How to Effectively Manage a Remote Team
Remote work can make or break a great company. Understanding effective remote management is the key to empowering teams to do their best in a virtual office.
In the last few years, it seems like most businesses have adopted some form of remote or hybrid work model for their employees. In fact, reports show that remote work habits grew by a staggering 400% in the past decade.
Beyond the essential need for remote work during the pandemic, this shift is partially driven by advances in technology (think ultra-fast internet, SaaS solutions, the proliferation of cloud-based storage, etc.), making it easier than ever for people to connect and collaborate from afar.
With advantages like increased flexibility and productivity, as well as lower turnover rates and overhead costs, remote work is a no-brainer for some. This shift has also empowered employees to stand up for their preferred working environment, with the majority expression interested in new jobs if not offered a remote option. It’s become clear that businesses must adjust to this new normal in industries that allow for it.
As the remote work trend continues to rise, so does the need for effective management strategies. Remote teams present some unique challenges, like communication barriers, disengaged teams, feelings of isolation, etc. That's why it's so important for managers to be aware of these challenges and know how to overcome them.
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The Evolution of Remote Management
Working from home has been a growing trend in recent years, but it's far from a new concept. In fact, the practice of telecommuting, as it's formally known, has a long and interesting history. The term "telecommuting" was first coined in the 1970s, but the concept of working from home dates back much further.
In the early days of the Industrial Revolution, many workers worked in home-based cottage industries. With the advent of the telephone and other forms of communication, it became increasingly possible for people to work remotely.
The rise of the digital age has only increased the popularity of telecommuting, with more and more businesses offering employees the option to work from home, in a hybrid capacity, or full-time. Today, more people are working virtually than ever before, both as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and due to the convenience of modern technologies.
In a report by TechRepublic, 78% of the respondents said they work remotely some of the time, 58% said they work from home at least once a month, and 36% said at least once a week. In comparison, only 9.5% of employees worked remotely at least once a week in 2010, according to the US Census Bureau.
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Remote vs. Traditional Office Culture
Office cultures can vary widely, depending on industry and location. Traditional office cultures tend to be more formal, with clear hierarchies and division of labor. In contrast, remote office cultures tend to be more flexible, with employees working independently or finding innovative ways to collaborate cross-functionally.
Ultimately, the key difference between traditional and remote office cultures is how work is structured and organized.
Traditional office cultures tend to be more centralized and focused on face-to-face interactions with employees working near each other. This can lead to a strong sense of camaraderie and team spirit, as well as opportunities for informal networking. However, it can also be constricting, and some employees may find it difficult to focus in an open office environment.
On the other hand, remote office cultures tend to be more decentralized and reliant on technology for communication. This can provide greater flexibility and freedom, but it can also be isolating and make it difficult to build strong relationships with colleagues.
Regardless of working styles, it’s up to company culture and management to dictate the value of things like productivity, career advancement, and professional development.
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Tips for Improving Remote Management
Remote teams come with unique challenges, like different time zones and schedules, so effective communication is the number one key to success for remote managers.
Without clear and consistent communication, managing a remote team effectively would be very difficult. Consider documenting your expectations for communication early on and reinforcing these behaviors on a regular basis. Include how often people should communicate, the time and items to be communicated, and the right channels for these connections.
There are a variety of channels that can be used when managing a remote team. Some standard options include:
- Instant messaging (eg. Slack, Microsoft Teams)
- Video conferencing (eg. Zoom)
- Project management software
When choosing a communication channel, it is important to consider the needs of the team and the type of information that needs to be communicated. For example, if there will be regular updates or announcements, email may be the best option. If the team needs to collaborate on projects or tasks frequently, instant messaging or video conferencing may be more appropriate.
Ultimately, the best communication channel for a remote team will depend on the team's specific needs and what will work best for them. When considering which platforms are most effective, it’s also important to consider cost-saving tips to help you utilize the platforms and services without breaking the bank.
As a remote business leader, it's important to instill independence in your team members. Remember, you hired your team because you believe in their skills. Giving them independence fosters a sense of empowerment, ownership, and responsibility, which leads to increased job satisfaction, engagement, and productivity. Autonomy also allows team members to develop creative solutions to problems, resulting in more innovation across your business.
Autonomy can help to foster a culture of continuous learning, as employees are more likely to experiment and test new ideas when they feel empowered to do so. You can guide your team at the necessary touchpoints without handholding or micromanaging. Know when to step back and trust their capabilities and skills. Consider these tips for managing autonomy from afar:
- Set your team up with the right tools.
- Build a culture of continual improvement.
- Set clear communication of what needs to be done.
- Remember that your people have lives outside of work. Trust them to make smart decisions around time off, sick days, and personal days.
- Let employees test and apply learnings.
It can be easy for management to fall into productivity pitfalls when it comes to remote autonomy. Avoid micromanaging or tracking your team’s every move. Much of remote work is about finding success in smaller failures. Not everything will work right the first time and that’s okay. Allow your team space to learn from mistakes and enable their growth as needed. Provided their work is up to your standards and goals are met in a timely fashion, there's no reason to get in the weeds on exactly how work must be completed.
Regularly recognizing excellence can be a great way to ensure your team feels valued. This not only shows your team that you are paying attention and appreciate their hard work, but it also helps to motivate them to continue doing their best. There are a few different ways you can recognize excellence on your team:
- Give verbal praise in virtual meetings when you see someone doing a great job.
- Send a written acknowledgment via email or an employee recognition platform.
- Award small bonuses or incentives for employees who go above and beyond.
Whatever method you choose, make sure you are consistent and equitable so that your team knows that their efforts are being noticed and appreciated.
Create Proper Structures
Creating structure is important when managing a remote team as it helps maintain productivity and keep everyone on the same page. Business leaders can establish structure by setting clear expectations for meeting times and agendas, as well as by rotating meeting times so that everyone has a fair chance of being able to attend.
Additionally, it can be helpful to create a system whereby each team member is responsible for updating the rest of the team on their progress so that everyone is aware of what others are working on. By taking these measures, business leaders can help to ensure that their remote team functions smoothly and efficiently.
It’s also essential that remote teams create a database or internal information system that’s accessible to all team members. Without documentation of company policies and ongoing projects, it can be nearly impossible for teams to understand what’s going on across other departments. Teams should establish a regular cadence to update their information, so the rest of the company can start to rely on this internal infrastructure as their single source of truth.
Remote work can lead to serious burnout, as it can be challenging to create clear boundaries between work and home life. When it comes to preventing burnout, it’s important to consider the root of the issue. Are people feeling overworked and undervalued? Or are they feeling isolated? Are they struggling with a lack of structure or are they having a tough time disconnecting from constant notifications?
Once you identify the cause(s) of burnout, you can take steps to mitigate them. For example:
- Encourage your team members to take breaks throughout the day and make time for themselves outside of work.
- Promote a healthy work-life balance by ensuring that your team members have adequate time off and are not expected to work excessive hours.
- Provide your team members with support and feedback regularly.
- Create opportunities for social interaction.
- Implement policies that promote work-life balance.
Creating this kind of anti-burnout culture requires constant reinforcement from the top down. If employees see managers and executives practicing what they preach, they will be more inclined to follow suit.
When managing a remote team, you need to get specific about responsibilities. Each team member needs to know their role and what is expected of them. If employees are caught up in understanding who should complete a task, the back-and-forth will overtake the ask.
Creating clear boundaries between teams and titles helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that tasks are completed in a timely manner. You also need to be available to answer any questions or provide feedback, as this can be more difficult when communicating remotely.
Team-building activities can help build trust and rapport among team members and promote collaboration and problem-solving. Especially for companies who transitioned to remote work after being in-person, it’s important to keep the culture you created in the office alive.
This also rings true for new team members. Remember that starting at a remote company can be quite isolating if you don’t know anyone. Creating regular social opportunities can allow newer employees to create relationships with their coworkers and feel a stronger connection to their work.
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The remote working environment keeps shifting, and leaders need to adapt their methods to be successful. Those who can manage a remote team effectively will be better positioned to take advantage of the growing trend of remote work. With the right tools and cost-saving strategies from MainStreet, leaders can ensure that their team is productive, efficient, and engaged without breaking the bank.