Leading a business or managing a team looks different for everyone. Every business has different approaches to culture, managerial processes, and measuring success. On top of that, if your business is remote or transitioning to being remote, the approach to leadership changes even further.
Attempting to manage remote teams the same way as an in-person team likely won’t work. There are far too many communication, productivity, collaboration, and measurement differences to just maintain course. In fact, it’s far more important to focus on your employees and setting them up for success than ever before.
If you’re exploring long-term remote work or in the midst of adapting to it—here are some key tips to help you manage your remote teams effectively.
10 tips to better manage remote teams
As a manager or business owner, you’re likely experiencing your own challenges with remote work outside of helping your employees manage the transition. However, there are some quick adjustments you can make to not only help your staff but make your new work from home life a whole lot easier.
1. Provide structure
Establishing a regular timeline of communications with remote employees can provide a sense of regularity and normalcy for employees. There’s no hard and fast rule for what this should look like. It can take the form of a daily check-in, virtual collaboration hours, or a simple weekly email to see if an employee needs to chat for example.
Find what works best for your team, the individual, and yourself and set up an initial schedule to follow. You can always adjust the consistency and form of communication as you and your team become more comfortable with remote work.
One of the initial pieces that can fall by the wayside when going remote, is the consistent sharing and immediate access to information. You don’t realize how often you share insights or get answers through a quick side conversation until it stops happening. The best way to avoid this dropoff is by pushing your team to overcommunicate.
Create additional slack channels, have virtual meetings that combine different teams, hold weekly company-wide info sessions to convey broader strategy. It may seem like overkill, but the more you encourage regular collaboration and set up the channels to do so, the more likely that everyone stays informed and encouraged.
3. Leverage video conferencing
One of the best tools for remote teams to leverage is video conferencing. Not only does it help with communication and collaboration, but it can also serve as emotional support for remote workers that feel isolated. It may not be the perfect replacement for in-person interaction, but it still provides beneficial face-to-face conversation and visual context that cannot be conveyed through email, chat, or collaborative documents.
4. Develop remote social events
Developing successful remote routines and communication strategies to maintain productivity is necessary, but so is maintaining your employees’ physical and mental well-being while being remote. While typically you’d set up team bonding events outside of work, under our current social distancing circumstances that has become impossible. Instead of simply eliminating these events, replicate them as fully online happy hours, virtual team building sessions, or virtual game nights.
Similar to how meetings provide a sense of structure and normalcy to an employee’s workday, these virtual social engagements do the same for non-work interactions.
5. Be transparent
Everything mentioned up to this point ties directly into the need for transparency. This may be simple for some companies, that have transparency tied directly to their company culture, but for others, this can be difficult. As an owner or manager, you may not like the idea of sharing the difficulties of the company’s financial situation or giving everyone direct access to what other teams are working on.
You can decide how much and what type of information will be shared. The more transparent you can be the better chance you have of keeping everyone focused and onboard. Start with a monthly plan review with specific stakeholders and look for opportunities to expand to everyone else with the right information.
6. Be supportive
As you work to develop and refine online collaboration keep in mind the emotional and mental state of your employees. You may not fully understand their situations like you would when interacting in-office and need to realize that each individual’s adjustment will play out differently. Some will take to it like a fish to water, and meet or exceed expectations, while others may struggle to find a productive workflow due to added distractions, isolation, or communication issues.
Regularly ask how they’re doing with the new situation, listen to their concerns, and focus on their responses and difficulties. At the same time, try to maintain your own stress and issues as well as you can. It doesn’t mean that you can’t express the difficulties you’re experiencing but try to focus on how you’re facing these challenges versus how stressful they are. Your employees will be looking to you for guidance and if you communicate a sense of stability it can help them express and face their own issues.
7. Automate tasks
Part of working remotely, and even in the office, is harnessing the right tools. It can be easy to overdo it and invest in too many tools that bog down workflows rather than improve them. So, focus on core applications that elevate your team and if possible, help automate specific tasks.
Your goal should be to find opportunities to take repetitive, time-consuming, manual actions and hand them off to a tool. For example, if you’re a manager and have weekly one on one check-ins with your team, sending reminders can be time-consuming. So, create a regular automated reminder attached to each employee’s calendar that alerts them a set amount of time before the meeting.
If you can, look for opportunities to connect your tools. For example, we at Palo Alto integrate our social accounts, web development notifications, and Google calendar settings with Slack. This creates automated notifications, automatically silences Slack threads when in meetings, and gives everyone greater visibility into specific tasks.
Keep in mind, identifying areas for automation and removing or introducing tools will take time. So be sure you’re regularly reviewing performance with employees to identify potential opportunities or difficulties worth exploring.
8. Train and develop employees
Keeping employees happy and engaged is often tied to how satisfied they are with their role. If there are no opportunities to learn, grow and move up, why would they want to stick around? Even if you have a robust training and employee development program in place, it may be falling by the wayside due to being remote.
So, the best thing you can do is encourage leadership teams to revisit career development opportunities. Review what you’ve done in the past, connect with employees to explore their goals, and begin identifying opportunities to convert in-person training to remote.
This should also apply to your onboarding processes. Be sure that you’re documenting what’s working, what’s not, what’s changing, and exploring ways to make startup and ongoing training effective. Again, tap your team to better understand what they find to be effective and if they have any suggestions.
Additionally, you may want to explore less goal-driven learning opportunities. Look into virtual book clubs, provide free resources, and even quarterly remote team building activities.
9. Hire smartly
For many, going remote was a response to a crisis. Now, it may be a long-term situation. So rather than just focusing on maintaining performance, you may instead be exploring growth opportunities and potentially hiring new employees.
When working remotely, hiring the right people is possibly more crucial than in person. You’re introducing them to your culture, work processes, and overall team without meeting them physically. This can be difficult to do if the hiree is not prepared to work remotely, has difficulties communicating, or any number of other potential issues.
However, the benefit for you and your team is that you aren’t restricted to hiring people locally. You have a much larger talent pool to work with that means you have a greater chance of finding the right person. That benefit also means that you need to look at different traits for success like self-motivation, flexibility, a positive attitude, and even a passion for collaborating remotely.
To tackle this effectively, revisit your hiring process. See how you can convert interviews, trial projects, and team involvement to function remotely. Again, this will likely take some trial and error but it will be well worth the effort when you start landing candidates that you are stoked to work with.
10. Revisit processes
The throughline in all of this is regularly reviewing, revising, and testing your processes. Like managing your business finances and strategy, your remote work processes will never be perfect. Rather than being discouraged, focus on the opportunity to improve and grow your business.
Establish metrics of success early on. Incorporate remote work changes into your monthly reporting. And of course, involve your employees at every step to gauge how things are going. The more willing you are to make changes, the better you’ll be at anticipating and addressing issues while also jumping on growth opportunities.
Integrate remote work into your business
Managing a business and all of the different teams within it is difficult. Throwing remote work into the mix can make it even more complicated if you’re not prepared to adapt. If you find yourself exploring the chance that remote work may be a long-term aspect of your business, the best thing you can do is revisit your initial business plan.
Rather than just masking a remote strategy on top of existing processes, focus on integrating them into your broader business strategy. The more you establish remote work as part of your business, the easier it will be to maintain it. Even if you eventually go back to the office, or adopt a hybrid model, you’ll be better prepared for each scenario.