Managing Remote Teams: 5 Tips To Achieve Your Company Goals

Automattic, the company behind WordPress, has around 800 employees but they don’t have a physical office space. Instead, the team works remotely, spread across 67 countries. Automattic believes that working from home is good for business, and they aren’t alone. But is managing remote teams as good?

A study by IWG revealed that 70% of professionals work remotely at least one day a week.

Working remotely isn’t uncommon but the last few years have seen a shift in the way people perceive remote work. Companies have been recognizing the benefits of a work-from-home culture. They are even relaxing their policy to allow employees to choose where they want to work from.

But, the more important question is – does working remotely benefit the business directly?

There is a common myth that working remotely will affect productivity and employee efficiency. But, according to a Stanford study, remote workers tend to be more productive. In this two year experiment at a real company, employees who were working remotely did 13% more work in the same amount of time as their peers.

Moreover, encouraging remote work has a positive effect on employee loyalty. According to research by Gartner, organizations that embrace remote working, increase employee retention rates by 10%.

As a manager, you might be wondering about the impact of having remote employees on your overall ability to run an effective team. Without having a process in place, it’s difficult to have a firm grip on how your remote team is working and progressing.

So, what processes and systems can help you manage your remote workforce and increase employee efficiency?

5 smart tips for managing remote teams and keeping them motivated 

1. Autonomy and Control

When working remotely, there is little context to what’s being done. Transparency is key in ensuring your company runs smoothly, despite your team sitting in different parts of the world.

Instead of assigning projects and tasks, use your monthly and weekly meetings to discuss the work to be done and then allow your employees to pick up tasks on their own. By giving your team members the liberty to pick up projects and tasks as they come up, you can expect your employees to be more passionate about the work and see more efficiency from their part.

But at the same time, make sure things remain transparent here by writing it all down – which brings us to the next point.

2. Document your processes clearly

One important rule of thumb to emphasize with your team would be to document crucial details of the work being done. A lot of the work happens over water cooler conversations but remote workers feel left out of such conversations.

As a best practice, documenting the minutes of the discussion and the plan of action can make it easy for someone remote to contribute. On top of this, documenting even small discussions and decisions makes it easy to add more members to the project team without needing to be briefed first.

Similarly, if two team members are working on a design, it’s always best to have the conversation about the plan on the shared channel instead of a direct message so that everyone else in the team knows why and what was discussed.

Side threads often lead to information silos, therefore always default to sharing everything with everyone and let people decide what they want to spend their time one. While information overload is a real concern, all of us have learned to cope with emails at work and twitter/facebook in the real world. The benefits of transparency far outweigh information hoarding.

3. Work of building rapport

One problem with working remotely is the lack of constant contact with peers. Lack of communication between co-workers can affect productivity, especially for projects that require collaboration.

Automattic (the company) does a great job of keeping its remote team connected. The company flies team members to meet in small groups, and once a year, it brings the entire company together in a gathering called the Grand Meetup.

While flying out teams on a regular basis isn’t always feasible, creating systems to ensure constant communication is easy. One system that remote teams should look into setting up is weekly check-ins. Set aside an hour every week for a team check-in where everyone can discuss their progress and roadblocks, and get feedback from the team. These check-ins can keep your team in the loop and ensure everyone is well-informed about what their peers are working on.

While you do so, always keep in mind the different time zones that your team is in. More often than not, companies tend to schedule calls as per their head office time. That might actually end up being way too early or way too late for some members.

So make it a point that you schedule calls in a fair manner. Every member should feel cared for and should have a joint sense of ownership when setting goals.

rapport building - managing remote teams

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4. Share your wins, best practices, and celebrations

Another smart way to maintain regular communication is to encourage a sharing policy.

For instance, if your company is mentioned in a prestigious publication, sharing the news with the team can be motivating for the team.

On the other hand, members can also share their breakthrough and achievements with the team. Inculcating this habit of sharing can create a sense of belonging, helping employees bond and ensure there is little disconnect despite not having any face-to-face communication.

And it doesn’t need to be all work related!

You can also share a birthday and work anniversary pictures on company-wide channels. It’s important to celebrate with your team whenever possible. It brings colleagues closer and that helps build better rapport in the team.

Ps. Always do video calls instead of audio dial-ins. A little human touch to the call goes a long way! Like how Buffer does it…

managing remote teams - example

5. Get organized with project management principles and tools

Remote workers are often self-managed. Due to this, it’s important that project managers utilize tools to track the work done and stay informed while giving employees the space to manage their work on their own.

Many remote teams have seen high productivity in their organization by planning their work on a bi-weekly basis. with bi-weekly sprints. At the start of the 2 weeks, employees can break down their work into smaller tasks and add them to their to-do list for the defined period. This allows your team to work faster since you already know how much work needs to be done and your priorities are set for the next 2 weeks.

Managing the daily tasks and well as larger tasks that span weeks can be tough without a work management tool. Remote workers swear by project management tools like Asana and Trello to help them track their projects and tasks with ease. Here are a few quick tips to maximize these work management tools:

  • Ask project team members to add their tasks onto the relevant projects/boards based on the niche
  • Alternatively, you can create boards based on your bi-weekly goals and tasks
  • Ensure each task has a deadline and create a system where your employees comment on the project about any roadblocks
  • If a task has multiple owners, add sub-tasks and assign them to the owner with deadlines. Subtasks can also help you see where the work is stuck
  • Create a ‘taskpad’ to add miscellaneous tasks that aren’t assigned yet. During your weekly meetings, you can ask employees to pick up any tasks that they are interested in.

4. Use a time tracking tool

One of the reasons that many managers are skeptical of remote work is the coordination overhead and not knowing when someone is actually working. Remote teams need a system that easily tracks what time employees are working, their leave days, and even manages their shift schedules.

Now asking your team to manually track time is going to be a no-show. That’s why you need a system that is dead simple to use. With AttendanceBot, for instance, all they need to do is drop a simple message into the chat app they’re already using for team collaboration when they start/stop their work.

With a time tracker such as this, there is no need to manage a spreadsheet or send an email for every leave or schedule change.

“In a previous role, I managed a large team – that means a lot of time off, a lot of ‘working from home’, and a couple of offices across the globe. Plus I practically lived in Slack, so having it all in one place is great.”

Graham Collins, Head at Growth at QuotaPath

With a time tracker such as this, there is no need to manage a spreadsheet or send an email for every leave or schedule change.

Even teams that aren’t fully remote use this smart time tracking bot. Be it to know who’s on leave when or to coordinate over a task with who’s available at the earliest.

But remember, don’t make time tracking sound like you’re tying the team down. Always highlight why it is a blessing and how it only helps them become more productive.

5. Ensure a vision-driven culture

Clearly articulating a company’s vision is what sets a good company apart from a great company. In case of a remote team, getting buy-in on a shared vision is even more important since being remote constraints the opportunities to reinforce the vision over a water cooler conversation.

Since coordination costs are higher in a remote team, increasing alignment between each employee’s personal goals, their team goals as well the company’s vision allows you to minimize the day-to-day oversight.

So set up monthly one-on-one meetings with each of your employees to talk about their performance, progress, and roadblocks. You can use these monthly meetings to help your employee solve their roadblocks and any problems they face. Use this time to talk about what tasks they intend to do in the upcoming months and what barriers they may face.

This future planning can help employees manage expectations and gauge issues they may come across. Ultimately, these review meetings can help you build a strong rapport and trust with your employee- something that is usually tough with remote teams.

As a manager, you can also dedicate half an hour in your monthly team meetings to allow your employees to share new project ideas and discuss whether it’s worth exploring.

What is the one thing that you follow for managing remote teams well? Do share your secret sauce with us!

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