6 Tips for Managing a Remote Team
How can you ensure that your remote team is successful?
Working remotely has quickly gained a foothold in a wide variety of American industries, allowing significantly more flexibility that can be a positive for both employer and employee. Not only do at least 43% of employees now work occasionally out of the office but about a third of the workforce spends at least four days working at home or on the go.
But while there can be a variety of benefits attached to the remote revolution, it also brings a series of challenges that team managers have to be prepared for. From learning how to run an effective and engaging remote meeting to finding a balance between micromanagement and freedom, the best managers of today know how to handle the complexity as the remote trend intensifies. Here are six tips for managers to consider when overseeing a remote team.
1. Embrace the upside of happier workers
No matter how cool your office setting might be, workers of today simply want to have the option to work from home at least some of the time. In fact, somewhere between 80 to 90% of employees would like to be able to telecommute, which is roughly double the number of employees who actually can. That’s certainly at least part of the reason why telecommuters generally tend to be happier and many studies have shown a considerable increase in productivity. But the same studies have also pointed out that happier, more productive workers aren’t guaranteed without the right system and managerial oversight.
Although managers now have a work force that can be easier to tap outside of normal office hours, they also have to be careful not to push the envelope, as more and more companies are also offering telecommuting. However, managers that can utilize a highly motivated remote work force without going too far can turn telecommuting into faster project turnarounds and better all-around team efficiency.
2. Take the time to build relationships
One of the first things to go in a remote setting is everyday relationships, which have always had a way of gluing together office-based teams. While some managers might regularly do office pools and small events to keep a remote team in regular contact, there’s nothing wrong with simply taking a short period of time during a remote meeting and seeing if anyone has anything to share. Little touches can be enormously effective when it comes to forming connections on a team, yet they’re often overlooked once a team stops sharing the same physical space every day.
Teams with unconnected workers are much more prone to a lack of engagement along with raised levels of turnover and the potential for lowered profitability, which can be avoided by a manager who is even mildly tech savvy. With the availability of tools like SnapEngage Team Chat, a manager can easily create a virtual water cooler that can keep employees engaged with each other outside of more formal settings like meetings.
3. Figure out the right meeting setting(s) for your team
One of the best things a manager can do is be honest about the team, which is a fundamental part of figuring out how to hold meetings when you have remote workers. For many companies, having regular, in-person meetings remains the easiest and most effective way to remain on the same page. Fitting with the remote culture, many managers also mix in meetings out of the office as well, with quiet cafes and restaurants off the beaten path tending to be good options for productivity and engagement.
In companies that don’t really need face-to-face meetings often, or at all, choosing the correct type of setting will be even more critical. A manager has the option to go with video meetings – especially with smaller teams – or an assortment of other ways to do group phone calls that are less intrusive. With some understanding of personnel, a manager should be able to hone in on the right fit, a process that can be made easier with a little input from the team. Even for companies that stick with in-office meetings, however, having at least some system in place for remote meetings is still an essential for a team with telecommuters.
4. Try to be consistent with meeting times
Whichever method a manager decides is the best fit for the team, it’s important to schedule meeting times as far in advance as possible and avoid changing times unless it can’t be avoided. Considering a main advantage of telecommuting – assuming productivity remains high – is increased schedule flexibility, a manager who often changes meeting times is likely to frustrate employees and struggle to get the most out of meetings. Successful remote workers need to be good at time-management no matter the industry, and erratic meeting schedules can make it much more difficult to plan a work day or week. After all, the last thing a manager wants is an engaged telecommuter having to stop for an impromptu meeting, or plan his or her schedule around a meeting that ends up getting nixed. Although some cancelled and moved meetings are inevitable, being consistent as possible with meeting schedules is even more important when you have employees who might be working from anywhere.
5. Don’t leave staff members behind
For younger generations, telecommuting is the most natural thing in the world. To other generations, it can be an awkward fit that doesn’t suit an employee’s lifestyle. If your company has started offering telecommuting, or is planning to shortly, it can be important to determine which employees are ready to go and which team members might need a few tips and a little push. Ensuring that everyone on your team – in private, if needed – knows exactly how to use any new software can be key to keeping employees from feeling alienated from more tech savvy team members. Companies also have to be much more cognizant about security software due to remote workers, giving even more incentive to follow-up with employees who might have trouble adapting. By being available to help with any technical difficulties, a manager can provide a personal touch that can help make the transition a smooth one.
6. Recognize the good and the bad of downsizing office space
A major incentive for companies to shift to increased telecommuting is obviously the possibility of cutting office space, although smaller offices can also yield a more positive atmosphere for collaboration. But there also can be a cost to the team if a manager doesn’t recognize the increased potential for problems with a smaller office, particularly if employees will be sharing office space. With remote workers dipping in and out of the office, it’s important to setup clear parameters and a schedule for who is going to be utilizing the space. If needed, some general rules about what can and cannot be stored in the space might be helpful, particularly for team members who don’t know each other well. Even with the bottom-line advantages of downsizing, managers have to be able to correctly pair employees together and set appropriate guidelines to avoid drops in morale and production.
By being aware of both the benefits and possible drawbacks of remote work forces, however, a manager has plenty of tools to quickly setup a positive work environment every bit as interconnected as in-house teams. With a manager willing to showcase the right balance of structure and flexibility, a team will be in a much better position to capture the upside of telecommuting.