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Top 5 Tips for Effectively Managing Remote Teams
As telecommuting changes the business landscape, managing remote teams depends on a clear, easy-to-use online system for project tracking and collaboration. Remote employees can be more productive than their brick-and-mortar-based counterparts, but only if they’re managed correctly; with respect, without micromanaging, and using the right tools.
There are more remote employees than ever, and they’re not going away any time soon. Many work-from-home employees want a remote setup even after things go back to normal. As a bonus to employers, WFH labourers are more productive than their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Let’s dig into the challenges and solutions of leading remote teams effectively.
Challenges of managing remote teams
Remote workers can be more flexible and productive than in-person employees, but managing virtual employees comes with a few unique hurdles. Get familiar with the pitfalls, so you’re ready to ace remote team management:
- Less face to face: Without body language and “popping in for a quick chat,” remote teams can become dissociated and feel hard to manage. Short weekly or bi-weekly meetings are a plus.
- Social isolation: Work-from-home employees feel isolated and stressed compared to their office-based counterparts. That can sap their efficiency and boost the risk of burnout. Quick check-ins and flexibility for social time are key.
- More distractions: When the kids are having a backflip contest right behind you and the dog is in full protective mode, it’s harder to get things done. Resources like noise-cancelling headphones and portable laptops geared for a quick move to an upstairs bedroom can help.
- Reduced communication: Nose-to-the-grindstone only functions for so long before employees get off track. Make good use of modern comms tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp, and video calls to fill the gap.
- Tough to track progress: “Sorry, I didn’t realize that was due.” It’s harder to know when a telecommuter is up to speed or in the weeds. Build and use a work-in-progress tracking system in a shared drive for easy reference.
Shore up your defences while managing remote employees with our guide to remote work security.
Best ways to effectively manage remote teams
Now let’s look at the top 5 tips to manage remote teams for max productivity and job satisfaction.
1. Set your remote teams up for success
It’s a lot harder to make expectations clear with remote work, but it’s vital, and it needs extra attention.
Joel Litman, CEO of global investment services firm Valens Research, provides a standardized deliverables document for each employee at the start of each task. It includes 5 key questions like, “What shall I deliver? In what format? By what date? With whom should I collaborate? How much time should I spend?”
“This ‘Return Driven Tasking’ helps our teams get the most out of our projects,” says Litman. “Without these five parameters, our people found a wide range of misunderstandings that made projects go sideways fast. With our people located across three continents, we found this process to be invaluable for ensuring efficacy as work-at-home restrictions were put in place around the world.”
Build flexibility into the process. Home schooling, deliveries, and other interruptions require clearer deadlines and targets, so remote teams can set up their own flexible schedules. This is even more important when employees are in different time zones.
Once your team knows exactly what they must deliver and when, how it should look, and when they have to work on it, they’ll feel more confident and be more likely to succeed.
2. Create easy progress tracking
It’s vital to make progress crystal clear to employees and management alike. If you and your team don’t know where every piece of work is in the process, you’re bound to get lost. To make things clear, create an easy-to-follow work-tracking system.
That can be as simple as a shared Google Sheet of projects with dates, links, and contact info of all stakeholders. A column for “status,” with a dropdown list of data-validated steps like started, with Tim, with Erin, and so on can help keep everything flowing.
If your process outgrows Google Sheets, Trello and Jira are robust project-tracking tools that can keep your far-flung team on target. And these tools make it easier to start with the big picture and turn it into an ever-more-granular flow of ongoing projects and day-to-day tasks.
Go easy on your team
Make it easy for the entire team to see all the parts of all the projects they’re involved with, where each one is in the process, who’s responsible for deliverables and resources, and how to contact those people quickly.
Bart Turczynski, Chief Operating Officer of job search company Zety.com, says remote team management tools like these are part of the lifeblood of his strategy. “I'd put project management tools in the same group as simple machines like a hammer, wheel, or doorknob,” says Bart. “They're indispensable. Try to push a nail into the wall without a hammer and you'll still end up using some simple, mechanical replacement.”
If Bart didn't use a ready-made and fine-tuned project management tool like Jira, he says he’d have to reinvent the wheel and create something similar from scratch. “I’d think, I need to plan, so I need a planner. I need to track, so I need a tracker. I need to monitor progress, so I need a monitoring tool. Having access to project management tools in a fast-paced, remote-first world is an operational necessity.”
3. Go easy on the meetings
Back in the ancient days of conference rooms and office coffee machines, we needed meetings to show us how work was progressing, who’d done what, and who’d be taking next steps. We relied on feedback and group brainstorming time.
Today, rapid advances in communication and collaboration tech mean we don’t have to spend an hour or more each day in a group session explaining where we are in the process. Turn that function over to the shared-drive project management system outlined above.
Once that system is in place, trust it, and trust your remote team to stay up to speed and productive. Done correctly, it’s easy to see the roadblocks and who may need some extra help.
Rely on check-ins
We may never get away from daily check-ins, but keep them short and trust the project management system to communicate the status. Encourage team members to use webcams during these meetings to keep employee engagement high and minimize the lack of face-to-face.
Set communication rules, too. How fast should team members respond to a request? Which things can wait an hour or a day, and how will we know when something needs immediate attention? What tech should we use for meetings? For quick requests? Putting clearly communicated rules-of-engagement in place can nip a forest of future issues in the bud.
4. Ensure the right gear
To manage a remote team effectively, you need the right equipment. Micromobility is crucial for remote work, so your workers can easily hop from the couch to the bedroom to the porch in no time. They also need superior webcams and mics for easy communication and collaboration.
Take a peek at how these HP devices meet those needs and can significantly improve your remote team’s efficiency.
- HP Elite Dragonfly Notebook PC: With a Full High Definition (FHD) touch display, this is the world’s lightest compact business convertible. Plus, its 11th Generation Intel® Core™ processor can help your remote team stay productive in slivers of time.
- HP EliteOne 800 G6 All-in-One PC: Let your work-from-home warriors create a modern workstation around this towerless desktop with world class security and a high-performance 10th Generation Intel Core processor.
- HP Spectre x360 convertible laptop: It’s a tablet for sketching, a tent screen for meetings, and a laptop for serious work. Up to 16.5 hours of battery life and a FHD touch display with the included pen make this the mobile worker’s tool of choice.
- HP ENVY x360 13 convertible laptop: With its now legendary 360-degree hinge, touch screen, and included stylus, this budget-friendly work machine saves your team money with an industry-leading AMD Ryzen™ 5 processor inside.
- HP ProDesk 400 G6 Desktop Mini PC: For serious power in a small package, you can’t beat the HP ProDesk 400 for its mix of portability and performance.
5. Be a resource, not a manager
The new watchword for remote teams is the same as the old watchword for in-person teams: empowerment. Once your team knows the goals and details of what they need to do, be there to help. They’re sure to run into IT problems, issues accessing information, files, and tools, and questions about deliverables. Be there to support them each and every time.
The lifeblood of your team’s productivity depends on one thing: your understanding as a leader that remote teams don’t work in terms of days. They work in short blocks of time spread throughout their days and nights, around the demands of everyday life.
Lead from behind
Servant leadership is the art of walking the talk of supporting your team’s needs, not dictating their actions. Take the time to speak with team members about their challenges and preferred work schedules, methods, and tools. Then, pull in resources from elsewhere in your organization to smooth the flow and make their working lives easier.
“Our research shows one big benefit of the work-at-home revolution,” says Litman. “It’s really difficult for look-over-your-shoulder bosses to micromanage their workforce. It’s a time for people to show their ability to take on more responsibility in their projects. We’ve seen in our own firm that it’s also a great opportunity for managers to embrace new ways of empowering their teams.”
Learning how to manage your team remotely is a new challenge with new hurdles and hoops. To stay five steps ahead of the competition, set your team up for success with clear expectations, trackable workflows, fewer meetings, the right gear, and an underpinning of support. With a streamlined approach, teams working remotely can deliver a massive productivity boost.
About the Author: Tom Gerencer is a contributing writer for HP Tech Takes. Tom is an ASJA journalist, career expert at Zety.com, and a regular contributor to Boys' Life and Scouting magazines. His work is featured in Costco Connection, FastCompany, and many more.