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9 Tips for Managing a Remote Team Successfully

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has upended many traditional concepts about workincluding the notion that workers need to congregate in an office space to work. With lockdown measures still enforced in many parts of the world and people encouraged to stay at home, companies have transitioned from managing in-office personnel to managing remote workers. 

Across the board, employers’ attitude towards remote work has been mixed, with some embracing the concept and others resisting it. But even before the onset of the pandemic, it was clear that remote work was the way of the future: five million Americans (or 3.6% of the US workforce) currently work at home some or most of the time, according to data analyzed by Global Workplace Analytics

Many employers also see the benefit of hiring remote workers, as this enables them to hire talent outside their geographical area and take advantage of more affordable labor costs in other countries. Regardless of how you arrived at this critical juncture, managing a remote team will require you to alter your management style and enforce new processes to keep your employees engaged, motivated, and productive. 

How to Manage a Remote Team in the New Normal

1. Have regular check-ins with your team.

Once you’ve established a fully distributed team, it can be easy for communication among team members to become strained or non-existent. To maintain cohesion, it is important for managers to establish regular check-ins with their teams. 

Managers should consider arranging daily one-on-one video calls with each team member. You can use this time to build rapport with your direct reports, provide instructions, and follow up on the progress of key projects. Your direct reports can also use this time to air out their challenges and concerns, as well as provide constructive feedback on projects. 

If daily one-on-ones are too time-consuming, consider limiting your check-ins to once or twice a week. Moreover, you should consider holding weekly video calls that include all team members to discuss team-wide agendas and foster collaboration on projects. If your team members are based in different time zones, find an appropriate window when everyone is available to ensure full participation in team meetings. 

It’s important that these calls take the form of face-to-face video calls to build engagement and boost morale. Studies have shown that working from home for long periods can increase feelings of isolation and loneliness, which negatively impacts mental health and work performance.

2. Maintain an open line of communication.

As someone in a leadership position, your subordinates are not only looking to you for a sense of direction, but often expect you to provide emotional support as well. We live in very challenging and anxiety-inducing times, and your direct reports are likely struggling with many fears and daily stressors. 

Encourage them to reach out to you if they’re encountering situations that make it difficult for them to work. Perhaps they lack the right equipment to do their jobs properly or their mental health is suffering. Make it clear that you’re committed to doing what you can to help them succeed in their professional and personal liveswhether it’s furnishing them with work laptops and software, or referring them to a certified mental health professional.

3. Establish the right communication channels and rules of engagement.

Email alone won’t suffice if you’re trying to facilitate meaningful communication and collaboration among team members. Working remotely means your team will require a wider array of communication channels, including chat and video conferencing programs.

Video conferencing programs are particularly important since they provide participants with many of the non-verbal cues that are apparent in face-to-face communication. When people are trying to assess intent in face-to-face conversations, they pay more attention to voice, tone, and body language than the words the person is actually saying to discern intent. These cues are sadly lacking in emails and chat messages, and miscommunication can quickly arise when people assume negative intent. 

Complex and sensitive conversations should take place via video conferencing to provide participants with the right visual cues and strengthen professional bonds. On the other hand, tasks that require quick collaboration without much visual detail can take place on chat platforms. 

Popular video conferencing platforms include Skype and Zoom, while Slack has become a very popular channel-based messaging platform for professionals. If you’re looking for a platform that combines collaboration with communication, consider getting Microsoft Teams. 

Remember to consult your organization’s IT department to ensure a proper degree of data security before installing any of these tools.

4. Set clear expectations and goals.

As with an in-house team, you’ll need to clearly communicate expectations and goals to your distributed team. Let your direct reports know the projects they should be working on, have regular check-ins to track progress, and set clear project milestones and deadlines. 

While you might be tempted to micromanage your subordinates, resist the temptation to breathe down their necks. Once you’ve set expectations, graciously step out of the way so that your people can do their best work.

5.Review workflow processes.

Leading remote teams that were once largely in-house will require you to review existing workflow processes. Review each team member’s workflow and update their processes if these need to be optimized for remote work. Back this up with a standardized workflow document that all team members can consult and adhere to.

If you discover challenges and gaps in their workflow, considering introducing new tools and software to close these gaps. You may even consider introducing new project management tools that are tailored to your industry to maximize productivity.

6. Track attendance and productivity, but make room for flexibility.

In an office environment, it’s easy for managers to monitor the attendance and productivity of their direct reports. In a virtual team, you’ll need to use attendance tracking tools to ensure that remote employees are working when they’re supposed to be working and logging in the required number of hours. 

Tracking tools like Time Doctor enable you to monitor an employee’s attendance, track the webpages they visit during work hours, and calculate the amount of time they invest in particular projects or tasks. Other viable attendance tracking tools include DeskTime, WebWork Time Tracker, and Bitrix24. 

While it’s important that employees adhere to your organization’s prescribed work hours, your employees are likely to expect a certain degree of flexibility when working remotely. As a manager who’s interested in promoting work-life balance, you should allow them some degree of flexibility; just make sure to block a window when everyone is available to collaborate and attend meetings.

7. Provide the right technological resources.

In many parts of the world, the various lockdowns were implemented with very little forewarning, meaning many companies didn’t have adequate time to set up work-from-home policies that supported both their businesses and employees. And while many countries have begun to ease restrictions, people are being encouraged to stay at home as much as possible, which is why remote work has become so vital to business continuity.

It’s likely that many members of your team lack some of the basic technological resources to do their jobs properly—be it laptops with pre-installed software, tablets, or a fast and reliable Internet connection. As their manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that each member of your team has the right technological resources to get their jobs done.

8. Provide outlets for socialization.

As previously mentioned, remote work can easily lead to feelings of isolation and disengagement. Aside from maintaining those personal and professional bonds through regular check-ins and team meetings, you should provide your team with numerous outlets for (virtual) socialization. 

Need tips on how to keep remote teams engaged? Check out some of these actionable ideas:

  • Keep a group chat open for casual conversations - Recreate the camaraderie surrounding team lunches and water cooler breaks by creating a team chat group that allows members to discuss non-work related topics. Whether it’s swapping funny stories, viral memes, or YouTube videos, create an environment where everyone can let their hair down a little.
  • Plan regular virtual team buildings - While nights out on the town or joining marathons may be unfeasible for the foreseeable future, you can still build strong interpersonal bonds with your team members by holding regular virtual team buildings. Consider playing games or solving quizzes over Zoom. You could even hold virtual office parties, with care packages sent in advance for participants to open during the event.

9. Outsource recurring and ad-hoc tasks to remote personal assistants.

In a traditional office environment, you likely employed a dedicated assistant to perform administrative tasks for your or your team, including bookkeeping, expense management, data entry, scheduling and diary management, and specialized research. Just because your team is now virtual doesn’t mean these tasks have disappeared. You and your team likely still need a significant amount of administrative, technical, and creative support to function properly. 

Sigrid.AI provides executives and small teams with on-demand remote administrative support via highly trained remote personal assistants. These experienced professionals can take on a wide array of recurring and ad-hoc tasks, giving your team members the freedom and mental space to focus on their main priorities and deliver results.

Small teams that require the services of a remote executive assistant should consider Sigrid.AI’s Enterprise Plan. This plan is ideal for teams of up to five members that need full-time support from a dedicated EA and various specialists in fields as diverse as accounting, travel management, IT, and content management. Your EA and attendant specialists can also provide support for major and minor ongoing projects.

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