In the wake of the corona crisis, remote workforces are booming. During the height of the pandemic, millions of workers set up home offices, in an abrupt shift to work online.
Now, as the first wave of the pandemic ebbs in many countries while hitting another crest in the US, it is becoming increasingly clear that remote teams are here to stay. In a recent poll, 77% of executives stated that they would be maintaining the current level of remote work, or even expanding it.
But, as many have discovered, managing a remote team poses a set of unique challenges. To meet them, new strategies and skills are necessary.
Considering that remote workforces will shape the business landscape in the long run, now is the time to focus on developing and employing them.
Here are five fundamental strategies that can help you to sustainably manage a remote team.
1 Set Expectations
When team members are working away from offices, the biggest productivity killer is a lack of structure. The first step in providing such a structure, and with it a solid basis for productivity, is to establish fixed expectations for every team member.
What do they need to do? Until when? When do they need to be reachable? Who do they report to? Who can they contact in the case of difficulties?
By answering these questions clearly, you establish a framework in which your remote team can thrive. Not only will each team member be aware of their own role and work requirements, but they will also know who to reach out to with what kind of issue. With the implementation of cloud computing, it has become easier to work from home.
A virtual agile environment is created through which you can monitor, edit, and even work together on a single platform. It not only reduces the overhead costs but also enhances the productivity and efficiency in a workforce.
Despite the technology, it will take some time for almost every individual in a workforce to adapt to such an environment. According to a renowned psychologist you tend to work in a more productive way only when the environment suits your work style.
2 – Schedule Check-Ins – And Stick to Them
With modern technology, holding virtual meetings is fast and easy like never before. However, holding too many meetings is a serious pitfall when it comes to managing remote teams.
Nobody wants to yawn their way through department-wide Zoom conferences that barely concern them. Especially since they could productively work on their individual assignments instead.
You can avoid this pitfall by scheduling fixed check-ins, sticking to the times that are set, and avoiding unnecessarily (video-)calling team members to see how they are doing.
The check-in schedule will take some initial tweaking in terms of frequency, scheduling, and gathering participants. Once set up, though, it provides temporal touch-points around which your team members can reliably structure their own activities.
Not constantly monitoring team members, or keeping them tied up in conferences, also demonstrates your trust in them and fosters independence.
Finally, you should invest time in finding the right tool for these check-ins, and team communication tools in general. Zoom may seem like the obvious choice for most teams, but there is a growing wealth of alternatives out there. Plus – many team collaboration platforms also include native (video-)calling functionalities.
With apps like zoom, google meet up, etc. you can always check in on your teammates. You can monitor the progress of a project by sharing your screens through these platforms. There is also this application called the Team Viewer which allows you to access your team’s desktop despite staying where you are.
This allows you to save time and helps you generate better results. A scheduled check-in should be set so that you are well updated on the work that is going on and can plan the next set of actions accordingly.
3 – Select the Right Team Collaboration Tool
Team collaboration tools are essential prerequisites for a distributed workforce. Depending on the platform, team managers and members can assign, schedule, and track tasks, message each other individually or in groups, make voice and video calls, share files, produce reports, and collaborate on documents.
Most also provide integrations with other popular business platforms.
Considering the wide variety of team collaboration tools currently available, and their varying features and capabilities, researching which tool best fits the needs of your team pays off in the long run.
Among the most popular collaboration tools currently available are Slack, which organizes workflows through discussion channels, Trello, a straightforward project management tool, and Basecamp, which targets bigger teams and supports entire companies. Asana is a choice if highly detailed reports are needed.
Depending on how big your team is, how varied its tasks, and which budget you are working with, you are sure to find the right fit for you.
With the ongoing global pandemic, it might be hard for some workforces to cope with the latest technology and thereby work on a specific platform. Workforces should give the employees the freedom to work on platforms in which they are comfortable with. This not only enhances the productivity of a team but also reduces the downtime to a considerable extent.
4 – Promote a Healthy Work-Life Balance
Employees working from a home office often struggle to maintain a healthy balance between their private and business lives. If the office is only a few paces away from the bedroom, it is tempting to quickly check emails before going to sleep. And it is ever so much harder to relax on the couch in the evening when the latest sales figures are beckoning from the laptop on the desk in the corner.
One of the most important strategies for successfully managing a remote team, in the long run, is to ensure team members’ physical and mental health.
A crucial step in doing so is safeguarding personal time: Make clear that work times need to be adhered to with few set exceptions, and discourage work encroaching on their free time.
A simple, but very effective strategy is to set definitive limits on when team members need to be reachable. And actively encourage them to switch off work devices outside these times.
Managing the work balance while staying at home is quite difficult. You might be asked to work more than usual as you are at home. This should not be promoted. Just how previously a specific time was allotted for work, a similar procedure should be followed.
The employees should be asked to fix a specific time and during this time they should not indulge in any household chores. Likewise, they should not be disturbed when they have some leisure time. This way you can expect them to generate better results.
5 – Foster Team Spirit and Social Interaction
No chats at the water cooler, no gossip at the coffee cart, no shared lunch hour. Social relationships among team members suffer during remote work. To foster team spirit, and make collaboration run smoothly, provide your team with opportunities for social interactions, and encourage them.
Whether it’s a gossip/chat channel on Slack or a WhatsApp group for non-work topics (such as sharing pictures of pets and children, recipes, or weekend stories), setting up channels to exchange private tidbits will weld your team together. A friendly atmosphere should be created so that everyone feels free to express their thoughts,
Another great opportunity to boost team morale are events during which participants can let their hair down together, such as cocktail hour Zoom sessions.
Finally, teams also unite over more creative endeavors such as creating a shared playlist to listen to during work, discussing productivity strategies, or drawing up a common collection of recipes. The best way to motivate your team is by listening to everyone’s opinions and choosing the most suitable suggestion by taking everyone’s decision into account.
The Bottom Line
Until now, many businesses have worked with remote teams only to bridge the height of the pandemic, in the full expectation of going back to normal once it is over.
But it is becoming increasingly clear that remote work will only continue to gain in importance. This means that developing strategies to sustainably manage distributed teams is crucial.
With the right strategies based on the fundamental principles of managing remote teams, a distributed workforce becomes a solid business foundation, not just an emergency measure.
Only time will tell how employees will adapt to the current situation and how long it will take for them to generate specific results.