Organizations make use of remote work in several ways, whether it’s outsourcing technical talent, using flex-work, or employing work-from-home teams to enable flexible office spaces and reduce costs. With almost 20% of the global workforce remote today and 45% of the U.S. workforce claiming they want to work from home at least some time, remote work is here to stay.
You can help your organization stay on top of these changes by stepping away from traditional management tactics and adopting policies and processes geared towards managing remote teams. For example, required communication, engagement, and even activities vary greatly between in-office and remote teams. Establishing policies and processes that guide effective management is crucial to ensuring team cohesion and productivity as you scale.
It becomes exceptionally imperative to hire carefully when working remotely.
Remote teams rely on strong communication more than on-site teams. People have to work together and work well. If something goes wrong, they can’t drop by a colleague’s office for help.
Additionally, each person’s sphere of influence is smaller when they don’t work in an office. So, you’ll have to rely on what people bring to the team and share within it.
This makes competencies like communication and emotional intelligence even more important. Personalities should complement rather than copy or conflict. In remote teams, culture add is more important than culture fit, especially when people can only rely on each other instead of an entire department.
Establish communication processes
Standardizing communication across a team is critical for members to be able to contact each other in a routine and comfortable manner. That requires creating robust communication processes, which include:
- Appropriate tools. Ask which tooling people should use and why. Does everyone agree? If some people want to work in Trello and others in Miro, for example, you’re going to have to align that before moving forward.
- A central communication and data storage hub (e.g., a cloud drive or a repository with everything being worked on stored in one central place).
- Central data storage and file-naming standards.
- Appropriate times for communication. For example, don’t expect responses after 6 p.m. in the recipient’s time zone. You can integrate tools like Timey (Slack) and Boomerang (most mail clients) to help with that.
- Communication standards delineating what is and is not appropriate (politeness, non-escalation, de-escalation, helpfulness, etc.).
Standards ensure uniformity with tooling as well. For example, everyone working on the same project should work with the same tools.
People working in an office have opportunities to engage and interact with each other in what is often known as “water cooler” talk. While it can be frivolous if abused, it’s an important time for people to meet, share ideas, and inspire each other.
Replacing that in a remote team is almost impossible. However, you can provide moments for people to engage and chat outside of work. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as holding happy hour or a party over Zoom; people will still treat it like work because they want to wrap up and get on with their day or weekend. Instead, try setting aside time during normal meetings for socialization, allocating time from regular meetings, or simply taking time from work for fun. You can break up work with short, fun activities like games, mini workshops, or “just talk.”
Document work and information
Traceability is essential for managing remote work. It often requires you to shift productivity management from hours worked toward the output. For example, about half of all hours spent in an office are unproductive. If you determine what output looks like for a good week, you can build traceability around that.
Work management tools like Jira, Asana, or Trello are invaluable for tracing work. They allow you to create and assign tickets, track progress and involve others as their input becomes necessary. As a result, you can track what work is done, by whom, and where.
Traceability applies to more than just individual output. Showing teams what they’re working on and linking tasks to larger business goals keep them motivated. It helps people feel they’re contributing, even working in a remote team.
Lastly, the more self-managed your teams are, the better. Teams need input about what they’re doing, their current workloads, and what they can and cannot take on. That removes some of the need for strict oversight and management and empowers teams to challenge themselves.
Employ performance management
Performance management is vital in any team. With a remote team, it ensures they put in the work and achieve goals and outcomes. Proper performance management requires you to track goals and outcomes.
Tools like 360 feedback will also give you a better idea of what’s going on in a team. For example, if someone isn’t pulling their weight, teams are usually more aware of it than the manager.
On the other hand, individuals often feel the need to defend their team members and will leave biased feedback. You can mitigate this somewhat by providing check-in points after every sprint — how it went, what went well, what didn’t, how you feel overall — and mapping that to the 360 feedback as well.
Similarly, feedback management should always use measurable goals and OKRs. If teams have these in place, you can see more clearly what they’re doing, if they’re achieving those goals, and how regularly.
Wrapping up — Growing your remote teams
Remote teams by nature have to be more self-managed and self-driven than in-office teams. At the same time, that presents opportunities for team freedom and flexibility, allowing management to enable work and collaboration.