By: Emily Finlay
Working from home was once a perk or emergency-only situation for most companies. After the COVID-19 pandemic forced nearly every business to close their office locations, however, it has now become a norm. This has created a new emphasis on remote team management, and ensuring that teams work effectively while apart.
Here are some ways remote work has changed the business world:
- 88% of companies encouraged or required employees to work remotely during the pandemic
- 74% of businesses will keep some of their employees permanently working from home post-COVID
- 25 to 30% of workers will work remotely by the end of 2021
Now that so many workers are telecommuting into their jobs, managers have to shift their thinking. While the bones of team management stay the same, the daily actions and considerations are completely different.
In this guide, we’ll show you how to manage a remote team successfully. You are your team’s leader and support through this radical change, so we’ll show you how to ensure a successful transition into your new normal.
What is a remote team?
A remote team is a group of people who work together on projects, but don’t meet in the same location. They may be working from different time zones or just different locations in the same building. Whether because of health risks or convenience, this team connects through technology rather than working in a shared space.
How do you effectively manage a remote team?
Because your team is separated, the team and workplace dynamic shifts, causing unique challenges for remote team management. You have to be more intentional about your activities and communication. Your team can still be just as productive and excited as they would be typically, but you’ll face new challenges along the way. To prevent dissatisfaction and low engagement, you have to be prepared to solve any problems you encounter.
What are the challenges of leading remote teams?
1. Inadequate resources
When everyone is spread out, your technology and tools are the only way to stay connected. Employees may not have quality internet or computers at home. They won’t be able to connect with their team or tools, instead spending their time fighting with their technology. Slow computers, limited software access, and a lack of tools can quickly tank your team’s momentum.
2. A lack of communication
In an office setting, everyone can pop in and out of work spaces as needed to talk and strategize about their projects. Remote teams don’t have that option. Without the right tools, your employees may feel cut off from the rest of the team. This can cause dissatisfaction, frustration, and feelings of isolation, which can effect productivity.
If employees aren’t effectively communicating with everyone, it can also create problems for your projects. Important information may not make it to the right people, delaying deliverables. Plus, since team members can’t see what is happening in the background for everyone else, small miscommunications can develop into major conflicts.
3. Limited employee management
Typically, managers can get a good feel for employee performance by keeping an eye on the team from their desks or office. As a remote team manager, you don’t have that option. You may worry that your employees aren’t spending enough time on their work. Employees, on the other hand, may struggle with the new set-up and feel that you aren’t paying enough attention to their needs.
4. At-home distractions
Many households have numerous people trying to work from home, including adults and students. Sharing limited space while trying to get used to remote work can lead to stress and distractions. Even if your employee is the only one at home, personal concerns can easily draw their attention from work. Kids or pets may disrupt meetings. A lack of childcare may demand excess attention, preventing focus and limiting productivity.
5. Unclear work/life balance
When there aren’t set office hours, it’s easy for work to bleed into personal life. Unfortunately, that may also lead to a lack of respect for others’ time. What may seem like a small request for one person may be a significant after-hours inconvenience for others. These situations can cause interpersonal friction that can affect the rest of the team.
6. Multiple time zones
If your team is in multiple states or countries around the world, scheduling becomes an especially tricky challenge. Often, some employees have to clock in late at night or early in the morning to connect with colleagues. This can make scheduling meetings frustrating and complicated.
7. Collaboration difficulties
Once upon a time, you could bring your team together in a conference room to go over updates, projects, or information. Remote teams can still meet, but virtual meetings are often hard to manage successfully. Document sharing, brainstorming, and other collaborative needs require their own time and tools to keep work running smoothly.
What are remote team management best practices?
Now that you know the difficulties involved with leading remote teams, we want to offer techniques that will help you overcome these challenges. Strong remote team management work has the potential to keep employees more productive and focused. To enjoy these benefits, however, management has to offer the right resources and support to their teams. If you want to set your team up for success, follow these best practices.
1. Provide the right resources
Every employee needs access to high-speed internet, computers or mobile devices, and any software your company relies on. With these tools, they can stay on top of their assignments and react quickly to any changes throughout the day. Acquire messaging tools, use a reliable email service, and make sure everyone can reach every other team member when needed. You also need to create a plan for your virtual meetings and the tools you’ll use to keep in touch. If you want your team to succeed, you have to provide the resources they need to do so.
2. Define your office rules
Work time is still work time, even when your employees are connecting from home. Create a set of guidelines that make your expectations clear. Minimize distractions with requirements for home office set-ups and work hours. Some companies allow workers to keep flexible hours as long as the work gets done, while others prefer set schedules. You should also establish expectations for meeting attendance. Creating this structure will keep work hours productive and limit potential problems.
3. Schedule one-on-ones
Maintaining close connections with every employee is part of the team management definition. Regular one-on-one meetings help you proactively nurture these relationships while you’re separated by distance. Use this time to ask about challenges or frustrations employees have experienced. You can also check in with their mental and emotional health. These meetings offer insight into the daily experiences of each of your team members, something you can easily lose with remote work. They also show your team that you’re invested in their well-being, solidifying your team connections.
4. Prioritize team engagement
No workplace should focus on work all the time and a remote team is no different. Make a point to schedule some kind of fun activity every week. You can theme your remote meetings to keep spirits high as you start the workday. Some ideas include beach day, bring your pet to work day, or casual wear day. You can also host after-work hangouts on video conferences, playing bingo or trivia for some team-bonding fun.
Incentivizing work is another great way to increase employee engagement. Offer prizes for those with the highest scores or most work completed. When you finish a project or a worker hits a certain milestone, use a ‘spin the wheel’ game to select special prizes. As silly as some of these ideas may seem, they keep everyone connected socially and strengthen your team bonds.
5. Build strong teams
Remote work isn’t for everyone and that’s okay. As a remote team manager, however, it’s your job to determine who is a good fit for both your team and your work environment. Look for candidates who are self-motivated. You need to be able to trust that your workers are being productive on their own, so doers are a must for a successful remote team. If socializing is important for someone, on the other hand, they may struggle to work from home. Thankfully, remote teams offer a lot of hiring flexibility. Don’t be afraid to hire from multiple locations. This gives you access to the best candidates and the talent you need to thrive.
6. Set solid boundaries
Work creep is a common problem for remote workers. The computer is always a few steps away, so it’s easy to spend an unhealthy amount of personal time on work tasks. If employees are working extra hours on their own, it’s tempting to just enjoy the additional productivity. Excessive work can cause burnout, however, so it’s better to limit it early. Help your team maintain a good work/life balance by monitoring after-hours work and giving reminders about your expectations.
Most importantly, never ask your workers to complete assignments outside of scheduled work hours, unless it’s been agreed upon beforehand. Even small tasks, such as sending an email or checking on a deliverable, can grow into bigger problems in the future. Protect your team and yourself by sticking to the schedule.
Remote team management is a challenge for many organizations. And that’s especially true if you’ve been forced to shift rapidly to a dispersed work environment. Know how to lead remote teams is not an innate skill for managers, and they’ll need support and training to make this transition.
Make remote team management best practices a core part of your development plan going forward. By doing so, you’ll ensure that all middle and upper management professionals at your organization know how to management a remote team successfully, and how to ensure productivity when working apart.