The odds are that if you haven’t already, you soon will find yourself either as a part of or managing a team with remote workers. Technology, such as that that allows for teleworking, has improved many aspects of our lives, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t without its challenges. When it comes to remote work, this presents a new, and somewhat unique challenge for managers.
Remote work can be tough on both employees and managers alike. There’s the constant fear that your team members will slack off. Conversely, if you’re an employee, there’s the fear that your managers will think you’re slacking off. For some, there’s the constant lure of taking it easy (that will have to wait for a different post), and of course the continued concern about whether you’re communicating effectively with your team. Whatever the motivations and fears associated with remote work may be, there are some steps that you can take to ensure that you’re team is maximally successful.
Our common theme certainly applies here as it does everywhere: your team must have clearly understood goals and expectations. Regardless of where your team members are located, you must manage them to perform optimally when you’re not around. The first step toward doing this is ensuring that they are all shooting for the same goals. This will provide context for their work and increase the likelihood of their work paving the way to your team’s success.
As a leader, you must set the expectation for how the team will communicate. In a remote setting, communication becomes even more vital, as it’s the defining factor for how your team works. Guidelines that wouldn’t be discussed in a traditional office such as how long is acceptable to return a call or email must be explicitly spelled out for the team. Additionally, with a vast array of communication tools such as instant message, Skype, Slack and email, defining what mechanisms are used and how is important for your team to clearly understand.
Keep Communication Informal and Frequent
To build rapport, prevent anyone from either slacking off or being thought to be slacking off, and to expedite work in general, frequent and informal communication is a great tactic to employ. Tools such as instant message or Slack are especially great for this. An added benefit is that the informality also serves to build rapport. With communication being constant and in short bursts, you’ll be amazed at the increase in the pace of work as opposed to using long-winded emails and phone calls that take needless time to construct and respond to.
Just as I talk about the need for informality and frequency, I also suggest using a daily meeting. Normally, I’m quite anti-meeting. I find that they interrupt people’s workflow, and rarely accomplish something that email cannot. In this case, a standing 15 minute meeting to get everyone together via phone or video simply to review the goals for the day and any open concerns is a nice piece of structure. This meeting doesn’t – and should not – be long or formal, but ensures that the group gets visibility to other’s work that they normally wouldn’t. Having this context usually pays unforeseen benefits down the line.
Not everyone is cut out for remote work. Take stock of your goals and the type of people you need to accomplish them. The good news is that generally, those people also work well in remote settings: goal-oriented, independently motivated, strong work ethic. Some people won’t fit this bill, and that’s OK, but they’re not cut out to work remotely. Don’t hire someone thinking that they’ll grow into this. You can’t afford to get it wrong and you can’t risk upsetting your team dynamic.
Get to Know People
A great enabler for remote working success is rapport with your team. Just as frequent, informal communication helps accomplish this, so does actually knowing these people. Occasionally get together with them in-person if possible in an informal setting. If you can’t be in-person, make sure that some of your conversations deviate from work and help you get to know them personally. This builds rapport that enables more seamless communication. After all, no one wants to chat with some work robot all day.
Don’t Dwell. Act.
As soon as you have an inkling that something is wrong with your team, you must deal with it immediately. Things don’t magically improve, and employees don’t suddenly improve their work. Time is of the essence, but with remote teams that pressure becomes amplified.
Older companies have long been against remote work, but that is starting to change. I’ve run teams at large companies that were mainly remote, and these have been some of the best, if not the best teams I’ve ever been a part of. If you approach remote work as an incredible responsibility, but also an incredible opportunity to ensure a better quality of life for your team members, it can be a tremendous asset to your company and its mission.