By Sharon Koifman
Have you ever had a watercooler conversation where you discovered you had a lot more in common with a colleague than you thought you did? Or received a gift from a boss that showed you he genuinely cared? These “human” moments make a team much greater than the sum of its parts.
There is an outdated notion that such human connections don’t happen with remote employees. That can make remote workers feel left in the cold, or not part of the “real” team. From that feeling of neglect, it’s a short step to sub-par work, which managers often mistake for the employee’s incompatibility with the company.
Now that remote workers are becoming the mainstay of many companies’ workforce, a greater effort is required to manage them effectively and understand their needs.
Don’t be puzzled by the word “remote.” In many ways, the principles of managing a remote team aren’t all that different to managing an in-house one. If you keep your focus on people, processes, culture, and communication, you’ll be off on the right foot.
Here are ten tips for creating a management structure that will make remote workers integral to your company:
1. Hire With Purpose
Recruiting people with talents, skills, experiences that complement each other will go a long way in crafting a well-oiled machine, no matter where they’re located. Important factors to look out for are personalities, attitudes, and mindsets that spark ideas, control friction, and promote autonomy.
2. Implement an Air-Tight Onboarding Process
As soon as a new remote hire is made, execute an orientation program that will familiarize them with everything from the company’s history, visions, and goals to the particulars of the employee’s job functions and where it fits into the big picture. Every aspect of your company’s operations, from product education to the new software that the employee will be using, is part of a good onboarding process.
3. Construct Consistent Processes and Methodologies
This is the yardstick that will measure employee performance. For the sake of consistency, everyone on the remote team — from the newbies to the veterans — should be on the same page about how to act, whether they’re handling internal queries or appeasing irate customers. Setting standards will also help streamline work and boost efficiency.
4. Set Clear Directives and Expect Accountability
Autonomy and accountability go hand in hand, and setting clear expectations will enable both. Employees should know what times they’re expected to be available through the day, and the quality of the work that’s expected of them. This is especially necessary for a remote employee who will work on his own without co-workers to rely on. Here, once again, the onboarding process and knowledge of the big picture will help him get his bearings.
5. Build a Thriving Culture
Fact: Remote employees are not zombies who love being hooked to their computers. They are people who seek an engaging work atmosphere. Impromptu watercooler chats are difficult to come by in the remote workplace. However, video chats, pre-planned hangouts, and communication boards can all lessen the distance between remote workers.
Encourage your remote employees to interact, implement a buddy system, and inspire friendships. Make your remote team a part of the company by sharing results of your collective work, directives from clients, and company news — and make sure your remote employees are dialed in to all-hands meetings so that your in-house employees can hear their voices.
6. Use the Right Tools
When it comes to remote teams, online communication tools are your friends, and some are absolutely necessary to work effectively. At minimum, we recommend the following software stack for managing remote employees:
- A group messaging platform like Slack so that in-house and remote employees can communicate in real-time.
- A project management tool like Trello so that remote workers can stay in the loop on the progress of every shared initiative.
- A screen-sharing/video conference tool like Zoom so that managers can meet with employees face to face and share informed feedback on their work.
- A shared file management system like Google Drive so that assets are easily searchable and available to employees outside of the main office.
Take advantage of as many of these tools as possible to make remote work seamless.
7. Work Around Time Zones
Don’t let different time zones become a hurdle. Instead, allow your remote employees to work when they’re most productive, keeping in mind that that they might start their work later or end earlier than you do. Make sure to carve out time for the entire team to collaborate as a whole, as well as to meet with each team member one-on-one. If possible, switch up schedules so that no one is stuck in an inconvenient routine.
8. Encourage Camaraderie, Crush Ego
A great side effect of having an open culture based on camaraderie is that any team member can seek help or critique anyone’s work freely. Remote team members should be encouraged to speak their minds, ask questions, and receive feedback in a respectful, welcoming way — a fundamental element in achieving better results.
9. Keep An Open Mind
So, you’ve hired the right person, oriented them in everything from the company culture to what you expect of them. Now it’s time to set them free. Bear in mind that micro-managing undermines a sense of responsibility. So trust your hire to follow through, allow them some freedom to create processes that work best for them, and even make room for a few mistakes — an important learning tool.
Perhaps the most intangible management principle is to genuinely care about your team. It is the magical element that can transform a group of people huddled over a project to leaders taking charge of your company’s growth. Knowing that they are not just cogs in the wheel, that their work makes a difference, and they matter is what will ultimately make the remote team fully integrated into your company and make their performance enviable.
And in case you haven’t already noticed, many of the points above relate back to communication, which is what creates a well-functioning remote team more than anything else. Make care and communication your two pillars when it comes to managing your remote team. The rest will follow.
Sharon Koifman used over 10 years of experience in tech industry recruitment and HR to create DistantJob. His unique recruitment model allows DistantJob’s clients to get high quality IT experts working remotely at a fraction of the usual cost.