Best Practices Of Managing Remote Teams
Nowadays, companies across the whole world are forced to fundamentally change the way they operate as a business and how they collaborate as a team. In just a couple of days, companies had to replace their familiar and safe office workplace with a virtual workspace. They had to replace their well trusted face to face meetings with virtual meetings, and they had to find a way to transfer their unique work culture to digital communication platforms.
At the moment, managers across the whole globe are experimenting to find the best and most efficient way of managing a team remotely. It can seem frustrating that you suddenly have to change elements of the organization and culture you’ve spent years to build up, but luckily there are lots of companies and managers out there that have been practicing remote work on a daily basis for years - and that are able to share some well tested experiences and tips.
Below you will find our best tips for how to succeed with remote work from a managers perspective. These tips are built up by a combination of documentation that we have gathered from multiple sources and our own experience as managers of a fully remote organisation: Nixa.io. Hopefully, this could be of value to you right now but also in the future as we believe that these tips are essential to build a digital organization in the 21st century and not just to cope with the circumstances of COVID-19.
5 Tips For Managers - How To Succeed With Your Remote Team?
1. Set some new ground rules for team communication and collaboration.
Switching from f2f meetings and coffee machine chats to virtual video meetings and written communication is not a piece of cake, but it can quickly be done by the help of some ground rules.
It is important that you as a manager are in charge of this transition and that you clearly (and early) define the game rules and the “code of conduct”. You should make sure to ask yourself the questions: What tools should we use to communicate and collaborate? When are we using text-based communication, when do we jump on a quick phone call and when do we set up a video call? How responsive do I expect my employees to be? How do I want them to report to me? How often should we meet up or have check-ins/stand-ups? How should we separate the formal and informal chat/discussions?
2. Overcommunicate - Understand the importance of context.
When you are communicating digitally, especially through text, you are not able to see or understand what the other person is doing at that exact moment. Digital communication removes the context from the equation and this is often one of the biggest challenges for companies transitioning to remote work. Why isn’t he or she answering my chats or emails? Why is he or she just answering me with Yes/No? Is he or she upset with me or have I done something wrong? Without understanding the other person’s context, you might think that the person doesn’t care about the issue you addressed or that you are bothering them - when they’re really just “in the zone” or busy in another meeting.
It is important that you as a manager make sure to communicate the importance of sharing context to your employees and that you lead by example. Let team members know when you are busy and when they can reach you. Show them that you are listening and take time to write complete sentences. A good tip is also to use emojis in your written communication - that has a tendency of showing some kind of humanity and can help to avoid misconceptions.
3. Set governance structure - measure on objectives not activity.
Working remotely removes the opportunity to govern when, where and how your employees work. As a manager, you are probably worrying about how to make sure that the productivity level is kept high and how to make sure that your employees are still committed to deliver on targets and goals when working remotely. Unfortunately, this is not something that can easily be achieved in a day or two - but it’s a process that requires both trust and structure.
First of all, managing a remote team requires a trust based relationship between you and your team members. You will not be able to micromanage everything they do - and it shouldn’t be a need for it either. You need to set clear expectations and trust that they will do whatever necessary to deliver. Working remotely often requires you to define targets and activities more clearly and to make sure that everybody understands how they need to contribute to reaching that goal without being micromanaged. In addition to this, you need to establish a structure of how to follow up with your employees and how often.
Status meetings/stand-ups/follow-ups will be critical for you to capture challenges or hindrances that prevent your employees from progressing with the task they are working on. In these meetings, you need to establish a process, structure and agenda in the same way as with physical ones. Since you’re probably not catching up that much casually throughout the day as you normally would, it is important to add some new elements to the meeting agenda.
In addition to the old agenda that can easily be transferred to digital video calls, you should make sure to add the following questions: What did you get done yesterday (or last week)? What are you working on now? What are your goals for today or this week? Are you experiencing any challenges, and are there any areas where you could need some help? As with all other meetings, these status meetings should always have a meeting leader that is in charge of the agenda and the overall targets. Below you will find a visual example of how you could structure your remote team governance on a weekly basis and an example agenda that could be used in daily stand-ups to govern team and individual execution on targets.
4. Prioritize the cultural aspect of working remotely.
It is easy to lose the workplace culture that you’ve spent years building up when transitioning to remote work. Naturally, managers often prioritize the transfer of operational stuff to digital platforms and forget about the importance of transferring the culture.
People are social animals and we do have a need to casually socialize or chat throughout the day. Make sure to set up separate chat channels for informal/casual discussions and encourage your team members to contribute by taking an active part in these channels yourself. You should also make sure to set up separate virtual meeting rooms for lunch and encourage all co-workers to join in and enjoy a virtual lunch together. All kinds of social activities like quizzes, salary beers or similar should also be transferred to virtual meeting rooms.
It is also important that you continue to have these “coffee machine” chats with your team throughout the day. Remember to ask them about their dog (or cat), what they had for dinner last night, what their weekend plans are etc. It is these little things that make the big difference - and that will decide whether your company culture will survive the transition or not.
5. Identify the digital tools that fit your needs and don’t be afraid to experiment.
Most companies are already using a lot of different digital tools in order to streamline their workflow and collaboration. There is a jungle of different tools and apps out there and unfortunately there is no right or wrong when it comes to what apps to use. Every company has to identify those tools that fit their specific needs and that are adaptable to their workflow and operation.
As many of you may have experienced already - it is hard to succeed at first try. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new tools. Choose tools that are easy to implement and evaluate it over a short period with your team. If it works - keep it, if not - replace it. There are probably hundreds of similar tools out there that aim to solve the same problem. Below you will find some of the tools that we will recommend as a “starter pack”:
Chat communication: Slack
Here is some additional curated content on remote work if you would like to dig further and read more.
Handbooks for remote work:
We have consultants with the expertise to increase the productivity as well as team spirit of your currently remotely working team. Schedule a call with them to find out how they can help you.