5 Tips for Managing a Remote Team

Remote working is on the rise. In fact, it is up 103 percent since 2005. About half of the U.S. workforce now holds a job that is at least partially compatible to remote working arrangements, and about 1 out of 5 U.S. employees now work remotely some of the time. 3.7 million U.S. employees, or just under 3 percent of the total workforce, now work from home at least half of the time. However, over 80 percent would like to work remotely at least partially.

The benefits of allowing your employees to work from home are real. As Forbes recently reported, remote workers are happier, feel more valued by their employers, and are remarkably more productive than office workers are. In fact, according to a survey by employee engagement firm TINYpulse, a staggering 9 out of 10 remote workers feel they get more work done when working remotely as opposed to working in an office.

Moreover, remote working arrangements can actually help save your organization money. Not only will you expand recruiting opportunities by opening up remote roles, you will also save money on overhead costs and conserve space in your office. Even with just a few remote workers, those savings can easily add up into the thousands.

Although the benefits of allowing employees to work from home are real, so are the challenges of managing a remote team. Distance can make management and communication more work. If not managed well, it can generate obstacles to success. However, with the right approach, you can successfully manage a remote team. When it comes to managing your remote employees, here is what you need to keep in mind.

1. Make sure your employees are equipped to work remotely. Before you allow an employee to work remotely, make sure he or she is equipped to do so. Otherwise, you could be setting yourself up for disaster. “The first step you take in managing a remote team should be identifying whether potential employees have the equipment they need at home to work without frequent delays or security risks,” Melissa Thompson explained in Inc. Do they have up-to-date security and encryption software on the devices they will be using to work, including laptops, phones, and tablets? Do they have a good internet connection that will allow them to send large files? Do they have a quiet place to conduct conference calls, if necessary? If you’re going to let employees work remotely, it is your responsibility to ensure they can do so in a productive and secure fashion.

2. Be flexible. Managing a remote team demands a tremendous amount of flexibility. If your workforce spans the globe, you could very well have people working for you around the clock, which can demand long days and oddball hours. If you’re based in New York but your web designer in Hong Kong has an urgent question at 1 p.m. his time – 1 a.m. your time – you might need to make yourself available. It’s not ideal, but if it’s a make or break situation (e.g., your new website can’t launch unless you provide a specific piece of information), your business’s success may depend on it.

“If the thought of logging in to a midnight meeting or holding a coaching session at 3:00 in the morning gives you a mental rush and a blast of energy, you’re on the right track,” Mark Murphy explained in Forbes. He added that there are some things you can do to make life a bit easier if you’re struggling to keep pace with the crazy hours. “If you gravitate towards a 9-to-5 mindset, or if your energy flags after a ‘normal day,’ aspiring to maintain a tireless stream of energy and enthusiasm may sound like a direct route to burnout. Try adapting to a more flexible schedule by including breaks between work ‘sprints’ to keep performance over long periods more consistent.”

Of course, while you should be flexible to manage your employees, don’t also demand that those you are managing keep hectic hours. Be cognizant of time zone differences when setting deadlines, particularly if you have people from disparate time zones working on the same teams. After all, you don’t anyone working through the night.

3. Clearly define goals and objectives. You can’t always look over a remote worker’s shoulder to see what he or she is working on. It is imperative that managers of remote workforces clearly define goals and objectives so it is clear to an employee what he or she needs to deliver. Remember, accountability can be an issue when managing employees remotely, as it can be challenging to stay on track and motivated when there isn’t a boss or manager to physically check in on them. Therefore, it’s your job to adopt a clear project management system that delineates goals and objectives. It can be helpful to break bigger goals into smaller milestones to help employees stay on track.

4. Set clear expectations for communications. Communication always matters a lot in the workforce. However, when it comes to managing your remote workforce, communication matters even more than it usually does. In the absence of direct person-to-person daily contact, managers need to stay in touch with their remote employees to know what they are working on and how they are progressing toward goals and deadlines.  

“One of the biggest challenges in managing remote teams isn’t the actual physical distribution of employees but rather addressing the psychological distance remote employees feel that can impact collaboration. Combating communication limitations helps reduce that psychological distance,” Murphy said, He cautioned that while email is the most used method of communication, it might not necessarily be the best. “Email, while it’s often the most used form of communication within remote teams, is actually the most limited form of communication, and it presents the greatest risk of message misinterpretation. The best managers make remote interaction more like face-to-face by picking up the phone or using video conferencing. They also encourage frequent, two-way dialogue that invites employees to offer input, insights, and opinions.”

Remember, even when you have a remote workforce, meeting in person still matters. Your remote teams should meet face-to-face at some sort of regular interval to ensure good communication and build familiarity and trust with one another.

5. Invest in good tools. From G Suite and Slack to Asana and Freshdesk,  communication and management tools can help you ensure that your remote workforce is communicating well and getting things done on time. Do some research to figure out what kind of tools your team could benefit from, and then put them in place. To ensure people are using these tools, you should integrate them into your organization’s processes.

The bottom line is that remote working does have a number of advantages – including happier and more productive employees – and successful remote working arrangements can help foster the commercial success of your organization. The key is to learn how to manage the challenges of remote working arrangements effectively so you can fully harness the benefits. 10twelve can help you learn more about managing a remote team.