Remote or virtual teams are the future of the workplace and it’s a concept that’s quickly becoming a way of life and even an expectation around the world. More than ever before, employees are working remotely at least a few times per week. In fact, in 2020 it’s expected that approximately 30% of the workforce will be completely remote while 52% of employees already work remotely some of the time. While 80% of managers have at least 1 employee working remotely, many leaders still lack the ability to properly manage employees that aren’t in the office.
Many managers claim that having remote teams is too difficult because they fear a lack of control or issues with team building. However, in a digital age where the workforce is dominated by millennials who value flexibility, remote work is only going to grow and it’s management’s job to adapt. When managed properly, remote teams hold huge benefits for employees and for the organization as a whole.
For employees, the advantages of having the chance to work remotely are fairly obvious. For instance, staff can work in their optimal environment and during their most productive hours of the day. Additionally, the staff living far from the office don’t have to spend time commuting or in stressful traffic every morning, and those with young families can get things done at home while making a living.
While the benefits to employers might be less obvious, there are many! When people can enjoy more work-life balance, they are happier and more productive in the long run which boosts organizational efficiency. Furthermore, employers can expect improved employee retention, which is especially important for SMEs that can’t compete with the benefits/salaries of larger organizations. The flexibility offered by remote work opportunities is especially attractive to the younger generations taking over the workforce, namely millennials. Additionally, by embracing remote work employers can have access to a wider pool of talent from all over the world instead of just limiting hiring to a specific geographic area. To add to the list, additional benefits include a more self-motivated and independent team, lower costs due to lower office expenses and increased productivity.
Unfortunately, many managers aren’t acquainted with the proper methods of managing remote employees and teams which ends up costing time, money and staff. Things like poor communication, for instance, can leave remote employees feeling isolated and forgotten. To avoid this, we’ve curated 9 essential tips to help you better manage your team no matter where they are in the world!
1. Communication skills
Strong communication skills may be one of the most important qualities for a manager to have, regardless of whether their team is remote or in-office. However, clear communication becomes even more critical when dealing with employees who aren’t physically in the office. Great managers demonstrate exemplary communication skills like being a good listener, communicating with trust and respect, and inquiring about their team’s workload. Managers of remote teams need to create open communication channels to ensure the remote employees are in the loop and not feeling left out. By creating an environment that’s connected and engaged remote staff will feel more comfortable reaching out for help or asking questions.
Additionally, transparency is highly important – any information that would normally be communicated to everyone in the office should also be passed on to remote staff, even if it’s not directly of their concern. While it may feel like you’re overcommunicating, that’s exactly what a remote employee needs to feel included and in the know.
Here are some tips to consider when creating your communication strategy specifically for remote employees:
- Discuss how remote team members prefer to be communicated with (email, phone, chat, video calls)
- Schedule daily check-ins to inform them of new information or answer any questions
- Encourage remote team members to ask questions whenever they need to and thank them when they do
2. Set clear expectations
Managers need to set out guidelines and expectations for the processes and performance of remote employees very clearly. While this is something that should be done for in-office teams as well, it’s especially important when much of your interactions are virtual. On a daily basis, manager should set out guidelines about today’s goals and about what’s urgent to mitigate inefficiency. People will always have different perceptions of what doing something “quickly” or “well” means so clarity is essential. Being explicit about your expectations ensures nobody is left in the dark about deadlines and projects.
The following tips will help you set expectations properly to avoid misunderstandings:
- Follow up any email of instructions with a video call to explain and answer questions about a task
- Create a standardized document with benchmarks, rules, and expectations for remote employees
- Ask remote staff to fill out a spreadsheet to track progress on deliverables and leave a comments section for questions
3. Use technology
The concept of remote teams only became a popular reality with the evolution of the digital world. The internet, Wi-Fi, video calling, and mobile phones have made it easy to work, connect and engage with team members anywhere in the world. In fact, 35% of remote employees say they look forward to face-to-face time with their managers through video calls instead of over email or phone calls.
Managers who successfully lead remote teams should be familiar and comfortable using a range of technologies and software to communicate and adapt to each employee’s needs. For instance, instead of just using email and calling, you could try Rolo, a secure business chat app with instant messaging, video and audio calls.
While being tech-savvy is important, managers need to be prepared with reliable tools and processes before thinking about going remote. If remote staff can’t hear/see in video calls, aren’t receiving meeting invites for their time zone, or can’t download documents then there’s a problem. Before starting a remote team, it’s critical you’ve built up a system of functional, high quality, and collaborative communication tools.
4. Virtual team building and socializing
Remote staff often miss out on the normal interactions that go on in and out of the office such as lunch outings, happy hours and water cooler chit-chat. These spontaneous interactions between colleagues are natural and essential for building a strong team and forming relationships. Whether just a few staff are remote or the entire team, technology can also be used to create community.
Video calls are often the best and most interactive and personable way of engaging with the team. For instance, when celebrating a birthday you can book a meeting room with video or a conference call to celebrate all together. Managers should try and prioritize relationships with the team and go above and beyond to form bonds. During team calls and one-to-ones make time to discuss family, hobbies and personal life with your remote staff. You can even set up a non-work-related chat room for banter with the team which can act like a virtual watercooler.
Spending time together outside of work is an important aspect of team building. If possible, getting everyone together once a year in person is advised. If it’s absolutely impossible to get everyone physically in a room, consider facilitating a monthly lunch and video conference with the team.
5. Measure performance by deliverables
Many managers are still stuck in the mindset that hours clocked are a good representation of productivity and employee performance. However, with remote work on the rise, it’s harder to keep track of the number of hours staff are working. Furthermore, staff often opt to work remotely because it offers more flexibility in terms of their working hours – while some may get a lot done in the morning, others may be more productive after sunset.
To match the new work environment, management mentality should be shifting to a goal-focused mindset, and away from activity focused. Instead of being concerned about whether your team is clocking 40 hours per week, focus on the accomplishment of tasks. Track successful work base it on deliverables and whether or not your employees are reaching benchmarks, deadlines, and goals.
6. Frequent and consistent check-ins
Since remote employees aren’t involved in small daily interactions like saying hello in the hallway or grabbing a coffee after lunch, they get less opportunity to engage with you, the manager. These short interactions people have in the office often open the door for casual conversation and for employees to ask questions they wouldn’t normally ask in a group meeting.
To successfully manage a remote team, managers need to simulate the same conversation opportunities. An effective method to do this is setting up daily one-to-one check-ins over video or voice call, even when there aren’t any pressing issues to discuss. This consistent interaction helps keep remote employees engaged and feel included, which matters for them and their productivity. In fact, 46% of remote workers say that a good manager, in their opinion, is one that checks in on a daily basis. Having regular scheduled check-ins or status meetings just to catch up with your team members goes a long way in building trust, forming relationships and improving work culture.
7. Be available
In an office setting as a manager, you’re almost always available for your staff to stop by your desk and ask questions or book a quick in-person meeting to discuss their concerns. Remote staff can do the same but through texting, calling or email which often results in a slower response time. To build trust, you should always be present, supportive and quick to respond to your remote employees’ inquiries. Sending regular emails about work, offering feedback or helpful resources can go a long way for staff who aren’t physically in the office.
While the advent of technology allows remote staff to IM or quickly video call you, there are many remote employees who work in different time zones so response times inflate. If possible, you should try and be available and online during the working hours of your remote staff. At the very least, every morning or evening before ending the workday you should send a quick email or call to check in with them.
8. Trust employees and don’t micromanage
One of the main reasons that managers are often not willing to have remote teams is because they are concerned about productivity and whether or not staff will be using their time to complete work efficiently. One of the best ways to lose trust with your team is micromanaging them or not offering them enough independence and responsibility to complete their tasks.
Avoid micromanaging while still setting ground rules for remote teams with these tips:
- Set work from home guidelines that your employees are expected to follow
- Establish accepted response times for emails and messages
- Set up a daily check-in meeting at the same time each day to touch base on how the day’s work is going
9. Recognition and support
It’s very easy for remote employees to feel isolated and forgotten which eventually will harm their quality of work and productivity. In-office employees bond with other colleagues more easily and receive more praise for a job well done because they are seen working – this is obviously not the case for those working remotely. Poor managers will end up in an ‘out of sight out of mind’ state regarding their remote staff. Avoid this at all costs by offering recognition and praise for a job well done. Good managers will let their remote staff know their work matters and offer daily positive reinforcement. One way to offer recognition is by setting up monthly meetings to point out what each employee did that month and their key successes.
Furthermore, many remote workers are actually working out of office because some situation in their lives requires it. As a manager, it’s important to understand and acknowledge why your staff is choosing to work remotely. You should try emphasizing with their situation, and supporting them by talking with them openly and delegating tasks to align with their needs.
Remember that remote work is not all or nothing—you can offer flexible arrangements to team members in addition to an in-person office. While some of your employees may prefer working from home or even have to be remote, others may enjoy spending time in person in the office a few days a week. Armed with these 9 tips you’re sure to experience success when offering your team more flexible work arrangements.