You’ve made the leap and joined the growing ranks of companies with remote workforces.
The benefits are myriad: You’ve vastly expanded your candidate pool, you don’t have to shell out for office space and you’ve got coverage across time zones.
But managing remote workers can come with its own set of challenges as well. Let’s explore some keys to successfully manage remote teams.
Process doesn’t mean creating a series of hoops to jump through, but rather building a blueprint for your structure. Process means clearly defining the series of steps you need to take in order to complete a given task.
Record your activities, scenarios, problems and solutions. You need to set things in writing, but also make sure they’re not written in stone.
Your process should be a living document that everyone on your team not only has access to, but can comment on and edit. Inevitably, it will evolve as your business grows and you hire new team members.
Remote startup Buffer famously has a flat structure. Without managers, its employees feel more empowered to make important decisions that move the company forward. The more important the decision, the more colleagues they’ll consult, in a wider range of roles. Employees gain more expertise, and sh*t gets done more quickly. It’s a win-win for everyone.
A flat structure might not be the right approach for everyone, but the above example does illustrate the importance of cross-functional teamwork. When working remotely, it’s all too easy for employees to develop a narrow focus and lose the grander perspective of the company. Developing a culture of collaboration will ensure that no one gets tunnel vision.
Needless to say, your remote employees can’t just walk over to your desk and ask you a question when they’re seeking advice. Everyone’s physically isolated, but you still need to feel connected to each other. Without proximity to tie you together, you need to work even harder at facilitating open communication.
First, establish when you’re going to come together–daily, bi-weekly, weekly, etc. Whatever you want to call these sessions–stand ups, check-ins, powwows–just make sure you’re doing them regularly. When you lack those casual touchpoint opportunities you have in an office, you have to be more intentional and organized about checking in. The purpose of these meetings isn’t so much to measure progress but more to see if your employees need help with any bottlenecks or have thoughts to share. Of course, these are good times to bounce new ideas and to set agenda items, too.
Second, figure out how you’re going to come together. You’re lacking the human connection of an office setting, so video calls via Skype of Google Hangouts may do a better job of building rapport than plain old audio calls. Email is becoming an increasingly annoying and unproductive mode of communication, but you still want a text-based tool. Consider a chat application like Slack or HipChat, which both facilitate breezy water cooler conversation and business updates. You can create channels accessible to the entire team so no one’s out of the loop, as well as access backlogged messages.
Working remotely offers many advantages to employers and employees, which is why it’s becoming increasingly popular. Employers can recruit and attract more employees, who are in turn likely to be more productive and report greater job satisfaction. In order to realize these outcomes, it’s critical to establish process, collaboration and communication when you manage remote teams.
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Communication is key. Also, it helps if it is managed by someone you know. It cannot be completely remote because that will mean that you have no control over the results. It should still be managed even though the team is far away.
Aira, I completely agree that some centralization is important for managing remote teams. This becomes even more important as teams grow larger and there’s an increased likelihood that colleagues don’t know each other.