Remote work is a long-lasting change from the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 10% of the B2B community we surveyed for the 2021 B2B Buying Disconnect said that they would prefer to never return to the office. Recent studies have identified remote work as “an overwhelming success” in terms of productivity and positivity towards remote work.
Fortunately, there are 7 core tips and best practices that will help manage any remote team. In this article, we’ll be discussing how to:
- Have a Daily Check-In
- Communicate With Remote Workers. A Lot.
- Use Technology to Enable Remote Teams
- Manage Expectations
- Focusing on Outcomes, Not Activity
- Provisioning and Funding Employees’ Remote Workplaces
- Being Flexible
This article will provide guidance for managers who are either entirely new to the role or inexperienced managing remote employees. It can also help managers looking to improve their existing practices. The guide includes some guiding principles behind successful remote teams and management. It also highlights common challenges to be aware of and best practices that can improve any distributed team, any time.
Challenges in Managing Remote Teams
“Know thy enemy” may be overused to the point of “buzzword” status, but it’s also not wrong. Understanding the challenges that your remote workers are experiencing, or are likely to experience, is crucial to effectively supporting and enabling them. Some of the most common challenges managers face are around motivating a remote team, communicating effectively when an in-person lunch or 1×1 is not an option, and even getting visibility into productivity (“How do I know if my employee is working?”),.
Managers must also keep in mind that not everyone faces identical challenges around remote work. Mid-career parents are likely to face very different working conditions and obstacles than someone right out of college living on their own. Individuals also face all kinds of personal challenges separate from their demographic profile that can nonetheless impact their work. Communication and responsiveness are essential to managers having a clear understanding of what challenges their remote workers are facing and what the manager can do about it.
Keys to Successful Remote Teams
Doron Gower of KMS Lighthouse said the following on managing remote teams:
“A major part of managing a team is ensuring that information and collective knowledge is easily available and shared by all team members. When your team works remotely, knowledge availability becomes an issue.
In order to ensure your remote team has all the tools and information they need in order to execute meaningful and productive client-facing interactions, I recommend that companies devise an actionable roadmap for the creation, storage, updating and access to shareable information. Once enacted and knowledge is routinely collected and shared, your work is not done. Make sure to gather feedback, analyze it and use insights to constantly improve workflows.”Doron Gower, Chief Solution Architect at KMS Lighthouse
On the manager’s side, remote teams are successful if they have a culture of trust and transparency. If the manager lacks trust, or can’t trust, their remote workers, then self-reliance and independence are also impossible. This requires not only employees to be transparent and trustworthy about their own work and productivity, but also managers to reciprocate that trust and allow employees to work in the ways that are most productive for each individual.
Self-reliance, independence, trust, and transparency are all easier said than done.
The most common issues you will face deal with motivation and communication. The realties of remote work require managers to trust their employees to succeed with less supervision. In managing a remote team, this will be vital for you. Communication is different, but not impossible with a remote team. The tips below are designed to help you collaborate and manage in ways that will work anywhere
By following these practices and mitigating common challenges remote workers face, managers can support remote workers with 1) regular, structured check-ins; 2) multiple communication options (and established norms for each; 3) opportunities for social engagement; and 4) ongoing encouragement and emotional support. While the specifics may vary by individual, these practices will set a strong foundation for any remote team.
7 Tips and Best Practices for Managing a Remote Team
1) Have a Daily Check-In
Remote teams don’t have the office advantage of walking by someone’s desk to see how a project is going. Managers can’t even gauge how their team members are doing personally based on mood or body language. Reaching out over a chat service like Slack or scheduling time on someone’s calendar can also be awkward or disruptive to productivity.
Daily check-ins provide a standing meeting to overcome these challenges. They help managers stay in the loop on what’s happening with the rest of their teammates. It also provides a set, low-stakes time for remote workers to speak up.
The purpose for these check-ins is simple. Set an agenda, get an update from remote employees, and provide the feedback and resources that remote workers need.
Daily check-ins should be a face-to-face interaction via video whenever possible. For smaller teams, this can be a group check-in that gives team members visibility into their peers’ work and experiences as well. For larger teams or members that require specific help, one-on-one check-ins may be required to give everyone room to be heard. Even a five minutes meeting can be impactful. These check-ins can provide much of the input that managers need to know how to effectively support and enable remote teams.
2) Communicate With Remote Workers a Lot
One of the most challenging aspects of working from home is a sense of professional loneliness and social isolation. This distance from the people they spend 8+ hours a day working with can be challenging for anyone, but especially for younger employees. This impact also goes beyond emotional struggles.
Remote work makes it harder for employees to casually, or passively, share knowledge. Whether it’s from overhearing others’ conversations, running into someone in the breakroom, or ad hoc chats between meetings, this passive or ambient knowledge is difficult to replicate in a remote environment.
The solution to this issue is to communicate as effectively as possible. This is true for training new employees and keeping veterans up to speed. Much of this list focuses on communication because it is such an issue in remote work.
There can be too much of a good thing. Managers have to balance “communicating often” with overcommunicating and turning into white noise to remote teams. A key way to balance the frequency of communication is to find the communication channels that work best for the remote team in question. That may be email, Slack, or a less conventional channel like Discord. The important part is to find what works for the team.
Managers must remember that communication is a two-way street. Supervisors must be willing to listen as well as talk across channels. This ensures that their remote workers feel heard, listened to, and taken seriously. Communicating virtually can at times feel like shouting into the void. It’s up to managers to turn that into a mutual conversation.
3) Use Technology to Enable Remote Teams
The medium of communication and collaboration can be as important to a remote team’s success as the activities themselves. The basics that every team should have include:
- Web and Video Conferencing Solutions
- Instant Messaging/Chat/Collaboration
- Project Management Tools
- Social Interaction Solutions
- Device Security Solutions
There are specialized products that certain teams may also want to leverage. These include help desk platforms or remote desktop tools. The most heavily used tools are likely to be video conferencing and collaboration tools. This reliance is why Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other collaboration tools have risen in prominence in the last year.
Managers should make sure that their teams have access to all the necessary tools. They also have to check that said tools are actually meeting the team’s needs better than alternative products. Many leaders in these markets have ramped up their offerings in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Managers should examine legacy offerings, in particular, to see if a better fit has entered the market recently. Reviews of these products will often highlight whether the product is effective for remote teams in particular.
4) Manage Expectations
Expectations can be a tricky area for managers to manage and maintain in general, and especially challenging for remote workers (see the communications conversation above). Managers should counterbalance this challenge by intentionally setting clear expectations early.
This can be for larger goals, like OKRs. It should also apply to day-to-day expectations, such as defining “work hours”. Making a habit of setting expectations is a good practice for managers in general. This practice is particularly impactful for remote teams.
Like communication in general, managing expectations is a two-way street. Managers and employees alike should be able to establish what they expect from the other. Both parties can also push back and manage unrealistic or unhealthy expectations. Part of managing expectations is setting boundaries. Clear boundaries are essential for maintaining a healthy work-life balance. This is crucial to avoiding burnout in a remote work environment. To highlight the opposite of this goal:
5) Outcomes, not Activity
Focusing on remote workers’ results is more important than the hour-by-hour activities. Many remote workers are also juggling other responsibilities, like childcare. They may even be more productive when they work on a different schedule. Be sure to set clear deadlines, deliverables, and scope around the work assigned to each employee. Then give them the freedom to complete that work in the manner that fits them best.
There are some situations where this flexibility isn’t viable. Remote call centers or customer support roles are a common instance where the activity is the outcome. There are industry-specific tools and technologies to help with specific use cases. Some managers need a deeper level of visibility into employee activities in general. There is a range of employee monitoring software available to serve this need.
Requiring minute-by-minute updates from employees can look like a lack of trust in your employees. Shifting the focus to outcomes instead of activity helps maintain trust between remote teams and managers in the long term.
6) Provision and Fund Employees’ Remote Workplace
An employees’ workplace can make, or break, their productivity. “Not everyone has the resources to make their home a productive workplace. Some remote employees may not even work at home, instead opting for public or shared workspaces.
It’s in managers’ best interests to help make sure those remote spaces are productive environments. Allocating budget towards employee workspace improvements can improve employee productivity. Changes can be as small as backlights for higher-quality video calls. Some employees may benefit from a standing desk to improve their health. Others may also need a laptop to replace in-office desktops.
Managers could also subsidize infrastructure improvements, such as higher quality internet. These improvements, though unconventional, are foundational to remote productivity. The specific needs of each remote employee will vary within a team. In any case, serving those needs will be a valuable investment for remote managers.
7) Be Flexible
Remote work is a very nonstandard practice that requires flexibility and adaptability. Remote work looks different for each employee. What a remote employee needs will likely also look different from year to year, or even month to month.
The mental and emotional challenges are also likely to have changed. Managers should try to recognize the stresses that remote workers likely feel. For instance, does someone need more support or mentorship, or more agency? Would the team benefit from more social activities and company culture-building? Or do they need more time away from screens altogether?
Managers should also be receptive to how different identity groups experience remote work. Women who work from home may shoulder a higher amount of housework than their male counterparts, according to the 2021 Women in Tech Report. The more managers can adapt to the holistic needs of their remote employees, the more successful their efforts and the overall team will be.
The Future of Remote Work
The office is not yet a relic of the past. However, the past year’s remote work policies have altered what both employees and businesses expect work to look like. Companies and managers in particular will need to continue to learn to better support remote and hybrid teams. This includes both company-wide policies around HR management and managers’ individual practices.
The normalization of remote work also has ramifications for how we interact professionally. This includes how we network and how we buy/sell technology. Check out the 2021 B2B Buying Disconnect for a deeper dive into how the B2B community has responded to remote work and its impact on software buying.