Talented teams are growing beyond the confines of a traditional office setting, but managing a distributed team takes vision and skill. Here are 7 ways you can keep your location-independent employees engaged, connected and highly productive.

The way we work is changing rapidly. The office environment is going through a lot of changes, breaking the embedded process of working the golden 40 hours per week or reporting to a cubicle each day.
The traditional office is transforming because top talent wants more flexibility than the 9-to-5 routine their parents had. Employees and freelancers demand the freedom to work from home or a unique location, which means businesses need to know how to manage teams across different offices—and even time zones.
Managing a distributed team requires skill and some careful planning. Here are 7 tips that great business owners depend on for effectively managing and connecting with location-independent employees.

1.Hire Intentionally

One of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make is that they hire employees, VA’s and freelancers based on their hourly rate and not on their talent.
This is the cause of 99.9% of the problems, headaches, and frustrations you will face when managing a distributed team.  
When hiring a location independent employee, look for the same qualities, credentials, and characteristics in your remote employees as you do for regional hires. Make sure that you exclusively hire individuals that you would want to work with in an office setting for eight hours a day, five days a week, fifty weeks a year.
By adopting a more intentional hiring strategy, you will be able to build a team of motivated go-getters who complete their projects to the highest quality and deliver them on time, every time.

2.Communicate Clearly

While this should almost go without saying, most companies underestimate the importance of strong and continual communication between employer and staff.
At the beginning of each project, you need to create a clear set of guidelines and standard operating procedures. Make sure that employees know exactly what is expected of them and what the end goal of each assignment is.
Once they are clear on their objective, it is important that you keep an open and clear line of communication with everyone involved.
Here’s how to create a culture of clear communication, no matter where your team is located:

  • Make yourself available during daily office hours, especially if your team works in different time zones. During this time, employees can ask you about specific problems they are encountering or offer recommendations on challenges you’re facing.
  • Schedule regular online team meetings to discuss progress and give and receive feedback.
  • Record videos explaining difficult aspects of the project, because a picture is worth a thousand emails. If you’re concerned that your employees will struggle with a part of the project that seems to be unclear, recording a video can be a great way to get the best out of the situation—and they can watch it even if you’re unavailable. There are a plethora of tools available for this including Loom and Screencast.

3.Understand Your Employees’ Circumstances

When managing a distributed team, you need to be sensitive to your employees’ location and culture-specific circumstances. From time differences to national holidays to connectivity issues, be sure that you are aware of what your employees are going through and remain sensitive to potential differences.
For example, if your HQ is based in Ireland, don’t make Irish National holidays compulsory for remote workers—give them the option to take Irish national holidays or follow the national holidays of the country they’re located in.

4.Leverage Technology to Streamline the Management Process

Technology allows you to drastically mitigate the managerial burden by effectively using different tools and online services that will assist you with your job.
While these technologies have not replaced management, when implemented properly, they will significantly decrease the amount of time and energy required to complete projects and handle your employees’ doubts and concerns.
Here are a few recommendations to get you started.

  1. Teamwork Projects: This project management tool is essentially a virtual workplace for distributed teams. Using the software every team member can collaborate on projects in real-time and keep track of progress.
  2. Gusto: A HR and invoice management system that removes hours of hands-on work typically devoted to managing payroll, health benefits, and profit sharing.
  3. The time tracking feature in Teamwork Projects: allows you to track employees’ billable hours, providing insight into productivity and performance. This software also integrates with multiple other apps including Xero so you can export time logged on tasks to quickly manage payroll.

While there are dozens of other tools and apps that you could use, these tools alone will instantly boost your team’s productivity and reduce the amount of time and effort you put into managing a distributed team effectively.

5.Make your Brand Vision Clear

One of the biggest possible mistakes to make when managing a distributed team is viewing remote employees as “separate” from the rest of the company.
They aren’t.
If you want to truly lead and inspire employees from all around the world, then you must create and enthusiastically share a compelling brand vision.
Get your employees excited about where your company is going and the opportunities that they will have for advancement and growth in the future. One of the most powerful ways to increase engagement is letting them know that you appreciate their work. Appreciation, sometimes more than a bonus or pay bump itself, can boost their engagement and productivity.

6.Host Regular Team-Building Events

One of the best ways to inspire and manage your employees is to host regular team-building events for the entire distributed team.
Pick a destination that is easy for your team to reach and (if you can afford it) pay for all of the travel expenses. Not only will the down time in an exotic location boost team morale, but it will also give you a chance to interact one-on-one with your employees.
Having some time together away from the pressures of work will help your entire team work better together, increases loyalty to the company and their willingness to produce high-quality results.

7.Be Patient

Hiring and effectively managing a distributed team is not easy. The beginning stages are incredibly stressful and produce a whole slew of challenges that aren’t present when managing a co-located team.
So be patient.
Realize that this is a learning process both for you, your existing team and your remote hires. It will take time for you to grasp everything involved in building and managing an effective distributed team, but it will be worth it.

Over to You

What’s your #1 tip for managing a distributed team? Leave a comment below!

Author Bio: Wendy Dessler is a super-connector with OutreachMama and Towering who helps businesses find their audience online through outreach, partnerships, and networking. She frequently writes about the latest advancements in digital marketing and focuses her efforts on developing customized blogger outreach plans depending on the industry and competition.