Back in 2013, Nicholas Bloom, a professor at Stanford University, said: ‘Have you punched into Google image search, “working from home”, and looked at the top 20 images? They’re basically naked people, a guy drinking champagne in what looks like a jacuzzi.’ If you do the same experiment in 2020, you will see hardworking man and women behind their desks and some of them working from bed. What does this change illustrate? A study Bloom did in 2013 somewhat forecast this trend. In his experiment, Bloom worked with a Chinese company to study remote-work productivity. To his surprise, the company’s staff became notable more productive by working from home four days a week. Bloom demonstrated that remote workers are more effective than the office based employees and that they are significantly more satisfied.
Despite the positive outcome of Bloom’s research, it is undoubtedly challenging to build a cohesive team without a physical contact. This is even more true for new employees, who cannot casually chat with their coworkers during coffee breaks. Employees might be anxious about the lack of opportunities for growth and personal development. Not every job can be done remotely and not all people can work remotely, be it because of their poor discipline, the need of human interaction or being easily distracted. Amid the Covid-19 crisis, managers often face remote team management. As the transition to remote work was not always intentional and has been done quicker than would have been a smooth and consensual transition, employees might need extra support.
Do you struggle with remote management or want to get a professional insight into this field? That is what we are here for. Female Techpreneur brings you useful tips on how to create, manage and lead successfully your remote team. After all, every manager should strive to have satisfied and effective workers.
The four main responsibilities of a remote-team manager are:
- building trust
- offering extra support
- developing and maintain connections
- managing workload
- Set shared goals and rules
If you want to build trust, well documented procedures in place that are consistently followed are a must. When working remotely, expectations and rules must be stated all the more clearly because the supervision of and direct contact with your employees on a daily basis is limited. Therefore, it is vital to create a precise definition of work and individual tasks. Consequently, ensure consistency and application of the set rules. Essentially, managers of remote teams should aim to create a team feeling. To achieve this goal, get the input of the team when setting goals and standardising a process. In that way, collaborative effort translated into increased investment in the project and quicker integration of new employees. In addition, create a team working agreement stating clearly when employees are available and what they can volunteer to help with.
- Recognise success of a team member
Furthermore, ensure a smooth team interaction, which in turn increases accountability and employees’ satisfaction. Parity between the members of the team is key. Ensure that you share information equally to avoid feeling disconnected. Create equal time, equal space to express themselves and equal opportunities for every employee. Do you remember that some people do not work efficiently from home because they are fuelled by recognition, competition among colleagues and human interaction? To avoid this pitfall, recognise success of a team member. For instance, award a monthly winner with an incentive.
- Deliver both positive and negative feedback
All positive feedback should be aimed at the team as a whole and equally highlight individual team members. Provide the feedback consistently during your virtual team meetings. Negative feedback should be private rather than pointing your finger at one employee in front of the whole team. To encourage personal growth and development, allow employees to choose a specific project to work on. They can apply new skills in these projects. You will gain the trust of the employees, delegate work and create closer working relations.
Offer extra support
- Get your team equipped
As a manager, you ensure that your employees have everything they need to work effectively. Consider providing equipment for employees such as computers, high-speed internet connection or phones. When working remotely, are your employees reimbursed for business calls? Who pays for printing? Think about investing into headsets, cameras for video calls and printers. If your employees are well equipped, ensure a priority service from a support team to get a quick IT support when needed. You do not want tasks to be delayed because of poor internet connection or technological issues for employed might face. Therefore, supply, maintain and verify that employees have the tools to do their work effectively.
- Create a shared digital working space
Create a digital space for your team. For synchronous communication, you might use Slack or create a WhatsApp group. A shared place like Trello gives employees access to project progress and to individual assignments. Spaces like Dropbox offer a cloud-based shared document space to avoid storing closed files on individual computers. Consider creating a common calendar, including launches and due dates, scheduled team and 1:1 meetings.
- Be culturally sensitive
If your team is global, pay extra attention to be culturally sensitive. National holidays, proffered lunchtime breaks and time zones differ. If your employees work from Asia, Europe and the United States, spread the inconvenience when scheduling a team meeting. Employees working in the United States could wake up once at 5am to speak at a convenient time with colleagues based in Europe and vice versa, Europe-based workers could be required to work after 7pm to meet their US-based colleagues. Make sure to distribute the inconvenience equally.
- Face social needs of your employees
Employees might be anxious about their personal growth and development. You might consider offering online coaching or paying tickets and memberships for online talks and workshops. This can help to foster a team feeling outside of the office hours and nurture an inspiring discussion among the team members. For many people, remote working was a necessity, not a free decision. Loneliness is one of the most common complaints of employees missing the informal social interaction in an office setting. Offer psychological help to your employees and be the first contact if they need to speak with someone. Encourage them to participate, for instance, in online yoga class as a team, initiate virtual pizza or office parties. It will help to create a team feeling and to encourage belonging to your organisation.
Develop and Maintain Connections
- Become a hub to connect your team
Phil Gold, a senior-level learning and development professional, stresses the importance to connect and stay connected. He uses the imagery of a hub as the pivotal role of every remote-team manager. As a manager, you act as the hub to connect the disconnected virtual team. In other words, you play the intermediate role between the company and the remote team and between the remote employees themselves. To succeed in this pivotal role in your team, schedule frequent and regular contact both individually and as a team. Short weekly 1:1 meetings will help you to nurture personal contact with individual employees. When you interact on a personal level during 1:1 meetings, ask about their interests, issues and observe their style of communication. Let the employees to set the agenda for these meetings to encourage their proactivity. Do not reschedule and cancel meetings unless it is an emergency, however, be tolerant if your employees cancel a meeting.
- Prioritise video chat
Make video chat your priority. Nothing else than a physical face to face interaction in real life will bring the team more together, however, a video call is certainly better than a standard mobile phone call. Schedule in advance these virtual meetings so that people connect and their relationships are strengthened. Consider scheduling physical meetings with smaller groups from your team. You might meet in person regionally with your employees or bring individuals into the home office. You might also organise a meeting in a coffee shop or a restaurant for smaller groups from your team.
- Ensure equal opportunities for in-house and remote employees
If you have a mix of remote and in-house workers, us versus them tensions can easily develop. To avoid this, prioritise equal treatment such as benefits, respect and opportunities. For instance, do you cater meals for meetings? Then have meals delivered to the homes of your remote employees. On the other hand, offer the same schedule and flexibility to your in-house workers. Finally, share news with the entire team.
- Nurture team mindset
As has been already discussed, it is challenging to provide a team building experience when working remotely. In compensation, schedule regular team meetings and encourage team members to share non-work related personal topics. Without the possibility of a chit chat in the kitchen when making coffee, you encourage your employees to become colleagues. Empathy equals a stronger team. Keep in mind to emphasise a team mindset. Remote work can lack the team feeling because of the emotional and physical distance when working on individually on tasks. Emphasise the importance of shared goals and shared success. Encourage your employees to share their skills and expertise. Communication among team members without the manager is a key to team building. You might distribute work between small teams and encourage employees to ask for help during team meetings and volunteer to help others.
- Schedule regular meetings
Once you have set clear goals and priorities, recapitulate them during team meetings.
Share knowledge about projects. When your employees learn about their work, they get insight into them and learn from others. It is always better to over communicate rather than under communicate. If you provide feedback to your employees, chose an appropriate medium: 1:1 meetings via video call with a followed up with an email with a short summary after 1:1 meetings.
It is your responsibility to communicate any changes of goals and priorities from head office.
To ensure employees’ satisfaction, make collaborative decisions.
- Chose your management tools
A shared virtual whiteboard such as Kanban board will prevent duplication of effort. You might try working with Office 365 Planner Tool, Trello, or Asana to plan your team’s work effectively and share information about the progress of individual tasks.
Scoro is an online work management software that helps you plan, schedule and track your projects. It enables you to see the big picture and manage your project portfolio as well and to use the project timeline. You can plan your team’s schedule weeks.
iDoneThis: lets you collect daily status updates from every team member and sends out a morning summary of all team’s happening in your inbox.
PukkaTeam: let you check employees office presence by updating a snapshot and with intuitive face recognition can tell who is at their desk. It is a good tool for quick calls to ask a question as if you were in an office.
Wunderlist: is a smart daily planner which refreshes daily. It is easily accessible from both Android and Apple devices.
Every Time Zone: lets you see different time zones to help you coordinate your team and schedule meetings.
Trello: enables you to get a perspective on all projects. It will be easy to prioritise tasks and to become more flexible.
bubbl.us: is a tool for a brainstorming process. It lets you create mindmaps to be shared with others.
Phil Gold, Managing Virtual Teams.
Merily Leis, 21 Remote Team Management Tools & Software.
Forbes Coaches Council, Top 15 Tips To Effectively Manage Remote Employees.
Barbara Z. Larson, Susan R. Vroman, Erin E. Makarius, A Guide to Managing Your (Newly) Remote Workers.
Jim Collins, Good To Great (Random House Business, 2001)
Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (Profile, 2011)
Larry English, Office Optional: How to Build a Connected Culture with Virtual Teams (Centric Consulting, 2020)
Penny Pullan, Virtual Leadership: Practical Strategies for Getting the Best Out of Virtual Work and Virtual Teams (Kogan Page, 2016)
Quotes to be used in social media posts:
Jim Collins, Good to Great: ‘Greatness is not a function of circumstances. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.’
Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right: ‘Instead they choose to accept their fallibilities. They recognise the simplicity and power of using a checklist.’
Larry English, Office Optional: How to Build a Connected Culture with Virtual Teams: ‘The first and most important rule is mutual trust between the company and its workers. The rules after that? As few as possible.’
Laurel Farrer (Forbes Contributor): ‘The new normal isn’t remote work. It’s better.’