With the widespread adoption of hybrid work models, many find managing a partially or fully remote workforce challenging.
As a COO, I’ve had to navigate the rocky waters of managing employees located all over the world.
Like many businesses, my company permanently adopted a remote work policy for employees. Not only is it a cost-saving measure, but it also gives us access to a global pool of talent and promotes a healthier work-life balance for our more than 300 employees.
Managing remote teams isn’t without its hurdles. Successfully leading a virtual team requires a balance of communication, flexibility, trust, and technology.
Employees working offsite can’t just pop into your office with a question or stop by a coworker’s desk to collaborate. Tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack can fill these gaps, but you must be intentional when setting them up and training employees on their use.
For example, Teams has indicators to show if someone is available, busy, offline, or doesn’t want to be disturbed (the virtual equivalent of closing their office door). In my experience, no one pays attention to them. Train your team to be mindful of indicators like these so that they aren’t interrupting individuals who are deep into solving a problem or meeting with a client.
Another facet of communication is social engagement. Chats in the breakroom, before and after meetings, over lunches, and so on build better team cohesion, trust, and efficiency. Remote workers lack opportunities for traditional social interaction with coworkers.
While they can’t replace in-person interaction, giving your remote team places to socialize helps team-building. Set up “fun” channels dedicated to sharing pet photos, coffee break chats, family news, and so forth. You can also adapt many in-person team-building events to fit remote teams, from virtual happy hours to team lunches and more. One of my teams hosts a regular Friday afternoon trivia game online.
If your logistics and budget allow, schedule in-person events from time to time. These are great opportunities to communicate with your team, and you can use them for training, fun activities, or a mix of both.
I encourage my teams to have their cameras on in meetings. It doesn’t replace being around a conference room table, but it provides a little face-to-face connection.
Finally, don’t forget the power of one-on-one meetings. Schedule bi-weekly or monthly check-ins with each member of your team. Not only does it help reduce the anxiety that isolated workers might be feeling, but you might be surprised by what you learn when you talk with someone outside of a group setting.
Facilitate Flexibility and Time Management
When your home becomes your office, the lines between work and personal life blur. To keep morale from plummeting into burnout, encourage your team to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
For team members new to remote work, you might need to coach them on time management techniques, encourage regular breaks, and provide support when they face challenges.
When members of your team live in different time zones, be flexible with meeting times and project deadlines to accommodate their schedules. Don’t celebrate working long or late hours; instead, find out what went wrong that forced the team to work beyond their scheduled office time. Then fix it so it doesn’t keep happening.
The remote work landscape is constantly evolving. Keep your eye on the latest trends in remote work, technology, and management practices. Be flexible and open to experimenting with new approaches to boosting team productivity, morale, and well-being.
Trust Your Remote Teams
Trust is a big one, and many managers struggle with it. Some believe if they can’t walk the office floor and see their team at work, they can’t be sure everyone is working. Not only is it an unfair attitude to take, but it’s insulting to your employees.
Adopt a trust-first attitude and cultivate it among your team. A critical part of managing a remote team is creating an environment where employees feel empowered and accountable. Establish clear expectations, measurable goals, and deadlines, but trust your team to manage their work independently. Step in only when needed.
Use the Appropriate Tools
Remote teams depend on technology to get their work done. Beyond giving them a way to communicate (like Slack and Teams), they also need tools to manage and share work, like Jira, Sharepoint, and Loop.
There are many software products to help you facilitate collaboration and project management. It comes down to weighing their strengths against your team’s needs and preferences.
For example, Jira is widely recognized as the most popular project management solution. It has all the bells and whistles a team could need. But does your team need that level of functionality, or is it too complex for their uses? If they only need Kanban boards, for example, a platform like Trello or Monday.com might be a better fit.
Remote Teams Are The Future
Remote work is here to stay. Many organizations are trying to push their staff back into the office, but workers’ preferences are clear.
The businesses that accommodate remote work will attract top talent—and those who manage their teams effectively will be able to keep that talent.
In my experience, the pillars of managing a high-performing remote team are trust, technology, effective communication, and flexibility.
If you can master those four areas, you will create a remote work environment that is efficient, productive, and fulfilling for your team members.