MANAGING REMOTE TEAMS: The Secret Sauce
Six Key Elements
There is a recipe for success when managing a remote team. Here are the six main ingredients for effective teamwork:
1) OFFER CLARITY
All teams require clarity on their purpose and direction. This is even more true for teams working in remote offices. Make sure all team members are very clear on core hours, flex time, dress code, job descriptions, compensation, days off, and statutory holidays (and if they vary by country location), reporting relationships, expense guidelines and deliverables. It does sound like an overwhelming list, however, it is what team members need to both survive and thrive in a remote working environment. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine trying to work without any of these listed items being clear in your mind. Tough, isn’t it? Tell your team that you expect them to be present for scheduled meetings but not glued to their screens one hundred percent of the entire day. Schedules vary. Common sense dictates that some people prefer mornings to afternoons, others like early lunch versus late lunch, someone has to leave their office to retrieve a wayward package delivery … and so on. Remote workers need to know that you understand these factors in their workday. Take the guesswork out of the employment relationship and make sure your team knows the ground rules and expectations. Productivity will rise as a result and teamwork will be that much stronger.
2) BE FLEXIBLE
The world has changed. Smart employers know that a rigid 9-to-5 workday isn’t always conducive to a decent work/life balance. Employees are human beings and have real lives outside the office. All lives have unexpected interruptions. It doesn’t matter if it’s a child’s school concert, a grandmother’s funeral, a cousin’s graduation, an ill family member, a charitable fundraiser or an elite sporting event. Be flexible for your team. Number one, employees will appreciate you for it. Number two, employees work harder as a result of your accommodation. Often, all it takes is giving someone an extra 30-90 minutes flexibility in their day to ensure they are able to be at work fully present, organized and calm. Certainly, have core hours where everyone should be available. Next, discuss flex-hours with the entire team, allowing employees, contractors and freelancers help decide how to accomplish deliverables in the most efficient, least stressful manner possible. In 2022, this shouldn’t be seen as incredibly forward thinking; rather, it’s both the present and the future.
3) BRUSH UP ON YOUR OWN COMMUNICATION SKILLS
Do you walk the talk? Do you expect your employees to be available during core hours, yet you are not? Do you promise prompt replies to questions, yet take three days to answer? Bravely face the mirror. When managing remote teams, both written and verbal communication skills are absolutely critical. You need to have an engaging, thoughtful telephone manner as well as strong writing skills. It is not easy to write an email that is both sufficient and efficient. Learn how to write using the shortest amount of words possible; if you need help with this, ask a mentor or take a short online course. Never rely one hundred percent on software tools to check your writing for errors; smart managers know how to manually self-edit. On a related note, realize that some team members prefer the telephone to email, some love videoconferencing yet others prefer a simple online chat. Try many different forms of communication to appeal to these different tastes.
It helps to have significant experience with public speaking and presenting. Both improve a manager's ability to answer questions while in a group meeting. The best presentations are organized before going live. Put in the time and organize your agenda as this shows you value team members’ time. Circulate agendas prior to the meeting and ask for input; this shows that you value team members’ knowledge. Finally, remember it takes very little effort to call and say thank you or email an appreciation for a job well done. It’s easy to do, yet so many people forget this important step. Take on this responsibility frequently throughout the year and not just at performance review time.
4) KNOW YOUR TEAM MEMBERS
High performing teams produce the best work. When the situation is appropriate, wise managers ask their employees about their lives outside the office. A short discussion on favorite hobbies, pets, books, music etc. provides a welcome break and helps build camaraderie. Some employees don’t want to discuss their families at all with their employer while others are extremely open, posting hundreds of family pictures all over social media for the world to see. This is why it's important to customize the managerial approach for each employee. Building that precious rapport will stand the test of time. Is your star performer all of a sudden reticent to contribute to a group meeting? Are you finding unexpected gaps in a standard monthly report? Have a couple of team members shared their concerns about short deadlines? These are all indications that something is amiss. Don’t ignore these types of signals. Reach out to team members and ask if something isn’t tracking. Sometimes you’ll receive an answer about the process being wrong, and sometimes the answer will be about a team member who is struggling. Take a deeper dive into the issue and try your best to resolve it. It could be as simple as trying a different software program or involve recommending contact with the human resources department for help via the employee assistance program. The mere fact that employees are on screen and not face-to-face in a traditional office setting does not remove your responsibility for keeping their well-being top of mind. Knowing your team members makes work much more productive, certain and kind.
5) PROVIDE THE CORRECT, SAFE WORKSPACE
You can expect a high performing team if you give them a high performing workplace. Investing in your team means investing in the future success of your department and the company as a whole. Do all your team members have ergonomic office arrangements? People cannot put in an eight hour day working on a flimsy kitchen chair using a tiny laptop screen; it's a certain recipe for back and eyestrain issues. Ensure your team members have proper desks and adjustable, comfortable ergonomic chairs. Make sure their computers and all other electronics are up-to-date, loaded with the latest antivirus and backup software. In addition, provide proper software training and IT support to get the job done. Team members appreciate your concern for their health and safety.
Perhaps these managers cling to the old-fashioned notion that if they cannot actually see a person face-to-face at a desk, then that person simply cannot be working. The truth is that this type of mindset is outdated and has no place in the modern work environment, especially with today’s talent shortage.
6) RESPECT TEAM MEMBERS’ KNOWLEDGE
Managers likely have at least a couple of Subject Matter Experts on their team. Wise managers know that people closer to the customer hold a gold mine of information about what’s really happening in the marketplace. Not every Subject Matter Expert works in research and development. Consider the social media expert interacting with customers online or the salesperson dealing with product repair requests. Both are definitely team members with valuable insights as to customer needs, product quality issues and future product development insights. Ask them to share these insights with the rest of the team; their information is critical for developing future budgets, timelines and priorities. Share as much information with your team members as you can so they understand how their roles fit into the bigger picture. If you can share the department’s budget with everybody then do so; numbers help others understand the decisions you make. If everybody feels like they are on the same ship, it’s much easier to chart a course across the ocean.
One still meets antiquated thinkers who refuse to trust people working from home or in other types of remote offices. Perhaps these managers cling to the old-fashioned notion that if they cannot actually see a person face-to-face at a desk, then that person simply cannot be working. The truth is that this type of mindset is outdated and has no place in the modern work environment, especially with today’s talent shortage. Multiple companies and employees are seeing productivity and engagement vastly increase as a result of well-planned remote working arrangements. Employees seek adequate work/life balance at a progressive company, one that makes a difference in the modern world. Allowing people the flexibility and responsibility of remote work arrangements builds the key factor that puts a company head and shoulders above its peers: TRUST.