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10 Tips to Help You Manage Your Remote Team

10 Tips to Help You Manage Your Remote Team

Over the past few years, some of us have been pushing the concept of remote work as the future. And despite some high-profile dissidents like Yahoo or IBM, enough successful businesses have made right on it. You’ve heard about the advantages plenty of times, I’m sure. But let’s not glaze over some unique management challenges the setup presents. I’ve been managing remote teams do over a decade, so I know them well. Here are ten things that I’ve found to be crucial when working with a remote team:

1. Set expectations right from the start

How often should people communicate with you? At what time should they log in to your teams “virtual office”? What hours are they supposed to work? The answers to these questions are all the mega-ambiguous “depends.” Depends on whom? It depends on you, boss. If you’re building the company, managing the team, it’s your call. There are no right answers, only the correct solution for your business.

What you should do is make sure you know this beforehand, so you can let the people in your team know as you onboard them. Even during the job interview! You wouldn’t hire a team, bring them to your office, and then hash out the company policies on-the-fly. So don’t do so with a remote team. Make sure everyone knows how you expect them to work on a daily basis, and deliver on a weekly and monthly basis.

2. Gather the team early and often

I’m a big fan of daily meetings. Wait, don’t break the safety glass and jump out the window yet! I don’t mean ultra-long, boring meetings that are a waste of everyone's time and energy. I mean Agile-style, 15-minute stand meetings.

It’s easy to have a disconnect when running a remote team. Everyone is in their little corner doing their thing. Have a daily meeting where everyone reports what they were up to during yesterday and what they will be up to today. It will reinforce in everyone the idea that they are in a team and keep them aware of how their work interconnects.

Often, it will be a challenge to schedule. Especially if people live on separate coasts. Do it as early as possible for everyone involved, but don’t sweat it if that means it’s the middle of the day for some. Setting up a cadence - doing it every day at the same time - is more important than what that time is, exactly.

3. Engage with them all the time

If you thought that the advantage of remote work was that you could leave the soft skills at the door, think again. It’s more important than ever to engage your employees on a personal level! Remember: remote employees are more productive and motivated, but they can also suffer from isolation. Make sure to check in often.

Make it about work at the start, but get to know them as time goes by. Be the guy that they never met in person, but that asks about their child’s twisted ankle or their weekend Pokemon hunt. For most people, working remotely is already a boost to happiness - but you want them to be happy that they’re working for YOU. Don’t take it for granted that they are content just because they can work from home.

4. Train them, as often as you feel you need to

It’s worth reiterating that every business is different. Don’t expect people to mind-read you and immediately get your company culture and values or even your USP. In a co-located office, you get that merely based on day-to-day interaction (although relying on this alone is far from efficient). In a virtual office, training your staff for your culture and values goes from recommended to mission critical.

I’ve found that repetition is the best teacher. I hold a short, 30-minute training session per week with the new employees. That’s broken down in me speaking for 10 minutes about the business, and a 20-minute Q&A.

It usually takes three weeks in a row for everyone to be up to speed.

When do you know someone is up to speed? When you feel they can handle the training sessions for you!

5. Use video whenever available

This applies to all previous points. Does your team have a daily stand-up meeting? Use video. Are you conducting a job interview or a one-on-one to know how little Timmy’s leg ankle went? Use video. Do you need to let someone go? Use video.

Written communication is not efficient. I don’t care how introverted you or your employee is. I’ve seen people fume at a couple of lines in Slack, up to the point of threatening to quit the company. These same people then mellow out when the same feedback comes from a face on the screen.

We human beings are terrible at guessing tone and intention from text. We need to see faces; we need to look at body language. Remote work does not work without video. Period.

6. Have a dedicated check-in / check-out channel

If you have a remote team, you need two apps: a project management tool, and a team chat tool. I’de love to say that we’re super rebellious and innovative at my company, but no, we use Slack, just like everyone else.

One of the best things we came up with was to create a dedicated BRB channel. Here, people check in when they start working and check out when they stop. If they need to leave for a run/lunch/saving dolphins, they type BRB (time and reason optional, but let us know how the dolphins are!)

This system lets everyone know at a glance who in the team is available, and who isn’t. It’s a simple thing, but it’s a time saver and the best way we’ve found to keep track go the team without using super sneaky, privacy-destroying software.

7. Look for deliverables, not busywork

Above, I mentioned that having a project management tool is critical. That’s because it’s not great to measure a remote team’s productivity in hours. Tracking their time is a no-win game that takes up all your own time and makes everyone else miserable.

What you should do instead is to set goals and track progress towards these goals, as well as relevant deliverables. A useful project management tool will help you do this with minimal effort. Especially if you train your team to have good reporting habits.

Of course, avoid falling into the trap of having people spend more time on reports than actual work. The right project management tool should let your team report on their daily activities in a couple of minutes.

Don’t care about how much your team works. Care about how much they deliver.

8. Review daily by yourself, and weekly with the team

So again about the project management tool… You have to look at it. Every day. If you see something not moving, a task not updated, get in touch with the people responsible, and find out why. Once a week, have a meeting with the team to go over all the tasks, goals and deliverables. Gauge what worked, what didn’t, and how to improve next week.

There are a million different project management systems out there, so you should test until you come up with one that fits your values and process. My team uses Trello because we enjoy simplicity. A Trello card is a task, it has a responsible person assigned to it, and contains all relevant files and conversations inside. The general workflow is structured in a way that makes the cards/tasks move from the leftmost list to the rightmost list as they near completion.

This makes it super easy for me, as a manager, to have a daily bird’s eye view of the entire board. The board represents what the whole team is doing, and I can zoom into any particular task that seems to be stuck.

9. Celebrate

Always take the opportunity to congratulate someone (or the team in general) on a job well done. Did your marketing team get you featured in a story on an excellent publication? Did your sales department close a big account? Did you development team finish a significant milestone on schedule?

Congratulate all the involved publicly on all the channels used by your business. Make achievements matter.

10. Enjoy it

We live in a world where it’s possible to run your business from anywhere, at any time. It’s possible to have a diverse set of employees from all around the world, tapping into the best international talent on offer for fun and profit. We can grow our business(es) in ways that we wouldn’t have dreamed of less than a decade ago!

A big part of that due to all the tools and infrastructure that allow remote work be a reality. So let’s be thankful, and enjoy the ride - it’s an excellent time to be in business!

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Sharon Koifman believes every company, from the biggest enterprise to the newly-launched garage startup, should have access to world’s top talent. That’s why he used over 10 years of experience in tech industry recruitment & HR to create DistantJob. His unique recruitment model allows DistantJob’s clients to get high quality IT experts working remotely at a fraction of the usual cost - with no red tape and within two weeks. Get in touch @distantjob

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