5 things every leader needs when managing remote teams
Remote work is growing at a rapid pace—close to a quarter of the U.S. workforce already works from home and the COVID-19 pandemic has boosted remote work worldwide. For the first time, many small businesses and massive enterprises had to rapidly adjust to managing remote teams.
And switching from the work office to the home office can be a significant change for teams who are used to collaborating in open offices. Not only are managers physically separated from their staff, but leaders need to find a way to navigate communications, schedules, and make sure everyone stays productive.
A recent SHRM report about the challenges organizations now face with COVID found more than 7 in 10 employers struggle to adapt to remote work.
We understand that communication and team collaboration are taking big hits in your organization. Keeping track of the various schedules and continuous IT problems has most companies spread very thin.
That's why we've put together this helpful list to get employers back on track with the top five things every leader needs when managing remote teams. But first, let's dig a little into why it's so critical to have a healthy remote team.
The benefits of a remote team go beyond attracting top talent
As you can imagine, going remote can truly help your company attract top talent with larger reach to find specific workers outside of your region. But if your team is working remotely (or considering offering upcoming roles to remote workers), you may be asking—is it worth it and what are the benefits?
With more teams choosing to go remote, new data trickling in shows that there are some serious benefits for managers. A recent survey from Adobe's CoSo Cloud found that their remote teams believed they were 30% more productive during the day compared to the traditional in-office environment.
So, people actually want this madness? The answer seems to be a resounding yes.
A survey from Gigaom discovered that thanks to video chat, 87% of managers feel more connected to their team when working remotely. And on the employee side, research from FlexJobs found 97% of professionals said companies offering remote work, flexible hours, and reduced schedules would catch their interest in a job search.
Remote work is cheaper, too. A typical company saves roughly $11,000 a year for every team member they have working remote instead of in an office.
While all of this stuff is great, there are some challenges to remote work––especially for managers. Let's look at what leaders can do to better manage remote teams.
1. Ground rules for work and communication
Working remotely doesn’t mean your team gets to set their own rules and schedules. Your first task should be setting out some concrete ground rules so your team knows what is expected.
We’re talking about everything from what communication channels they should use down to meetings and submitting work. Dana Brownlee, an author, and expert on creating collaborative workplace cultures explained that employers need to introduce ground rules into remote environments by highlighting how important they are.
Brownlee added that employers should focus on detailing how teams can work together better and the importance of understanding the various behaviors that make a healthy work environment.
From there, it's smart to establish some simple ground rules. These can be simple things, like everyone must attend morning stand-ups, putting limits on time (i.e. no meetings after 3pm), and communication kept inside chat channels instead of email.
Your team also needs to know that you are engaged in their tasks and interested in their progress. Creating a project schedule for your team is one thing, but keeping up your remote communication with them is one of your most important tasks.
You might have never met a team member face-to-face, but that shouldn’t stop you from talking to them like they’re a valued member of your team.
2. Daily check-ins to incite authentic conversations
Remote can feel, well pretty remote. In fact, the Academy of Management discovered one of the hardest challenges to overcome for remote teams is loneliness.
For those used to working in an office, it's completely understandable to understand why the new surge in remote work can lead to loneliness. That's why it's critical to recreating the daily interactions so many are used to by offering daily check-ins so everyone knows what their teammates are working on.
Sigal Barsade, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests remote managers should focus on making sure everyone is connecting. For the most part, these daily stand-ups and meetings talk about more than work. Barsade says asking open-ended questions like, "who did something fun this weekend they want to share?" is a perfect way to get the conversation rolling.
Even if you don’t have enough time to have a 2-hour conversation every morning with your team, you can still mix up daily stand-ups meetings to make them more enjoyable. As Jonathan Rasmusson writes in The Agile Samurai, changing the dynamic of morning stand-ups is as simple as using different working, like:
🌎 What you did to change the world yesterday?
💪 How you are going to crush it today?
👊 How you are going to blast through any obstacles unfortunate enough to be standing in your way?
Rasmusson says answering these types of questions instead of just “what are you working on” can completely change the dynamic of how your group interacts.
Instead of just standing there and giving an update, you are now laying it all the line and declaring your intent to the universe, Jonathan Rasmusson, author of The Agile Samurai
If you can’t make these stand-ups daily, at least make them regular enough so they become a predictable part of your team’s schedule. Then, they’ll know when they can hear from everyone, get a status update, and feel that sense of teamwork.
Pro-tip: We recommend: Teamwork Chat for running daily stand-ups. All messages are safe and secure thanks to Embedded Chat, and it brings everyone together into a channel to keep communication tidy and streamlined.
3. The correct communication channels
Only using email to manage remote workers…isn’t going to cut it.
To keep your team productive and engaged, you need to equip them with a generous communication toolkit. Yes, email can be part of that kit, but you should also have other tools, like video chat, messaging apps, and file sharing so your team can stay connected and touch base with each other quickly.
Some of the must-have communication channels for managers include:
Project/work management tool: For organizing schedules and deadlines
Chat tools: For collaborating and brainstorming
Video conferencing tools: For meetings and virtual coffee catch-ups
File-sharing tools: For sharing documents and easier collaboration
Content collaboration tools: For keeping everything from SOPs to healthcare policies organized and accessible
For some tips on what tools to use, check out our breakdown of remote working tools here.
4. Clear, manageable expectations for everyone
Creating realistic expectations for work is still a problem for managers—remote or not.
A recent Gallup Poll found about half of all U.S. employees don't know what's expected of them at work. At the base of all of this, clear and defined guidance is essential for employees to understand exactly what is expected of them.
You can be more definitive to tasks by giving exact due dates, precise quality standards, and detailed information on the overall goal. But it's important to remember that you can’t manage every aspect of your remote team and how they spend their time.
And you shouldn’t try to either—companies resorting to extremes like using home surveillance software to track employees’ productivity isn’t the path you should take.
What you can do is empower your team to stay on track and hit deadlines by setting out clear guidelines.
Defining project scopes and setting deliverables in a workspace that can be accessed by your entire team is a great start. Plotting a team member’s to-do list into a project management calendar tells them exactly what they need to be working on for the week, and when their tasks need to be completed.
Using a project management tool like Teamwork, you can even have tasks, like meetings and product launches, assigned to projects when added to a calendar. Learn more on our introductory video.
This keeps everything organized without shared calendars getting confusing or overwhelming.
5. Attentiveness to time zones and work hours
Finally, you need to remember that with remote work comes a bigger talent pool—and your team members may not live in the same city, country, or timezone as you.
Nobody likes getting interrupted outside their working hours. But for remote managers, it’s especially important to pay attention to timezones. If you don’t and you are messaging a team member at 10pm, it can have a negative impact on their work/life balance and make them feel like they can’t disconnect from work.
One way you can resolve this issue is by adding an extension, app, plug-in to your computer. if you happen to be a Mac user, there are plenty of extensions to help you manage your timezones.
For example, Menu World Time is a great and very simplistic Mac tool to add another timezone directly in your menu bar. Or for Windows users, try using the app Get Globe Time.
Another way to overcome this is by checking everyone’s timezone before scheduling a group meeting or virtual coffee catch-up. If you are in the U.S. but some of your team works in Australia, you need to find a time that suits everyone.
Of course, for some teams, it’s impossible to remember every team member’s timezone. That's why you should make sure your project management tool has localization and language settings.
For example, Teamwork allows remote managers to set custom languages, timezones, and working hours for every employee:
Before setting any deadlines or meetings, all you have to do is jump in and check what’s the best fit for everyone on a project. Depending on how you manage timezones, they can either be a burden or a productivity goldmine.
Managing remote teams is easier with the right toolkit
Shifting to a remote environment can be a challenging task but if you do it well, it can be a gamechanger for your business. Not only can going remote save you a ton of money, but it can make your team happier, more productive, and—thanks to timezones—some of them will be working while the other half is sleeping.
However, managing remote teams successfully is a learning curve. You need to establish communication channels, make sure that your team feels appreciated, and set clear expectations for projects and deadlines.
This is a lot easier for managers who have the right toolkit. Emails aren’t enough—you need a hub where you can manage communication, file-sharing, team chats, and projects.
And we know where you can find one—Teamwork. Find out more here!