Over the last decade, we have seen a strong trend towards remote working, with more and more people preferring to make the most of their time by avoiding the long commute.
It has also allowed many to expand their potential job opportunities beyond a relatively small geographic circle. Remote teams mean that companies can diversify their groups, and reduce the overheads associated with maintaining a large, permanent, physical office space.
Moreover, many teams have been forced to temporarily go remote in response to the stay at home orders associated with COVID-19.
At UserGuiding, we have been practicing remote working with various groups in the past, and we have completely switched to working remotely after the pandemic. Surprisingly, we have managed to keep our efficiency the same, maybe due to our past experience with the concept.
Building and managing a successful remote team is not as easy as it looks as many managers will learn over the coming weeks and months of quarantine. It is not the same as simply displacing your regular team practices to remote locations.
It requires extra tools and processes, while not forgetting the important things that slip our minds when we don’t see our teams day-to-day.
Want to know how to successfully manage a remote team?
Here are my top 5 tips to managing a remote team:
1. Find the Right Talent
Building a successful remote team starts at the hiring stage.
Remote working does require some different skills than being part of a traditional team. Someone who would make a great marketer at the center of buzzing office space, might not flourish in the same way when working in isolation.
Many job descriptions state that they are looking for independent, self-motivated, self-starters. But when it comes to remote teams, these should be at the top of the required characteristics list.
Some people are great workers when they are in an environment alongside colleagues that are working towards common goals, as they thrive off the momentum of energy and productivity. But not everyone is able to keep themselves on task and on track when they are alone, especially if they are in their own space where there are lots of potential distractions.
You definitely want to seek workers that demonstrate the ability to work independently.
Also, remote teams need to mesh. One of the benefits of remote working is that you can put together a more diverse workforce, which has been shown to result in greater creativity.
However, diverse teams can also result in greater conflict, which is why many companies tend to hire people that are cut from the same cloth. This can foster cohesion and cooperative productivity.
When putting together a remote team, you need to consider both sides of this coin.
Take advantage of your ability to get people with vastly difficult skills and experiences, but also consider how the individual members of the team will mesh. Otherwise, you might find yourself with a very difficult leadership challenge in your hands. Just because colleagues aren’t seeing each other face to face doesn’t mean that conflicts don’t arise.
In fact, it can be worse. It can be easy to misinterpret statements in emails, and without seeing someone personally, there is not the same pressure to resolve issues in a timely and acceptable way.
2. Try Remote Team Building Activities
Just because your team isn’t in the same building doesn’t mean that you can skimp on the team building.
In fact, this should be a higher priority as you lose the opportunities of catchups around the coffee machine and bonding over the shared love of pecan pie on someone’s obligatory birthday morning tea.
Teams perform better when colleagues know each other beyond just professional transactions and have a bond. This allows them to feel comfortable working together, which means that it is easier to challenge ideas, have productive disagreements, and broach difficult issues.
Having a solid relationship reduces the risks associated with speaking up and sharing your opinion.
But how can you foster this kind of camaraderie when it comes to remote teams? Here are some ideas:
- If geographically possible, do physically get your team together periodically. This is a great opportunity to provide training and workshop challenges and new opportunities, as well as build relationships over a beverage or two.
- Integrate team building activities into staff onboarding processes. No one should be working for you for three weeks and still have never spoken to the guy who works in another timezone and only sends one-word responses to emails. You can use the kind of icebreaker activities that we often see at conferences, such as asking everyone on the team to share their biggest failure, or a unique skill (outside of the work sphere).
- Have regular times when everyone on the team is online, maybe once a week for a conference call, so that no one loses sight of their co-workers that are working with them towards the same goals. For example, in their Working From Home article, the team of Kdan Mobile explains how they are doing standup meetings to ensure everyone is in the loop and moves in the same direction.
3. Set Expectations
Setting expectations about working styles and company culture is important in any workplace.
This should be done formally for all teams but is even more important for remote teams, who cannot learn a lot of this information from observing more well-established colleagues in the office.
While remote working allows for flexibility, there do need to be ground rules so that everyone can mesh. For example, there should be core working hours when everyone is available online, even if these hours are limited as a result of timezones. It can also be useful to have guidelines about when people are offline.
When managers and leaders are sending important emails at both 6 o’clock in the morning and 11 o’clock at night, workers can feel like they need to be online at all hours to respond to requests. If timezones permit, there should be set communication hours, unless it is an end of the world emergency – and let’s face it, if you work in marketing, how many ends of the world emergencies do you really have?
There should also be clear guidelines on how people log and track their work, in a way that colleagues can see where they are and what they are up to, but in a way that is not onerous or intrusive. Having shared, prioritized task lists can save a lot of email traffic and irritation.
Rather than colleagues having to bat around emails asking when they can expect something that they are waiting for, they can see where their work is in the list, and what is ahead of it.
4. Invest in the Right Remote Team Tools
While a remote team might mean that you don’t need to invest in expensive physical premises, with offices, meeting rooms, and kitchens, you do still need to invest in the infrastructure that your team needs to function effectively.
At an absolute minimum, your team will need a secure communications system, a task accountability tool and a content calendar.
But at the same time, you shouldn’t invest in too many tools, and working environments should be streamlined as much as possible. No one likes to have 50 passwords, or constantly switching between systems that have slightly different menu structures and terminologies.
Tools should never be used for the sake of having the tool, and you should always be looking for whatever system best integrates with your team’s way of working.
5. Don’t Forget About Professional Development
We can sometimes make the mistake of treating our remote workers as though they are freelancers, and expect that they will take responsibility for their growth and professional development.
But employees, even remote employees, need to be nurtured in order to give their best.
Aside from good compensation and flexible working conditions, staff also value having their contribution recognized and opportunities for professional development.
The staff that is working remotely still require services such as conflict resolution support, stress management, and professional development. Providing this allows them to grow and to become a more valuable member of your team; and in most cases, someday, move on to bigger and better things and let you recruit new talent.
There are training hubs out there that provide company subscriptions which can allow all your staff to choose the individual courses that they need for their particular tasks and development.
You should also be providing staff with regular performance reviews which gives you an opportunity to praise their hard work and provide constructive criticism and guidance so that they can continue to develop and be a vital player on your team. It is also their chance for them to critique you, and let you know what you could be doing better to manage the team.
Moving to a remote team set up involves more than just giving up your office space, it comes with a lot of challenges.
It is an art to enable a team of different talents, working in different places, and sometimes even different time zones, and with different methodologies. Without daily contact, it can be hard to maintain their productivity.
While the flexibility of remote working generally increases worker happiness or is managed badly, it can also reduce satisfaction as workers are deprived of a vibrant environment where they can interact with colleagues and exchange and develop ideas.
Create the most productive, stimulating and satisfying remote working environment for your marketing team by starting with these five top tips.
Frequently Asked Questions
💻 How can I manage a remote team effectively?
You must be considerate when hiring team members, keep the energy between the team high, and adopt the best tools to maximize collaboration.
🙌 How can I motivate remote team members?
Staying aligned under company goals can be tough for remote workers, make sure to forward the progress you make to these individuals. If they see results, their motivation will increase.
💃 What is the best remote team building activity?
People like participating in different activities, so you have to try a few alternatives such as playing games, chatting, etc. to find the best fit for your company.