Shyamal Parikh is the Founder of SmartTask, an online work management/automation software that helps teams streamline their processes may it be sales, hiring, customer success, or projects. He actively shares strategies and techniques that improve a team’s productivity.
Pub: May 31 2022
Upd: March 11 2023
Remote work is a reality today; it is no more a fad. However, the idea of remote work isn’t new. Since 2009, the number of people working from home has increased by 159% — no joke or typo here.
Working remotely might have replaced whiteboard sessions and lunch runs. But, it has proven to save time, reduce stress for employees, and increase productivity. In fact, 32.2% of hiring managers say that productivity has increased since the start of Work from Home.
The statistics are impressive: despite that, managing remote teams isn’t a silver bullet. It’s a tough nut to crack since you can’t grab everyone for a ‘quick chat’ when the company’s operations go south.
That is why we’ve put together some tips that help you manage remote teams like a Pro.
The Challenges of Managing Remote Teams
Whether you're entering the new world of managing remote teams out of choice or necessity, one thing is certain: remote teams come with their own set of challenges. Some of these challenges are:
1. Lack of Communication
Communication is an obvious challenge while managing remote teams. But, some of these challenges aren't so obvious. Yes, you lose those hallway conversations and exchanging project ideas by the water cooler, but it goes deeper. It becomes difficult to sense the intent behind the messages, which breeds out-of-context discussions and the 'assumption game.'
2. Lack of Trust
Trust issues arise among the teams when you can't physically see what people are doing. The vital challenge of monitoring and supervising their work keeps hovering around your head. In some cases, onboarding team members virtually results in a lack of trust. Trust issues lead to low team spirit affecting company-wide productivity and collaboration.
3. Lack of Productivity
While managing remote teams, the accountability lines get blurred out more often. Members get affected by physical and mental health issues, household problems, and deadlines. This results in lower productivity and reduced motivation toward work – hampering an organization's operation.
Best Practices for Managing Remote Teams
Managing remote teams invites a lot of challenges but most of them can be easily avoided. Here are some best practices to follow while managing remote teams:
1. Set Clear Expectations
Managing remote teams sparks many questions amongst members, and the answers aren't always available. Left to themselves, members need to find the solutions - but ambiguity creates confusion and more stress for everyone.
Drop the guesswork by stating day-to-day expectations of core activities, and systems, such as:
- Each team member's availability
- Communication channel
- Performance measurement
- Responding to any after-hours emails or texts
Getting clarity around these activities helps keep the work-related anxiety under control, and facilitates managing remote teams efficiently.
2. Hire the Right People
Every person is different. So, not everyone is suitable for remote work. Some people work better in a traditional setting while some in a remote one. However, while hiring remote team members, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy. You won't recognize their suitability through a CV or cover letter.
Instead, adopt a not-so-traditional approach by giving them a role or company-specific assignment to meter their effectiveness. Also, during the interview, lookout for self-motivated people who understand the company's values. This small insight will ensure that the team member is capable enough to sail through during tumbling times.
Also, if you focus on hiring smarter employees, it will bring more learning opportunities for other members of the organization.
3. Master Remote Team Communication
Communication is the most complex ingredient of a successful remote team. You need to understand the nuances and then plan different ways of communication to keep your team agile in a remote setting.
One of the key benefits of communication is the optimum performance of the team members. Set up a system wherein missed messages do not cause members to second guess their message and still get the job done–without any burnout. Some ways to master the remote team communication are:
- Leverage the right tools to manage the team
- Avoid micromanaging
- Conduct virtual-team building sessions
- Coach your team to write specific emails
- Hold regular meetings
- Set communication guidelines
4. Allow Flexible Working Hours
Flexible working hours are the critical driver of productivity amongst remote team members. Due to flexibility, members feel empowered to structure their work and personal life. Moreover, they can align their schedule as per the 'productive hours' that suit them the most.
Since flexible working hours can often result in work leeway, team leaders have to perform regular check-ins to ensure the successful completion of the tasks. Furthermore, there should be a uniform discussion time for all the team members to get the 'core work' done in the case of distributed teams.
5. Make Use of the Right Tools
Today, we have various tools to set up digital space and track all the scheduled tasks. These tools enable you to track team productivity, communication and delivery, team progress, and online discussion, thereby speeding up the process of business growth. Some of these tools are:
- People & Performance Management Software
People & Performance Management Software like Hirebook helps companies empower their team members through meetings, objectives, actions, and dialogues. It allows the manager to check in with the employees, provides space to share progress, discuss employee development, and integrates OKRs (Objective and Key Results) to align strategy across the company.
- All-in-one Project Management Tools
If you're looking for an end-to-end project management tool that tracks different projects, creates advanced to-do lists, and offers advanced communication features then tools like SmartTask or Asana come to the rescue. These tools not only help remote team managers handle multiple projects & teams together but also help them manage their team’s workload with ease. These tools also offer various time tracking, team collaboration, and reporting features.
- Communication Tools
Zoom and Slack have been our go-to since the outset of the Pandemic. They make company-wide communication faster, easier, and more adaptable. Zoom allows seamless video conference facilities with end-to-end encryption. On the other hand, Slack was primarily designed for professional communication and pivoted as a community platform. And it did a splendid job replacing social media groups and message boards in the workplace.
6. Focus on Outcomes, Forget About Activity
Good team leaders focus on activity, while great team leaders focus on outcomes. Outcomes have the capacity to provide direction, clarity, and motivation for your team. These work together to improve team satisfaction and productivity, creating a win-win scenario.
By shifting the mindset to outcomes, we open ourselves to connect better with the value attached to the process rather than passing the stringent working hours. It makes the team connect better with their colleagues -- assessing what they're doing well and where they're falling short.
7. Avoid Employee Burnout
Burnout is not new, but acknowledging its existence is essential as a leader. More often than not, as a direct consequence of varied reasons, team members feel burnt out. These reasons can be overwhelming workload, working overtime, unfair treatment, favoritism, or unclear job description.
To avoid burnout, set clear work expectations and uniform treatment. And if your potent team member shows a drop in productivity – have a one-on-one conversation. Dig deeper into the issue and determine the core reason for their mental distress. Also, create a supportive environment by giving freedom and timely appreciation to ease their work pressure.
You can also conduct a corporate wellness assessment of your employees to check their well-being every quarter and make sure everyone is working to the fullest.
8. Recognize Employees
Remote jobs can be hard at times. They can get to an employee's nerves and drain them off. But, when you recognize them for their well-executed job, they feel valued to be a part of the organization. They think that their hard work has paid off. That's why it's essential to set aside moments to recognize your employees' successes.
Acknowledge individual contributions by giving them a paid leave, vacation, or exotic dining coupon. But, recognition doesn't always have to be a monetary gesture. Sometimes, appreciating their efforts, giving constructive feedback that enriches their growth, or a small gratitude email works wonders.
9. Train Remote Employees
Remote training is a vital exercise for attaining your business goals and retaining fulfilled staff. A LinkedIn survey shows that 94% of employees would choose to stay in an organization that invests in their learning and development.
Furthermore, employees who receive training have improved knowledge and greater confidence in their abilities. Moreover, organizations that impart training can deliver services that exceed expectations. Through training, organizations can identify the areas of improvement and provide extensive training to turn those weaknesses into strengths and positive work outcomes.
10. Perform Team Building Activities
Loneliness is one of the biggest problems faced by remote teams. It causes a drop in productivity levels and sometimes increases employee turnover rates.
The only way to break the loneliness cycle is to build social bonds between team members. By establishing a connection, members can communicate better, exchange ideas, and find solutions to potential shortcomings. Some team-building activities are quizzes, one-question ice breaker activities, office trivia, etc. Customize these activities according to your preference and conduct stellar activities.
Covid-19 has pushed many businesses to look at work differently. Companies are slowly moving towards a hybrid or 100% virtual mode. Moreover, 28% of the companies expect to be fully remote five years from now. This scenario affirms that being a pro at handling remote teams has never been this important.
Plus, who knows? By following these tips, you may succeed at flourishing your company's business irrespective of geographical boundaries. So, start acting upon these tips and become a pro at handling remote teams right away!
Photo credit - Andrea Piacquadio
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