Expert in HR in different roles and industries for over 23 years. Used to manage HR organizations up to 100 people as well as companies with a total headcount from 300 to over 7000 employees.
In 2019, Owl Labs published a comprehensive survey dedicated to remote work. Among 1,200 full-time American workers, 62% responded that they work or are managing remote teams away from the office at least once per month. 30% answered that they do it all the time.
It will be interesting to compare the numbers in 2020. Undoubtedly, the current coronavirus pandemic is threatening. News is scary. But there is at least one silver lining. The world can finally realize the benefits of remote work.
This guide is mainly for managers who are struggling to keep the teams connected nowadays. In Q&A blocks, Mikhail Zavylov, HR Director at DICEUS, shares his knowledge, and the experience of our company in going remote. As well, we will gather info from external experts about how to manage remote teams, opportunities, and challenges of this approach, best practices, and tips for staff members.
Understanding remote work
The approach we study here has different names: remote work, telecommuting, telework, work from home or WFH, etc. But the essence is always the same. This process provides for working without moving to a central space like an office. Instead, employees can stay home, visit coworking areas or cafés, travel to foreign countries.
A typical remote team is a group of employees working from different places but connected via digital collaboration tools: workspaces, dashboards, chats. Today, the role of such groups rises exponentially. However, Mikhail Zavylov thinks that there are more vital elements for people who are managing remote teams.
To get a bigger picture, let’s discover some significant issues, opportunities, and conclusions related to the nature of remote work in 2020.
Firstly, pay close attention to potential problems with managing a remote sales team or another department. In times of global lockdowns, it is barely possible to choose between the office and home. Nevertheless, the crisis will pass, and you will have to think over the collaboration strategy. Not all businesses or employees are suitable for this arrangement, so C-level executives and managers should mind the risks.
Here are the most painful issues, according to Tanja Loktionova, Founder at Values Value and a remote manager with eight years of experience:
- Managers lose control over the processes. Often, it is challenging to balance between excessive bureaucratization and lack of monitoring.
- Priorities shuffle, productivity becomes worse. Due to the lack of transparency, managers and executors may focus on little things instead of essentials.
- Unplugging harms the team spirit. Remote cooperation makes it harder to track the mood of employees. As a result, hidden conflicts develop and burst.
- Virtual meetings are irregular. Overall, communication issues are one of the most dangerous. It is crucial to find the right time, frequency, and form.
Other problems include software bugs that ruin the communication process, schedule questions that are especially vital for teams distributed around the world, distractions at home: pets, kids, you know. Nowadays, technologies aren’t ideal as even Microsoft Teams go down due to extreme load.
Well, there are some problems with telecommuting, we admit it. But we also think that online environments can be extremely beneficial, both for staff members and businesses. Take a brief look at the opportunities for companies that are managing remote project teams:
- Businesses can hire professionals anywhere. Many professionals can’t or don’t want to relocate. Thus, remote teams have access to much wider talent pools.
- Connectedness improves, and so does efficiency. Telework nurtures self-discipline, helps to stay in touch and offers flexible working hours.
- Managers look at the results, not time. Office companies require staff to work a certain number of hours. Distancing allows focusing on actual results, not time spent.
- Salaries grow thanks to lack of rent. This one is obvious: when a business doesn’t have to rent office spaces, it can invest in employees more.
- Time zones boost delivery. For instance, you can start the project in New York, pass it to a team in London, and finish in Sydney just in one day.
Although modern software isn’t flawless in terms of telework maintenance, it is much better than a few years ago. We see that companies can move their operations online. And that is a great moment to try to manage a remote team effectively!
Let’s now make a short interim summary. Remote work is neither a rainbow nor a pure evil. To benefit from it or survive the period of forced distancing, businesses and employees should remember a few points:
- Communication can be pretty challenging. It is challenging to choose the right channels, reliable and efficient. But in-office communication isn’t a cakewalk, too.
- Remote isn’t for everyone. Some people just can’t work remotely, keeping the same productivity. They face burnouts and issues with work-life boundaries.
- Telework is a valuable skill. Good remote workers are self-disciplined, proactive, motivated, and connected. And it is worth hiring for these skills.
- Team play is the most fundamental principle. Even if your company has one person working from home, you should opt for online communications only.
Mainly, it is vital to know how to handle unexpected changes. Due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, hundreds of companies had to start managing remote teams. Christy Pambianchi, Chief HR Officer at Verizon, says that they moved sales, customer support, solutions, and staff remote. She insists that it is essential to stay patient, rethink orthodox rules, and be positive about potential progress in digital transformation.
Finally, remember that working remotely and managing remote teams, training them is pretty different in terms of the arrangement. We want to focus more on how to effectively manage a remote team. Still, you can find some valuable suggestions for regular employees in the penultimate section.
Three pillars of remote team management
As we stated above, proper collaboration isn’t just a reliable planner, an excellent online chat, and a set of people around the world. It is more about culture, team play, mutual respect, and trust. Good results rely on cooperation. To achieve them remotely, you should know how to build a seamless environment, productive and friendly simultaneously.
For different companies managing remote teams, best practices may differ, too. But some basic things work always. Three cornerstones form an effective community: employees and managers, ways they work together, and the software tools they use. Let’s analyze these parts one by one.
Feel free to start with the essential outsourcing management guide and then move to advanced suggestions.
The team is the heart of any process. You may use the best solutions and have perfectly organized processes, but they can’t help if you don’t have the right people. Nevertheless, not everyone is a good worker when it comes to distancing. Similarly, not everyone is good at managing remote teams. Overall, we prefer prioritizing employees, so here are our significant insights and tested practices.
Deliver the required resources
Inc. states that a skillful manager always makes sure to provide everything his/her team needs. This package includes but isn’t limited to tech things like laptops and stable connection, software for communication, precise tasks, core documentation, and personal benefits. The idea is you should ensure that the team has access to resources, not assume this.
Enable informal communication
We will talk about work meetings later. As for now, remember that non-working chats are vital for the company’s atmosphere. Slack or Telegram channels with loads of fun (even dumb or obscene), Discord or Skype voice rooms, remote corporate parties – they help to relieve stress and relax. Think about these spaces as virtual kitchens or playrooms in the office.
Keep people connected
Remote team management tips show that people want to feel involved. It is easier in the office, but it is also vital during distancing. To maintain a connection, inform your team about the company’s values and goals, invite to events, celebrate birthdays. Still, Buffer names unplugging issues among the biggest struggles, so don’t overload employees.
Meet in the real life
Even strong introverts need real-world social communication occasionally. Asking how to manage remote teams, don’t ignore physical meetings. You can dedicate them to special events such as national holidays or in-company milestones, large conferences, etc. Even travels are wonderful if all participants join them voluntarily.
Nurture critical skills in the team
Telework requires special soft skills. While HR managers look for them during the hiring stage, team leads are quite limited. Thus, they can define these skills of team members and try to develop them:
- Excellent writing, literacy.
- Orientation on the result.
- Time management.
Human beings tend to face various personal problems. Managing remote teams as groups, you should also know your workers as individuals. Some members need more control, while others are self-organized. Extraverts enjoy video calls while introverts prefer one weekly sync-up, no more. Be open and ready to listen if you want to build trust.
Trust your team
Last but not least, the remote relies on trust heavily. If you don’t trust the team members, you may become a control-freak in a matter of days. Screen capturers, time trackers, obligatory video monitoring – these things create an illusion of control, lead to conflicts, sacking. But when you trust, you can focus on results, keeping high productivity and employee satisfaction.
Generally, any work is a process. For businesses, a process is a way in which something is organized, a way how employees work. Responsible people should know which processes suit their goals when managing remote teams’ best practices. Further, we determine a few core processes for DICEUS. Check them but don’t apply blindly because your business may feature completely different organizational approaches.
Focus on productivity
One of the biggest challenges for a remote manager is to balance control and freedom. Many workers choose to work from home because they can have flexible hours then. But managers want to see consistent delivery, so they often double down on time monitoring. All teams need some tracking. Still, the results are more critical. Try setting the same measurement system as you would have in the office and trust your employees.
Below, we mention essential remote team management tips that can improve productivity:
- Add all tasks to project planners and calendars available for all team members.
- Have a shared collaboration time window to keep the team consistent.
- Let people file weekly self-reports with the results and plans.
- Measure productivity by actual results in the first place.
Have regular meetings
On par with productivity, communication is the most fragile element of managing remote teams. A leader wants to keep employees connected during working hours and protected from burnout simultaneously. He/she should structure communications via different channels, plan schedules of syncs, ensure that all members have access.
The golden rule is to plan and trace every connection step. From small face-to-face meetings to company-wide quarterly syncs, you should know exactly their goals, forms, and outcomes. And be realistic: you will fail sometimes. Professional managers struggle to find the perfect remote meeting balance, but not all of them succeed. Try, test, and adapt.
Here are a few more insights into professional remote communication:
- Divide information channels depending on the process:
- Emails for core info, requests, results.
- Planners for task tracking.
- Text chats for quick interactions.
- Voice and video chats for team syncs.
- Get a schedule for calls between team leads, inside teams, and departments.
- Organize face-to-face meetings at least twice a week to keep in touch.
- Set irregular calls if you feel that texting will be inefficient for a particular task.
- Use videos often to improve discipline and set eye contact.
This part is also similar to traditional work. Namely, employees in offices have to arrive at the specified time, handle their tasks, relax in the dedicated rooms, etc. To manage a remote team effectively, rules are obligatory, too. They will be slightly different but equally transparent. Employees should understand why they have these rules and why they are different for different groups, e.g. people in the USA and Europe can work at different times.
General areas where you should set clear rules are as follows:
- Conflict solving.
- Communication time, working hours.
- Reasons for irregular meetings.
- Reporting rules.
- Task planning, execution, and tracking.
- Text, voice call etiquette.
- Workspace availability: home, transport, café.
While the third element is also essential for success, we think that it is easier to master it while managing remote development teams or other groups. In a nutshell, you need top-quality, reliable tools for core processes: communication, planning, tracking. All solutions must scale enough to work under your company’s peak load.
Hence, check the generally demanded software types. Note that some tools combine several features:
- Code repositories. If you work with code, you need a dedicated repository to house projects, deliver features, track bugs. The best example is GitHub.
- File sharing systems. Similarly to code, teams need a database for their documents, spreadsheets, cases. For instance, Microsoft Office 365 or Google Drive.
- Remote desktops. In case a team member requires access to the office machine, he/she can use apps like TeamViewer, SplashTop, ARD, or RDC.
- Email services. The first layer of formal communication relies on emails, usually. There are dozens of options, including Gmail and Outlook.
- Text chats. Used for both formal and informal connections, chats are great for real-time issues. Consider tools like Slack, Telegram, Messenger.
- Voice/video chats. They enable the highest meeting engagement level. You can use Skype, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Discord.
- Project management:
- Planners. Managing remote project teams, leads can’t succeed without proper planners. The most famous ones are Jira, Trello, Asana, and Basecamp.
- Trackers. While the functionality is often built in project management solutions, some companies may get a separate app like Timely or Toggl.
- Security. Finally, telecommuting comes with increased security risks, so you want to make your work safer with password managers, network monitoring, and encryption.
If you want to manage remote teams effectively, try building own project management software using our expert guide!
Tips & tricks for remote workers
Finally, we want to step aside from our managing remote teams training course and talk about employees. This topic deserves a separate guide. But Mikhail Zavylov has rich experience in both management and employee support. He shares a few tips that can help remote workers to keep their productivity high and avoid burnout:
- Create boundaries between work and life through a physical workspace.
- Decide when you’re working and stop once your day is done.
- Don’t stop doing what you have been used to do, adapt to new circumstances.
- Enjoy working from home: play the music you like, think flexibly.
- Have a lot of contact and collaboration if you’re an extrovert.
- Move physically if you’re used to this activity.
- Schedule a start and an end time, have a rhythm.
Go online and succeed
COVID-19 is rapidly changing the way we live, communicate, and work. Heinan Landa, CEO at Optimal Networks, calls the current situation “the large work-from-home experiment”. It is hard to disagree. More and more companies are trying to figure out how to manage a remote sales team or any other company part. But we have yet to find out whether this experiment will be successful or not.
Hope, our remote team management tips helped you. We tried to cover the essential sectors, challenges, and opportunities.