Managing remote teams is one of the most difficult challenges companies face today. It’s also one of the most important. The size of the remote workforce has risen sharply in risen years, which means good management is more necessary than ever. But while telecommuting is a great situation for many talented employees, managing them can be a very different story.
As anyone who’s tried it already knows, managing remote teams is a lot more difficult than it seems. Sometimes, more traditional managerial skills transfer into the virtual realm effectively. But the demands of virtual collaboration also require a variety of difficult adjustments. These adjustments are possible, however, and a little knowledge will go a long way toward developing effective managerial techniques.
This post is designed to help HR personnel and company managers reach the next level in managing remote teams. Members of the ever-growing remote workforce will also benefit from the tools and techniques we’re about to discuss.
Grasping a Slippery Concept: The Remote Team Defined
First, let’s define exactly what the term ‘remote team’ actually means. Remote teams actually come in an almost endless variety, but they do share a few things in common. For our purposes, a remote team is one that:
- Rarely, if ever, occupies the same physical space
- Is comprised of members who collaborate largely through digital means
- Combines the efforts of members whose collective work is truly interdependent
The key word here is ‘interdependent.’ The concept of interdependence is the hallmark of remote teams and the key to managing them well. In this context, you can think of interdependence as a high octane form of collaboration. It denotes a work situation where every team member MUST be on the same page if they’re to fulfill their actual purpose and maximize results.
Mining the Enormous Potential of a Remote Workforce
Of course, this level of synchronization doesn’t happen all by itself. In fact, it requires detailed advance planning, adaptable management techniques, and a versatile array of communication technology. Putting all this together day in and day out certainly isn’t easy, but it’s exactly what remote team managers sign up for. Fortunately, facilitating this type of high-level collaboration is also how managers the most impressive results.
Not surprisingly, the seamless virtual collaboration that remote teams need definitely has its plusses and minuses. Executed properly, virtual collaboration can stretch across the globe and achieve incredible results. This is why employing a remote workforce became such a common practice in the first place. In the next section, we’ll look at how to set the stage for seamless virtual collaboration.
Getting a Head Start on Great Virtual Collaboration
Most employees relish the idea of telecommuting instead of driving to the office for work. Unfortunately, far too many of them aren’t prepared to meet the challenges that telecommuting can bring once they get the chance. And even if you’re managing an experienced remote team, they’ll still need time to get used to their new roles.
That’s why you’ll want to set everyone up for success right from the beginning. Follow these four suggestions to get your remote workforce off to a great start:
1. Arrange a face-to-face meeting as early as possible.
If at all possible, you should gather all your team members in the same physical space before actually getting to work. This will let them get acquainted in a more personal setting and help them establish the trust that every team needs for optimum productivity. It will also help set up the open communication you’ll need later on.
If an in-person meeting isn’t feasible, go with a few introductory video conferences instead. And whether you can get them to share the same physical space or not, regular meetings of one sort or another should be the norm going forward.
2. Clarify as much as possible as quickly as possible.
Ambiguity is the enemy of production, so make sure everyone’s clear on their responsibilities right from the start. But this means more than the simple assignment of tasks. You should also spell out the standard procedures for each type of task, as well as the design of your overall work system.
3. Create and enforce a regular schedule.
A regular work schedule is critical to your virtual team’s success. People love the flexibility that working remotely offers, but your team definitely needs structure to thrive. They also need to be available to collaborate with one another at certain times, so it’s vital to create a firm schedule as soon as possible and make sure everyone follows it.
4. Establish standards of communication.
Communication is paramount to the success of your remote team, but it has to be well-organized to be effective. That’s why communication standards should be a priority. Make sure your team has access to multiple communication channels. Then instruct them on which channels should be used for different kinds of messages. Lastly, let everyone know the appropriate response time for messages between team members.
5. Encourage collaboration.
Remote employees often feel disconnected, so it’s important to encourage collaboration as soon as you’ve assembled your team. Start with proper introductions and follow up with a few casual virtual meetings. Then cement this practice by leading them through virtual team building exercises. You’ll realize very quickly that this is the best way to facilitate better communication and establish mutual trust.
Teamwork Apps and More: Choosing the Best Tools For Working Remotely
It’s simple really– your remote team will need great technology if it’s going to succeed. The hard part is deciding what ‘great’ actually means. No manager works with an unlimited budget, so making good tech choices means striking a balance between cost, productivity, and your team’s actual needs.
Usually, this balance means sticking to the basics. Phone calls, emails, and instant messaging tools continue to be popular tools for good reason. If something’s worked for you in the past, stick with it. Start off by identifying your needs. Then choose the simplest and most accessible tools that meet them.
Depending on the projects you’re assigned, you might need to increase your arsenal a bit. If so, don’t hesitate to explore more sophisticated options. But your choices should always be based upon your team’s abilities and needs. With these guidelines in mind, let’s have a look at the basic types of tools you might want to consider.
Task Management Software
These are tools that enable you to plan, track, and allocate various tasks. More than simple ‘to-do lists,’ these tools let you divide a project into several subtasks and follow their progress. Perhaps most importantly, task management software is a great way to track the dependencies involved in everyone’s work. Here are a few of the most popular task management tools. You can compare a number of task management software suites by clicking right here.
Employee Scheduling Apps
Employee scheduling apps are designed to create, maintain, and manage your team schedule automatically. They can also be used to track vacation and sick time. More advanced scheduling apps can be integrated into payroll systems and allow users to exchange shifts. Humanity, Homebase, Deputy, and TimeForge are some of the most popular examples.
Video Conferencing Tools
No matter how geographically distributed your remote team is, video conferencing technology can still help you bring everyone together. Written communication is great as far as it goes, but we tend to absorb information much better when we have visual cues. By bringing everyone face-to-face (sort of), video conferencing makes this togetherness possible. The options you have are practically endless, but a little research — along with those wonderful free trial periods– will help you find a platform that’s both affordable and appropriate to your needs.
Fifteen Tips for Managing Remote Teams
So you’ve assembled your team and directed them toward the revved-up collaboration that today’s global market requires. Now all you have to do is keep it going over the long haul. Here are ten quick tips for managing remote teams and keeping everyone on the same collaborative page:
Clarify what you expect from everyone and what they can expect from you
Articulate your team’s mission statement and core values
Set clear and achievable goals
Establish reasonable time frames for every set of tasks
Track progress continuously and give counsel as needed
Be as available to your team as often as possible
Treat everyone with equal respect at all times without ‘buddying up’
Offer support, encouragement, and praise frequently
Meet with your team regularly, in both the individual and group setting
Offer supplementary training and one-on-one coaching
Encourage shared leadership by having rotating team members head up various tasks
Arrange for ‘water cooler’ time and make participation in it mandatory
Give regular performance evaluations and ask for employee feedback
Show that you care about their career development by pointing out their strengths and helping improve their problem areas
Act purposefully at all times, in a way that modulates your managerial style to fit your team’s mission, values, and vision
But remember– this is just a beginning. The tools we’ve discussed are proven to work but refine your techniques whenever the need arises. The value of this practice will shine through when the inevitable changes occur.
By following these guidelines, you’ll establish the proper collaborative tone and position your team for success. Consistency is key, but stay as flexible and responsive as possible for optimal results. And never forget the importance of constant collaboration. Getting everyone to work toward common goals will put you on the right path, but true collaboration will take you to levels of productivity you never thought possible.