How to manage remote teams: the million dollar question. We’ve been working remotely for a full year months, and it looks like remote work will continue as a primary method of working well into the future. Companies all over the world, like Slack, Dropbox, Skillshare, and Twitter have led the charge in encouraging permanent remote work situations for their employees.
There are tons of benefits to working remote, which include increased time with family, decreases in greenhouse gas emissions from commuting, and greater flexibility, as well as improved work-life balance. But there are definite downsides, and we need to be mindful of the ways in which we work with colleagues or manage our team.
How To Manage Remote Teams
Because remote work has become so critical in our day-to-day life, we’ve rounded up five tips that teach us a bit more about how to manage remote teams. If you lead a team, be sure to follow these tips and watch your team’s productivity skyrocket.
1. Lead with empathy
When you think about how to manage remote teams, empathy is, perhaps, the most important part. Everyone has their own challenges and a unique environment that they’re working in, so learning to be sensitive to their work situation is critical. For example, someone might be simultaneously working and also watching three children. Their ability to have sporadic Zoom meetings throughout the day might be different than some of your other team members.
When you lead with empathy, especially during these challenging times, it signals to your employees that they are important, valuable, and you are committed to working collaboratively with them. When an employee feels valued, their quality of work will increase, as will their dedication to their team and organization. Leading with empathy is perhaps the most important tip we can offer when it comes to how to manage remote teams.
2. Don’t assume everyone is on the same schedule
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from remote work, it’s that everyone really does work so differently. When we think about how to manage remote teams, it’s important to remember that one of your team members might like to wake up at 7 AM to get their day started, while another might prefer a 9 AM wakeup. Everyone works differently, and it’s important to realize that the ways of working and hours that work for you might actually not work for anyone else.
This is also important when it comes to scheduling meetings. Encourage your team to set working hours on their calendar, which you can do easily in Gmail, to indicate the times they are available to meet. It’s also great to encourage team members to block their calendar if they’re coming up against a deadline and need heads-down time to get a project done, have a doctors appointment, or need to be away from their computer for any other reason. Being flexible in your scheduling is a major tip when looking at how to manage remote teams.
3. Listen, Listen, Listen
Since we’re not working next to each other in the office anymore, it’s becoming increasingly important to listen to your team as a manager. Did you know that 73% of the communication cues we pick up as humans are observed visually? That means that the communication we do over Slack, Hive or Zoom is much less indicative of our actual feelings, mood, or needs.
What does that mean? It means that it’s more important than ever to listen to your team when they’re voicing concerns, feelings, or ideas to you. That could look different for everyone — maybe for one person on your team, that means asking how they’re doing a bit more frequently. For another person on your team, that could mean giving them space if they’ve voiced that they are overwhelmed.
Generally, it’s a good rule of thumb to plan on a weekly one-on-one with all of your direct reports to take place over Zoom, with video on. These virtual meetings will help create a baseline of communication across the team.
4. Implement a project management or collaboration tool
When you’re working with and managing your team, it’s important to have a general idea of what they’re working on at most times. Instead of constantly asking your team what progress looks like on certain projects, wouldn’t it just be better if you could look at a checklist or timeline via a project management tool? That’s where a tool like Hive comes in.
With Hive and other project management tools, you can easily manage remote teams because you can actively track their progress, tasks, and any potential blockers as they approach. It’s also great if the tool has a native chat functionality, like Hive, that allows you to quickly touch base with your team on a regular basis. We recommend speaking to your direct reports over chat at least twice per day.
Interested in additional project management recommendations? Here are a few more tools that we recommend:
5. Set clear goals and expectations
Setting clear goals and expectations is always important when you start thinking about how to manage any team, remote or in person. Making sure to communicate effectively and set clear goals is especially important when you’re remote, as communication is not as free flowing or consistent. Just by nature of not being in the same room or office everyday, some tasks and information will inevitably be communicated less.
To mediate this, make sure you’ve set clear goals and expectations for your team and individuals from the beginning. This helps in a few ways. First, if you have these clear goals set out, your direct report won’t need to consistently ask about updates or new goals that they’re trying to achieve. They will simply be able to reference any goal document or tracker to understand how they’re pacing. Additionally, setting clear goals with your team helps them feel valued and appreciated, as they’re working towards something tangible.
A helpful phrase to remember when setting goals is SMART. Make sure that the goals are:
Making sure any goal you set for your team is aligned in these five areas is critical and will help streamline the overall process. Setting goals is important, but sometimes you may need to consider the downsides of remote work as well. If you are concerned about employee procrastination, dodging tasks, and the leaking of corporate data, it might be useful to consider software to monitor user activity. It’s not always necessary, but the tools are there if you need additional visibility.
With these five tips, we hope you’ve learned some valuable lessons about how to manage remote teams. If you’ve got any additional tips you think we should consider or add, please let us know in the comments below.