How to Manage Your Remote Team?
The above graph from Google Trends illustrates the public interest in remote teams. That spike in the end due to the COVID-19 pandemic is MASSIVE.
Interest in remote team management is higher than ever before. The remote movement that was simmering for years has finally exploded. It is bound to become the new normal for the majority of the people worldwide.
Going remote doesn’t change the core principles of management. In fact, it makes it clear which management principles stand the test of time and which were simply fads.
This post is not an attempt to preach radical philosophies. It doesn’t aim to transform your existing style of management. It simply aims to give a few pointers that will help you manage your team remotely.
At Taskworld, we have been working remotely for over 7 years. These tips are based on our own hits and misses with remote management.
1. Standardize timezone and establish core work hours.
The first thing you want to do is to make a list of all the timezones your team is in. Pick a timezone that your team will follow. All team meetings and discussions about time should be in this timezone.
Then, standardize core work hours. Everyone in the remote team should be reachable and responsive during this time. This might be difficult to achieve if your team has people who are separated by 8+ hours of time difference. In such cases, narrow down the core hours slot. Even if there are 3-4 hours a day where all your team is online, it will be immensely useful.
For example at Taskworld, our team is spread in over 12 countries – from Japan to Brazil. We follow the ICT (Indochina Time) for all our internal communication because our Bangkok office has the largest number of employees.
2. Establish meeting cadence
It’s a myth that remote teams require more meetings than on-site teams. But like all teams, they do require a structure to standardize certain meetings. Create a plan for meetings with details about what kind of meetings are needed, how often, and who should be involved. Run your plan by your team to get their thoughts and then set it in motion.
Here are three things to remember:
- Timebox your meetings – Don’t drag your meetings over the scheduled time. I know it’s easier said than done but it’s a skill that you’ll get better at with practice.
- Don’t cushion your meetings – Don’t add extra time to every meeting that you schedule for chit-chat, only because everyone is remote. There are better ways to catch up. Meetings should only be focused on the issue at hand.
- Don’t overcompensate for physical distance by holding more meetings – A good test to prevent this is by asking yourself if you would have that meeting even if everyone was on-site. If the answer is no, then doing so will do more harm than good.
3. Get an office
Who says you don’t need an office for remote teams. You do, but a virtual one. Everyone has their favorite tools to use and without getting an online collaboration space, things can quickly go out of hand.
Different remote teams have different preferences when it comes to their virtual workspace. Some prefer team messaging tools like Slack, some go for specialized tools like Jira for software development. At Taskworld, we use our own tool that combines work tracking, messaging, and performance reports.
Many managers feel tempted to frequently call remote employees to align their priorities, keep track of progress, and communicate. These calls inadvertently end up becoming distractions. A virtual workspace solves this problem because teammates can see who’s online, each others’ priorities, track the progress of projects and chat with each other.
If your team uses one of the Agile methodologies like Scrum or Kanban, ensure that your virtual workspace supports it.
A virtual workspace also provides a sense of belonging to your remote team. It’s where they can see and interact with their colleagues, just like in an on-site office.
4. Build a culture of accountability
When working remotely trust your team 100%. Don’t be intrusive and give your team the flexibility to plan their workday. However, enforce accountability with equal vigor as well.
Accountability is contagious and once it’s ingrained in a team’s culture, it rubs onto other people. The reverse is also true. If your team starts normalizing people washing their hands off their tasks, people would not feel the need to take accountability for their work.
Ensure that only one person is accountable for one task. When the team has visibility into who’s working on what, it reduces the chances of tasks slipping through the cracks. A remote team cannot function unless accountability is woven into its culture.
5. Practice, don’t preach your culture
Every team, on-site or remote develops its own culture. This is either driven top-down by the management or emerges organically based on the different personalities in the team.
In on-site teams, it’s easier to hold workshops and reiterate cultural values. This becomes a challenge in the case of distributed teams. The best way to develop the aspired culture in remote teams is to lead from the front and expect the same from others.
For example, if transparency is one of the values you seek to foster in your team’s culture, then ensure that your team has access to important dashboards and information in your workspace.
6. Share knowledge and best practices
Remote work has only recently gone mainstream and organizations are still trying out different approaches to make it work. Although the specific tips mentioned above will work for all teams, you will face unique challenges that can only be solved by trial and error.
Therefore, it’s important to continuously optimize the way you manage your remote team. Listen to the feedback from your teammates. Share knowledge and best practices with your fellow managers. It’s normal to experience hiccups when you first go remote. Don’t let it discourage you from experiencing the inevitable benefits that it will bring.