The times have changed, and so have the methods of working (and consequently, managing the work of a remote team).
And while it is Covid-19 that has forced us to work from home, the truth is that many companies were already on their way to shifting to an entirely remote work model.
69% of companies were already allowing remote work, with 16% going fully remote.
Despite that, 44% of companies still do not allow remote work at all.
What recipe for success is that 16% of companies following that the 44% are afraid even to try?
That is what we’ll be talking about in this guide – remote team management.
What is a remote team?
Simply put, a remote team can be understood as a team of employees working from outside a traditional office setup.
There’s (obviously) no restriction on where the remote employees can work from. They can be in the comfort of their home, or in a coworking space, or even in a coffee shop.
Most companies, especially with the Covid situation, are working with such remote teams – except the employees are all, hopefully, at their homes.
Goes without saying – working with an in-house team and working with a remote team are two completely different ball games. So, despite how efficient any team is working from the office, there are certain guidelines that should be followed when the said team goes remote.
And those guidelines are as much for the team, as they are for the organization and management.
Managing and monitoring remote employees’ productivity is truly challenging at first. Some unprecedented problems might arise in the way of managing a remote team, but it’s important to have your guards up – so that your team can be as productive from home as it is from the office.
Because as we mentioned earlier – companies are already switching to a remote work model. This indicates that people are increasingly willing to work from home, without having to be a part of a physical office set up. So, the discussions in this guide are not limited to JUST Corona and the current situation – they will be equally, if not more, helpful for years to come.
All in all, if organizations are able to master the art of effective remote project management, they’ll flourish, and so will their employees
But there are certain challenges that might come your way while managing remote work, let’s look at what they are.
Challenges faced while remote team management
While the benefits of working remotely are clear as a day – both for employees and employers – there are still some inconveniences that should be dealt with beforehand. Here’s a list of some:
- Strained communication and difficulty in setting the right schedule and timeline.
- Lack of clarity and cohesion within the team.
- Unfair division of tasks.
- Feeling of confusion and stress amongst employees due to mismanagement.
This list of challenges, very honestly, goes on and is dependent on the culture of your organization. But whoever you are, chances are, you will face friction in some or another way when switching your team to a remote environment.
To curb these challenges, here are some key pointers for you to consider (before we get into the ‘hows’ of efficient remote work management).
1. Have trust
Remote team employees do not physically clock in and out of the office. As a result of that, they need some boundaries between their work and personal hours.
You should not expect them to be at your disposal at your whim. Especially if you’re dealing with someone from another time zone, always be considerate and respect their time as much as you’d want them to respect yours.
To make sure things are smooth on this front, you can:
- Be proactive in talking to your team members.
- Discuss the bandwidth of every member, assign tasks accordingly.
- Use online tools to keep track of work and manage different stages of the project.
- Set up calls only when necessary, and always consider the other person’s availability.
- Avoid micromanaging at any cost – the remote workers are likely to get done working without interruptions.
All in all, for a fruitful and efficient long-distance work relationship, you should – at all costs – trust your team members and their time management.
You shouldn’t be too strict about when they’re starting and ending their day as long as they’re getting the work done.
You should trust your team members to manage their time effectively. Whether they start the work a little late or take frequent breaks, it shouldn’t be a problem as long as they are able to get the work done.
2. Be clear
The clarity in communication is one of the first prerequisites to effective remote project management. You should be upfront with your team about the goals, expectations, and plan of action.
Document all that is necessary – this cannot be overstated.
Create roadmaps and plans that everyone agrees with – for that, make sure to discuss your plans with the rest of the team.
Use tools like Trello, Asana, Monday, or any other that you fancy, to keep your work organized and tasks segregated by project and by teams. Doing that will help you and your team in the long run. To know more about each of these tools, refer to this section of the book.
Remote management requires even more clarity in communication because you’re mostly communicating via text (whether on email or on any platform). If you don’t word your texts correctly, you might incite confusion – or worse, you might offend someone.
That is why make sure to be as specific as you can. So, instead of saying “this task needs to be done ASAP”, say “this task needs to be submitted by 7 pm tomorrow”.
3. Add value
Working with a remote team is, by default, likely to cause some or the other issues. Make sure you don’t add to that by offering destructive criticism.
Be as specific about your feedback – whether positive or negative – and always provide action points for improvements. In doing that, you’re conveying a sense of trust and mentorship – which is essential for keeping your team close to you.
If a teammate is underperforming, be kind enough to talk to them about it, and help them find a way out.
Most of the time, especially in a work-from-home setup, teammates are going through a lot more than you can comprehend. Always have an open ear and an open mind.
You can also add bonuses/reward systems for employees who are performing outstandingly. It’ll keep them motivated and others on their toes.
By doing the above-mentioned things, you’ll bring a level of flexibility to your office culture and add value to the lives of your teammates.
4. Act smart
Technology fuels the world today – and that includes project management.
If you’re managing a remote team, be smart and proactive in looking for the best tools you can use. There are a lot of useful tools out there, but you need to know your requirements to make the correct choice.
Having the right tools can save you hours of energy and effort. Using them, you can automate most of the mundane tasks (like following up, assigning regular tasks, updating trackers, and so on). Project management tools can help you achieve clarity in terms of the ongoing and pending work, which will allow you to allocate resources accordingly.
While there is no one-size-fits-all tool, you should definitely ensure the following features in the software you finally pick:
- Tracking capabilities to track milestones and deadlines.
- Task assigning capabilities.
- Automation capabilities to streamline regular tasks.
- Communication channel for one-to-one and group chats – ideally with file-sharing capabilities.
- File storage capabilities to create a single repository for your team’s work.
Takeaways from this sample tracker:
- The tracker is divided into the major tabs:
- Client details: This contains a questionnaire that once filed will reveal a lot of information about the client and their audience. It’ll help in researching and creating topics for posts. This tab can also contain other essential information like client’s bank details, main POC, contact numbers, and such – basically everything in one place!
- Project management: This tab is for the project managers to assign tasks to the team. As you can see, the columns capture all the required information – like task owner, task type, deadline, notes, link, and more. You can customize this as per the requirement of the project.
- LinkedIn content calendar: This can be a monthly calendar that contains sections for writing post captions as well as inserting the post image. Then, the columns capture various stages of the post – has it been posted or is it being reviewed?
- Logins: All important login details for this project go in the logins tab.
- Depending on the requirement of the project, you can customize this tracker.
- It should be shared with everyone involved in the project with varying access rights. Edit access should be shared only to a selected few.
- Using this will free you of a lot of clutter that would’ve otherwise happened.
Building your ideal remote team
Every company has a different approach (owing to different requirements) towards building a remote team, but there are some common attributes in every successful remote team:
- They’re cross-functional. The most efficient remote teams combine the strengths of copywriters, designers, developers, marketers, and support staff – with everybody knowledgeable about their field. This ensures that the project can be brought to fruition from start to end in-house itself.
- They work on one project at a time. So, always ensure your team is working on just one project at a time.
- They’re self-sufficient. Your team should include people good at their work and sufficient to manage their tasks without constant intervention. You should create leaders and innovators in your team, and keep them motivated to do their best.
- They understand that they can’t do everything. For this, it can be a good idea to look at outsourcing work to freelancers or outside, 3rd-party vendors. But even then, make sure you treat them like a part of your team instead of just a hired pawn.
With the above points in mind, you should be good to go with the basics of setting up remote teams, managing a team when they turn from in-house to remote.
But what about adding more resources to the remote team?
How different is hiring a freelancer/remote resource from hiring a ‘physically’ in-house resource?
Successfully onboarding a remote resource
How do you ensure that the new person on board, despite being miles away from your office, is still an equal part of your organization and its processes?
The answer is simple: create a structured Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) document with the expectations, targets, rewards, and all that is required, clearly listed out.
You can create different SOPs for different tasks, projects, or clients – but there should be something for the person to refer to. It brings an immense amount of clarity and helps pace up the work.
Takeaways from this SOP:
Place all the important information on this doc. This could include:
- Strategic objective: Mention the objective/goal of the engagement.
- Campaign sheet: The link to the sheet/doc where all the work is being handled.
- Roles involved: A list of roles that’ll be performed in this engagement (like, web designing, content creation, content uploading).
- Task template: A template that has all the processes required for a task so that the task can be easily assigned
- Here are some pointers for you to keep in mind to chalk out an effective SOP document:
Use images and videos
The VIsual medium is always the best for solidifying a point. So, if you want your resources to quickly understand the SOP, you should use as many videos or images as possible. These could be screenshots of various items or screen-recorded walkthrough videos.
There are many tools that you can use to capture screenshots and videos. Full page screen capture is one such tool that allows you to take full-page screenshots and save them as PNGs or PDFs for better clarity.
For video recording, one of the most used tools is Loom as it allows you to save a lot of time that would have otherwise been wasted in typing your process.
Presenting this information in a pictorial manner will help the new person in settling in and understanding your office structure.
Offer detailed instructions
SOPs are infamous for being incomprehensible blobs of text (however ironic that sounds).
Make sure you’re far from this pitfall – otherwise no one will actually read or refer to the SOPs.
Try and be as actionable as you can – because, in the end, the purpose of these SOPs is to get tasks done quicker. To ensure this, you can have the project managers or someone working closely on the project prepare these documents.
Be clear with your language
Ensure that your SOP isn’t full of industry (and worse, office) jargon. Keep it as simple as you can – because ideally, anyone should be able to understand the SOPs.
Don’t assume jargon or any technical term is automatically understood. Always explain terms that you feel might be confusing.
Another key point while drafting an SOP: you want to ensure that results are system-dependent and not people-dependent.
Use checklists and metrics wherever possible
Checklists are quite powerful, yet underrated, tools.
In one, simple glance, checklists can convey the entire workload of a person. This brings with it an incredible power to stop mistakes from happening.
Instead of having paragraphs of texts in your SOP, try using short sentences and checklists with detailed instructions that are easy to follow.
Don’t be vague – instead of saying “promote this article”, say “share this article with 20 influencers”. In short, provide metrics and figures wherever possible – so that there’s a benchmark for the resource to look up to.
Now that you have your people ready – both the previous in-house ones, as well as the newly recruited freelancers – it’s time to get to the real stuff.