Why would you need to learn how to manage a remote team now more than ever?

Our technology now enables remote work and, if that’s not already applicable to you, most of the workforce is about to step into a new flexible work model allowing workers to choose when, where and how they prefer to work.

Do you think companies in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley will continue to spend 300k USD for talents that can be found for 5 to 10 times cheaper in other locations or countries without impacting the productivity that much? I am not saying you should lay off everyone in the Silicon Valley but probably think twice when you recruit somebody by considering the value of a talent first before the choice of location

Managing a remote team successfully takes some skills. Good news is you can learn from my experience

view of hong kong and laptop

Even if face-to-face interactions are essential, I don’t think it justifies that much such an overrated investment, in particular in our highly competitive and global market.
I voluntarily skip the part about the benefits of remote work but if that’s what you are looking for, read my article about my first year as a remote employee

I am on my way back from the Running Remote event hosted in Indonesia where I realized how this movement will become mainstream in a couple of years and a quote I heard there illustrates this quite well: “Organizations will soon stop calling what we do Remote Work but just Work”. But to get there, managers will need to evolve and find what model works best for them.

So, I will share my experience as a manager of a remote team by focusing on 4 essential aspects: Communication, Organization, Trust & Culture. I’ve had some successes recently but I am still learning, so take what you need and help me evolve with your comments below.

#1 Communication

Among the 4 aspects I will focus on, I would place Communication as the #1 key pillar that allows Remote Work to happen. Communication skills such as tone of voice, transparency, objection handling… are very important for remote collaboration but they are probably equally important for none-remote teams. But what really makes a difference for remote ones are the communication tools you use. So I will focus on those and the way we use them to connect & collaborate when we are not working in the same location.

As a first recommendation, define with your team a Communication Cheat Sheet with what tools you will use, when to use & when not to use them. List all those communication Apps such as Slack, Skype for Business, WhatsApp, Zoom, Spoka… and clarify those use cases for each of them, based on the sense of urgency, working hours, length & objective of messages. That applies to document sharing or collaborative applications if you are using multiple ones.

My second one would be to use video call solutions as often as possible. Meet & see your team at least once a week and probably in 1-to-1 if you must prioritize one. Emails (and soon instant messages from platforms like Slack to my opinion) are becoming too frequent, too long, spammy or inappropriately used. Sometimes, you need to come back to the basics, pick-up the phone & talk. Video allows to improve live communications even more, making it more personal which is essential for remote teams who tend to feel isolated.

My last one would be to make sure you respect your team work-life balance by not sending messages preventing your team from really disconnecting from work. I have been guilty myself of sending Slack messages to my team on holidays as I was using this as a reminder for actions when they come back. It could have probably waited, and I should have probably not used that tool for that purpose.

“Organizations will soon stop calling what we do "Remote Work" but just "Work" #remotework #futureofwork”

#2 Organization

As a remote worker, you can’t just naturally talk to your neighbour or walk to your managers’ desk to get help. You can’t find the motivation from seeing your teammates being focused and progressing either. As a manager, you must ensure your team members overcome this isolation and are very clear on what, how & by when they need to achieve tasks. This requires constant checks with your team to ensure they know what to do.

Constant checks are good, but you can’t repeat the same things over and over again. You will need to put in place a documented processes to guide your team whenever possible for repetitive tasks. There are great tools to help you build processes and facilitate trainings, like Trainual. Your time as a manager is precious and you also need to make your team autonomous and help them find solutions by themselves whenever possible. But never forget to check on them regularly.

Defining clear objectives using the SMART methodology will be essential to keep your team on track and make them accountable for delivering. Consider multiple milestones for more complex projects and ensure your team is very clear on what needs to happen and that they feel open to ask if that’s not the case.

man-working-with-laptopo

#3 Trust

I mentioned that Communication was the #1 key pillar for remote work but Trust is often perceived as the most challenging aspect. You will read or hear from remote work ambassador like myself that “If you don’t trust your team to work remotely, don’t hire them in the first place”. I believe this too, but I also realize it is not so easy as you must sometimes make an existing team evolve into that model. It has been my case and that did not come without some difficulty.

 As a manager, you might be able to naturally evolve into that remote work and more autonomous model, but your team members might need some assistance. Each team member might also require different needs based on their role, seniority and mindset. Be flexible as a manager and never stop communication.

Most of my team members are customer facing so they need to be connected during the same hours as our clients & prospects. At first, I was checking when my team members were online as they arrive to work or regularly during the day. Did that help? Not really and as a manager, I soon realized I was the one with trust issues. Live presence will not help you understand if your team is efficient; the same way being in the same room as your team will not prevent them from doing nothing. 

So how do you solve that? 

You will need to focus on results and you should start by defining a success profile for each of your team roles with clear objectives & KPI (weekly worked well for my sales team) and giving a structure to follow that would naturally impose a respect of business hours without you having to check on them. That way, you could focus on what matters more to help them achieve their goals and solve some of their challenges rather than virtually watching over their shoulders.

That being said, beyond the tracking considerations for managers with trust issues, knowing when your team is available and where they work is always important to facilitate live communications and be productive but also for you to feel closer to your employees by understanding their working environment.

man running video meeting with team

#4 Culture

So, after implementing some of the above recommendations hopefully, you and your remote team now communicate better using the appropriate Apps, you are organized following effective processes to be productive and you have created a trustful relationship. Then, what is the missing component that would allow a long-term connection, a true feeling of belonging and helping remote teams not to feel isolated? 

I believe Culture is what helps your team to work efficiently and have fun in the long term wherever they might be located.Culture starts with the definition of specific values that every team member must know and embrace. One guideline would probably be to build some of those values around fun and enjoyment rather than serious ones that do not help team members to get closer on a personal level. Promote the fun ones by involving your team very regularly in social games such as weekly picture contests or holiday tips. Then reward participation with gift cards, days off or any other motivating ways you can find. You can find great apps such as Bonusly specialized in engaging teams with reward & recognition mechanism.

Organize video meetings to talk about none-work related topics. Why not arrange a virtual happy hour or virtual lunch with remote colleagues from time to time? Pay for the food for all remote attendees the same way you would invite your colleagues for a lunch. Virtual meetings are great on many aspects but make sure you meet physically at least once a year and try to use those events for fun activities more that work-related ones.

Culture is not just about the fun but also about respecting one another’s difference and as a manager, you must learn about your team’s local culture, celebrations, holidays and pay attention to time-difference to respect your team’s work-life balance whenever you can. If you know some of your team members are shyer, whether it is cultural or personal, make sure you offer a chance to all your team members to express themselves without embarrassing them. A nice idea is to create an anonymous message box for anyone to share ideas or challenges with you or your managers without the fear of being judged or embarrassed.

A last couple of ideas to break the routine and build a motivating culture: No email day, No meeting day, Family day off, regular satisfaction surveys, holiday budget, work from anywhere or another office, coffee budget, health budget, unlimited holidays…

I hope you found those tips useful and that you will make your remote team happier and more successful. Feel free to share with me some apps, articles and tips to help me manage my remote team better.