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Managing Remote Teams Successfully

10 Feb 2022

The pandemic has forced many individuals and teams to work remotely. Many employees still struggle with isolation, loneliness, and work-life balance. Managers can help their remote teams mitigate these challenges.

If you have stumbled upon this article, there is a good chance that you know what it’s like to work remotely. In the US alone tens of millions have switched to teleworking. The global tally probably runs well into the 9-digit territory. That number is likely to stay just as high if not grow in the years to come.

Remote work can offer tremendous benefits, but it has its fair share of challenges too. One of the main ones is transitioning from task coordination and communication in an office setting to doing it virtually. It’s hard enough for a single employee to adjust. Imagine what it’s like for a manager who has to deal with many bewildered colleagues!

If you are a manager tasked with leading remote teams, do not despair! The pandemic has offered a globe-spanning litmus test for some of the theories and practices of effective remote team management. This blog post compiles a list of principles and best practices that will help you keep your workers productive and happy.

First, however, it is essential to understand the key problems employees ascribe to remote working. 

The Challenges of a Remote Worker

To help a remote team function to the best of its ability, the main impediments have to be clear. Luckily survey data over the last 2 years have provided us with ample information on the challenges faced by remote workers. There are five main factors that affect both the individual and the team:

• Reduced face-to-face supervision

Many employees struggle with limited managerial assistance while working remotely. This also taps into communication problems. Less face-to-face time with a manager can result in vague instructions, frustrating communication, and limited feedback.

• Lack of the human element

Seeing someone through a webcam or in person may not seem like a huge change, but it does make a world of difference. We are social animals who sense others’ moods, attitudes, and emotions far better when next to them. Reading an abrupt email from a coworker or a boss may lead to thought spirals, even if there was no malign intent behind it. It’s harder to come to that conclusion without actually talking to the person.

• Social isolation

The whole social animal argument is relevant in another way – physical interaction charges us up. Loneliness and lack of social interaction causes sadness and depression. Especially for parents the office provided a welcome breath of grown up life.

• Distractions at home

A perfectly organized remote worker would have a clean and quiet workspace and a child at kindergarten. Unfortunately, most do not have this luxury. So whenever you see the typical stock photo of a remote worker on the phone frantically writing with a child in lap, do not mistake that for productive bliss.

• Difficulty to unplug

For many remote workers, any semblance of work-life balance just falls apart. They start earlier, work longer, and are subjected to more stress. This overworking at the expense of personal or rest time affects remote workers’ overall productivity, mental health, and relationships.

Good managers should take notice of these five factors either to help their remote teams overcome them or anticipate and try to mitigate them in the future.

Maximizing Your Remote Team’s Productivity

So how to overcome these challenges and reach peak performance? There are five key things for any remote team manager to bear in mind.

1. Communication is essential

Effective and punctual communication is key to success. Workers need information concerning resources, deadlines, expectations, schedules, and potential hurdles. Quality and timely feedback is also essential to boost employee performance and motivation.

To maximize a remote team’s communication capacity, there should be clear communication guidelines. These would:

• Encourage the use of different communication technologies

An efficient team is that which can adapt to circumstances and communicate effectively. The more different tools a team has (apps, intranet, video conferencing, cloud infrastructure) the better it will perform.

• Establish the main communication channel

Whether it is e-mail, chat, video conference, or something different, there should be a single primary tool through which all of the project related information will be conveyed. That way team members will know where to look.

• Setting online, offline hours

Since remote workers can have pretty hectic days, I’d suggest agreeing on specific “online hours” each day when everyone has to be available. It doesn’t mean that something will necessarily happen then. However, if there are things to communicate, that’s the time to do it. Likewise having dedicated “offline hours” can be a blessing – that’s the time when you can really focus on your work, turning off all other notifications.

• Create an emergency channel

While offline hours are great, agree on a way/means through which everyone can be reached if such a necessity arises.

• Agree on meetings

Establish your team’s meeting etiquette (duration, agendas, number of participants). Set aside specific days and hours when meetings can be planned.

2. Individual approach

As already outlined above, we require at least some level of connection. If employees are deprived of this, they tend to lose interest, care less about the goal, and are more likely to leave their positions.

Depending on how strewn across the world team members are, two solutions can help a lot in boosting a team’s productivity and creativity stats.

If team members are all located within a reasonable driving distance, meet up every once in a while! This can either be a team-building exercise or just a regular office day. The importance lies in intermingling, discussions, and the spontaneous ideas and solutions that arise from these situations.

If physically coming together is more of a challenge or if the first approach feels insufficient, there is a simple solution. Create a “virtual water cooler” for spontaneous and independent interactions. It’s pretty simple – have a video conference that is always on and encourage people to tune in during their breaks or around lunchtime. To facilitate these encounters, set up specific, non-mandatory break and lunch times each day when people can join and chat freely.

Furthermore, set aside time before meetings to “go around the table” and ask everyone how they’ve been. It always lightens the mood and creates stronger bonds.

3. Set clear expectations and delegate responsibilities

Make sure that management expectations for each team member are clear for all the involved parties. This includes everything from the main goal and the relevant deadlines to organizational aspects like the expected work hours, after work communication, etiquette, and the relevant company policies and demands. Manager should be available for questions at any time. The less confusion and the fewer unanswered questions, the better.

With the board set, it is essential for all the pieces to understand their specific roles and responsibilities. Ideally, there would be a perfect cascade structure down from the (1) main goal to the (2) milestones that have to be met along the way and the (3) tasks associated with the milestones. Each of the expected results should have a clear output, deadline, and responsibility

After that an effective manager will monitor and be available for support and guidance without interfering too much in the process. Micromanagement should be avoided as it negatively affects motivation and creativity. Check-ins should be regular and predictable rather than unexpected and intrusive. This builds trust and cooperation.

4. Take care of your remote team (including yourself)

It is easy to lose the human touch and sensitivity when not next to one another. However, it is in these circumstances that support is most necessary. While expectations have to be clear, they also shouldn’t be unreasonable. If there is stress concerning goal achievement or task completion, be supportive and offer help. I’d suggest:

  • Stressing the importance of screen-free breaks;
  • Emphasizing the necessity to maintain work-life balance;
  • Encouraging regular exercise (walking the dog, stretching, or jogging can really boost energy and motivation levels);
  • Offering emotional support. A manager is not expected to be a therapist, but they can ask, listen, and empathize. Showing care and empathy is surprisingly effective in and of itself.

5. Celebrate success

The last key factor that is essential for success both for in-office and remote teams is the acknowledgment and celebration of success. Unfortunately, managers tend to forget to praise their employees for a job well done.

Sure, one task may be miniscule in the grand scheme of the project, but it may be essential for the one person who committed to it. By offering praise, celebrating success, and offering some sort of reward (either non-material or material) both individual and team spirits will be lifted. It could even encourage other members of your remote teams towards their own achievements. This would create a virtuous cycle of self-reinforcing joy and productivity. 

What better way to end this blogpost than by saying that we all need some positivity? 

In all seriousness, if you are a manager tasked with managing remote teams, there is one glaring thing missing from most articles covering this topic. Encouragement! 

We at BePrime believe in you! Take as much as you can away from this blog post and show how great of a manager you can be!

Author: Lote Steina

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Life doesen't have a do-over.
Commit to it! BePrime!
Life doesen't have a do-over.
Commit to it! BePrime!