Many organizations are warming to the idea that remote teams can be a great way to get work done. In some instances they are finding greater productivity and better work-life balance. But managing a remote team requires new skills and attitudes. Here are 6 tips for managers who want to get the most out of their remote teams:
- Hire people who can work remotely
- Organize a work plan
- Track work output, not hours worked
- Be flexible with work hours
- Use internal-facing social tools
- Meet regularly
Hiring is a manager’s most important task, but for remote teams, there needs to be criteria beyond just competency and personality. Managers have to hire for the ability to do remote work. As Trello CEO Michael Pryor writes, “… Get a sense for how they’ll perform out-of-office, and ask specific questions directed at their remote experience, such as: What tools have they used? Can they show a remote project example they executed from start to finish? Are they comfortable working autonomously? And (very important to live collaboration needs), will they be available to overlap part of each day with the entire company?”
In the amorphous world of remote work, it’s essential for managers to build a structure or plan for remote employees. Deborah Mitchell suggests: “Prepare a daily or weekly written plan outlining what is expected of each person on the team. This way, everyone can keep track of their assignments. Since employees are working from different locations, use a project management system to keep everyone in touch.” Appirio’s content team uses Trello to track our work, but any decent project management tool can work.
For any business function, what you measure is what you get more of. So if you measure the hours worked, you’ll get more hours logged. But for remote work, the actual work output is more important than the number of hours worked. Rob Rawson, the co-founder of Staff.com asks managers: “What are the key indicators of success for each job? Get transparency around this so that you will know quickly (in a couple of weeks, not 6 months) whether each team member is being productive or not.”
For Jeff Temple, Senior Manager of Employee Development and Engagement at Appirio, the key to managing his team is to be flexible with hours. Jeff says, “I find being flexible with working hours helps, like being willing to take the occasional early morning or late evening call to make sure we get a chance to connect on a Hangout.” Of course, having flexibility with hours requires a different corporate culture and buy-in from top executives.
“We are using our proposal Chatter group as a sort of Facebook (for team building),” says Kathleen Foley, who manages Appirio’s proposal writing team. And when it comes to meetings, always try to include video. As Temple adds, “Video calls are far superior to regular calls for making a connection with your team; they significantly improve communication.”
Finally, having a consistent cadence of meetings is essential for managing a remote team. To this point, Appirio’s Senior Director of Change Enablement, Kim Heger, says, “In addition to 1:1 calls with my team, I host a monthly team call and the first thing we do is team shoutouts — recognizing individual and team accomplishments or personal things like birthdays, anniversaries, finishing a big race, and so on. It’s important to get to know your team on a personal level.” One of the hidden advantages of office work is the friendly chit-chat where people get to know each other. Successful managers like Kim bring this feel to their remote teams.