With remote teams companies get many new chances and opportunities. But there also many challenges in managing remote teams. Working in a remote team can feel like lost in space or being on a deserted island. Many managers feel a loss of control and are afraid that productivity will drop if they see their employees less or not at all. The most common misconception is that the use of collaboration tools is enough to increase the productive in a remote team. The right tools are important. However, managing a remote team goes far beyond the use of tools. The following article briefly describes the most important tasks for managing a productive remote team.
1) Set clear goals for your remote team
The team must know the company’s goals and have a defined plan to achieve them. Everyone should know how to contribute to these goals. This is nothing new. Even in an onsite team, clear goals are essential for the success of a team. In a virtual team you should set goals together with the team in a way that creates a clear commitment. It is best practice that the team members must interact with each other to achieve their personal goals. In this way, better communication and coordination are created. No one works as a lone fighter in isolation.
As a leader it is important to know the goals of your company and to understand where your team fits into the picture. You should be able to communicate this information effectively to your team.
Prioritize Work – The team will often work on multiple projects and often with people in different time zones. You should be able to find out which project is more important than the other and how tasks are prioritized. Work transparency makes working in a remote team easier. Employees should be able to keep track of their tasks and of the entire team. And as managers, you should keep an eye on progress – without micro-management.
2) Define roles, responsibilities and give structure
Flexible working hours and more autonomy in a team do not mean that work becomes unstructured. Structure and guidelines are absolutely necessary for remote teams. Everyone should know exactly what their responsibilities and roles are and who makes which decision. There are proven methods to create and maintain responsibility and decision making in the team.
You can create a mind map of the skills you need to achieve the goals and tasks and clarify which team member can have which role best. In this way, you will also consciously focus on the strengths of each individual.
3) Check performance and do not track hours
As a manager, you should always have an overview of everything without falling into micromanagement. Micromanagement destroys trust, autonomy and commitment in your team.
Don’t track hours. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether your team member starts the day at 6:00 or 12:00 or has a constant 8 hours/day or a personal schedule. If it is necessary to track hours for example for customer billing, everyone should do this themselves in a project management tool. Focus on the results and not on working time. Keep an eye on whether the tasks are completed on time and of high quality. Your team should know how you measure performance.
4) Create values and purpose
Team culture is implicit. In a shared working environment culture happens tacitly. In remote teams without a common environment culture and values should be discussed consciously.
Typical questions are: What should the team achieve? How does the team contribute to the company’s goals? How can everyone contribute? How will team success be measured and individual performance evaluated? What are our values? What is the purpose in the big picture? How would we like to work together?
These are also key principles by which the team can judge its own behaviour, even when it feels like it is on a deserted island.
5) Tools and communication
Choose the right tools for remote team communication and take asynchronous and synchronous communication into account. Try to reduce email because it is proven that email is time consuming and disturbs people at work most. Leave the email and enter the brave new world of real-time communication. This form of communication saves much more time.
Even if tools are available, it doesn’t mean communication is taking place. Every member of your team must be willing to answer calls, texts, emails or direct messages on a regular basis. It should be transparent how every team member is available and when – especially in different time zones.
Ensure a clear, accurate and targeted communication. Always think before you send something and consider how information will be understand by another person. Pure text can be interpreted in different ways. And this does not only happen in intercultural teams.
6) Create a team agreement together with your team
Create guidelines for working together and for communication in your remote team in a team agreement. Clarify basic questions in advance for example: what roles and responsibilities exist, what information is shared and how, which tools and communication channels are used for what, and how collaboration is organised across different time zones. If such a team agreement is adopted by the entire team, there is a high level of commitment.
7) Check in regularly with your team
The integration of remote employees is a challenge for all remote team managers. When employees are not physically present in an office, it is easy for them to feel cut off from the day-to-day „happenings“ of the business. This does not only damage the productivity. It creates a feeling of isolation. As a leader, it is your responsibility to engage with your team and prevent isolation. Gallup research has shown that close friendships in the workplace can encourage engagement. For remote employees, these relationships are not only more critical, but also more difficult to build. There are also proven methods for this for a remote team.
Giving the right feedback is an integral part of any good teamwork – whether onsite or remote. In the virtual team, however, feedback plays an important role. It balances out what we lose in the remote team. Feedback and personal contact happen naturally in the office, but not in remote team.
As a manager, you should regularly check-in with your team, for example weekly calls with each employee. Manager often forget to plan such check-ins for personal interaction beyond. They focus too much on project meetings and jour fixes. With such check-ins you can build trust and can hear what is going well or if there any problems. Furthermore, the team members feel involved and less isolated. Remote employees would like to get the same attention and recognition as all other employees in the office.
8) Be aware of burnout
A common fear of new remote managers is that remote employees lack productivity because they are more distracted. The reality is the opposite. Remote employees work more and are often unwilling to stop working. Overtime can easily become a habit. After some time, this behaviour can lead to burnout and issues with overall health.
It is up to the remote managers to coach your employees to set priorities and set daily goals.
9) Plan face-to-face meetings
Digital collaboration is essential for remote teams. Are face-to-face meetings necessary? A team with a strong team culture and transparency can work productively together over long periods of time without face-to-face meeting. However, such a team event can motivate your team incredibly and inspire the entire team to work towards a common vision. These face-to-face meeting should be special and cover very important topics. Nothing is more demoralising than traveling to a meeting that does nothing other than what a video call would have done.
Your role as a manager is to enable your remote team to work best and increase productivity. A good remote team leader sets goals and measurable, clarifies roles, communicates clear priorities, organises resources to get the job done and prevents isolation. Overall you should promote a team culture that fosters communication and problem-solving and not micromanagement. Empower your people and take full advantage of every team member’s skills. You should recognize even the smallest accomplishments and give feedback about it. Then your employees will feel valued.
Do you have any other strategies that you use in your remote team? Or you a just starting out and would you like to learn more? Then just contact me.