Remote work is both a result of the immediate coronavirus pandemic as well as a larger shift in work culture that has been taking place over the past few years. Remote and virtual teams are a wonderful resource for organizations looking to expand their workforce but unwilling to go the whole hog with hiring and onboarding. They navigate geographical differences to create an extended arm that increases productivity and rates of completion by tangible numbers.
That’s not to say that remote team work culture is free of challenges. If anything, the lack of physical proximity makes it all the more challenging to manage remote teams, especially if some team members are in different time zones. That said, there are plenty of strategies for managing remote teams in such a way that they multiply existing skills and help productivity and results sky-rocket.
Challenges faced when managing remote teams
Conforming to a different work structure can be daunting in a world where traditional structures are still a norm. Remote work calls for more enhanced skills in some aspects, including better time management and effective communication through written word and video calls. This difference also defines how remote teams operate and are onboarded — and if this isn’t taken into account, then remote teams might not settle in as well as they can.
Clear expectations, high-quality communication and trust form the foundation of remote work, and a steady balance of all three can ensure success. Despite the differences in industries and niches, there are a few best practices for managing remote teams that are domain-agnostic and serve to shape more successful remote teams.
Tips for managing remote teams for a productive environment
1. Find the right workflow management system
The systems and tools you use can make or break your relationship with remote teams. Workflow management is essential to keep everyone on the same page and ensure there isn’t any overlap or gaps in tasks. Workflow management systems offset the temptation to micromanage and allows team members to focus on specific tasks that contribute to larger goals.
2. Establish a workplace culture
Remote work shouldn’t come at the cost of organizational culture — if anything, it demands it. Establishing a structured workplace culture helps to make remote workers feel connected and part of a larger team. This reduces the opportunity for them to function in silos, and allows the entire team to collaborate and interact effectively. It also ensures that remote teams know exactly what is at stake and how much they can contribute, should they put the pedal to the metal at all times.
3. Experiment with communication mediums
One form of communication alone — especially email — is insufficient to ensure productivity and facilitate conversations with and between remote teams. Richer communication mediums, such as video calls, voice calls and instant messaging platforms, are much more efficient in fueling productivity and keeping everyone in the loop. Experimenting with such mediums can help reduce the chances of remote teams feeling isolated from main teams. They’re ideal for sensitive or complex conversations and the lengthy brainstorming that would usually occur during face-to-face meetings.
4. Encourage a culture of trust and accountability
Trust and accountability, or the lack thereof, can dictate just how successful a remote development team is. From the get go, it is recommended that a culture of trust is established within and between remote teams. This ensures everyone is performing at their best capacity, and that the organization is moving towards success and their overarching goals. It also helps team members build a rapport with each other, which is especially important in remote situations given the lack of instant commonalities such as working spaces and cities.
5. Fuel effective collaboration through common documents
Fueling collaboration is one of the key tenets of remote work best practices. Services such as Google Docs allow remote team members to brainstorm together or asynchronously, and maintain a record of all that has come of these discussions. It helps to pick a cloud-based service so that important files are accessible at any time, and anywhere and are hosted on easy-to-access platforms. Collaborations in this format bridge any potential gaps between team members, especially those who are working together for the first time and haven’t had a chance to build a rapport personally.
6. Allow for flexible work hours
While fixed working hours are quite beneficial, it makes sense to make such systems more flexible in the context of remote work. This is to ensure that remote workers can maintain a work-life balance and be at their productive best always. Odd working hours and overtime can reduce interest and cause burnout, which doesn’t do any favors for the organizations.
7. Monitor their performance
Given that remote teams aren’t on site and potentially will never be, it is doubly important that those in charge monitor each team member’s performance. This needs to be built on trust so that the monitoring becomes an exercise of support and care rather than of micromanaging. Data from these monitoring sessions can reveal whether all members are working at their best capacity, need help, or need to be talked to about how they’re doing.
8. Keep communication simple and natural
One of the key managing remote teams best practices is to keep communication simple and natural. This allows teams to engage at a higher level, and go beyond differences to work towards the same goal. Complicated instructions are much more difficult to translate over virtual platforms, given one can’t spin their chair around and ask their manager a question as they would at an office. Natural communication invokes a sense of belonging and helps remote teams feel connected to the rest of the office in thought and work, if not in physical location.
9. Organize annual face-to-face meetings annually
If possible, it’s always a great idea to organize face-to-face meetings with remote team members at least once a year. This goes a long way in making teams feel like they belong to the larger organization. It gives them a chance to interact with others who they haven’t worked with, and this leads to a deeper appreciation of the organization and a better understanding of its perspectives.
10. Respect cultural diversity
Diversity can be the strongest value-add of a remote team, if it’s treated the right way. Remote teams are largely made up of a myriad set of people from different parts of the world. It is important for the organization to respect these differences and leverage them for the greater good of the organization. To that end, “one size fits all” strategies and culture-agnostic policies are a no-no as they make people feel more alienated. Instead, catering to this diversity and tweaking policies to work with them rather than around them can lead to much more success.
These tips for successfully managing remote teams are industry-agnostic and can be applied at any stage. Remote work is definitely here to stay, so it’s essential that every organization have a set of guidelines and foundational truths to work off of. This means productivity and good results for the organization, and close-knit collaboration between and within every team.