In the changing business landscape, remote or hybrid models of work are on the rise. According to Forbes, 12.7% of full-time employees worked from home in 2023, and an additional 28.2% adopted a hybrid model, working both at home and in the office. Effective remote team management strategies are more important than ever.
This trend, accelerated due to necessity by the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to team management emerging as a crucial skill for entrepreneurs. The digital age has not only expanded the horizons for businesses to operate in a global market but also introduced the complexity of managing teams across various time zones and cultures.
This article delves into the nuances and best practices of remote team management, offering guidance to entrepreneurs seeking to navigate this new challenge successfully.
Strategy 1: Embrace Effective Communication Tools
At the heart of remote team management is communication. The absence of a physical office space should not be a barrier to effective interaction among team members.
Utilizing tools such as Slack for instant messaging, Zoom for video conferencing, and Trello for project management can help bridge the gap. These tools help in maintaining a steady flow of information, ensuring that all team members are on the same page.
It’s worth instituting some conduct or usage rules for these remote platforms, however. When workers are on a Zoom call, they probably shouldn’t be doing the housework or relaxing in a bubble bath (unless you have a particularly relaxed corporate culture).
It’s important to set ground rules for conduct when remote communication is the default method of expression, rather than face to face gatherings. Nuances can be lost, and people often feel freer to express themselves bluntly in written communication. Who hasn’t sent or received an annoyingly passive aggressive email or text?
By setting boundaries and standards in advance, everyone knows what’s to be expected, and what won’t be tolerated, and this will help the team cohere by fostering a respectful culture.
Strategy 2: Build a Strong Remote Team Management Culture
Speaking of culture, a positive company culture is vital for team cohesion and morale, particularly in a remote setting.
This can be harder to achieve remotely since many of the encouraging behaviors that occur in physical offices are hard to replicate remotely. The pep talks over lunch, nights out after work and rounds of applause must be replaced in some manner.
Entrepreneurs should strive to create an inclusive environment that transcends physical barriers. This can be achieved through regular virtual team-building activities, celebrating team achievements, and encouraging open communication.
In a sense, there’s no such thing as remote working, since for it to succeed, efforts should be taken to bring people together, even if it’s just for a virtual social over Zoom.
Empathic leadership is key here. A culture that supports work-life balance and acknowledges the diverse backgrounds of team members can lead to a more engaged and productive team. If you celebrate Christmas, you should also do something for Diwali, Eid, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa.
The few times you do meet the whole team in person should be especially celebratory. This is the time to splash out, making sure any chosen venue is accessible to disabled workers, and provides alcohol free drinks and options for people with food intolerances, preferences, and cultural prohibitions.
Strategy 3: Foster Collaboration and Encourage Innovation
One of the upsides of remote working is that, without constant monitoring, creatives can feel freer to experiment and innovate. Encourage this where possible, while ensuring creatives are provided with regular feedback and, where necessary, course correction.
Collaboration and innovation should not be stifled by the lack of a shared physical workspace. Encouraging brainstorming sessions through virtual whiteboards, using cloud-based collaboration tools, and setting up online innovation challenges can keep the creative juices flowing.
It is crucial for leaders to facilitate an environment where ideas are freely exchanged, and team members feel valued and heard. Once more, this may mean setting some ground rules, but that’s okay.
Workers appreciate boundaries being set and feel safer sharing unusual suggestions and honest feedback when they are supported by management in so doing.
Strategy 4: When Sharing Briefs, be Clear and Concise
If you use a remote tool like Notion or Monday to share project briefs, make sure these have been read and understood by all team members before work commences. It’s worth having a Zoom meeting and going through the brief point by point to ensure than nothing is missed or miscommunicated. What can seem self-evident is often nothing of the sort.
Another way to clarify a brief is by recording a demonstration video and sharing that with your team. This adds interpersonal communication cues to the written instructions it accompanies.
In general, project briefs should be:
- Concise – containing no more information than required, but everything that’s essential.
- Clear – avoid ambiguous or vague language. Don’t use “may” when you mean “must.”
- Easy to find – when lots of messages are circulating, it can be hard to locate that single email containing a link to the brief. Use the subject header wisely to help your workers out.
- Realistic – ask yourself honestly if the desired outcome can be achieved with the resources allocated.
To reiterate, where possible, talk it through in person before giving your employees the freedom to get to work.
Overcoming Common Remote Team Management Challenges
Remote team management comes with a unique set of challenges, including time zone differences, communication breakdowns, and feelings of isolation among team members.
To combat these, it’s essential to have regular check-ins, provide clear and concise communication, and foster a sense of community. The cadence of these one-to-ones and team meetings (you should try to do both) will depend on the general working patterns of your business. If you have a weekly cycle, the chances are you’ll need weekly meetings.
Other businesses might be more self-regulating and require only a monthly check-in to ensure everyone is happy, working well, and hitting those KPIs and deadlines.
By following the four strategies listed above, you’ll ensure your team are happy, properly briefed, and energized to succeed. By addressing any challenges head-on, you’ll enhance team efficiency and morale.
Hiring and Onboarding Remote Employees
The hiring process for remote teams requires a different approach. Look for candidates who are self-motivated, have excellent communication skills, and are comfortable with technology. Hopefully, they will already have some experience working remotely, and own the necessary technology to succeed.
This may include landlines, cell phones, internet access, computers, and connectivity. You may have to absorb the cost of bringing some remote workers’ home offices up to spec. Devices can also be loaned, with the understanding that they must be returned if the employee moves on.
The onboarding process should be thorough, providing new hires with the necessary tools and understanding of the company culture and expectations.
Many companies adopt a policy of new starters working with experienced colleagues face-to-face before being left to their own devices. This also allows you to oversee any mandatory training and onboarding processes all employees should complete.
Setting Clear Goals and Expectations
Clarity is key in remote team management. Setting clear, achievable goals and transparent expectations helps in aligning team efforts towards common objectives.
Utilizing tools like OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) can be effective in tracking progress and keeping everyone accountable. These can be set during one-to-ones with each employee and can be reviewed at subsequent meetings.
Set a goal or objective the same way you’d agree the parameters of a brief and expend the same effort clarifying task volume and anticipated outcomes.
Make sure you celebrate success too, potentially by partnering with a rewards or incentive platform that offers bonuses, gifts, discounts, or other perks. Virtual leaderboards can be particularly effective with sales and marketing teams, where internal competition is part of the culture.
Leveraging Technology to Streamline Workflows
Technology is the enabler of effective remote team management.
From cloud-based document sharing to time-tracking tools, the right technology stack can significantly streamline workflows. It’s important to continuously explore and integrate new technologies that can improve efficiency and team collaboration.
However, keep in mind that it’s harder to manage change remotely, so don’t change things up constantly. When you do introduce new technologies, allow time for adequate training and onboarding, and make sure everyone is honest about how well they understand a system before it goes live.
Remote Working isn’t Remotely Over
Managing a remote team is an art that requires patience, empathy, and a good selection of tools and strategies. And with remote and hybrid working trending upwards, it’s clear it’s here to stay.
By focusing on effective communication, fostering a strong company culture, and utilizing collaborative technology, entrepreneurs can lead their remote teams to success.
As the world continues to embrace remote or hybrid working, mastering the art of remote team management is no longer an option for entrepreneurs; it’s a necessity.
Incorporating these strategies into your remote team management approach will not only enhance team productivity but also contribute to the overall growth and sustainability of your business in the coming years.