Remote team management hit the mainstream in 2020.
The pandemic forced the hands of companies that resisted the work from home culture.
Once companies adjusted to remote work, they started seeing benefits. And, now these same companies plan to make remote work a permanent fixture.
A few companies had embraced remote work long before the pandemic. As a result, they had put in plenty of thought and innovation into distributed work.
Lessons learned by these companies became acting guides for others.
And while tools and frameworks are available, a lot can go wrong. Traditional people management doesn’t translate too well to a remote environment. As a result, there are big challenges to overcome to build a cohesive remote team.
With that in mind, let’s look at five actionable remote management tips to build a cohesive team.
#1. Ensure Your Onboarding Is On Point
Established companies usually have well-rehearsed routines in place to welcome new employees.
Office tours, team introductions, and a formal induction are part of this process. Some businesses also encourage after-work drinks. These activities help break the ice and cultivate informal relationships between team members.
It is possible to recreate all that with a remote team. But it does need some effort and imagination. And, this effort doesn’t go unrewarded. Nearly 7 out of 10 employees are likely to stay 3+ years after a great onboarding experience.
Empathy is vital here. Put yourself in the shoes of a new starter, and think about their initial few weeks.
Ideas for remote onboarding
- Replace team introductions with zoom calls with department heads. The purpose is to help a new employee understand how the company fits together.
- Replace team introductions with a virtual team meeting. Team members can ask questions and get to know new employees better.
- Provide easy access to resources like policies, staff handbooks, and company intranets. Give new employees time to read and digest them.
- Replace Friday night “happy hours” with online events. Remote companies need to encourage team members to interact about non-work topics. (More on that below).
- Frequent check-ins with managers to help new employees settle down in their roles.
- To get onboarding right ensure that new team members don’t feel alone and unsure about the next steps.
Finally, encourage new employees to provide honest feedback about the onboarding process. As a result, you can improve or refine your onboarding process over time.
#2. Establish Clear Work-Hours
A flexible work schedule is the biggest benefit of working from home.
Buffer surveyed remote workers across the globe and published their findings in the “State of Remote Work” report. Here’s what they found.
Remote-first companies encourage employees to organize offer flexible work hours.
On the other hand, new remote companies still maintain standard business hours. Big reasons for this include lack of trust and operational problems.
As a result, companies now have a more balanced policy toward flexible work-hours. Such a balanced approach prevents abuse of trust and yet keeps remote employees happy.
Ideas to create a balanced working-hours policy
- Daily fixed work-hour windows during which all team members must be available. This reduces operational inefficiency and helps employees connect. Conversely, this policy may not work for teams that work across timezones.
- Asynchronous communication channels, like email, reduce the urge to expect immediate responses.
- Self-declared work-hours for the day means managers know when team members are available. Plus, it prevents encroachment on their unpaid personal time.
- Clear policy guidelines help the staff make their own decisions or request approval.
- Workload management and time tracking tools can get work done without feeling overwhelmed.
The above points may seem somewhat contradictory.
But, remote teams need clear guidelines and a high level of trust and freedom. So both companies and remote team members need to make this work. Hiring the right people in the first place ensures that mutual trust is not abused.
#3. Encourage Non-Work Interaction
Productivity is no longer the biggest problem to solve when it comes to remote team management. More remote workers today feel blocked by the lack of human connection.
However clichéd, water-cooler chats, and after-work drinks are important team-building tools. Remote work deprives teams of these tools.
So, it’s down to companies to facilitate interaction that’s NOT about work. You cannot build a remote team without encouraging non-work interactions.
Leaving this to individual teams is not a good idea. Some managers may discourage non-work related activities, affecting team morale.
With this in mind, try to give your team a range of different outlets to share their interests and passions. The more opportunities teams have to bond over mutual interests, the better.
Ideas for remote team building activities
- Group training activities can encourage team members to learn together. Training activities can be work or non-work related. Also, encourage members within the team to conduct the training where possible.
- Schedule a happy hour or a virtual lunch over zoom. Encourage team members to enjoy their meal along with a friendly conversation.
- Online gaming contests can help bring team members with common interests together. Other contest ideas include gif battles and photo contests.
Find more remote team building activities here.
Finally, it’s important to respect the diversity of the team. Not everyone will enjoy all activities. A fantasy football league, for example, might be a lot of fun for some staff, but of no interest to others.
Seek suggestions so that nobody feels left out, or forced to take part.
#4. Use The Right Tools
The remote work culture has also given rise to remote team management tools. These tools help remote teams collaborate across locations.
Here are some common types of tools you’ll need to communicate across a remote team:
- Repository tools are useful to collaborate on code, documents, and specs. Github, Google Suite, and Notion are popular tools in this category.
- Project and task management tools help plan and manage day-to-day work. Toggl Plan, Trello, and Basecamp are popular project management tools.
- Instant messaging tools help start a discussion and get quick answers. Slack is the most popular tool for team instant messaging.
- Face-to-face meeting tools are useful for conducting 1:1 as well as team meetings. Google Hangouts and Zoom are popular virtual meeting software tools.
- Emergency tools are useful when you need to reach a team member. VoIP tools like Skype, Telegram, and WhatsApp are popular tools in the category.
Doist uses the below set of tools for their team’s communication.
Used the right way, these tools can facilitate team collaboration. On the other hand, over-dependence on tools can distract the team from getting actual work done.
Let’s take messaging systems like Slack as an example. Slack is great to start discussions, reach out for instant answers, and be in touch. However, instant messaging systems can be a huge time-drain and a distraction. They can cause staff to never switch off and cause burnouts.
Finally, every team member should know the purpose of each tool and when to use which tool. Such a unified, consistent approach also helps everyone find answers quickly.
#5. Ensure Everyone Knows How To Find Answers
Collaboration and communication are the top challenges for remote teams along with loneliness.
Buffer’s study confirms this.
Remote team members don’t have an option to popup their heads across cubicles. And, it’s hard to constantly disturb co-workers across timezones.
Leaving a remote team member unanswered can be damaging for the entire team.
Best case, there will be no progress on the work front. And worst case, the team member will make a decision based on whatever information they have.
That’s why you must ensure that your team is never in such a position. They must have either have access to all information or know whom to contact.
How to ensure everyone has access to the information?
We’ve already looked at repository tools in the above section. Use any of these repository tools to create specs, SOPs, and policies for your team’s processes.
Maintaining these documents is an on-going activity for managers and your ops team.
Create a list of emergency contacts and how to reach them. Make it available to all the team members. This way they can still get in touch with someone if they don’t find answers in the repository.
Managing remote teams is a new challenge for a lot of companies. Instead of feeling threatened, top businesses are treating this as an opportunity. As a result, they see improvements in productivity as well as cost savings.
New remote companies need deliberate work on building a cohesive remote team. For inspiration, they can look at companies that are already doing this well.
Remote team management is the collective responsibility of the entire leadership. That’s because this involves everyone from HR, Operations, and management to succeed.
Most remote employees have a natural desire to perform well at work. By using the five actionable tips in this article, companies can build a culture that needs very little mico-management.