3 Best Practices for Managing Remote Teams

The benefits of remote work are well established but managing distributed employees require a different skill set that can be tricky to master. These best practices will ensure you get the most out of your distributed workforce.

One of my insightful management experiences happened on a rainy evening in London. I was exhausted after a day of wall-to-wall meetings and hoped to grab dinner at a nearby pub. However, I had a conference call with my team back at our Boston headquarters. Calling into that meeting was an eye-opening experience. It was difficult to follow the flow of the conversation since I couldn’t read anyone’s body language. Employees were having side conversations that I couldn’t hear. In the background, I listened to the crinkling of potato chip bags as people grabbed a midday snack. As my team discussed various projects, they quickly made decisions without asking for my feedback. They weren’t being malicious, it was merely a case of “out of sight, out of mind.”

I was surprised by how much the conference call left me feeling isolated and disengaged. I had always been the boss in these situations and never had to dial into these conversations. Half of my group worked remotely. I could only imagine what it was like for them, having to subject themselves to this type of experience all the time. Not understanding their situation was a failure on my part. Since that day, I’ve made it a point of emphasis to improve how I manage remote teams. It’s a skill that I expect will become even more valuable in the future. Since 2005, the number of employees spending the majority of their time working remotely has risen 115%. Today, 43% of American workers spend at least part of their time working remotely.

The benefits of remote work are well established. Companies utilizing remote employees gain access to a broader pool of talent. In the same way that the Red Sox don’t limit themselves to players only born in Boston, firms should look to hire the best person regardless of their location. Firms such as Best Buy and Dow have found that offsite employees are 35% to 40% more productive than colleagues that work out of an office. Eighty-two percent of remote workers acknowledge that operating remotely reduces their amount of stress in their lives. Firms that embrace remote work policies can experience significant savings on office space. Gartner predicts that three years from now, growth in remote workers will let companies use the same volume of office space but support 40% more employees.

This isn’t to say that remote work doesn’t have its downsides. On-premises employees and remote workers can sometimes have an adversarial relationship. It can be quite problematic if remote workers feel ignored or taken for granted. Research indicates that off-site employees are more likely to think that coworkers say bad things about them behind their back and that colleagues make changes to projects without warning them. It can be equally tricky for a manager if their on-premises workers feel that remote team members aren’t contributing properly.

I’ve been managing remote teams throughout my 20-year career. My current team is scattered throughout the US and Europe. We have employees working in our corporate headquarters, satellite offices, on the road, and out of their homes. Managing employees in these varied settings require a slightly different skill set that can be tricky to master. As the prevalence of remote work grows, it will become crucial for managers to gain this expertise. Here are some best practices that I’ve instituted in my career to ensure that I get the most out of my distributed workforce.

1. Invest in Your Team
Investing in remote workers can happen in one of two ways; time or money. Smart managers do both. It can be tempting to allow productive remote workers to operate with little supervision. This approach can lead to problems if those employees end up feeling disengaged from the rest of the organization. Instead, devote time to your offsite employees. Use one-on-one meetings to check in with your remote team members. A survey of remote employees indicated that their number one struggle was loneliness. Spending hours putting together spreadsheets and presentations without any human interaction can be quite isolating. In my experience, being a sympathetic ear can do wonders for an offsite worker.

Remote employees reported that had 25% fewer conversations with their boss about career development than onsite team members. It’s difficult to get the best of an employee today if you think you don’t care about their future. Personally, I meet with all of my remote employees once a quarter to discuss their career development goals.

Companies can save a considerable amount of money by utilizing a distributed workforce. However, it would be a mistake for all of that cash to go to a firm’s bottom line. Make sure to reinvest some of those funds into perks for remote employees. To build camaraderie, I use some that money to fly all of my team members to a central location so we can meet in person. I also take a portion of those savings and invest them in career development programs for my employees.

2. Use project management software to ensure transparency
At any given time, my group is running a hundred different marketing campaigns. To coordinate all of that work, we utilize project management software. My team uses Asana, but there are plenty of terrific options out there. The software helps boost productivity but also addresses some of the issues facing remote teams.

Often onsite employees can feel as though their remote counterparts aren’t pulling their weight. Project management software allows for transparency into the work product of offsite team members. Once a month, my team has an all-hands meeting where we use our project management software to go through all of our initiatives. Every single member of the group talks about the projects they’re working on and the challenges they’re facing. This meeting provides an opportunity for the team at headquarters to gain a solid understanding of the contributions of their remote colleagues and vice versa. Additionally, our monthly conference allows everyone to see the bigger picture and feel as though they are working towards a common goal.

Poor communication can also be a sticking point with a distributed workforce. Project management software improves communication since all team members can see the status of every initiative. Simply put, there aren’t any secrets. No one in my group can say they didn’t know a meeting was happening or that a deadline changed. All of that information is displayed in Asana.

3. Utilize video conferencing
Using video conferencing helps solve several problems prevalent in a distributed workforce. Video conferencing promotes proper communication since body language and facial cues are crucial to understanding intent. Seeing remote team members over video reminds the folks at headquarters that they’re dealing with real people instead of a faceless name they only see on an email thread. I actively encourage my offsite workers and employees at our headquarters to shoot the breeze at the beginning of meetings to help promote rapport. To keep my remote employees involved, I make it a point of emphasis to seek their input first when it’s time to give feedback.

Video conferencing also forces remote workers to stay engaged. On conference calls, it’s too easy for team members to focus on other things. I’m as guilty of this as anyone in my group. Before I instituted my video chat policies, I found myself routinely checking emails instead of participating in the conversation. I’m hardly alone in this area. More than two-thirds of people confessed that they look at social media during conference calls. Your team should be giving feedback, not checking Facebook.

One useful management tactic is to have every team member dial into meetings with video chat, even if they are in the office. Nothing’s better for building empathy with remote employees than putting your onsite team in their shoes, albeit temporarily.

Source: https://www.hrtechnologist.com/articles/mobile-workforce/3-best-practices-for-managing-remote-teams/

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