Remote Work

How to effectively manage remote teams

Jun 23, 2020
As more and more companies adopt remote-work policies, here's a complete guide on how to effectively manage a remote (or distributed) team.

Once seen as a special privilege for senior employees, remote work and distributed teams have quickly become the norm as COVID-19 has pushed companies to adopt remote work benefits. 

 

CNBC reports that before the recent global health crisis, only 7% of the working population in the U.S. had the flexibility to work remotely. But as the coronavirus pandemic, 42% of workers are now doing their jobs from the comfort of their homes.

This has left managers and employers alike asking a simple question: “Can companies fully function with a remote work model?”

 

The short answer: Yes.

In this article, we’ll cover the following topics:

 

The business value behind adopting a remote-work model

For employees, the case for having the flexibility to work remote is simple: it offers the opportunity to cut back on commuting costs and better manage their working hours. 

 

In a Stanford University study, researchers found employees who could work remotely reported increased productivity — a finding that highlights how telecommuting can benefit a company’s bottom line.

 

And there are a number of benefits for companies. Businesses that give even some of their employees the flexibility to work remotely face the prospect of reduced office occupancy.

 

In fact, the coronavirus pandemic has forced many organizations to reconsider their office space needs — and look to flexible workspaces as a potential way to minimize workspace expenses.

 

Businesses can also leverage flexible work benefits to attract and retain talent. In a 2019 survey at Hana, we found that 70% of job seekers say the flexibility to work remotely is a must-have when considering a new job.

 

working-from-home

 

This isn’t surprising. Tools like Slack and Zoom video conferencing mean traditional in-office jobs like recruitment, sales and IT can be done effectively outside the office. COVID-19 has proven as much.

Common challenges for remote workers & distributed teams

Despite the benefits, remote work policies also have a number of common challenges. The most prominent? A lack of face-to-face time, structure and access to information and teams.

 

These challenges can lead top talent to experience productivity declines. Addressing these issues requires a manager who understands the unique demands of remote work — and what each team member needs to be successful. This is, in part, why business school programs are increasingly emphasizing how to manage people. 

 

Research shows that remote workers are more prone to feelings of isolation, detachment and miscommunications with colleagues. In one study, remote workers were found to, perhaps unsurprisingly, report misinterpreting communications from colleagues and managers.

 

This largely stemmed from a lack of “mutual knowledge” between employees who reported not knowing one another in a social setting. Without that context, a short email might seem mean spirited instead of just short.

 

Another challenge for remote workers is effectively sourcing information. Instead of being able to walk up to someone’s desk or office to ask a question, remote workers have to navigate Slack messages and emails to field questions, making it harder — and more time consuming — to find answers.

 

Despite the challenges of remote work, there are significant benefits, too. Strong managers and effective policies can make remote work benefits work in their favor by redefining their approach and using technology to their advantage.

 

Let's unpack that. 

Simple strategies for successfully managing remote teams

Between Zoom video conferencing, Slack, email and a plethora of other communication tools available to today’s businesses, effectively managing remote workers and distributed teams is easier than ever.

 

But tools alone are not a strategy — or substitutes for effective policies.

To mitigate the issues of the remote work model, managers should think through what their teams will need to work productively outside the office. Implementing regular check ins, team meetings and the occasional Zoom happy hour can go a long way towards helping employees structure their days and better understand their colleagues.

 

The biggest trick is ensuring communication between managers and colleagues and making sure each team member is aware of how their work is playing into a larger mission.

 

Some managers find success in holding quick team standups to go over projects and individual responsibilities. Others might benefit from individual check-ins with direct reports to go over weekly schedules and offer news about what’s happening in other parts of the organization.

 

a-woman-working-remote

 

Another helpful trick for organizations adopting — or adapting to — a remote work model is drafting up resources for employees and managers.

 

These resources should include key organizational information about team structures and company updates to make it easier for individuals to access information — or identify who they can speak with to find information. Tool such as Confluence or Box can be helpful here, allowing team members to easily access shared files and resources (more on this below).

5 key tips for successfully managing remote teams

Looking for the Sparknotes version on how to manage a remote team? Here are a few tips to consider:

 

      • Check in daily: Daily check ins (or even weekly check ins) are a great way to connect with direct reports and your teams. This can take the form of a quick video chat (think 15-20 minutes) or a simple Slack message. Make sure to cover what your team is doing and set priorities for the day or week, as needed.

      • Hold regular stand ups: A simple weekly team meeting for 30 minutes can go a long way in preventing silos and keeping everyone on the same page. At Hana, for instance, remote teams come together each week and each employee shares their top three priorities and any potential blockers. This helps with team building — and with making sure everyone knows what’s happening.

      • Offer resources to your remote workers: From helpful resources such as employee lists to human resources materials about days off and company policies, giving your remote workers an easy way to access and go through guides and materials goes a long way. It’s also critical to make sure your team has an easy way to share — and archive — work on a file sharing service such as Box or Google Drive.

      • Embrace flexibility: The key benefit of remote work is flexibility — the flexibility to choose where you work and the flexibility to do away with commutes, too. The best managers of remote teams embrace this flexibility, granting their employees the ability to structure their own workdays outside the typical 9-to-5 paradigm. After all, outcomes matter most. It matters less when your team is working and more that they’re achieving key goals and outcomes.

      • Communicate as much as possible: Whether it’s knowing what’s happening at the corporate level or searching out an answer to a question, the biggest challenge for remote teams is communication. The best managers will make a point to overcommunicate as much as possible with their teams and open themselves up to questions about the business and about company-wide goals. 

What are the best tools for managing remote teams? 

But while tools aren’t strategies, they are critical to get right for remote teams. Investing in reliable communication and collaboration tools is a must if you want telecommuting to work for your company. 

 

Video conferencing tools like Zoom and chat applications such as Slack are now the industry standard for remote work communication, they aren’t the only tools available for businesses. Email still holds its place for longer communication — and a phone (or VoIP services, if you’re so inclined) remains critically valuable for most workers.

 

remote-work-video-conferencing 

File-sharing services such as Box and Google Drive are mainstays in today’s business environment. And that’s for a good reason: They make it simple for teams to jointly work on projects, share information and collaborate. Other tools include Microsoft Office and Google Suite, which allow colleagues to work on documents and deliverables in tandem.

5 tools you need to manage a remote team

Looking for tools to help with remote work? Here are a few options to consider:

 

      • Chat applications: From the ubiquitous Slack to the growing Microsoft Teams, chat apps are a great way to stay connected with remote colleagues and distributed teams. Many of these tools offer screen sharing, video conferencing and, of course, the creation of Team channels.

      • Project management tools: Whether you’re looking at Basecamp, Asana, Monday.com or Trello, a good project management tool can go a long way in systematizing project handoffs and project tracking.

      • Video conferencing: Perhaps you use Zoom. Maybe you use Google Hangouts or GoToMeeting. There’s even a chance you’re still using Skype for Business. Video conferencing apps have taken on a new significance in 2020 amidst the coronavirus pandemic (Zoom fatigue is now something the Harvard Business Review is writing about). That’s for good reason: They’re critical tools for remote teams to connect and collaborate.

      • Collaboration tools: From Google Docs to Microsoft Office, we’ve seen a surge in tools over the past decade that allow multiple people to work on a given file at the same time. These tools are great in the workplace — but they’re especially great for remote employees and distributed teams.

      • File sharing: Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft Sharepoint — you have a lot of options when it comes to file sharing services. But no matter which you choose (and you should be choosing one of these), they’re critical tools in today’s business environment — and for remote teams.

Take this with you

COVID-19 has forced many companies to quickly adopt — or adapt to — remote work policies, accelerating a shift to decouple work from the traditional office. And this shift isn’t likely to disappear with the coronavirus pandemic.

 

In 2019, 70% of job seekers cited the flexibility to work remotely as a top benefit. Now, in the wake of COVID-19, employees say losing the flexibility to work remotely is one of their biggest concerns about going back to the office.

 

Effectively managing remote workers and distributed teams means being more proactive about checking in with employees and placing an emphasis on communication.

 

For today’s businesses, that means investing in the tools and technology remote workers need to thrive — like Zoom and Slack. You can learn more about the top tech tips teams need to master remote work in our recent article.

 

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