A Business Owner’s Guide To Remote Team Management

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Are you a business owner who has recently shifted to a remote working approach with your team? Or perhaps you’re thinking about offering your employees the choice to work remotely, but you want to know more about how to manage an effective remote working team? 

Either way, you’re in the right place.

It’s reported that a quarter of the U.S. workforce already worked from home pre-pandemic (at least some of the time), and a study by Mercer found that 94% of employers surveyed either reported no change in productivity levels or an increase in productivity among employees. On top of that, Global Workplace Analytics states that surveys show a whopping 80% of employees want the opportunity to work from home at least some of the time.

Managing a virtual team is very different from managing a team in a fixed office environment. So if you want to shift to remote working, it’s important to prepare thoroughly and equip your staff with the right tools and training. The great news is, there’s no better time than now to take the plunge.  

What are the challenges of remote team management?

Here are some of the many benefits of remote work

Advantages for employers

Disadvantages for employers

Here's what you need to know about effective remote team management

Agree ways of working

How do you manage a team working remotely?

You design your ways of working before you roll it out and ensure you and everyone on your team is clear about how you’ll successfully work together remotely.

For example, how will you communicate with each other when an email seems too formal? How often will you have a team catch up? How frequently should everyone check in with you or their manager?

These are all important to consider if you hope to manage an effective remote working team.

Create structures

In an office environment, productivity usually hinges on structures and routines. When you take an employee out of this environment, it’s easy to become disconnected and lose focus.

So, how do you prevent this?

You create a different set of structures and a new team rhythm. 

Have a timetable for when team meetings occur and how frequently they’ll happen. Make sure there’s also a clear structure and time slot for every meeting to avoid wasting anyone’s time (including your own).

If you have staff working in different time zones, rotate meetings so that it’s not always the same employee who has to wake up super early or stay late to join.

Leverage technology

Chances are you’ve already been forced to embrace digitization, whether you like it or not. But it takes time to fully adopt and integrate this seamlessly into your business.

Make a list of all the possible tools and software you think you’ll need (video conferencing, a communication platform for the entire team, faster laptops, access to shared networks, etc.)

If you already have an in-house IT team who deal with all technical problems, you’ll need to make sure they have new instructions on approaching technical challenges once everyone is out of the office. If you don’t yet have a support team, then think about what steps you’ll need to take if an employee cannot complete their daily tasks due to tech issues.

Set and manage expectations

As a business owner, effective remote working centers on setting and managing expectations. 

But what exactly does that mean?

It means your entire team is clear on what they need to do each day and how to communicate with their manager. 

As a general rule, assume nothing. Be explicitly clear.  

How often do you want your employees to check in with their manager? When is the best time for their manager to be reached? If you want coworkers to be sharing information and updates as they go, make sure they know to do so. 

Be clear on which form of communication is appropriate at what time. For example, an instant message might be appropriate if something is urgent, whereas a team meeting might be more suitable if it’s relevant to the whole team.  By sharing information and updates as they go, make sure they know to do so. 

Be flexible

One of the main reasons business owners are apprehensive about shifting to a remote work setup is that it requires them to release a certain amount of control over their employees. Each member of your team has a different home dynamic, and with this comes a unique set of challenges.

For example, spouses, kids, parents, and roommates. Some will have a private space to work; others will be sharing the kitchen table, while others will be overstaying their welcome at Starbucks. My point is, if you never really know what your team is dealing with or going through at any given time, there will inevitably be a misalignment when it comes to expectations. 

Trust your team

If you have to micromanage your staff, then there’s a bigger problem at play that needs addressing.

Perhaps you haven’t been clear with your expectations? Or is your employee not a good fit for their role? Pinpoint the issue and devise a solution.

As a business owner, you have to trust your team to do their jobs without constant supervision. Otherwise, you (and your managers) will never be able to focus on your own tasks and responsibilities.

Schedule enough one-to-one catch-ups where feedback is a two-way street, ensure expectations are communicated clearly, and that everyone is aware of important deadlines and goals.

After that, leave your team to get their jobs done. This is key with remote team management. As long as they’re performing, then don’t worry about how they manage their day-to-day workload.

Ensure they have what they need to perform

We’ve already discussed the importance of leveraging new software to aid your remote team management. Now it’s time to take a look at your equipment and training.

A virtual team will likely need speedier laptops, more capable WiFi, webcams, earphones, and maybe headsets. Although you won’t have to kit out an office with furniture, it’s still important that your employees have the tools they need to perform. For example, a desk to work from, a posture-supporting chair to sit in, and so on. Many businesses will give all team members a small sum of money to set up their home office space.

You also need to think about training. Will your team need coaching or training to use the new systems? Have this in place before you pull the trigger so that everyone is comfortable with all the latest technology. And make sure there’s regular training in place to upskill your team as and when they need it.

Schedule enough one-to-one catch-ups where feedback is a two-way street, ensure expectations are communicated clearly, and that everyone is aware of important deadlines and goals.

Provide a variety of ways to communicate

Email might suffice in an office setting, but when you transition to remote working, you’ll find this quickly becomes insufficient.

What about when you want to hop on a video call? Or your team wants to chat about planning the upcoming staff meetup? Or some of your staff want to collaborate simultaneously on a project?

Video calls offer a personal feel that written communication lacks. Mobile-friendly messaging platforms help teams stay connected in an informal way and reduce social isolation. Whichever tools and software you decide to invest in for your remote team, make sure you’re offering them a healthy mix of ways to communicate.

Connect as a team regularly

Isolation is one of the big challenges with remote team management. How do you recreate that sense of office community when everyone is potentially scattered all over the world?

As I’ve mentioned, regular team meetings with a clear agenda are essential, as are one-to-ones between employees and managers. But it’s equally important to facilitate your team bonding in a non-work-related way.

Enter virtual team building exercises.

Virtual happy hours, pizza parties, and recognition sessions are all the rage these days and can be exactly what everyone needs once in a while to kick back! And if possible, schedule in-person meetups every so often with the whole team so that everyone gets that much-needed face-to-face interaction.

Create a space for sharing

When in an office, most people say good morning to their coworkers and ask them how their weekend was. Face-to-face contact leads to random conversations and catch-ups between employees and helps foster relationships on a deeper level, which is beneficial for everyone’s wellbeing.

Without a physical setup, those opportunities become limited or non-existent. So, how can you mirror this for a remote team?

Make time to have conversations with your team about things other than work. Create a “water cooler” thread on your communication platform where everyone can discuss off-topic things, like what they watched last night on TV or how delicious the sushi is that they’re eating right now for lunch.

Communicate regularly (and mindfully)

It’s all too easy for a business owner to slip into a hands-off approach and only communicate with your team when something has gone wrong. But this quickly leads to low team morale.

Effective remote team management demands that you over-communicate. Whether it’s about a new project, ways of working, something that’s gone wrong, or a job well done—communicate regularly with your team and encourage your managers to do the same.

When you’re not in the same room as someone, you don’t have body language cues to assist you, which is why it’s essential that you listen carefully and try and gain a sense of how people are feeling. Ask questions if you need clarification. This is particularly important when it comes to difficult, sensitive conversations.

Emphasize the importance of a balanced life

How do you manage remote employees successfully when the lines between work and home become so blurry?

It’s important that you and your team take regular breaks away from the desk and computer screen. Encourage staff to outline their working day and schedule time to eat, exercise, and get some fresh air. Even five-minute breaks are better than nothing and can help refresh the mind and prevent burnout.

When work is over, make sure your employees shut down their laptops and avoid checking emails, so they’re able to properly switch off and unwind.

Recognize and celebrate success

This is important regardless of whether you’re working in an office or remotely. Acknowledge a job well done. Be generous with praise when it’s due. Positive encouragement can make the difference between a disengaged team and an invested one.

Consider offering other tokens of appreciation like low-cost perks, public recognition, and opportunities for development. This acts as a strong signal of desired behavior to your whole team and encourages them to follow suit.

Hire people that manage themselves

You can do everything in your power to succeed in remote team management, but after that, a lot depends on how suitable your employees are for the remote working life.

If you’re dealing with a team member who doesn’t have the right work ethic or needs constant hand-holding, leading your remote team can become a struggle. Plus, one person’s negative behavior can have a negative knock-on effect on your entire team.

The solution?

Hire the right people.

Sounds so simple, right?

When hiring new remote employees, traditional resumes and cover letters are unhelpful. What’s more important is that you figure out which qualities are most important for your business and find a way to let candidates show you if they align with your mission.

If you need a little more help with small business leadership or on the hiring front, subscribe to my newsletter with free tips on building a team and learn how you can hire more effectively.

Ready to move to remote working?

Now that you know how to effectively manage a remote team in your business, it’s over to you.

Send a survey around your team to see how everyone feels about the possibility of working remotely. Is there an overwhelming majority who are in favor of it? Listening to your employees and giving them a more flexible way of working will benefit them and your business in the long run.   

Are you ready to take the leap and embrace remote working?

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