By: Emily Finlay
According to the Future of Workforce Pulse Report, 26.7% of Americans are expected to work from home in 2021. This report also predicts that 36.2 million people will work remotely by 2025.
To put this in perspective, this is an 87% increase compared to the number of people working from home before the pandemic. Perhaps more importantly, 59% of surveyed workers said they would rather choose jobs that offer a remote work option over those that don’t.
From increased productivity to improvements in job satisfaction, the past two years have revealed the many benefits of working from home. However, organizations have also realized the necessity of creating and implementing effective remote team management strategies to help maintain employee engagement and productivity.
It’s clear that remote work is here to stay. To keep employees working efficiently, you need to develop and hone the skills necessary to effectively manage workers remotely, as these skills can be quite different from those required to manage people in person.
Whether you’re managing a full-time remote team or a hybrid one, the tips outlined below will help you improve how you interact with and motivate your employees.
Managing remote teams vs. in-person teams
Before you can develop a remote management strategy, you need to recognize the difference between leading people face-to-face versus over a computer screen. Some of the new considerations and challenges to for effective remote team management include:
- Learning the nuances of effective remote communication.
- Creating policies that encourage successful autonomous and collaborative work.
- Tracking employee progress and productivity without micromanaging.
- Being more thoughtful and creative with your team-building efforts.
- Adapting to new employee scheduling needs, such as different time zones, child/family care, etc.
When you can’t rely on physical proximity to encourage participation and productivity, you have to take extra steps to ensure you’re aware of your employees’ needs and where they may need extra help.
Maintaining the delicate balance of ensuring everyone is on track without being overbearing is critical to a happy team environment. If you don’t plan adequately, you may struggle to maintain a strong and effective team.
Mismanaging remote workers can be risky
If you don’t find the right strategy to manage your remote team, collaboration and productivity will quickly fade. You may lose track of which projects and tasks employees are working on, creating disorganization that can reflect poorly on you as a manager.
Some of the most common problems that arise from mismanaged remote work include:
- Late or unfinished work.
- Work-life balance upset.
- Employee disengagement.
- Team disconnection that affects collaboration.
Even though your team may be physically separate, it should still operate as seamlessly as it would if everyone were in the office together. Setting your workers up for success requires time and effort, but the benefits are well worth it.
5 steps for managing remote teams
To best manage remote employees, here are five tips that you (or your managers, if you oversee people managers), should follow.
1. Use tools to aid communication and collaboration
Communication is often the biggest challenge for remote and hybrid teams. Along with developing new virtual meeting best practices, you’ll need to find new ways to keep everyone up to date with new information and changes.
Having the right tools in place can help greatly with this, enabling clear communication and keeping people on track. These tools should include:
- Virtual meeting and chat tools. (E.g., Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Google Hangouts.) Use these tools to meet together as a team or hold one-on-one sessions with employees. You can also share information, collaborate, and plan for your projects.Ensure you set clear expectations for what’s expected in terms of meeting attendance and participation, as well as for responding to chats in a timely manner.
- Project management tools. (E.g., Jira, Asana, and Monday.com.) Use these tools to assign tasks, set due dates, track progress, and measure performance.These solutions help provide both a big-picture view of projects your team is working on as well as task-level details, deliverables, and deadlines.
- Collaboration tools. (E.g., MindManager, Microsoft Project, and Blackboard Collaborate.) Use these tools to help simplify teamwork and collaboration. From brainstorming to completing tasks, these solutions are great for encouraging participation among remote workers and enabling things like brainstorming and decision-making sessions.MindManager, for example, allows you to create charts and maps to keep track of ideas, monitor project progress, and assign due dates for tasks.
2. Set and enforce clear expectations
One of the biggest differences between remote and in-office work is daily expectations about when and how work should be done. In an office, you generally expect all employees to show up and leave at a certain time, and work continuously throughout the day to complete their tasks.
With remote workers, this approach doesn’t always make sense. Unless employees are working shifts that require a certain amount of active time, such as making or taking calls, you should focus on work completed over the number of hours workers “clock” each day.
Employees may be in multiple time zones, so some may need to adjust their active work hours to enable greater overlap with their coworkers. You should also try to ensure that employees can take time out of their day for essential personal tasks such as doctor’s appointments and picking up or dropping off kids at school or daycare.
A shared calendar system is a great way to keep track of everyone’s work hours, allow you to schedule necessary meetings, and enable employees to block off any time they may need to attend to personal matters. Team members can see when others are free, in a meeting, or on vacation so everyone knows who is available and who is offline.
You should also share expectations for after-hours work, responding to emails in a timely manner, communicating with the rest of the team, and virtual meeting etiquette.
No matter the specifics of your policies, they should be explicit. For example, guidelines for how to submit completed work should include the platform and format that should be used and what information should accompany the submitted work.
Setting clear guidelines gives your team the best chance to succeed, especially when it comes to areas that require clear structure and processes.
Finally, make sure you enforce the policies you set—especially when it comes to yourself. Hold people accountable if they don’t follow policies correctly, and be sure to set a good example by following your own guidelines (e.g., if you want everyone to turn their camera on in team meetings, you should do so too).
3. Avoid micromanagement
In the past, you may have stopped by employees’ desks at various points throughout the day to gauge their productivity. A remote team leader can’t do that. A lack of visual oversight can cause some managers to overcompensate by micromanaging their workers. This can make employees feel frustrated and untrusted, which can lead to disengagement.
Rather than micromanaging through constant check-ins, set up weekly one-on-one meetings with each team member. Use this time to go through each project an employee is working on and see where that person needs help.
When you do send a non-urgent chat message or email to an employee, give a reasonable amount of time for a response. If you use a shared team calendar, you can easily check to see if they are in a meeting or out for a personal appointment.
You can also implement regular weekly or bi-monthly team meetings to help employees feel included and connected with each other. Having the right project management tools in place can help you keep an eye on each person’s performance without constantly pinging them for updates.
When you have employees working from home, you have to give them a level of trust. This is why clearly documented and communicated expectations are so important. As long as employees continue to meet the deadlines and quality standards you set, there shouldn’t be a need for micromanagement.
If an employee’s performance does suffer, however, you should implement more frequent check-ins to determine any stumbling blocks and how to overcome them.
4. Foster strong remote team collaboration
While working from home has many benefits, it can also be isolating. Remote workers aren’t seeing and chatting with their coworkers regularly, so they can lose the social connections that are critical to creating a strong team dynamic.
As a manager, providing opportunities to build these relationships is your responsibility. You have to strategically plan ways for your employees to meet and interact in social settings.
Using video conferencing for your virtual meetings is one way to do this. Participants can see each other, read body language, and connect more strongly with each other, so encourage employees to turn their cameras on, if possible.
You can also hold virtual “happy hours” to focus on team-building activities, such as celebrating recent successes or playing an icebreaker game. Scheduling these fun events on a Friday afternoon sets time aside for both work and play without mixing the two.
It also allows for extra perks, such as allowing employees to start their weekend early. That increases job satisfaction and encourages more effective collaboration during work hours.
Taking this type of initiative also shows workers that you care about them as people. Employees that feel valued tend to have higher workplace satisfaction, which improves retention and productivity.
When interacting with your team, take the time to listen to employees’ feelings and concerns. The more connected and seen your employees feel within your organization, the more productive and engaged they are likely to be.
5. Adopt a flexible, agile approach
The pandemic brought rapid change and the need to accept it. Learning how to manage your remote team effectively means dealing with unexpected distractions, switching up your communication strategies, and working through inevitable technology glitches—all of which require patience and flexibility to work through.
Support your team by giving them the ability to find the processes that work best for them. If possible, consider letting go of the typical nine-to-five schedule in favor of shifts that empower your employees to work during the hours when they’re most productive, and to arrange their schedule around things they may need to do.
This includes tasks such as picking up or dropping off kids from school and caring for family members.
As long as you have the right organizational tools in place to manage and track employee performance, you can measure productivity with ease by viewing what they have completed and when. It doesn’t matter what hours employees are keeping so long as they continue to meet their job expectations.
Most importantly, ensure your management strategy is agile and open to change. Some situations may not go as planned, and you may need to change your decisions, especially as more workers either return to the office or new lockdowns are enforced.
Your job is to help employees be as productive as possible while maintaining a good work-life balance, so focus on supporting them in every way you can. Developing and continuing to evolve a remote management strategy that works well for both you and your employees will help your team be successful, regardless of the circumstances.
For more information, check out this free video that shows how MindManager helps remote teams work together more effectively. You can also get a free 30-day trial to test out the solution for yourself!