Virtual work

5 tips for managing your remote team

The alarm buzzes at 6 a.m. and Mitch slides a finger across its touch screen to silence it. He gets up, a little groggy, and shuffles into the kitchen where the coffee maker is already bubbling away automatically. While he waits for it to finish brewing, Mitch pops a bagel in the toaster then goes and washes his face. In 10 minutes, he’s sitting in the den talking to Maria with a steaming cup of coffee and a bagel spread thick with strawberry cream cheese. Maria’s smile flashes on the screen as she gives Mitch a run down of the latest earning reports. The sound of trumpets flares in the background – it’s a holiday in Maria’s home of Mexico City. Mitch wishes her a good afternoon before hopping on a call with another member of his remote team, who is currently on a high-speed commuter train heading into Tokyo. Mitch hasn’t even gotten dressed yet, and he’s already having a productive day.

x_0_0_0_14127982_300The above scenario, which once might have been a snippet from a sci-fi novel, is now a reality. It’s almost mundane, actually. As the workforce becomes less centralized, remote teams will become a standard piece of the business world. And for many companies, that’s a good thing, especially those that want to keep their overhead low. A company made entirely of remote workers, for example, doesn’t have to worry about leasing office space. The money saved can instead be invested in the business. In fact, there’s a lot of good that can be said of remote teams – but they can’t be managed in the traditional way. Micromanagement could spell big problems.

Here are few tips for seeing success with remote teams:

1. Get assistance for the transition
If your company is moving away from a traditional, centralized talent scenario to one with a geographical dispersal, you may want to consider getting assistance from a talent solutions company. You’ll likely run into unfamiliar situations and you don’t want these to hold up your daily business. By letting a third party help with the transition, you and your team can focus on what’s important: running your business and focusing on your clients.

2. Build trust
As Zapier reported, you can’t have a truly successful remote team if you can’t completely trust your talent. When you power off your laptop in Baltimore, you have to be able to trust that your employees in Seattle will keep working for a few more hours. But it’s more than that – you must be okay with the fact that people work at different speeds and keep different hours. Will you be okay with your copywriter working the graveyard shift? You’ll have to be more flexible with a remote team – micromanage too much and your employees will start to feel like Big Brother is breathing down their necks.

Having the right communication tools will make managing your team easier.Having the right communication tools will make managing your team easier.

3. Get the right tools for the job
In a digital environment, the tools you use are crucial to creating an efficient workflow. Not only will you need the software particular to your industry, you’ll need to find communication programs that work for you. Biz 3.0 suggested trying out a few options in different formats. Does your team prefer text chat to video? What about screenshare software? Chances are, most of your communication will happen via email, so choosing a service with a robust set of features is very important. The easier it is to share information or “drop-in” for a quick chat, the more efficient your day-to-day work will be.

4. Focus on results
When team members aren’t able to see what everyone else is working on, it can be difficult to keep focused on the overall goal. Sharing progress reports, status updates and milestones are all great ways of combating project atrophy. When the finish line is well-defined and measurable, employees can set daily goals for themselves, which keeps productivity high. MindTools suggested using what it calls “Key Progress Indicators” to maintain focus. These KPIs might be any number of metrics, which will vary by industry, but they should always be quantifiable. At the beginning of any new project, take the time to define your KPIs and at what intervals you’ll update them.

5. Encourage customer communication
Following the second tip, you’ll have to trust your team members to talk with your customers. Whether your focus is B2B or B2C, there will probably be times when every team member is required to communicate with a customer or client. When there’s an urgent matter on the other side of the globe and you’re fast asleep, you should trust in your remote workers to handle the situation with professionalism. With the increased independence of a remote team comes a higher level of responsibility per team member.

Have your own tips for managing a remote team? Tell us about them by tweeting at @MSIGTS.