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Are you managing a distributed team due to the Covid 19 pandemic? This poses unique challenges not only for your employees, but also for you as their leader. Remote work is our new normal. With the right tools and strategies you can support a healthy team that collaborates and communicates well.
We gathered 20 actionable tips you need to manage high performing remote teams in 2021. Let’s dive right in.
Establish a remote work strategy
We strongly believe in the benefits of a remote work strategy to make the transition to remote work a smooth process. It outlines the rules, procedures, and other guidelines the entire team must follow when working remotely.
Some questions to prompt your strategy:
- How can we make sure our team has everything they need to work remotely?
- How will tasks get assigned and organised?
- How will we collaborate?
- How can we run efficient remote meetings?
- What can we provide to make sure people are productive?
- How can we maintain our company culture?
Plan out every aspect of your remote work strategy and what that looks like in day-to-day practice.
Invest in the best communication tools
Collaboration is hard. It’s even harder when working remotely. Communication tools are everything when it comes to keeping a remote team connected.
Unlike in a normal office setting, you can’t walk up to someone’s desk for a quick chat or quickly troubleshoot in person. Give your team the best tools to remove the friction in communication.
What tools you need specifically, depends on the industry you’re in, but we recommend a stack of tools for specific use cases:
- Web conferencing
- Team messaging
- Office productivity suites
- Content collaboration and management workspace
- Cloud-based communication platform
That’s because team messaging channels shouldn’t be used to share critical company updates, for example. These would be lost in the stream of newer activity posts.
Instead of having lots of different channels, we prefer one centralised hub for team collaboration. We love Microsoft Teams for that, because it integrates the people, content and tools our team needs to be more engaged and connected. It makes it easy to jump on a team chat, direct-message, share documents and screen-share.
Company-wide communications that enable meaningful interactions
When remote, voice matters–to feel in touch and communicate more effectively. If you haven’t already, invest in a voice cloud solution with advanced features that supports deeper communication, as well as productivity. It allows for quick and easy calling, messaging, and task management.
Our integrated cloud-based communications solutions enable organisations to collaborate around the globe, improve productivity, and lower the costs of enterprise communications.
Working alongside Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Salesforce, our solutions replace the traditional PBX and unify all communication channels into one single platform. If you need to improve on your company-wide communications, just get in touch and our team will tailor a quote to your business needs.
Create efficient workflows
One of the biggest challenges is managing workflows with remote teams, with some members scattered across different continents and time zones. With no physical interaction between remote team members, some can feel disconnected, causing workflows to break down.
Get teams involved in optimising processes. Analyse your current workflow, identify present bottlenecks and incorporate feedback. Ask your team members what is blocking them or what their pain points are. Bottlenecks could be time spent waiting for replies, internal revision processes, or simply using tools that don’t fully support the outcome you want to achieve.
Optimising the efficiency of your remote workflows will take some extra effort, but the increase in productivity will be worth it.
Establish rules of engagement
We recommend that you establish rules of engagement as soon as possible. They define how your team will work together. Clear agreements remove the guesswork around what should be done in a certain situation.
Define clear processes for communication, feedback and documentation. Get together and discuss expectations around the frequency of team meetings, communication preferences, collaboration workflows, turnaround times, etc. You might want to use video calls for weekly meetings, but teams chat when something is urgent.
Rules of engagement might also include which tools you will use to document and align your work, where you can see and update progress and how to provide ongoing feedback. Having the entire remote team on the same page can mean the difference between chaos and harmony.
Bring your team together for more than productivity
We know Buffer for its fully remote team working from 15 countries around the world. The company hosts regular retreats to bring the entire company together and allow everyone to get to know each other personally.
Arielle Tannenbaum, Buffer’s community strategist, shares that she tries to bring elements of in-person events into the virtual space to create a highly connected digital community.
Experiment with non-work-related virtual workshops on zoom, where you can see everyone’s faces.
Yes, ‘team-building exercises’ make many of us cringe at the thought of forced fun activities. Get creative with your team and come up with ice breakers that don’t make everyone roll their eyes. If your remote workers can bond and get to know each other, they will be a lot more comfortable collaborating with each other.
Schedule regular check-ins
Regular check-ins help everyone stay connected and on top of priorities. Touch base with team members to find out where everyone’s at with their daily or weekly commitments.
Check-ins foster a sense of community and help the team stay focused on key priorities, while providing an opportunity for you to track progress. Remote work can get lonely. Ask how your employees are doing and make sure nobody feels forgotten or lost.
The daily huddle has been common practice for many companies for a long time. It’s a short check-in or stand-up meeting–usually about 5-15 minutes–at the start of the day. It allows the entire team to get aligned on the work that needs to be done and can save hours of email updates and interruptions.
Schedule regular one-on-ones
One-on-ones are one of the most important tools you have as a manager to create a quiet and focused environment to connect with individual team members. They give your team members a dedicated space to share where they are, where they might be stuck and help you uncover issues before they become a major problem.
According to Fellow’s definitive guide, The Art of the One-on-One Meeting, they are the number one way for you as a manager to develop positive relationships and trust with your team members. One-on-ones provide the ideal environment to give personal feedback (for both participants) and share what’s on their heart and mind.
Fellow’s research shows that you should hold one-on-one meetings at least biweekly or ideally once a week. Otherwise there’s not enough time to develop a great relationship. But it also depends on your setup–some teams work more closely than others.
Have a meeting agenda
Team meetings get a bad reputation but we fully believe that bringing your team together to align goals is one of the most important things you can do as their manager.
Always come prepared and have a clear meeting agenda. Why? Because everyone should know why they are showing up. It eases the fear of wasted time if the purpose of the meeting is clear.
A meeting agenda provides an outline of topics and keeps you on track. It defines key objectives and makes sure that everyone is on the same page. It keeps the discussion on-topic and on-time.
Be available to your team
As a manager, you have your own day-to-day responsibilities, but your team members also need your guidance and direction. Support your team by being available.
It can be extremely frustrating if managers are difficult to contact and you have to wait hours or even days for a response. Regardless of being busy, give your team frequent opportunities to discuss and confirm things with you. Schedule office hours when you are available and stick to them.
Put these office hours in your calendar, as well as your meetings, and blocked off focus time. Share the calendar with your employees so they can quickly see if you’re available or not.
Use the presence status in your team messaging app. It shows your current availability and by default anyone on your team can see if you are available online and they can contact you with a quick question.
Promote employee well-being
Social interaction is a big part of employee well-being. Remote team members may experience feelings of isolation and loneliness–which can have a serious effect on their well-being.
Regularly check in with your employees to make sure they are coping well. It can be daunting to open up about one’s mental health, especially in the workplace when you don’t want to be judged. Open a dialogue. Really listen and let your employees know that it’s not unusual to find remote working tough at times. Be compassionate and supportive and show that you’re there to support and guide as may be necessary.
Encourage employees to establish boundaries between work and personal time. Give them flexible working hours, especially if they are juggling childcare or other commitments with work. Allow them to take mental health days to unwind when they are feeling burned out or under the weather.
Give people time to do their work
As a manager, we don’t need to tell you that you get interrupted way too much at work. A study by RescueTime, a time management app, found that almost half of the participants never get 30 minutes of uninterrupted work time.
Digital distractions kill your employee’s productivity. It takes them nearly 30 minutes to refocus each time they get distracted. The result is not only shallow work but they get a lot less done.
Give your team members enough time in their days for “heads-down” or creative work like coding, designing or writing. Help them do their best work by putting policies in place to protect their time. Don’t let meetings chop up their day and encourage them to schedule blocks of uninterrupted time for focused deep work.
Focus on outcomes, not busyness
Smart companies are already leveraging the increased productivity that working from home creates. A survey by BCG explored what 12,000 have to say about the future of remote work. A large number of employees said they have been able to maintain or even improve their productivity during the pandemic.
The key is to focus on outcomes, not time on the clock. The outcome should be more important than how long it takes your employee to finish a task. Shift to an outcome-based approach and set clear expectations.
Make sure that the workload is reasonable and periodically check in with your team members to see if they have everything they need to complete the job. When managing remote teams, conventional supervision is not the strategy of choice.
One of the big benefits of focusing on outcomes over activity is that your employees feel much more connected to your company, the mission and the results they achieve.
Establish meaningful relationships
We already touched on the importance of regular one-on-one meetings. They shouldn’t just serve to get aligned on work tasks but also to build meaningful connections among your remote teams. Creating this space each week is important especially during times when things feel heavy.
Bonding with team members and nurturing a dynamic work culture when there’s a physical distance is challenging. Intentionally create a space for informal conversation, like a virtual coffee hour. Or time for small talk in your one-on-ones.
Allow your remote employees to feel safe and secure enough to be their whole selves at work. Even through a screen. Doing this encourages your team members to be vulnerable and connect with you and one another on a personal level. Meaningful social connections can influence our long-term health in ways equally as substantial as proper diet and adequate sleep.
Be trusting, not micromanaging
When the lockdown started, managers have been worried that if they can’t see their employees in the office and manage them daily, they won’t get their work done. Some are even spying on their employees to make sure they’re actually working.
Micromanagement is how you ruin remote work. Strategic consultant Ann Latham says you need to delegate the what, not the how. Trust your employees to work independently and give them a sense of ownership over their work.
Stop focusing on the process and how it’s being observed. You’re empowering everyone by setting clear expectations and then letting them run with it to create the results they need.
Don’t worry that your remote employees are taking advantage of their flexible arrangements. Many people are already working longer hours and don’t feel this is recognized.
Be aware of remote work challenges
The truth is that managing a decentralized team can be quite challenging. You have to make sure that everyone is on the same page. You have to track your team’s progress and make sure work gets done on time. You have to give feedback on time to prevent projects from being delayed.
To overcome these challenges, managers need to take an intentional approach. Acknowledge that you can’t do business as usual when times are tough. Be honest and let your team know what the challenges are. Try finding solutions as a team so they feel like you’re all working toward the same goals.
Opening up can be as simple as sharing challenges as you face them. This type of vulnerability can positively impact the culture and creativity of your team. It can build deeper relationships and empower your team members to bring their whole selves to work.
Allow people to work at their most productive hours
Flexible working hours are now more often a need than a want. Especially with many of us juggling family and work commitments while working from home during lockdown. Many employees find it helps tremendously when they can complete tasks on their own time.
Allow people to work at hours that are most suitable for them. Our energy levels and mental capacities fluctuate dramatically throughout the day. Let your team members schedule their day however they want and create a work schedule that works best for them.
You can require them to work certain core hours when everyone commits to being available to ensure everyone can make the scheduled meetings. This way everyone gets the benefits of both collaboration and solo time.
Flexible work can play a big role in increasing productivity and supporting your employees' mental health.
Embrace asynchronous communication
Asynchronous communication frees your team from the need to be synced up all the time. They can communicate without interacting at the same time. There’s no pressure to immediately respond.
This covers everything from email to team documents, collaboration tools, text messaging, and chat. Voice notes and video messages are great because they provide the context and content of a meeting without the time commitment.
Most types of async communication are saved by default and can be referenced for a long time after, especially written communication. Teams in multiple time zones and on different schedules naturally rely on this to share information.
Eliminating the need to respond immediately gives your team large stretches of uninterrupted focus time to get work done. They can step out for lunch and get back to your email when they get back. And you don’t have to worry about bothering them since they will respond when they’re available.
Use video … a lot
It’s not easy to channel the connection of in-person meetings through video calls but it’s definitely worth the effort. Video calls are a great way to bridge that physical gap and help you stay connected with your team.
Use video for team meetings and one-on-ones if you can. Actually seeing everyone helps make and maintain real human connections and creates a bond among the team. A large part of our communication is non-verbal. No wonder eye contact is such an important piece of the communication puzzle.
Video calls allow for personal interactions with much more depth. Each person feels seen and heard. Your team will be more engaged, involved and connected.
Try voice messages as alternatives to video
Sometimes you want to send a quick update without scheduling a meeting. Voice messages are a great way of async communication for remote teams. They fit somewhere between typing and jumping on a quick call.
Why spend two minutes typing up a message, when you can say the same in 10 seconds?
Voice messages can convey nuance and emotion that are often lost in written messages. It’s easy to misinterpret an email or the context of a chat message. If your team could benefit from it, audio notes can be a convenient and personal alternative to video meetings.
Just because your team is scattered across the globe doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate wins. Celebrating milestones as a team is vital for the energy and success of remote teams. You might just need to get a little creative.
The easiest thing you can do is recognize achievements in team meetings. It will motivate your team, boost feelings of accomplishment and strengthen the team spirit.
Set up a kudos channel so team members can easily send recognition to each other. Send care packages or gift cards to your virtual team members. They will love this surprise.
To celebrate big wins, like closing a huge deal, you could throw a virtual team celebration. Celebrating success is a great way to boost morale and foster a culture of recognition within your remote team.
The world has changed, is your business keeping up?
Managing a remote team can seem drastically different than managing a team in an office. Companies that quickly adapt will perform best in the new normal. Having the right technology to support productivity and deeper communication is now more important than ever.
We are committed to helping you build better business communications by taking them to the cloud. As every business is unique, we will customize your solution for your needs.