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The Loop

The Ultimate Guide to Managing Remote Teams

July 15th, 2015

Welcome to the 21st century, where a growing population of workers are location independent and tethered only to the Internet. Commutes, cubicles, broken copier machines, and red staplers are becoming a thing of the past. But what happens when you’re in charge of managing a remote team of people working when and where they want? When you need to communicate with team members from Albuquerque to Zurich, how do you get everyone on the same page?

Common Problems and Actionable Solutions

Did you know that remote team members are about 13% more productive than their cubicle-enhanced counterparts? If your team is having trouble with flow and productivity, it’s not the inevitable price to pay for working remotely. Instead, lack of productivity may be the result of one of these common problems:

Too Many Emails

Are you drowning under a bottomless email inbox? Well-meaning team managers sometimes send one too many emails under the guise of constant communication. The problem with emailing is that the average worker spends almost a third of his or her time reading and responding to emails. That time could be better spent actually working on the project, not talking about working on the project.

Solution: Instead of emails, use an automated check-in tool like Status Hero to keep on top of yesterday’s work, today’s goals, and any problems.

Not Enough Meetings

Meetings have a bad reputation, especially if you’ve worked in a traditional setting where meetings have open agendas. However, if there’s ever a time to meet regularly, it’s with your remote team. Use meetings to coordinate tasks and answer targeted questions.

Solution: Commit to meeting with your team and on a regular schedule. The marketing team at Trello meets three times a week. Contrary to the traditional office setting where meetings can interrupt productivity, a targeted meeting with a remote team can boost productivity, enhance clarity, and improve teamwork. Every meeting should have a clear agenda and a stated desired outcome.

Too Many Meetings

On the flip side, too many meetings can decrease production and hinder creativity. Who wants to break with what they’re doing for another general meeting?

Solution: Settle on a schedule of highly targeted meetings that discuss specific points of a current project. Don’t just meet for the sake of meeting. And don’t be afraid to cancel a meeting when there’s nothing new to say. Save brainstorming for tools like chat rooms, where your team can contribute on a more open schedule. You’ll know you are having the right number of meetings when meaningful conversations happen in each one, and the overall level of miscommunication drops. It takes some experimentation to reach this level, but it’s important to get it right.

No One Knows What the Heck’s Going On

The drawback to working remotely is the possibility of information falling through the cracks. When one team member is unclear about any aspect of a project, it can throw off the entire team.

Solution: More emails are not the solution. Instead, make sure that you’ve provided a detailed project pathway for each team member to follow. Let’s not consider this micromanaging, let’s call this ‘setting expectations.’ And it’s okay to not know everything all at once. Projects change in scope all the time. That’s why you should treat each team member’s project pathway is a living document that’s subject to change.

Don’t worry about giving too much information. This is the one time when oversharing is okay. When you work with a remote team, there’s no such thing as oversharing–as long as it’s about work and not your off-again, on-again relationship status (that’s what Facebook’s for). Defining the project and each team member’s role will be a win all around.

You’re Not Transparent

Absolute transparency is crucial when it comes to managing a remote team, but a lot of team managers are still operating like it’s the 90s–with need-to-know closed door meetings and unclear job parameters.

Solution: Give everyone instant and complete access to all team-facing aspects of the project. Sounds radical? It is. But it’s a brave, new world of working remotely.  If you can’t do this for reasons out of your control, at least allow public access to every document, project, tool, etc. that your team works with. Only restrict access when you have a very specific reason to do so.

When you’re managing a remote team, everyone should understand both his/her responsibilities and the responsibilities of each team member. That way, there’s no blurred lines about who should be doing what. You reduce redundancy, confusion, and hard feelings. And team members can help each other succeed because everyone knows what needs to be done and by whom. Team work makes the dream work (couldn’t resist).

Your Team Feels Disconnected

When you’re working alone, it’s so easy to feel disconnected. Keep in mind that, while remote workers love their independence, each team member is still a part of a whole. And, because of that, it’s important to make them feel connected to you and each other.

How do you do that?

Solution: Establish an open culture with your team. When you create an atmosphere of transparency, you establish trust. The team at Buffer, a social media management tool, is so transparent that everyone on the team knows each other’s salaries, and so can anyone else who’s interested. There’s a public spreadsheet, and it’s updated regularly.

While that may be too radical for you, you can start gently with these two options:

  • Create a ‘just for fun’ or ‘water cooler’ chat channel. Here, set a friendly tone by being open and extroverted (even if you’re an introvert) about your life-- not just your work life.
  • Be accessible (with video). Use tools like Zoom to stay present and instantly video chat one on one with your team members.
There’s No Central Knowledge Base for New Hires

When you bring on a new team member, do you have a dedicated plan for onboarding success? Or, do you find yourself taking time from other resources to send 1,001 emails to your new hire?

Solution: In an effort to minimize emails and maximize your productivity, set up a ‘welcome aboard’ tutorial series. You can create a video tutorial series or a guided tour of your virtual office. Here, introduce team members and pertinent company information. Tools like Dropbox and Google Drive make it easy to create this type of knowledge base. Also consider creating documents that outline common procedures for different elements of the team, which can help get new hires up to speed quickly.

You can also provide new hires (and established team members) with a central knowledge base about your project(s) and the company at large.

Final Thoughts

By communicating with your team frequently but not excessively, offering transparency, and providing access to important resources, you can embrace the new way to work with these easy but crucial shifts in management.

You’re a hero, we know you can do it.

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