10 Essential Tips to Managing Remote Employees
Technology has changed our lives by not only improving how we do things but also by creating entirely new industries too.
In one such industry, software development, technology has brought us different collaboration tools and promised a “follow-the-sun” approach where organizations can now tap into talent just about anywhere in the world.
If you have a team that is spread across multiple continents, you no longer need to worry about the huge management problems that this can entail.
By implementing the right tactical approach and management strategy, you can easily overcome all the challenges that working with remote teams pose.
In this article, I will outline ten essential tips for managing remote employees to help you and your company to do this in a way that maximizes the efficiency of your project management.
Why do we need a remote workforce?
There are numerous advantages to a geographically dispersed team.
Just imagine you are a start-up company that doesn‘t have the funds to spend on infrastructure.
As with most companies, its key asset is its staff, so it makes more sense to invest in talented people rather than in unnecessary infrastructure costs.
A remote workforce enables companies to recruit top global talent, who obviously are unlikely to all be working in the same area while cutting overhead costs and minimizing attrition.
Also, just think, for example, about the number of productive hours you lose when you require your staff to commute to an office every day.
If you have a team of six developers who all take 1 hour to get to work, that‘s a total of 60 wasted hours every working week.
This is simply unnecessary waste. This is time that could be utilized in a more productive manner, helping you get the most out of your team while boosting team morale (just imagine your boss came in and told you that from now on you can work from home).
What is remote employee management?
“With 50% of the workforce working in some sort of telecommuting role and 80 to 90% of all employees saying they would like to work remotely at least part of the time, according to Global Workplace Analytics, offering remote opportunities is an attractive way to gain productive workers.”
Remote employees are a reality that in the coming years many managers are going to have to get used to. It is therefore important that organizations and managers embrace remote team management and quickly get up to speed by learning all the best processes and tricks to ensure they are getting the best from their teams.
What do you think is the most important aspect of managing remote employees?
Trust as a key differentiator
When managers are capable of building a high level of trust within virtual teams, managing remote workers no longer remains a challenge.
Managing a remote team calls for a shift in the conventional managerial mindset. Quite simply, it demands a change in management style. This might be, for many, a challenge in the beginning.
To manage a team that you have never met in person might make it hard for some managers to create the strong bonds required to facilitate trust. Hence, it is our primary responsibility as managers to devise new ways and strategies to break the ice.
There is no denying that remote teams are the future of the workplace. Organizations, whether big or small, are embracing the potentials of remote teams.
There are many different types of virtual teams. The team might belong to a similar geographic area, yet not work from a traditional workplace. In other cases, there might not be any traditional office set-up and employees might work from anywhere across the globe.
For years, multinational companies such as the banks have relied on video conference calls to streamline processes, while the recent rise of the freelancer platform has meant that companies now employ everything from software engineers to blog writers remotely.
The shift in the traditional model calls for a change in the way organizations operate. Operational procedures, strategies, and techniques used in the traditional workplace model will definitely not work while managing remote employees.
Organizations and managers need to adapt to the changing nature of workplaces as well as undertaking training in the latest collaboration tools and technology.
The most crucial link in managing remote employees is having a “laser-focused” communication approach. This means being direct and understanding that factors that are conveyed by body language etc. cannot be via chat rooms or video conference calls.
Challenges of virtual team management
At least 62% of employees between 22 and 65 say they work remotely at least from time to time. The popularity of this work approach is obvious if we take into consideration that 99% of people say they would work remotely if they could.
However, such a working arrangement has its downsides too.
1. Lack of effective communication
It is natural to assume that the absence of regular face-to-face meetings results in ineffective communication. This view might prove to be a big hindrance if companies don’t understand which collaboration tools to use to bridge the gap.
Remote teams will be ineffective if communication is inadequate. This will obviously have a deep impact on their productivity. It is the responsibility of every manager to set up all the right communication channels and to ensure that they are being used.
Communication channels can be used for everything from live training sessions, video conferences, and other online activities to increase day-to-day interactions.
2. Lack of social interaction
Human beings are social animals. In a traditional workplace setting, team members engage in formal and informal communication. They look forward to their regular breaks and also different team activities, which promote bonding and a sense of belonging. In cases of disputes, face-to-face meetings help solve problems quickly and efficiently.
Remote workers might feel drained or demotivated because there is no working relationship between team members. Online tools come to the rescue at such times. Be aware that informal chats, meetings, and even activities can be used with remote teams.
A clear structure of goals and performance levels is essential. If a member falls behind then schedule a call with them and address the issue. If they feel low morale or have an issue with the project’s direction, for example, then propose some solutions in order to overcome it.
3. Is trust compromised?
One of the most common questions that comes first-time remote manager‘s minds is, “How do I trust someone I have never met?” This is an issue that all members of the team must overcome if they are to work online. We trust our office workers to undertake the tasks that we set for them, without feeling the need to constantly monitor them, so it is not a huge leap to do the same with remote workers.
Geographically dispersed teams work in different time zones and often the overlapping hours of work are minimal. There will always be a wait time before responses are received, so this can raise doubts and uncertainties in the minds of team members.
Managers play an important role here. Firstly, they need to be adaptive. Put in place rules regarding response times. Establish the expected time-frame for message replies.
Also, schedule regular team meetings, where the entire team can be updated on the progress of the project, including the daily tasks, challenges faced, and reviewing key performance feedback data, etc.
A key point here is that managers need to very diligent and thorough with rolling out clear expectations as well as defining the outcome.
Also, it is vital that they build confidence and trust at the very outset to maximize team performance.
Here are “5 Tips for Building Trust in a Virtual Team.”
4. Cross-cultural teams
Different cultures mean different customs, habits, and indeed behaviors. What is acceptable to one ethnic group might be considered rude by another.
How do we overcome cultural diversity?
Well, it‘s simple. Managers should be sensitive to different cultural values and beliefs. The Japanese, for example, are not accustomed to disagreeing with their managers. While, on the other hand, Americans find such practices more acceptable.
A quick search on cultural norms for the country concerned will provide you with all the information that you need. Learn more on how you can manage “Cultural diversity in virtual teams” here.
5. Different locations mean new challenges
Remote teams working in different time zones might seem like a nightmare. While the “follow-the-sun” approach has been widely promoted by organizations, it is true that it has some pitfalls as well.
Being a part of a team that never sleeps means that work is being done round the clock. However, it is likely that it will be difficult to find a common time when all remote team members are present for meetings or any team-building activities.
The challenge for the managers is to minimize the overlap time and find a time that is best suited for the entire remote team. Once again, establishing strict guidelines before you commence your project is essential.
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Some collaboration tools will even allow video conference calls to be recorded in the event that a team member is absent. Others allow notes to be recorded to help all missing team members quickly get back up to date.
10 tips for managing remote employees
Remote employees span across numerous industries and disciplines. Developers, programmers, content marketers, project managers, designers, campaign managers, digital strategists, finance analysts, human resources specialists, market research analysts are just a few of the many examples.
There are numerous common strategies and techniques that can be used to ensure that organizations make the most of virtual teams. Managers are the common glue that binds remote teams together. Their attitude, management style, and communication skills are of paramount importance for effective team management.
DevTeam.Space’s CEO, Alexey Semeney, will host a webinar “How to Minimize Your Business Losses – Learn How to Achieve High-Efficiency Results With Your Remote Development Team.” Sign up for it and polish your remote team management skills.
The key to team success is a manager making sure to identify and hire the best candidate. This person must have all the necessary skills and be 100% committed to the project.
Here’s how to manage remote employees and built a culture of trust among your team.
1. Hire the right candidate
When it comes to managing remote employees is doing your homework thoroughly before hiring them. Give them mock situations, present scenarios, and analyze how they perform in challenging situations. Pay extra attention to attitude, personality, approach, and mindset, as well as motivation.
2. Have the Right Onboarding Process in Place
Once a remote team member is hired, ensure that the employee goes through the entire onboarding process. This will help the team member understand the company‘s goals and objectives and also give an understanding of relevant job functions etc. During this time, managers should set up clear expectations and review work practices, etc.
3. Define expectations and outcome clearly
No team member should be able to say that they didn‘t realize they were meant to be doing something or that they didn‘t know how to do it. This is a management issue. If, for example, your team is developing a new application and must put code in a repository at the end of each day, then this should be set out in the guidelines. Punishment should be clear for any team member that fails to do so.
Set up timelines and well-defined procedures to avoid conflict. For example; all emails need to be responded to within 24 hours or that remote team members need to update their availability at a specific time daily.
4. Invest time and effort to build trust
Much as with a conventional office team, investing time into a team will do the world of good. If a team member needs help then make sure you are there when they need it. Some companies even choose to offer their remote team members training and personal development.
Many software development companies choose to have their team‘s code reviewed so that each member can get feedback and training if required. This helps companies build morale and trust in their teams.
Invest in the team by addressing employees’ concerns, maintaining open communication, upholding the trust, paying them on time (this is very important) and taking a key interest in remote employees’ career goals and aspirations.
Be careful not to overdo it as this might have the reverse effect. Daily chat communication is fine, but keep calls to a once a week schedule unless necessary.
5. Choose the right collaboration tools
Be sure to invest in reliable collaboration tools to promote productivity. Tools such as Slack allow companies to open multiple channels to manage teams. This means that they can chat with specific areas of the team such as the frontend or backend developers without bothering the rest of the team.
Collaboration tools like email, file sharing platform, web chat, instant messaging platform, screen sharing software, project management tools have proved to be of immense value when used correctly. Generally speaking, these days, emails are used to communicate with clients or send official documents, while chat tools are great for managing team members.
For a great guide on “14 Collaboration Tools for Small Business” read this article. Be prudent about choosing the one so that it best fits your needs.
6. Build an effective and dynamic team
I can‘t stress enough the importance of spending sufficient time and energy to create a well-rounded team. A good team is a manager’s greatest asset.
For more information on how to manage a great software development team, read this article.
7. Create an open culture
Foster a culture where remote team members reach out to one another without hesitation. Encourage peer-reviews so that team members can appreciate as well as critique other team member‘s work.
Address issues honestly and directly. However, always frame criticisms in the context of a positive response to their work.
Initiate best-practices sharing as part of team meetings for the benefit of the virtual team.
8. Don‘t micromanage
Have trust in your team. Managers should brief their team by clearly laid down processes and responsibilities. After that, they need to trust their team and let them get on with the tasks.
Managers should make sure the team is hitting its performance targets and immediately address mistakes made by team members. However, once the issue is addressed the manager must give the team members the freedom to continue their work.
Micromanaging robs team members of their flexibility and gives rise to conflicts.
Manage the dynamics of a remote team with these “3 Proven Strategies for Leading Virtual Teams.”
9. Blur the line between local employees and remote employees
Don‘t differentiate between local and virtual employees.
Remote employees should not face any hurdle in completing their day-to-day tasks and should have easy access to all tools and processes, similar to local employees.
10. Be Flexible
While meeting deadlines is a must, you should be aware that productivity doesn’t mean expecting your team to clock in and out. The mantra of the new age says “work smarter, not harder.”
This means that you should allow your team to identify what their prime time during the day is, and complete their tasks when they’re their most productive selves.
By hovering above their heads all the time, you’ll only ruin their focus and make them feel nervous, which is bad for their productivity and results.
So, remember that a regular, 9-to-5 schedule doesn’t work for many employees nowadays.
Great Collaboration tools for virtual employees
Identifying and using the right collaboration tools are key to managing virtual teams effectively.
• Slack is a group messaging platform that enables real-time communications between local and remote employees.
• Trello is a project management tool that keeps the project team updated on each assigned task. Trello helps track tasks and overall project progress using movable cards.
• Zoom is a screen-sharing/video-conferencing tool that promotes face-to-face meetings with remote teams
• Asana helps create and assign tasks to a project and track the progress of each task using various browsers or devices.
• Google Drive is a shared file management system, which makes resources easily available to remote teams.
By paying close attention to the tips provided about, managers with no experience in managing remote employees can quickly get up to speed. Those individuals already managing remote teams will back me up when I say that remote management, while certainly coming with some new challenges, can be as easy as managing office teams provided you put in place the right processes.