Over the years, numerous companies have become incredibly flexible with their work policies. According to the State of Remote Work report by Owl Labs, 52% of global employees work from home at least once every week. Companies are increasingly adopting remote work, and managing a remote team requires dedication, hard work and collaborative technology. Managers need to step up and become proactive when managing remote employees.
Remote work comes with several benefits, such as flexible work hours, higher productivity and no time wasted on commuting. However, the lack of non-verbal cues can cause remote workers to feel lonely, isolated and left out of the company. Whether you are managing a remote team of three or 30, you need to effectively create trust, understanding and order. This not only makes communication easier and quicker but also helps remote employees work better and feel included. Read on to understand how to manage a remote team and the best practices related to the same.
1. Have frequent video interactions
Since remote workers do not have the liberty of physical interaction, things can get pretty lonely and isolated for them very quickly. Most of your communications are via chatting on apps such as Slack or Basecamp. You do not get enough face time with your team members and colleagues, which makes it difficult to create interpersonal work relationships. To be able to make remote work fun and involving, you need to introduce non-verbal cues.
With the abundance of video chatting and conferencing apps, such as Skype and Zoom, frequent video interactions can be made quite simple. Schedule frequent video calls with your team. It is also a good idea not to dive into the agenda of the meeting straight-away but spend some time doing small talk. Building rapport with every team member can help you understand their motivations better, which eventually allows for stronger remote teams.
2. Schedule regular one-on-one meetings
Effective remote team management requires managers to be in sync with not just their entire team but also with every team member. Have an open-door policy where your employees can schedule these meetings with you as well. Let them know that you are open to their concerns and suggestions despite any conflicting time zones or your busy schedule. Make sure to keep every one-on-one meeting at least for an hour. You may choose to end it sooner, but showing your remote employees that you are blocking out a large part of your day for them shows care and attention.
3. Ask your remote employees specific questions
Along with scheduling regular one-on-one meetings, managers also need to ask specific questions to have quality conversations. Having vague conversations would defeat the purpose of these meetings. Managers need to make their remote employees feel safe during these conversations so that they can answer truthfully. Here are a few specific questions managers can ask their remote employees:
- What’s your work setup like?
- What’s your favourite part of the day?
- How are you finding the tools used for collaboration?
- What’s your daily routine?
- Do you find team meetings interactive and inclusive? If not, how can it be changed?
- Are there any tasks you are finding difficult to tackle? Will training regarding the same help?
- What do you do when you need a break?
- How are you finding the current project? Any suggestions?
Such specific questions might feel weird in the beginning but can help a remote employee open up about their work. They will soon begin to share any problems they might be facing. Make sure to address their concerns after the meeting, and take steps to solve their issues by the time you have your next one-on-one meeting.
For example, if the remote employee mentioned not being able to tackle a task because of a lack of understanding or training, share resources with them that might help. Consider doing so during the call or soon after it is over. If the employee mentioned a new suggestion to deal with the project, schedule another meeting with the entire team, and discuss the possibility of it.
4. Keep their career paths in mind
Do not consider remote workers as freelancers or contractors who are with your company just to do work and get compensated. They are like all other full-time employees, with a career path and future aspirations in mind. Remote team members need to know that their job is going somewhere and offers enough growth potential. Be mindful of this and invest time in the same.
If being mindful of every remote employee’s career path seems like a tedious task, invest in a talent management tool, such as TalenX. It can help you identify employee strengths and competencies with the use of advanced psychometrics, which can help you prepare and discuss a better career path with your remote employees. Promoting or transferring them to the team or department of their preference can also help boost employee satisfaction; when they are on a project that they enjoy, chances of job success increase by leaps and bounds.
5. Set clear expectations with your remote team
Remote team management requires you to put several things in place. Managers need to be clear about their expectations – daily, weekly, and project-based. Be clear with your remote employees on how many updates you require. Request them to share daily to-dos or daily goals completed at the end of the day. Follow this up with weekly updates and then project updates. You can even ask them to share their work calendar with you. Analyse what information you need to be privy about and ask them to share and update the same regularly.
6. Use technology for better collaboration
Managing a remote team requires you to incorporate several technology tools for better communication and collaboration. Having numerous email threads becomes unmanageable. It also doesn’t make remote team members feel included in conversations. Use Slack or Basecamp for a casual and relaxed channel of communication. Make a habit of doing at least half the work on video calls and conferences. Brainstorming on video calls or via real-time interfaces can simulate an in-office team meeting, thus boosting participation. Use cloud storage and file-sharing tools such as Google Drive, Dropbox, and so on for better collaboration.
7. Be expressive with rewards and recognition
An employee’s achievements need to be celebrated. This boosts everyone’s morale in the office and pushes them to work harder and smarter. Doing this in a physical office space is very easy. You can gather everyone around, appreciate the employee and host a pizza party. You can do the same with your remote employees as well.
If the achievement is significantly big, consider asking everyone to hop on a video call. Increased facetime, especially for recognising an employee’s good work, is a great way to let them know you highly appreciate their work. If a video call with the remote team is not possible, use your company’s communication channel. Post a positive and appreciative message, letting everyone know about the achievement.
Consider using emojis and GIFs to make it casual and happy. Encourage everyone to congratulate the employee. Also remember, just like in-office full-time employees, remote employees should be awarded monetarily for their great work as well. Give out project completion or performance bonuses to your remote employees from time to time.
8. Always reschedule any cancelled one-on-one meetings
The purpose of scheduling one-on-one meetings is to develop trust, connection and let the remote employee feel valued and important. Make sure to never cancel any one-on-one meetings. However, if you have to cancel the meeting, always reschedule. It’s a good practice to let the person know the newly rescheduled time of the meeting in the same message where you are communicating the cancellation.
Not rescheduling one-on-one meetings can cause a lot of resentment in the remote worker, making them feel unimportant. Keep their trust strong and always reschedule. Also, make sure not to be late for the meeting. If you expect your employees to be on time, you need to set an example by doing the same. If, by any chance, you do get late in joining the meeting, make sure to apologise for the delay.
9. Do not micromanage
Every employee needs space to do their work in their style. While keeping check of timely work is crucial, managers also need to learn not to micromanage. Do not ping them constantly on what they’re doing and what they plan on doing next. If you require regular updates, ask them for end-of-the-day updates. Micromanaging reduces an employee’s productivity and keeps them on edge about their work. Trust your remote employees to do their job well and focus on goals rather than their minute-to-minute activities.
10. Hire remote employees after assessing their virtual fit
When hiring a remote team, you need to make sure that they can work well virtually. Some people are not fit for remote work since they thrive on the hustle and bustle of a busy office. Such people find it very difficult to be energetic and productive when working remotely. Hire remote employees after making sure that they fit well into the role. The idea is to conduct targeted interviews where you can understand how they plan on working and what drives them to work remotely. Tools such as TalenX provide you behavioural interview questions and job success predictors using which you can predict how successful the candidate will be in the role.
11. Create a common framework for collaboration
Remote team management requires planning and organisation. If you are managing a team of developers, you cannot have patches of code arriving at you through numerous channels. Use a common tool, such as Jira, to allocate tickets for every task and stay abreast of every piece of code that has been tested, merged, and put into production.
If you are managing a team of writers, create a common flow of work. Let all writers know where they are supposed to be getting their guidelines from, whom they are required to contact for clarification and which tool they need to use for forwarding the work to editors. With every step well-organised, remote team members won’t have to go hunting for documents or be clueless about something. This reduces the chances of constant back and forth communication for a small piece of information. When things are well-organised and easily accessible by all, productivity increases, thus allowing team members to finish up work faster.
12. Set up a strict meeting rhythm
Apart from one-on-one meetings and ad hoc project discussions, you need to set a strict meeting rhythm to create a habit amongst all remote employees. Be mindful of everyone’s time zones when setting up the schedule. Consider choosing overlapping time zones so that no one needs to go out of their way past office hours to attend any meeting. Have three types of team meetings scheduled at regular intervals:
- A daily intra-team meeting for everyone to say ‘hi’ and catch up.
- A weekly intra-team meeting to get updates on the current project.
- A weekly inter-team meeting (entire company) to bring everyone on the same page.
These meetings need not go beyond 15-20 minutes. Regular inter and intra-team meetings help to increase engagement, bring everyone on the same page and reduce any complicated back and forth communication.
13. Encourage remote employees to have video meetings amongst themselves as well
Remote employees don’t have to jump on video calls only when the manager or any other senior member have scheduled the meeting. As a manager of a remote team, you need to encourage them to have video meetings amongst themselves as well. Let them know that chatting is not the only way for them to interact.
Help them to understand the need to cut out lengthy back and forth conversations and enable them to build a habit of jumping on video calls when necessary. This also helps you identify remote team members who can easily take charge of things and drive a project forward. These remote employees should be your first consideration when evaluating future promotions. When remote employees take charge and solve matters amongst themselves without involving their manager, it also takes some burden off the manager.
14. Train remote employees to develop their communication skills
Not everything needs to be done on video calls. A lot of communication and updates can easily be sent as text. However, it is crucial to make this text clear, concise and succinct so that the other person doesn’t have a hard time understanding the communication. The entire point of skipping a video call and communicating via Slack or other communication tools is to save time. If the message sent doesn’t make sense to the other person, then there is nothing gained by doing it. It is, therefore, crucial for you to train your remote employees to develop their communication skills. Teach them how to communicate concisely and effectively and share relevant information without going around the topic.
15. Consider pairing up employees for tasks
Not all work can be done individually. Several project tasks need the constant collaboration of two or more team members. Consider pairing up remote team members and encourage them to communicate amongst themselves without looping you in. This also allows team members the opportunity to mingle and develop good interpersonal work relationships without the presence of a senior. The paired up team members can guide each other through the work and also chat about their life, work and anything else they’d wish to.
16. Send goodies and company merchandise
A company needs to create a feeling of belonging in their employees. When employees are in line with the company’s mission and vision, they perform better. A great way of making every remote employee feel included is by sending them company merchandise and other goodies. This not only comes as a good surprise for them but also makes them appreciate the company more.
Send them hoodies or coffee mugs every year. You could even send them vouchers for spas or online shopping after a particularly stressful project is over. Holidays are a great time for sending goodies as well. Prepare Christmas or Thanksgiving gift baskets or vouchers and send them over to your entire remote team. Allow your remote employees to unwind from time to time and spark enthusiasm and positivity with these goodies.
17. Host an annual company meetup at least once a year
People are different in person than how they appear on the screen; however much you try to keep things casual and breezy, some remote employees always end up staying formal and on-edge. Hosting an annual company meetup is a great way to break the ice and allow all employees some much-needed in-person face time. An annual or bi-annual company retreat can help remote employees get a quick vacation, interact with their colleagues and get to know the company better.
If hosting a company retreat is not possible, consider hosting regular team lunches. Bringing your remote employees together in a casual and personal environment helps boost interactions and healthy communication.