While the Covid pandemic may have ushered in the age of remote work, it looks like remote work will remain a feature of work for the foreseeable future. Upwards of 45 percent of full-time U.S. workers work from home at least part-time and some do so full-time.
There are advantages to a remote workforce. Remote teams typically lower overhead costs. Plus, those working remotely are typically more productive than their office-bound counterparts.
Yet, managing remote teams is a dramatically different animal than managing teams in the office. If you’re struggling with remote team management, keep reading. We have six tips for managing remote teams that will make your life and, ideally, their lives easier.
1. Start With Hiring
Hiring didn’t end just because the pandemic sent the world into a tailspin, and hiring is the place to start. While your existing in-office workers face a transition to a different method of work, you can hedge your bets by hiring those with remote work experience.
Sure, they might need some training on your specific tools, but you can also save yourself a lot of headaches. For example, experienced remote workers have already mastered challenges like staying focused and remaining disciplined without a manager looming nearby.
Remote work experience doesn’t necessarily make someone a good fit. There are some interview questions you can ask that will help you separate good remote work candidates from less-than-stellar candidates.
- How do you manage remote work challenge X?
- What appeals to you about remote work?
- How do you maintain work/life separation at home?
- Do you schedule breaks or take them when the whim strikes you?
These questions can provide you with insights into the candidates themselves. Beyond that, they can give you a sense of how remote workers deal with self-management.
More than one company looked at the remote work trend and loved the idea of employees using their own computer equipment. That would shuffle all of that tedious and expensive maintenance and equipment replacement onto the employees.
As great as it might sound on paper, though, it’s not a great plan in practice. When employees use their own equipment, it means you’re opening your network up to every dodgy website and every piece of malware that might exist on every employee’s computer.
As much as it might pain you, you should provide your employees with the equipment they need for remote work.
Once you set aside the primary disadvantage of cost, you see some key benefits from this approach. Right at the top is that you avoid resentment from employees who might need expensive upgrades to their computer equipment to do their work.
While employees might need top-tier computers for their jobs, most people get by with mid-grade equipment at home. Not everyone will love the idea of dropping a bundle of cash on computer equipment just so they can log in and do their job.
You also get the benefit of knowing that every employee has the right tools for their job. You avoid productivity problems from employees trying to make underpowered equipment run software the equipment can’t handle.
Communication is one of the most critical elements of managing a remote team, in large part because remote work makes it more difficult. A lot of communication in an office happens informally.
For example, you pull someone aside in the hall when seeing them triggers a thought. Those kinds of interactions don’t happen spontaneously when people work from home. That means you must open up opportunities for people to communicate with each other.
That means looking for remote work software that enables communication. Microsoft 365 Business offers tools like Microsoft Teams that support instant messaging, channels, and even videoconferencing.
Those kinds of features allow coworkers to maintain real-time or asynchronous communication with each other about projects. It also allows for face-to-face communication, which can serve as a morale boost.
Since the opportunities for face-to-face communication are more limited, it’s on you to set expectations early and clearly. Don’t rely on the grapevine to spread important information or changes in policy. Make announcements during video meetings.
You should also clarify what will and won’t fly in terms of remote work. For example, let’s say that you permit flexible working hours. It’s your job to tell employees exactly what that means.
If flexible working hours translates to you’re okay with them clocking in at 9 am and clocking out at 6 pm, they must know that. If it means you just expect them to show up for scheduled meetings but otherwise they just need to get their work in on time, tell them.
You should also maintain a digital open-door policy about communication and mean it. If an employee struggles with remote work, they may not mention it for fear that it’s “just them” or something they need to “get over.”
You can’t guide them, fix problems, or look for work-from-home solutions that might help them if you don’t know a problem exists. An open-door policy also encourages suggestions from employees about how to streamline processes or improve workflow.
4. Focus on Outcomes
Sadly, a lot of in-office management boils down to making sure people are at their desks more or less during the hours they’re supposed to be there. Ideally, employees will actually do work while they’re at their desks. Yet, that approach doesn’t guarantee outcomes.
Monitoring when remote employees are logged into the company network also doesn’t guarantee outcomes. All that does is monitor activity. Even worse, it’s a great way to erode trust between you and your team.
Instead, monitor whether teams or team members turn their work in on time or hit project milestones on time. In the end, those outcomes are what you really pay employees for, not their apparent activity on the network.
As long as employees otherwise meet the expectations you set early on, don’t play big brother about their apparent activity.
5. Schedule Meetings
There is a lot of literature out there about how much time businesses waste on meetings that don’t accomplish anything. There is a lot of truth in that literature.
When it comes to remote workforce management, meetings play a much more important role. You should make a point of scheduling two kinds of meetings each week: team meetings and 1-on-1 meetings.
Team meetings serve a couple of purposes. They let you make announcements that everyone needs to hear. On the whole, these should mimic the team meetings you had in-office.
Team meetings also let team members see each other. It’s very easy for remote employees to disassociate from the fact that they work with other human beings. Once that disassociation sets in, it’s a short step to total disengagement from the job itself.
The 1-on-1 meetings may actually prove the more important meeting for keeping your team healthy and productive. These meetings are an important outlet for team members to bring up issues affecting their work, particularly personal issues that aren’t appropriate for group settings.
Individual meetings also let you solicit feedback on things like workload. Are you over-assigning work to the point that employees feel underwater? Are employees treading water when they feel like they can get more done?
It’s also a way to ensure you’ve got a sense of what your employees want. For example, it’s a good chance to ask employees how they see their future with the company. If you know that someone wants to move into a management role, you can take steps to connect them with training resources or a good mentor.
If nothing else, it lets you take something of a barometer reading for the mental state of your team.
Once you have a remote team up and running, it’s not always easy to know if things are running smoothly or not. Is your software environment getting the job done or would you be better off with something like a Microsoft 365 deployment?
The good news is that you can get remote team assessments. The assessments often cover a range of issues that affect remote team effectiveness, such as:
- Security gaps
- Communication gaps
- Workflow problems
- Budget projections for future equipment, software, and staffing needs
- Action plans for repairing problems or gaps
These assessments can prove especially helpful for businesses that threw together an ad hoc set of tools for their remote teams to use. One of the biggest problems teams face is often that they don’t work on an integrated platform. The assessment can help you identify if an integrated platform will serve you better.
Managing Remote Teams
Managing remote teams puts a very different set of demands on you. Where communication and meetings were necessary and useful before, now they’re essential for survival.
It’s on you to provide work-from-home solutions that allow a smooth workflow. You must hire employees who can thrive in a remote environment. Plus, you must provide hardware that allows your employees to achieve acceptable outcomes.
Remote Work Made Simple specializes in remote team assessments and Microsoft consulting services. If you need a checkup on your team or advice on a remote work platform, contact Remote Work Made Simple today.