How to Manage Remote Teams


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A lot of CEOs are drawn to remote workers because they see big benefits:

  • less overhead cost
  • a wider pool of talent to choose from
  • happier, less stressed team members
  • employees tend to stay with the company longer, and are generally more satisfied

No doubt, these are great outcomes.  However, it’s also important to remember – managing remote workers takes attention, skill and innovation.  Take a moment to really consider how a distributed team will impact the business.  Working remotely isn’t the right solution for every business, environment  or job.

There are six main areas to focus on, when you’re considering remote employees:

  • the role
  • compliance
  • performance
  • engagement
  • collaboration and
  • communication

#1 The Role

You have to ask yourself, can the work be done effectively offsite?

Does this job support someone in the organization that needs face to face contact or support?

If the job requires physical contact with the goods you provide, or involves a public presence – naturally they aren’t the right jobs to consider going virtual.

But, what about jobs that involve high levels of data security, or other restrictions?

Keep in mind – security is much more easily controlled if the person is working onsite.

So, how do you begin to figure out which jobs can go virtual, and which should stay in house.?

Start with a list of the job duties.

Now, before your eyes glaze over with the ‘HR’ of it all – you don’t have to do this yourself.  Ask the person in the role to write out what they do – just bullet points are fine.

By the way, this will help you pull together a job description, which will be really helpful later on.

Once they have a list, ask their manager, supervisor or even a colleague to take a look, and add anything they think might be missing.

Julie may have completely forgotten that when the copier goes down, people come to her first for help.

Then, take a look at the list, and start narrowing down which tasks can be done offsite, which tasks can be adapted for offsite, and which absolutely have to be done in the cocoon of your office.

Don’t forget to be creative –

can you shift some things to another position,

are there more creative ways to get the same outcome,

does the task need to be done at all or is it just habit?

Once you finish this simple exercise, you’ll have a good idea about the viability of remoting the role.

…I have seen something as simple as a daily good morning, or good night note, go miles to make someone feel part of the team.

#2 Compliance

It’s true, having a remote worker means you don’t have to pay for an office, or parking, or various other location based expenses.  But you are still responsible for providing

  • the equipment that will be used -things like laptops, phones, software etc.

and when I say ‘responsible’ I mean – you have to pay for it!

  • you also have to carry worker’s compensation coverage for the location where your team member is working – so if that’s Lucy’s second bedroom, your insurance policy has to extend to Lucy’s house
  • and, if Lucy is in a different state than your company (or your payroll location), you may have to register as an employer in Lucy’s home state – so that things like unemployment insurance and disability benefits go to the right place, and are available for Lucy if she needs it
  • one other piece of the puzzle is the fact that different states may have drastically different employment laws. you are responsible for following the laws in Lucy’s state, as well as your own.

#3 Performance

There’s no such thing as ‘set it and forget it’ where guiding your team is concerned (remote or not).

But with remote team members, it’s especially important that you are crystal clear about your expectations, the objectives you have in mind, and what you want the person to accomplish and when.

It’s easy to walk down the hall, or pop into someone’s office and give incremental course corrections along the way.  But when you’re dealing with a remote team member, the communication tends to be much more intentional, and less incidental.  Each conversation seems to ‘mean’ more, to hold more weight.

All this can make a casual course correction comment, seem like stinging discipline.

So, you have to take more care with your words, and the tools you use to communicate.

Again, video, video, video

Phone, phone, phone

And, make sure your conversations are frequent

The more often you talk, the more opportunity you have to coach and guide.

So, one of your employees just told you that she’s pregnant.  Feeling overwhelmed, with no idea where to start?  After all, HR just got dumped on your plate.  It’s not your zone of genius, and you don’t want it to be.

Managing California Leave is your answer.  It’s an easy to understand course, that explains what the various leave programs are – without the HR gobbledy gook.  And it gives you a clear step by step guide that walks you through the process of putting someone on leave

Yep, you get all the forms, notices and documents too.  Everything you need to do it right and do it fast.  After all, you don’t have all day – you have other things to do!

Use the link to get an Insider’s sneak peek  And don’t worry – you’ve got this.  And we’ve got you.

#4 Engagement

On the engagement side, it is true that people are generally happier when they have the opportunity to work from home.  But, it’s also true that Remote workers report high levels of loneliness and isolation

so what’s the fix – make an extra effort to engage them in social activities, use video chat whenever possible, make arrangements for the full team to get together regularly

use innovative peer to peer based recognition programs, like zestful, or

(no, I’m not an affiliate…..)

You know – I have seen something as simple as a daily good morning, or good night note, go miles to make someone feel part of the team.

Remember, you, as a manager, have added responsibility to make sure your remote team is productive and happy.

Be sure to lay out clear objectives, and follow up regularly

Meet frequently, make time at the top of the meeting for small talk, and never, ever cancel a 1on1

It makes people feel ignored and … incidental.

#5 Collaboration

Take the time to consider time zones.  Windows 10 allows you to set up to 3 different time zones on your PC clock.  This  handy visual helps make sure someone isn’t required at a meeting at 5:00am or 8:30 pm.  Also, if you use a company master calendar, it helps cut down on … oh wait, did we forget to invite Lucy?

There are a ton of collaboration tools available, from Slack, to Microsoft Teams, to Zoom and on and on.  Evaluate and select the tool that makes the most sense for your business, and then USE IT!  All these applications are only as good as the info in them and the use they get.  You have to ‘bake them into’ your process.

#6 Communication

The last, and I would argue the most important point – communication.

Missing non verbal cues in everyday communication is a recipe for disaster, because with lack of sufficient information, humans assume malice before mis-communication.

The fix:

  • set standards such as if the chat is more than 3 full rounds back and forth, pick up the phone;
  • if you have to offer a critique, pick up the phone or do a video chat
  • if you are going to offer praise, do a group eMail or chat – remember, critique in private / praise in public

I can’t tell you how important it is that both people in a conversation get as much information from one another as possible, to communicate effectively.  That’s actually why emoji’s were created, to try to add some of the human inflection back into flat text messages.

Without access to non verbal cues, it’s too easy to get the message wrong.  So don’t rely on eMail or chat as your only connection.

Also, be clear about your preferred communication cadence – how quickly do you expect a reply from eMail, chat or a phone call.

If you are expecting a response time of an hour, and your team member things getting back in the same day is fine – well, then you have a problem.

Remember, if you set clear expectations, work hard to be inclusive, and make sure you have your compliance ducks in a row – your remote team can help your company grow, while saving the budget.

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