Remote teams are a huge boon to any company. Employees are able to work from where they are rather than having a cubicle to check into, and companies save on the overhead associated with an on-site workforce.
Managing a remote team can be a slightly different ballgame from managing an office team, however. If you’re looking for ways to more effectively manage remote employees and grow your business, your management team should be trained in the following:
Virtual (Written) Communication
This is #1 on the list of things that can go wrong when you’re working with a remote team. When you’re working with someone face to face, you can use verbal and non-verbal cues (body language) to get your point across. Working with a virtual team often requires the use of written communication rather than verbal, leaving the door wide open for misunderstandings, unclear instructions, misinterpretation, and the general consensus on both sides that the other party is an idiot.
NOT the end result you’re looking for.
When you’re communicating with a virtual team, it’s important to make sure that everyone knows how to clearly express themselves in writing. No one needs to be the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, but it’s important to address the following before addressing each other:
- Remember that how you say something is as important as what you say. That goes triple when you’re writing it. Many managers have fallen flat on their faces because they couldn’t adapt their communication style to writing. When you’re done writing, whether it be a chat post, an email, or a Facebook post, sit back for a minute and read it through in your head. How does it sound?
- Have you ever sat and had a conversation with someone who just won’t get to the point? Instructions are unclear, project parameters are fuzzy, they keep changing their mind about what they want, and in the end both of you walk away disappointed without anything getting done. Clarity is VITAL when working with a remote team. Unlike the office, where employees are likely to swap notes over the break room table, remote employees may work for days on a project without talking to each other. I like to use the KISS method (or, as a former employer once told me, give them the “short story”) to make sure each step of the project is clearly outlined so everyone stays on the right page.
- You can use project management tools like Basecamp, Trello, and Asana for keeping all communication together.
Using Your Tools
If you’ve ever been a remote employee, you know that there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to work with a team that’s trying to operate like they’re in the same room instead of miles apart. There are MANY tools available online to facilitate operating as a remote team, and each one is slightly different. The trick is to find the one that works best for your business.
While I’m not going to debate them individually, I will say you should definitely be operating AT LEAST the following:
- Secure email for group messages and large file sharing
- Chat software for communicating with team members in real time. Ideally, there will be a group discussion going over routine project information to ensure that everyone in the group is kept up to date. If you need to discuss a particular point with a member of your team, this also allows for individual conversation.
- Group project board, to share milestones and upcoming steps.
- Video meeting capabilities. This is the closest you’re going to get to an actual, face to face meeting with your remote team, and meetings should be held often. (But not so often that you end up killing productivity with excess meetings.) Video meetings allow everyone not only to exchange project information and discuss salient points, but also to get to know one another. Which brings us to…
Encouraging Your Team to Socialize
When you work in an office together, through daily conversation you become a part of each other’s lives by default. Remote work fosters a sense of isolation that can bring down team morale and prohibit effective bonding. Encourage team members to take a little time each meeting to share something personal. It doesn’t have to be a heart to heart, just something good that happened that week or what their upcoming vacation plans are.
As manager, this is the part of the team building where you’re going to shine. Encourage these conversations, and make a point of asking your team who they are, where they’re from, what their background is, what they do for fun, etc. Recognize when a team member has a birthday or is having a baby (ASIDE from scheduling their replacement!).
Remember, as the manager, your remote team’s ability to function depends on you.