Finding challenges leading your remote team?
You’re not alone.
Although remote work has become more popular due to COVID-19, most teams weren’t prepared for the abrupt change!
Luckily, leading remote teams is not as difficult as it seems.
To help you get started, we’ll highlight three key benefits of working with remote teams. We’ll also give you seven key tips for effective remote team management.
This article contains:
(Click on the links to jump to a specific section)
- Remote teams can be more productive
- You can hire top talent from anywhere
- You can handle clients from all over the globe
- Establish ground rules for communication
- Use the right communication tools
- Track time and employee activity to boost productivity
- Hold frequent check-ins and one-on-ones with your team
- Encourage social interaction to boost team chemistry
- Listen to your employees and support them
- Build trust and avoid micromanaging
Let’s get started.
Why you should work with remote teams
While leading a remote team can seem daunting, it’s actually going to be great for your business!
Working with remote teams is going to help you benefit in tons of different ways such as:
1. Remote teams can be more productive
Remote teams often have higher productivity levels, thanks to the flexibility offered by remote work!
Think about it.
Remote employees can:
- Save time and energy on their daily commute
- Avoid the distractions and pressures of a traditional office environment
- Work during non-traditional hours when they feel most productive
This way, remote workers will have more energy and can create their ideal work environments to focus better and complete more work in less time.
2. You can hire top talent from anywhere
Traditionally, most teams could only hire talent from within their cities or areas close by.
This meant that you were location-limited when it came to talent. Sure, you could find a few good candidates in your city, but they might be too expensive. Others, not as talented as you would like. Either way, you’re pretty much stuck with what’s available there. This could lead you to hiring an employee who might not be the best fit.
Luckily, that’s not the case anymore.
Remote work arrangements allow you to hire the most suitable candidates from across the globe.
This means finding employees that are the best fits not only in terms of skill sets but also:
- Team ethos and morale
- Communication styles
- Company goals and mission
3. You can handle customers from all over the globe
With a remote workforce, you can easily cater to clients in any part of the world, 24/7!
Since remote teams do not have to be in the same physical location, team members from different time zones can handle clients in their respective time zones.
This allows you to:
- Quickly respond to clients and customers at any hour
- Easily hold extended discussions with them without time zone clashes
- Give customers localized attention – even if you’re company isn’t based in their country
How does this help?
With shorter response times and more client interaction, you’ll be able to cater to more clients and keep them happy.
Seven essential practices for leading remote teams
So how do you go about leading remote teams?
Let’s take a look:
1. Establish ground rules for communication
Effective communication is the cornerstone of any successful team.
But for remote team communication, ground rules are not just helpful — they are essential.
As you don’t share the same physical location, ground rules for communication can help your remote team stay up to date by establishing:
- How the team keeps in touch
- When they can reach out to team members
- How frequently they need to communicate
So what kind of communication ground rules should you set up?
Here are some key rules to use:
A. Clearly define the purpose of each mode of communication.
This helps you streamline conversations and makes them easier to go through.
For example, use video conferencing platforms for weekly team meetings and instant messaging tools like Slack for urgent messages.
B. Define common availability hours and make these mandatory.
Remote teams that work across different time zones can use common availability hours for real-time collaboration.
For example, if the common availability hours are 10:00 to 12:00 GMT, all team members – across the world – must be online and accessible during this period.
But doesn’t that mean remote teams aren’t as flexible as everyone says they are?
It doesn’t have to mean that!
Apart from these few common hours, your remote employees can still manage the rest of their workdays according to their preferred schedules.
By setting up a few of these ground rules, you bring definition and clarity to your remote communication framework.
2. Use a variety of communication tools
Using good communication and collaboration tools are essential for leading remote teams.
After all, there’s no way to talk to remote employees in person, right?
It’s tempting to stick to emails for communication — especially if you’ve just switched to remote working for the first time because of COVID-19.
However, emails lack most of the features and efficiency of today’s project management and remote communication tools.
And without using a variety of these tools, you limit the effectiveness of your virtual team.
Here are a few popular platforms you should be using:
A. Video conferencing tools
Video calls are extremely popular amongst several remote teams.
Video conferences enable face-to-face communication between team members and can play a massive role in effective collaboration.
How does this help?
Unlike text or voice-based tools, video conferencing platforms allow participants to see visual cues, gestures and expressions — just like real-life conversations.
Video calls also offer tons of other benefits for your remote team.
- Help you share your screen for detailed explanations
- Reduce feelings of isolation amongst remote team members
- Allow communication to be more personal or sensitive when needed
- Help with socialization and team-building activities
If that’s not enough, video conferencing tools today allow anywhere from 2 to 2000 participants at a time. This makes them perfect for small businesses as well as Fortune 500s
Popular video conferencing tools
- Microsoft Teams (replaces Skype as Microsoft’s go-to video call tool)
B. Instant messaging tools
Sometimes, all you need is a quick confirmation or clarification.
You don’t need to set-up an entire video call for that, right?
In such cases, instant messaging platforms are ideal.
They allow you to instantly get in touch with your teammates, anytime and anywhere.
Additionally, most instant messaging tools also allow structured conversations via separate channels.
How does this help?
Each channel can be dedicated to a particular team, project or discussion. This allows you to focus on what you need, instead of sifting through a single conversation channel with hundreds of irrelevant messages.
Popular instant messaging platforms
- Google Chat
3. Track time and employee activity to boost productivity
The biggest challenge for most remote teams is to stay productive — especially if they’ve suddenly shifted to remote work!
One of the best ways to help them out with this is to use technology, such as time tracking tools like TimeDoctor.
What is Time Doctor?
Time Doctor is a powerful time tracking platform used by large companies like PwC and Apple as well as smaller businesses like Firehouse Subs to monitor virtual teams and freelancers.
Time Doctor allows you to:
- Track time spent on each task by remote workers
- Analyze every employee’s productivity with detailed reports (don’t worry, employees have access to these reports too)
- Improve team efficiency by identifying obstacles to productivity.
Moreover, when you know how much time is being spent on each task you can:
- Have far more accurate estimates of how long tasks will take.
- Allocate resources to tasks accordingly.
You can even boost your team members’ productivity with distraction management features.
4. Hold frequent check-ins and one-on-ones with your team
When leading remote teams, it is important to stay on the same page as your remote employees.
You can do this by conducting regular one-on-one check-ins with your employees!
Establish these check-ins as ways for your employees to talk about any obstacles or concerns they are facing.
Be open and understanding of what your remote workers have to say, and offer any advice or support that you can.
How does this help?
By building trust with your remote workforce, you strengthen communication and make them feel valued!
Creating an honest and open work environment not only motivates your remote teams, but can also improve collaboration between team members.
5. Encourage socialization to strengthen team chemistry
For remote workers, isolation can have a huge impact on productivity and motivation.
This is an even bigger concern during the quarantine as they’re already dealing with a lot of stress!
Most office workers who have switched to remote work for the first time aren’t used to zero social contact. This can make efficient remote work harder for them.
To tackle this problem, it’s important for remote managers to encourage social interaction between team members.
Will it take too much effort and time?
It doesn’t have to!
In fact, encouraging social interaction can be as simple as taking a few minutes before team meetings for casual conversation. Catch up with everyone, discuss Netflix shows and explore shared interests.
For special occasions, you can even host virtual parties by getting food delivered to each remote team member during a video call!
Alternatively, for a 24/7 outlet, create a watercooler channel or chatroom in your preferred messaging app. From debating sports to sharing the latest memes, such interactions strengthen team bonds and lift dull spirits.
6. Listen to and support your employees
Listening is one of the strongest soft skills you can develop as a team leader — especially if you’re leading remote teams.
As you’re not working in a shared workplace, it’s harder to gauge how employees are feeling.
Are they adjusting well? Is everything working out fine?
Or are they having a hard time? In this case, how can you improve the situation for them?
For a virtual team manager, asking these questions is vital.
Make sure that the conversation centers around their problems or concerns, and not yours.
Apart from demonstrating support, listening to your remote team allows you to recognize the main barriers to productivity and collaboration.
By dealing with these barriers, you can easily improve teamwork while also creating a healthier and supportive work environment.
7. Build trust and avoid micromanaging
Many team leaders tend to micromanage their employees.
Think about it.
How often do you take a walk and check your employees’ screens?
How many times do you ask for progress reports on the simplest tasks?
Now, this isn’t always a bad thing — but for leading remote teams, micromanagement can be difficult and distressing for not only you, but your remote team as well.
As you no longer have easy access to your employees, you may feel nervous or out of your depth during decision-making. This can lead you to carefully micromanaging every aspect about your virtual team remotely.
However, the lack of independence and trust can easily demotivate your remote team by making them feel undervalued.
So what can you do about it?
Empathize with your remote workers and try to step into their shoes.
Recognize the value of their independence, and how much support they really need.
Once you begin trusting your employees, you’ll find it easier to relax and focus on other tasks.
Additionally, displaying trust in your team also validates their work and motivates them to do better.
But wait – how do you keep track of your team’s work without micromanaging?
Just use remote project management tools like ClickUp and Wrike.
They allow you to keep track of your team’s work without being intrusive.
These tools allow you to:
- Assign tasks
- Check the status of a task
- Check project progress through gantt charts and more
- Have conversations about tasks
- And more!
This way, you can easily monitor everything without having to micromanage your employees.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to tons of changes in the workplace.
And one of them is the shift to remote working.
While leading remote teams may seem daunting at first, it doesn’t have to be.
Once you get used to managing remote teams, you’ll find that they can be just as – if not more – effective than in-office teams.
Use the tips we covered here to easily guide your remote team towards success!
Andy is a technology & marketing leader who has delivered award-winning and world-first experiences.