The Golden Rules for Managing Remote Teams

Illustrator: Franuk
remote team management

A company that functions remotely has a lot of challenges that companies running their business from physical offices in concrete commercial buildings cannot relate to. One of them is making and following the rules for managing the team.

Remote teams work in different geographical places with different time zones. Therefore, when you’re managing a remote team, you have to be careful in drafting rules. Moreover, you also have to find a way to keep things easy, and not very imposing. To help you with that, here are some simple and golden rules that are great for managing remote teams.

Schedule Daily Stand-up Meetings

Stand-up meetings are great for starting the day and planning out the activities. It also helps in following up with the tasks, and redressing issues. Stand-up meetings ensure that there is always an interaction between you and your team. By scheduling daily meetings, you avoid your team members from working in a silo, which is a big threat. 

In remote work, it’s not unusual for employees to feel distanced from their superior. In the absence of personal meetings, employees miss communication, which ultimately makes the relationship with their managers turn cold. Stand-up meetings, especially when done over video call, avoid that from happening. However, there’s something that you have to remember. Meetings that go on forever can be counterproductive. It causes dismay, and instead of looking forward to it, your team will abhor it. A 15-minute stand-up duration is great as a rule of thumb.

Listen Carefully

Meetings and regular interactions have their place in the communication strategy with your remote team. But, that’s not complete unless you have worked on your listening skills. When you listen carefully, you practice more empathy. You know where your employees are coming from, and what they are really asking for. With good listening, you not only gain the trust of your remote team members, but also make them feel more valued.

Listening can be a bit more tricky in written communication. Therefore, ask for clarification in case of lack of clarity. Keep a diary in handy, and make note of things that your employees are pointing out. Remembering these finer details will keep the bond with your team strong and long-lasting.

Also, when the same topic pops up in the future, you can go back and refer to the notes. This will avoid you from looking like an ignorant manager.

Embrace More Asynchronous Communication

Asynchronous communication is a non-instant, lazy cousin of synchronous communication. Do not let the word lazy confuse you. If done right, asynchronous communication can be more productive for your remote team.

Here’s a quick definition of asynchronous communication: Asynchronous communication is any type of conversation that is NOT done in real-time. Both the sender and receiver are not required to stay online to converse with each other.

The biggest advantage of using asynchronous communication tools in daily interactions is that your remote teams get more time and space to reply to conversations. This way, they can allocate the best time in their schedule to complete tasks. They can have a separate time allocated only for replying to chats and emails. Your team will experience deep work, and minimize unnecessary distractions to produce the best quality work.

As a manager, you can take the initiative of restricting the amount of synchronous communication in a single day. You can stress by using chats, emails, and even screen recording videos to keep conversations asynchronous yet personal.

Invest in the Right Tools

Having access to the right set of tools is more important in a remote organization. Employees are self-dependent as they don’t have the option of walking to the next table searching for answers. 

Checking with your teammates, and asking them what tools will help them the most, is the simplest way to figure out the list of tools they need. A digital marketer’s toolkit, and a programmer’s tech requirements will vary. Similarly, a subscription to an email marketing software is different from a subscription to a designer tool. Understanding the differences and allocating a budget for the toolkit will help you to keep things organized. 

You can also go a step ahead from here to make sure that your employees are happy working remotely. Provide a financial incentive so that they can set up their work environment that is well-lit, and has ergonomic furniture too. In a good set-up, your team members will be in a better space to function more effectively. 

Practice Participative Leadership

In a traditional sense, leadership means leading a group of people towards a common goal. There is no debate about this, but when we’re talking about remote teams, a leader has to do a lot more than just lead the team. They have to be more open to the idea of the team workers contributing their thoughts and ideas towards the activities. This includes deciding the goal too.

This can be practiced in every company, but in a remote organization, a participative leader is looked up as more approachable and transparent. It also instills a feeling of fairness amongst employees because all the important actions are taken involving their suggestions. If you’re feeling lost about how you can become a participative leader, here are a few tips to get started - 

  • Be clear while assigning the roles and responsibilities of every team member is a project;
  • Clearly communicate your expectations;
  • Decide the goals mutually, and the roadmap of achieving them;
  • Note down the key metrics that will help to evaluate the performance;
  • Be transparent about the goal of the project and explain how everyone is personally accountable to it.

These are reference points which work well in a remote team. You might have to add a few more, depending on the nature of your team and project.

Focus on the Mental Health of Employees

Burnout and mental stress in remote work can occur for different reasons. It doesn’t have to be related to work in particular. A stressful atmosphere at home can also push the employees to feel anxious. The mental health of remote workers has become even more of a sensitive issue after the COVID-19 pandemic. Being forced to work from home has not worked very well. As per a survey done by the American Psychiatric Association, 17% of employees always feel isolated while working from home.

This is a scary number. Especially when the research further suggests that 48% totally agree that they have to face some form of retaliation or being fired if they take time off or healthcare assistance for mental health. This means that if you’re not proactive towards the mental health of your employees, they might be working with a feeling of anxiety laced with fear of getting caught.

But, if balancing mental health is a challenge, there’s hope to overcome it. And, here are a few of the ways that can be very useful.

  • Encourage some physical activity. Convince the management to pay for their gym membership fees or any other sport they like to pursue
  • Plan team-building activities to make work exciting, and let the peers know each other well. If you want some ideas, then here are 12 ideas to set you in motion
  • Schedule regular one-to-one meetings. Stand-up meetings may not be the best choice for discussing mental issues. Personal meetings can be great for deep and meaningful conversations
  • Practice gratitude. Be thankful for their contributions, and share a few doses of appreciation to keep their spirits high

Train and Help them Grow

Staying in the same job role and performing the same tasks every day can make remote work boring. This can ultimately lead to employees feeling not worthy enough or not contributing to the success of the company. These feelings can again jeopardize the morale and strength of your employees. In such a case, training programs can act as a breather.

Other than work-related challenges, many employees also find it difficult to get used to remote working. Therefore, designing training programs to teach your employees about time management, communication ethics, group dynamics, emotion management and mental well-being.​​

Regular training programs will keep your employees busy, and more productive. They will always have the urge to learn, and report to work with interest, not stress.

Hire Responsibly

After the Coronavirus pandemic, the search for remote jobs has increased by 460% when compared with the search volume two years back. Although the effect of the pandemic has eased a bit, you can still expect many people wanting to work remotely going ahead. Therefore, there is a high potential for your remote team expanding in the future. To ensure that you hire the right people for your team, you have to set some rules there too.

Again, there is no definitive way of doing that, but once you try to set a process, you have a better opportunity of hiring the right people in your team. Here are some bullet points that will show you the road ahead:

  • Be clear about why you’re hiring. Don’t hire if you only want to expand your team. Know what activity the new teammate will perform, and how it will make a difference;
  • Focus on the onboarding experience of the new employee. Send them a welcome email with a screen recording video, introduce them to other employees, provide them with access to the tools that they need to perform their job, and give a virtual tour of what their first day will look like;
  • Share your expectations with them, so that they know right from day one how they are an important part of the organization;
  • Tell them about the goals that you’re trying to achieve as a team, and how they can contribute;
  • Share all the resources that are necessary to mingle with the company culture
  • As you start hiring more people, you can try out more ideas to enrich the above points, and make your hiring even more effective. 

Final Thoughts

Remote working is challenging. But, managing a remote team is even more demanding. The role of managers in remote teams has grown in importance, especially after the Coronavirus pandemic.

This blog lays down some basic yet important rules that every manager should follow to manage their team more effectively. From communication, mental health to hiring, it covers different pillars of remote working. While this blog is insightful, make sure that you try other ideas to ace your role as a manager of a remote team.