How to Manage Remote Teams

Daniel Ndukwu | 17.06.19 | 0 Comments

Remote teams are becoming more and more popular. Remote work allows you to recruit the best talent from every corner of the globe and compete on a level playing field. At the same time, it gives employees the flexibility to choose their working conditions. In fact, 99% of employees surveyed by Buffer for its annual State of Remote Workers Report stated they would like to work remotely at least some of the time. Remote teams aren’t a trend but a fundamental shift in the way businesses deliver products and services to their customers. To stay competitive, it’s important to understand how to manage remote teams so productivity and morale remain high. This article looks at the challenges of managing remote employees and strategies you can use to overcome them.

Communication in remote teams

This is one of the major challenges of managing remote employees. Most remote workers are individual contributors as opposed to managers so it’s up to you to create an environment where ideas flow. Poor communication has been plaguing organizations whether the teams are located in the same place or scattered around the globe. It’s magnified when managing virtual teams because much of the communication is online and lacks a visual element.

It’s important to get ahead of communication issues before they snowball because remote employees tend to work alone for much of the day. When they have the wrong information or the expected outcome hasn’t been properly communicated, the results of their work may not be up to the standards you require.

There are multiple strategies you can use to manage remote teams and reduce problems associated with communication. Designate a single channel where your team can chat, share files, and keep up with each other’s progress. Project management tools like Monday let you chat in context and share information about work progress. Keep an eye on this channel (or multiple channels) and step in whenever your employee has an idea or thought that needs further input. In short, you should be as available to them as the people who’re working in the office with you.

Another strategy you can employ to manage your remote teams is fostering a culture of communication. Not just communication between you and your direct reports but communication between everyone. For example, you may want to make it mandatory for team members to hold daily or weekly check-ins where they share progress with everyone. Conversely, when you give instructions via a call or impromptu chat follow up with written instructions.

All of these strategies can be effective but you’ll only overcome the challenges of virtual teams if you lead by example. You should be the most active member in the team chat and take it upon yourself to be the first one to do daily check-ins.

Difficulty with scheduling

Scheduling is another challenge of virtual teams. Team members are scattered across the globe. The time zones can vary considerably and it can be hard to manage remote teams when they’re many hours apart. What happens when your working hours are their sleeping hours?  What’s the process for scheduling and managing remote teams training, projects, and hours worked?

There are a few solutions to this particular challenge of virtual teams. Meet with each team member individually to understand their ideal working hours. Find a time that overlaps with the most remote employees and hold meetings within that timeframe or require everyone to be available.  If the time zones are too far apart (anything more than 9 hours), consider recording meetings for the ones who aren’t present and collect feedback via your communication tool. Use this as a last resort because some team members will abuse the ability to consume meetings after they occur.

For shift work, use time tracking software like Zoho to keep tabs on when your employees clock in and clock out. If you notice someone isn’t putting in their hours then address the issue sooner rather than later.

Another potential fix is to eliminate mandatory meetings altogether and embrace asynchronous communication. This may take some getting used to, especially if it’s the first time you manage remote teams. The benefit is that you can drop messages at any time. The drawback is that you may not be able to get in touch with the right person during an emergency.

Tracking performance

Managing virtual teams goes beyond assigning tasks and receiving a deliverable. It’s also important to track performance over time and help your employees improve. At times, you may even need to let go of the ones who aren’t pulling their weight. When you manage remote teams, part of your job is to make sure employees are using their time wisely and getting all of their work done.

Of course, this depends on the work assigned to the remote employee. For example, a designer would likely work based on deliverables while a customer support agent would work on an hourly schedule. With either arrangement, part of the challenge of managing remote teams is providing feedback. By default, you have less insight into how and when the work is being done.

Develop a quantitative method of measurement for your remote employees. If there’s a problem with performance, it’ll be easier for you to point at specific reason for your dissatisfaction. Another way to stay on top of performance is to use a project management tool such as Wrike that has a built-in time tracking app or integrates with one.

In the end, the best way to overcome the challenges of virtual team performance is to set clear guidelines and expectations. If there’s any issue with performance, you can use those same guidelines as a reference point when correcting your remote employee.

How-to-Manage-Remote-Teams

Building trust

It’s not easy to trust the people you see and interact with every day. It’s even more difficult when you’ve never met a team member in person or had a meaningful interaction one-on-one. This lack of trust can make it difficult to tap into the full potential of remote employees. If you want to successfully manage remote teams, it’s important to tackle this early on.

A great way to break down barriers is to align everyone around a common goal and set of beliefs. A shared sense of purpose encourages people to put their differences aside to work together. The people involved feel their time is being used for something worthwhile, which makes it easier to manage remote teams. This only works if everyone is on board and understands how success is measured.

After you’ve aligned your team around a common goal, don’t leave collaboration to chance. Group remote workers into clearly defined teams and give them a project to work on together. This will help them learn each other’s thought process and build off of each other’s ideas. At the same time, they’re able to see how they’re contributing to the shared goal.

Another way to overcome the trust challenge associated with remote teams is to encourage them to meet via video conferences. This can help create familiarity and improve trust. As with the other strategies outlined in this article, you should set clear guidelines and expectations for remote workers.

Conclusion

Every year, the number of remote workers continues to rise. Whether your organization is testing it out, is fully remote, or operates on a hybrid model doesn’t matter. The challenges associated with remote teams are similar.

This article has shared a few of the challenges of managing remote employees as well as strategies to overcome them. You’ll notice a common thread. It’s up to you as the manager to encourage or discourage the behaviors of your remote employees.

Managing remote teams training doesn’t end. Like other disciplines, it evolves as we learn more. Remote work is still in its infancy. Set yourself up for success by choosing the tools, strategies, and outcomes that’ll help your organization growth.

Daniel Ndukwu
author

Daniel is a small business owner at large helping his peers navigate the challenges they experience on a day to day basis. His philosophy is simple, if it isn’t broken you can still make it better.

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