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September 4, 2020 Adrian Zee

Three tips to better manage your remote teams

Remote teams are a great way to leverage technology, but managing a remote team isn't all the same as managing an in-person group.

Between COVID-19 and new technologies changing the way we work, remote teams have become commonplace. Before COVID-19, over 5 million or 3.6% of the American workforce worked from home 50%+ of the time. Obviously these numbers have only gone up. 

The pandemic aside, remote teams allow a company to work with talent across the globe without a physical office. This can save a business thousands of dollars in rent expenses and employees hours commuting to and from work. 

It’s incorrect to think that you can manage a remote team the same way you would handle an in-person group. The ability to have a remote team comes with new benefits, but also new challenges. In this article, we provide three tips to help you better manage your remote teams. 

Set communication expectations

In an office, if you need to speak with a team member, you can just walk up to their desk. But online, there’s no shortage of ways to reach someone. You can use email, an internal messaging service such as Slack, your phone, a video call, etcetera. 

As a leader, you need to establish how your team communicates and how your organization can best contact each other. You don’t want to message someone on Slack or Microsoft Teams when they don’t check it or have it open. Clearly establish to both old and new team members what tools and devices the team uses to communicate so that members can keep on top of it. 

It’s also essential for your team to understand how to contact you in different situations. Establish a system such as: 

  • Regular meetings → Video call
  • Quick questions → Instant messenger 
  • Urgent question → Phone call or Text

A system makes individuals more comfortable to reach out to you, thus making team projects more efficient. 

When you do have video calls, make sure that it’s a norm to turn on video. Plenty of communication is non-verbal, so adding video can help everyone understand how something is being communicated. It’s also great to put faces to names beyond seeing a person’s picture every time they message you. 

One-on-one meetings are more important than ever

Remember the days when you used to bump into a colleague in the hallway or at lunch, and chat about what’s going on in your life? Those small bonding moments kept you connected with the people that you work with, and they just doesn’t happen any more.

Working from home can result in the sense of loneliness. There aren’t any co-workers to talk to about your weekend and lunches are often alone or with your family members/roommates. One-on-one meetings with staff aren’t only a time to understand your team member’s current workload, issues, and goals. It’s also a time to compensate for the lack of social interaction from working without a physical office. 

One-on-one and other meetings should start with rapport building, such as asking how someone has been or what new adventures they’ve been up to. You may discover similar hobbies or interests and establish great friendships with the people you work with. Rapport building with team members can also help individuals feel included in the team and company, discouraging turnover.

These meetings should be regular and predictable. Find a time that works for both people and create a regularly recurring weekly or monthly meeting. It helps to avoid rescheduling or cancelling one-on-ones. At the end of the day, nothing is more important than your team. 

Trust is key

An issue that some managers saw with employees working from home is that they couldn’t trust them. If employees worked from home, how would managers know that work was actually being done? 

This is why you need to trust your employees when they work remotely. You shouldn’t micromanage or use vanity metrics, such as time spent online or the number of hours worked, to determine whether they’re putting enough effort into their job. Most businesses ultimately pay their employees to get work done, not to clock hours. 

Instead of making sure that everyone is online during working hours, use a system that ensures that work is getting done, regardless of when it’s getting done. One idea is a regular weekly meeting for the team to go through project progresses. You can also ask employees to demo what they’ve been working on. Demos can keep other team members up to speed and allow the people demoing to get feedback. 

Remote teams are a great way to leverage technology and work in a new fashion. However, managing a remote team isn’t all the same as managing an in-person group. It’s crucial to set communication expectations, manage one-on-one meetings, and ensure that you trust your team members. This way, you can accomplish everything you could with an in-person team!

Adrian Zee

Adrian Zee is a freelance writer and a student at Osgoode Hall Law School. Previously, he studied management and writing at Western University and worked in the data & analytics industry. Adrian is also a part-time food writer and photographer at DailyHive/DishedTO.