to this. Since managers don't have face-to-face access to team members, it is easy to believe that they are not working hard enough. Similarly, employees can also feel demotivated due to the lack of managerial access and support they need to stay focused.
1.2. Social Isolation
Since work from home means that you have minimal social interaction compared to a normal office environment, the feeling of being left out is quite common. Or, as they say, FOMO (fear of missing out) can easily creep in.
This lack of social interaction, over a more extended period, can eventually impact employee performance, causing a decline in productivity and even worse – an increased intention to quit. Hence it becomes one of the major problems that managers have to deal with when working with remote teams.
1.3. Interrupted Information Flow
Another common problem that is associated with remote work is the lack of access to information. It can take some time to get used to the effort you need to get information from your remote working colleagues.
For instance, when working in a brick and mortar office, you can lean to each other's desks to get some brisk information. But when working virtually, things like time zone difference, lag in communication, and similar other factors come into the picture.
1.4. Interpersonal Challenges
Beyond work-related scenarios mentioned above, one of the things that emerge in managing distributed teams is the lack of interpersonal knowledge. This can be the reason for conflicts between team members, which could otherwise have been easily resolved if it were a traditional working environment.
For instance, it is quite easy to give the benefit of the doubt to your colleague who just sent you an abrupt email, but who is not having a good day, since you can see the stress and emotions personally. Whereas, the lack of personal connection while working in virtual teams eliminates this possibility, and can easily lead to unwanted situations.
2. How to Manage Remote Teams Efficiently
The right mix of reliance on technology and understanding of team behavior can eventually help a manager plan the best strategy to mitigate these challenges. For easy understanding, we have divided the major actions that need to be taken into four categories. Let us have a look at them, one by one.
2.1. Set Clear Expectations
To get your remote teams work productively, it is imperative that you set the right expectations and share them clearly with every team member. By establishing clear expectations, you ensure that there is no confusion, and everyone can focus on their tasks with complete clarity.
Diminish confusion and set clear guidelines:
- the role every individual will be playing in the team
- tracking daily attendance
- how the progress will be measured
- all the other relevant details
We used ProofHub to maintain a central place for all our project requirements, task deadlines, and communication. It helped mitigate the challenge of looking everywhere whenever a team member had to check something about the project. It was effortless for everyone to remain on the same page since everything was available at a central place and updated in real-time, whenever a change was made to it.
2.2. Create a Process
To make sure that things don't fall through the cracks, as a manager, you need to develop workflows that everyone can follow. Right from the start of a project until it is completed, team members must have a clear understanding of the process. Document everything and have a central place to access the information so that team members can refer to it whenever there is some confusion.
In simple words, create a standardized way of working, documenting, and sharing with everyone. Using Kanban boards, for instance, can work great in this regard. A simple workflow for a creative team could have stages like:
Similarly, there can be a workflow specific for every team.
One of the first things we did when we switched to working remotely was sitting together with the team leaders/managers and creating the workflow for their team. Since they were the best judge of how their teams worked, we jotted down all the possible scenarios and every minute detail the processes their teams would follow while working from home. It included working hours, mode of communication, work expectations, and, most importantly, the flexibility to work according to their best productive hours.
2.3. Choose the Right Tools
Not having the right tools to support your workflow is the biggest problem for remote teams. As a manager, you have the responsibility to equip your team with the right tools to help the team work efficiently.
There are tools available for task management, time tracking, reporting, communication, and collaboration. There are all-in-one project management systems out there that bring all these aspects of remote working together to simplify things for distributed teams. You can pick according to your team's requirements and let your teamwork productively.
The one thing that helped us effortlessly switch to remote work was the fact that we had technology by our side. We had the right tools available for our team, which helped them stay connected for everything, from task requirements to reporting, communication, and reviewing.
3. Communication and Collaboration Tips
3.1. Pick Your Communication Style
Understanding your team's communication needs and then adopting a specific style for different communication forms becomes the most important factor when managing a remote team. You need to choose a communication style for the diverse communication needs of your team.
It is worth pointing out here that emails have been the preferred method for quick communication for teams. Still, project management and team collaboration software have emerged as a more popular option for keeping all your team communications streamlined. Similarly, there are different video communication tools like Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangouts that are effective for virtual team meetings.
For my team, we laid down the guidelines for every team to follow. There was a clear schedule made for daily meetings, weekly round-up sessions, and frequent video meetings. All this has been working great in keeping everyone connected without feeling left out while working remotely.
3.2. Open Channels of Communication
Since you are working with a distributed team, and communication is the one tool that can bind everyone together, it becomes imperative that you, as a remote team manager, emphasize keeping open channels of communication. You need to create a system where everyone is easily approachable to have a quick conversation related to work and beyond that.
For instance, you can have a dedicated 30-minute online daily meeting for chores related to your tasks, project progress, and other activities. At the same time, adopting a chat tool with a chat window always open for instant communication can be a great idea to foster team bonding and immediate collaboration.
We made sure that everyone was available to chat throughout the working day. By keeping open channels of communication, we could ensure that teams could interact naturally, and carry out their conversations just like they did when they all were working under the same roof.
3.3. Focus on Effective Collaboration
As necessary it is to have open channels of communication, you need to stress upon the fact that team interactions don't end up being merely status updates. Ensure that team meetings are a means of effective collaboration, where there is a constant exchange of ideas, and where everyone gets to speak.
In fact, it is a great idea to have timely one-to-one conversations with individual team members beyond virtual meetings. You can use these one-to-one meetings to stay aware of how they are feeling, the challenges (if any) they are facing, and what can be done to better the processes. That's how you can continue to move forward by taking the entire team along with you.
Instead of just having only project-related meetings, we also kept a dedicated time for brainstorming beyond that. We now have weekly meetings where everyone shares their experiences of working remotely, tips for staying productive, and whatnot. And, this has been of immense help in not just boosting team productivity but also keeping them happy as well.
4. Time Management Tips
4.1. Adopt a Flexible Approach
Since individuals can have different peak productivity hours, remote work can be seen as an opportunity for them to work accordingly. Being a remote team's manager, you need to keep this in mind and adopt a flexible approach to suit individual team members' working style.
While having specific fixed processes like daily check-ins and reporting should be maintained, you need to, at the same time, give them the freedom to work according to their comfort zone, while getting things done within the deadlines.
Though we had already laid a work schedule for everyone to follow while developing, we ensured that everyone had the flexibility to work according to their best productive hours. We also explicitly highlighted that the most crucial thing was delivering the best work while sticking to the deadlines. As long as that was happening, it did not matter whether they were working during the day or night.
4.2. Track Productive Hours
Productive work done during the day is always more important than the number of hours spent at your desk, especially when working remotely. A team member spending fewer hours at work and getting tasks accomplished is always better than a team member spending more hours than expected at work but yielding no result.
Instead of focusing on the number of hours a team member is spending at work, focus on the productive work that has been accomplished during that time. It’s all that matters at the end of the day.
While communicating the work instructions when switching to remote work, one thing was made pretty clear, and that was – the number of hours did not matter, as long as results were being accomplished. Everyone in the team had a clear understanding that only meaningful efforts were being measured and not the number of hours they were spending in front of the screen. This was perhaps the biggest motivating factor for the team.
4.3. Always Keep a Time Buffer
Another critical aspect of managing remote teams is that there is a high probability of unwanted circumstances to arise. Unexpected things like internet connection issues, hardware breakdown, and more can lead to unforeseen situations. It is easier to cope with these challenges in the office setup where you can have a network and hardware support team handy. But things are a little different when working with remote teams.
Always keeping a little bit of time buffer while setting deadlines, therefore, becomes vital. This allows you to always be in control of things, and have something to fall back on when things start to slip out of control during unanticipated scenarios.
Since these were tough times, and working remotely can always bring its set of challenges, we knew that we have to develop project timelines with a buffer time. We did precisely the same, and apart from communicating with each other, we made sure that this was delivered to the clients as well, who supported these changes.
5. Team Culture Tips
5.1. Provide Support
At the end of the day, the success of a team depends upon the culture you inculcate. Whether you are working remotely or in-house, a toxic environment always kills team productivity. You need to cultivate a team culture where everyone feels welcomed, comfortable to work, and valued.
One of the best ways to do it is by providing the support in all aspects of work. Right from providing the right tools for working remotely to adopting a flexible approach in measuring their work outputs – all these factors contribute to productive team culture.
Now, this was something that was the most important for me, since I had the responsibility to lead my team during this time. Besides making sure that everyone had the right tools and equipment accessible, I ensured that my team knew I was available for them whenever they needed it. From having a personal session with everyone in the team to constantly checking on them to understand how they are coping with the change, I tried my best to keep them in high spirits.
5.2. Interact Beyond Work
The feeling of being left out is quite common for remote workers. In fact, according to the State of the Digital Workspace, more than 70% of the remote employees go through this feeling of being left out. And, this ultimately leads to a decline in their productivity.
A manager's role, especially in such situations when handling remote teams becomes a lot more than just carrying our work-related discussions, goes beyond work interactions. There are a lot of ways to do this. For instance, having virtual coffee breaks is one thing you can do. Or, maybe having weekly or fortnightly team calls to catch up with everyone on topics unrelated to work.
This was pretty easy, since making work fun has been the philosophy on which we have built our team. To ensure that we continue to follow the same philosophy even when the dynamics of work have changed, we schedule fortnightly events. During these events, we played online games, had chitchats, making work from home a lot more fun.
5.3. Create that Team Feeling
Maintaining that feeling of a team will require a lot more effort when it comes to remote teams than in-house teams. But it is the most vital factor in achieving great results.
Share the vision, tell them what's happening in the company and how their contribution is making a difference to imbibe this feeling of being a team. Host virtual get-togethers whenever a milestone is reached. You can appreciate everyone's effort whenever possible. Celebrate personal occasions like birthdays and work anniversaries.
All the steps that we took, mentioned above, helped us celebrate the feeling of being together as a team. And it has been the most beautiful feeling.
It can be quite a big responsibility to manage a remote team successfully. However, if you want to achieve greatness as a manager, responsibility is a small price that's undoubtedly worth paying. With the right resources, the right people and the right plan of action, you can eventually manage a distributed team without any trouble. These tips that have been mentioned above can eventually help you in doing everything right as the manager of a remote team.
Implementing them for my team has been the best thing that I have ever done, and it seems to be bringing excellent results. If you are looking to successfully manage your team while making a shift to remote work, I'm sure that starting with these tips will be just perfect.
So, are you ready for them?