Remote teams are here to stay: so say Forbes and Glassdoor. Though there is still resistance against the idea of it–Yahoo and Reddit, for example, axed their remote work policies in recent years– it’s undeniable that remote work will be an integral element of the workplace of the future. Despite this resistance, there already are companies that are built entirely on fully remote teams.
As long as you have remote workers on the payroll, it’s vital to understand that managing virtual teams presents a different (but not insurmountable) set of challenges.
Effective communication is key for the performance of any team, but when it comes to remote workers, it’s indispensable in maintaining engagement and accountability.
P.S. Take a step closer to mastering effective remote team management today with SSA Academy’s WSQ course on leading virtual teams!
A lot of the general resistance against remote work comes down to role ambiguity. The perception is that since you can’t see the people you work with, it’s much easier to slip into uncertainty. What exactly is a remote worker expected to do? How is their performance measured? Are they getting work done at all?
With remote teams, the answers to these questions are presumed to be relatively open-ended. Companies thus shy away from remote work because of this.
Clearly, though, managers can easily minimise this ambiguity if they ensure that they set clear expectations for their remote teams right from the start.
Independence and a can-do mindset are crucial qualities for remote workers. Even then, a lack of clarity about how to gauge one’s performance can easily thwart these qualities. Managers need to communicate their expectations of their remote workers in terms of performance.
Be as specific as possible about what has to be delivered, the timeframes for delivery, and any other crucial performance indicators.
People who opt for remote work generally tend to do so because they prefer flexibility in their work schedules. Managers need to communicate the degree of flexibility that each remote worker will have. This differs from company to company and team to team.
For example, you might allow each person to determine what time they start and end work, but mandate a compulsory time for everyone to be online at the same time every day. The bottom line is that you need to communicate exactly what flexibility looks like to you and your team.
One of the most common reasons for the push against remote work is the fear that remote workers aren’t going to be putting in the work. For that reason, virtual team managers need to make ownership and accountability an integral part of the company and team culture.
Remote workers will spend most of their working hours being alone. Thus, it’s vital to look for people who are effective communicators and can work well independently.
Maximise your team’s usage of various digital productivity tools to help keep remote workers accountable. Buffer’s fully remote team, for example, uses iDoneThis to send in daily updates on what work each person accomplished for the day.
If you need something more comprehensive, use project management tasks like Asana to ensure that everyone can access each other’s daily workloads and schedules.
Alternatively, if your remote team members are in the same time zone, you can choose to hold daily Scrum meetings. This is where each member shares what they did the previous day and what they have to do today.
Giving and receiving regular feedback is vital to ensure that your team remains dynamic, adaptable, and engaged. However, even teams that have the privilege of being physically together tend to fall short of this measure. Traditional corporate culture tends to leave feedback to the rare performance review.
When you’re managing a remote team, it’s even more vital to ensure that this doesn’t occur. You need to ensure that you’re constantly in touch with your people virtually so that they don’t feel out of the loop or isolated from the rest of the team.
It starts from the onboarding process; make it a point to formally introduce new team members to everyone else. At the same time, right from the start, set the right tone to let everyone know that feedback is always welcome. Importantly, communicating that learning is a top priority is vital in getting people in the right mindset for giving and receiving regular feedback.
Managers need to set aside time for individual virtual sessions with everyone on the team. Use the time to check in on each team member. People need to know and feel that their managers don’t see them as company minions; they need to know that they’re valued and cared for.
Use the time to:
Psychological safety is the most critical ingredient for team performance. Remote teams are no different in this regard. Since they have less face-to-face time than traditional teams, it’s even more important to ensure that they trust and feel safe with each other.
Allowing the team to build rapport with one another is also crucial in facilitating the kind of comfort that allows people to be more forthcoming in giving and receiving feedback.
Consider making it compulsory for everyone on your team to have a virtual bio that reads like a DIY manual for how to interact with them. Use these to share personal interests, preferred communication mediums, regular online timings, communication styles, and so on.
Virtual teams don’t have the benefit of a physical water cooler, team lunches, or drinks after work. Hence, it’s vital to help simulate a similar experience to help build rapport.
Establishing chatrooms or channels for non-work related communication is much more useful than it seems. For example, Zapier holds weekly virtual sessions where everyone is online at the same time. They use these sessions for “lightning talks, demos, or interviews.”
Having a physical meetup a few times a year can go a long way in facilitating team bonding and networking. Most importantly, for people who spend most of their time working together virtually, putting a face to the username gives a huge boost to rapport.
For that reason, Buffer sets aside time and money for a regular physical company retreat. Every 5 months, their fully remote team spends a week together in a different location around the world. They take advantage of the physical proximity to work on new projects together, while also engaging in recreational activities on the weekend.