How to Manage a Remote Team: The Complete Management Guide
Managing remote teams is probably not one of your favorite subjects. But in recent months, phrases like ‘remote work’ and ‘work from home’ have dominated the subject matter of casual conversations.
While nearly 80% of employees have always expressed the desire to work from home for at least part of the workweek, only about a tenth of workers in the United States actually do so. Yet the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has changed that reality for the time being, and possibly forever.
Only when stay-at-home orders first went into effect around mid-March 2020 did employers truly encourage and/or plainly require their employees to work from home.
Now, almost a year later, about a third of Americans are working from home.
Many companies are adapting entire teams to a remote model of work and hoping for the best. Just as many businesses have relied on remote work for the better part of their existence and were fortunate to be prepared for what lied ahead.
Whether you are new to remote work or quite familiar with the concept, knowing how to manage remote teams should be one of your main priorities.
Keep reading to learn more about how to manage a remote team in your company!
8 Best Practices To Manage a Remote Team
Managing remote teams will look a little different for each company depending on your specific business goals and the people you choose to employ.
That said, there are basic guidelines for managing any remote team. Below are 8 best practices for managing remote teams.
1. Use Tools To Improve Communication
Relying on remote work tools to manage your remote team can enhance communication between you and your employees for the better.
There are a couple of go-to tools that every remote manager should know:
- Slack: Slack is more or less a virtual office. It offers channels to categorize different work-related content, a feed, and instant messaging.
- Zoom: Zoom is a tool for video chatting. Many find Zoom to be the most reliable tool for conferences as it works best for large groups.
- GitHub: Most software developers are more than likely familiar with GitHub. Formally called a repository, it stores programming projects and allows users to pull and push changes, in effect saving new code.
2. Incentivize Daily Talks
It’s important to check in with your remote team. Managing a remote team requires a constructive relationship with the people you are working with.
Make sure your employees feel comfortable talking to you about any problems that arrive and that their anxieties are relieved following a talk.
3. Manage Expectations on Both Sides
Putting yourself in your employees’ shoes is a useful way to manage your expectations.
Have a realistic idea of what you can expect from your remote team and when you can expect it.
Hold yourself accountable too. Your employees have their own expectations about how you should manage a remote team and they’ll want those expectations to be met.
4. Create a Culture of Outcomes and Accountability
After building expectations, manage them by defining standards for your team. Set up a system where those involved will always be held accountable for those standards.
Examples of relevant standards are deliverables – that is, the results you want from the project – and the scope of the project, which relates to goal-setting.
5. Establish Clear and Direct Goals
Goal-setting is key to being triumphant in the workplace. A 2015 study showed that those who wrote down their goals were 33% more successful than those who did not.
Strong and intentional goals have a substantial impact on growing businesses.
Utilize SMART or specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based goals to hone in on your goal-making.
6. Promote Social Interactions
Developing a rapport with those you work with is considered to be a worthwhile endeavor.
Part of developing rapport is associating with coworkers and other employees on a social level in addition to the context of the workplace.
You can arrange gatherings and light-hearted activities for team-building purposes, like online group-based games or icebreakers.
Being truly collaborative in this way strengthens engagement between yourself and the employees.
Companies with high engagement make twice as much annual revenue as companies with little to no engagement.
7. Automate Tasks Whenever Possible
It goes without saying that automation speeds up the workflow. Businesses can automate tasks to make managing remote teams easier for you.
For instance, with Slack, you can set auto-reminders for your remote workers and manage Google Calendar events in a database.
8. Offer Your Teams Ways to Avoid Distractions
Managing remote teams also makes you the task manager. Give tips to your remote team to help them work faster and with fewer distractions. Taking breaks is one thing, but there is a limit.
Pomodoro timers are a method of staying proactive via 25-minute working blocks divided by short break times.
You can also advise your remote team to put their phone on silent to avoid responding to messages and notifications immediately.
The 7 Biggest Challenges of Managing a Remote Team
Though most people prefer to work from home, managing remote teams still comes with some challenges.
In theory, remote work should be as simple as re-locating your work to a home laptop.
But in actuality, home environments can present some adversities when it comes to workers managing themselves and in turn, your capacity to manage your remote team.
How often do people in the same room struggle to understand each other? Now imagine needing to communicate with someone hundreds of miles away. Communication is arguably the biggest problem when it comes to managing a remote team.
Even with technology that allows us to communicate instantly, a lack of face-to-face interactions can affect the team negatively. Misunderstandings appear more often in online communication, rather than in regular dialogue.
Teamwork heavily relies on collaboration, which means that ongoing communication is the foundation of a successful project
2. Training & Onboarding
Hiring new developers to work on your project can be a long and challenging process. When you are managing a remote team, it can be harder for team members to learn new procedures because they aren't able to watch and learn critical processes in-person.
Getting familiar with the company's practices usually requires some time and guidance. It can be frustrating to rely only on emails or phone calls when you need to onboard new employees.
Often new hires will have tons of questions that you will need to answer. Currently, digital communication is not an ideal option for the onboarding process.
Consider creating detailed documentation and guidelines to relay as much information as possible to new employees.
3. Establishing a Company Culture
Having a well-established culture is an indisputable advantage in business. When people believe in what they are doing, and feel united over a mutual cause, this leads to increased performance.
For the companies that have remote employees, creating and maintaining company culture can become a little tricky.
Without a physical presence, management can find it hard to get the company’s ideas across to remote teams. As a result, remote employees may experience a significant drop in motivation and momentum.
Professionals who are actively involved in the company life feel more appreciated and valued. Their mindset shifts from ‘working for a company’ to ‘being part of something greater’.
Make an effort to bring remote teams together through group activities and events.
4. Decreased Supervision
Face-to-face interactions from managers to employees in an office space might involve daily check-ups and constant exchanges between one another.
If you want to manage a remote team, you must make sure to give them the space they need to do their work effectively.
By doing this, you will have to trust that your employees work just as hard in lieu of direct monitoring.
Those managing remote teams have noted these concerns often; in reality, evidence shows that remote workers can be even more productive than their counterparts.
5. More Alienation
When there is less contact, there is more alienation. Social isolation is not unheard of in the remote world.
Many people use work as their primary initiative to interact and socialize with others. This is not to say that people are unable to make friends outside of work but that work is a big part of everyday life.
Managing remote teams should not be limited to executive performance. You have a responsibility to help build social relationships as well.
6. More Distractions
Largely because of the home workspace, many remote workers struggle to compartmentalize their home lives from their work lives.
Parents with young children especially may use remote work as an opportunity to care for their children at home. Frankly, this does not result in the best outcomes.
Those who endeavor to manage remote teams should warn their employees to have appropriate childcare in place as well as an optimal workspace that is advantageous to their productivity.
In other scenarios, remote employees become bored. Without social interaction, they may seek out other distractions to quell their boredom. This can include scrolling through social media or watching television outside of breaks.
It’s a good idea when managing remote teams to offer advice on staying focused.
7. Less Contact
Given the remote environment, your employees have to work quite independently. The result of this is less contact with other coworkers and the inside information that they can usually offer.
There is a lack of mutual understanding between coworkers, whether that understanding is related to work affairs or personal troubles.
Even if employees do not feel alienated, having common ground between employees is essential. Luckily, there are many examples of how team efforts have been successful in a remote environment.
7 Ways To Improve Communication with Remote Teams
The biggest difference between managing remote teams and having employees at a central office is that your face-to-face interactions will be severely lacking.
These interactions provide a sense of personability and accountability that are critical to small businesses.
In remote work, you can give your team this same experience by organizing a parallel structure through the cloud.
With that in mind, you can use these tips to your advantage and learn the best tools and practices for enhancing communication with remote teams.
1. Daily Stand-Ups
Once you truly internalize the idea that communication is everything, the next question is how often should your team communicate?
The answer is every day.
That is at least if you want an effective communication plan for highly performant virtual teams.
Experience has taught us at Trio that conducting daily stand-ups is an essential piece of communication with remote teams. It also doubles as an excellent team-building exercise.
Daily stand-ups are meant to be very quick and efficient because let’s face it, we are here to get stuff done.
It’s not a watercooler session. If you are managing both remote and in-house teams, then you will need to conduct your stand-up through remote team communication tools such as Zoom or Google Hangouts.
If an in-depth video conference seems like overdoing it, you can also try a quick Slack check-in.
Each member should answer the following three questions:
- What did you work on yesterday?
- What are you working on today?
- What issues did you face that hurt your progress?
2. Weekly Sprint Planning Meetings
Good software teams value their time, and sprint planning reflects that. If your team is entirely in-house, then weekly sprint planning is done together in a room.
In the case that your team is both remote and in-house, then ideally you will want everyone together in a virtual room.
Remember that the sole objective of sprint planning is to come up with a plan of action for handling backlog tasks in a way that matches your team’s ability to meet their objectives.
One of the marks of a good manager is understanding your team's velocity and capacity:
- Velocity refers to the speed at which tasks are completed based on previous sprints.
- Capacity is essentially each member’s ability to work, i.e the total number of hours available and the percentage of time they can dedicate to each task.
3. Retrospective Meetings
It would be nice to know what’s been working and what hasn’t, right? Retrospective meetings can offer you just that.
While sprint planning typically occurs at the beginning of the week, retrospectives are held at the end of the week. They are reflective and provide an open, honest, and constructive atmosphere to share ideas and opinions.
Retrospectives can also be feedback sessions, small unveilings of a prototype, and even problem-solving sessions. They are meant to help your remote team improve their process and catch roadblocks as early as possible, resulting in less friction.
Do not overlook the value of retrospectives in communication with remote teams.
4. Create Requirement Docs and Engineering Tasks
Weekly sprints work even better when they have supporting documentation outlining the requirements for what needs to be accomplished.
A requirement doc can be something as simple as a Google doc that team members can access to gain information about what needs to be built.
You can segment your doc like so:
- Background: Here, leave a little background on the feature that is to be created. This is a great place to explain why the feature is valuable to the product.
- Core Concepts: Core concepts can be a bit misleading, but essentially this section is where you explain what the feature is supposed to do. Usually, this is done using bullet points.
- Open Questions: This section is pretty self-explanatory. Any questions or concerns regarding the feature should be listed here for other members of the team to comment on.
- Requirements: The requirements section is where you put in all of the details regarding the functionality (i.e requirements) of a particular feature for it to work properly.
For example, if you were working on building out an authentication feature, requirements might entail the different kinds of platforms a user can sign into your product with. Another requirement could be SMS and email validation.
Using a cloud platform like Google Drive is really all you need to manage these requirements and allow team members to comment for everyone else to see. This creates a focused conversation without the need to schedule more meetings.
For each requirement, there should be another doc called an engineering task that describes possible technical approaches to solving the defined requirements..
The benefit of keeping information organized in docs is that they can easily be accessed and edited by both remote and in-house teams.
When a developer changes his or her thinking regarding a specific task, they must actively update the requirements document to keep the rest of the team on the same page.
5. Create Opportunities to Help People Connect with One Another
Daily stand-ups are one way to advocate for team-building, but they’re not the end-all-be-all for communication with remote teams.
Some of those face-to-face interactions that you’ll be missing include lunchroom breaks or after-hours drinking.
You have the opportunity to re-create these experiences in your own way. To do that, you’ll need focused exercises and activities to help your team get to know each other.
Some common team-building exercises include the following:
- Two truths and a lie
- Virtual games like Pictionary or UNO
- Movie night via a streaming video conference
- Roses and thorns
These exercises will fuel better communication and collaboration overall. Remote teams will enjoy work more when they enjoy who they’re working with.
6. Encourage Your Team to Communicate Effectively
Nonverbal cues frankly don’t exist in the remote world. You can’t simply nod or gesture a thumbs up for affirmation. Unless, of course, you use an emoji. But you shouldn’t.
Teams that communicate remotely have to make sure that they’re over-communicating, rather than under-communicating.
While your team might be connected in the virtual world, you can’t be certain what your team is doing in the real world.
This makes it easy for team members to provide cursory answers and explanations if they are preoccupied. Really, every work-related interaction should supply as much detail as possible. Anything less can lead to miscommunication.
Better to be safe than sorry. Encourage your team to be specific and extensive with their communication.
7. Invest in Project Tracking Software
Project tracking software is the difference between teams that get things done and teams that don't.
Any manager worth their salt will understand the benefit of being able to organize and manage your remote team in the most efficient way possible.
The primary reason you’d want to invest in project tracking software is for remote collaboration. You want to give remote teams every resource you can to optimize their workflow.
Project tracking software, such as Jira, allows the team to have a single source of truth for what’s going on and can keep the team updated.
This is a key ingredient for communication with remote teams.
It is also based on agile principles that interface well with weekly sprint planning meetings and daily stand-ups.
In building solid communication with remote teams, you will often find yourself using two to three different project management tools.
At Trio, we use Slack, Google Docs, and Zoom to connect our teams together. It is up to you to decide which tools will best help you manage your remote team.
How To Motivate a Remote Team?
Keeping employees on task is another duty of a remote team manager. But more than mere performance, managing a remote team involves keeping employees motivated.
Possessing strong communication skills is pertinent. Managing remote teams entails being the chief liaison between your employees and a well-done finished project. Be clear about project requests and details.
And though remote schedules may be a bit more flexible, you should check-in with your employees about the status of your project. Employees work most aptly when they know what needs to be done.
Given that your team works well, give positive feedback. Employees want to feel recognized for their work and a little gratitude never goes too far. Something as small as an email expressing thanks is all that’s needed.
Perks and benefits are another way to garner enthused interest from remote employees.
Even if remote employees are at home, benefits like vacation time let employees know that you prioritize their wellbeing.
Altogether, remote employees feel the most motivated when they are being treated in accordance with reasonable expectations. Think of their needs as your own.
What is the Role of the Manager for Remote Teams?
To manage a remote team, you need a thorough comprehension of your role as manager.
The job title of manager is reserved for those who can lead and/or guide the teams they manage to do their best work, and efficiently at that.
Essentially, your objective is to be a direct contributor to the ongoing function of your company.
With remote work, you want to make certain operations run parallel to how they would in an onsite team.
For example, meetings tend to be a crucial element of how businesses operate. As the manager of a remote team, one of the many pivotal roles you have is to find a way in which an effective means of communication can be facilitated virtually.
Using remote work tools for chat and video would ensure a platform where important company matters can be discussed.
A synchronized calendar would also be helpful in organizing your remote team around deadlines, vacations, meetings, or group activities.
Similarly important is an online document management system or digital organization tool to gather all the team’s work.
Every business model has its pros and cons. But given their trendiness, it might be worth it to give remote teams a try.
Remote work has many pros including work flexibility, financial savviness, and environmental preservation.
The cons of remote work include dealing with distractions and social isolation. However, a capable remote team manager can placate these concerns.
Fortunately, Trio has the resources you need to hire a remote team of developers to help your company thrive. We can guarantee that your deadlines will be met and well-received.
Frequently Asked Questions
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Popular remote team tools include Slack, Zoom, and Github.
Besides using online tools, remote teams should make sure to have frequent meetings and check-ins, like daily stand-ups, retrospective meetings, and weekly sprint planning meetings.
The biggest challenges of managing a remote team involve a lack of face-to-face interaction and establishing a company culture.