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Best Practices for Leading Effective Remote Teams
With the continuous global shift towards working from home and the business benefits of remote work continuing to stack up, many team leaders are now being tasked with managing remote teams. While this is perfectly viable, it does present some unique challenges as some established team management practices within the workplace may not translate well to a remote environment.
With this in mind, we take a closer look at 15 best practices for remote team management:
The first step to successfully managing remote teams is to set the ground rules early and make sure they are enforced. The precise rules here will vary from team to team, but employees need to know what is expected of them. For instance, you might establish early on that the team will have a daily meeting to report progress and bring up any issues. You might also need to set out the best way for team members to contact you and the best times. Setting rules and expectations early will help to ensure the team adheres to them and can also provide a level of consistency.
2. Communicate on a Daily Basis
In an article for Inc.com, Jason Aten notes that daily check-ins can play a vital role if you are required to remotely manage a team. For some people, switching to remote work can be unsettling, so the routine of checking in with the wider team each day can be extremely valuable, especially in those early days and weeks. You can use these daily check-ins to assess progress, provide feedback, and see if there are any questions team members need to ask. As the team becomes more settled, the frequency of these group sessions can be reduced.
3. Offer Various Contact Options
Another of the best practices for managing remote teams is to make sure the team has a number of different contact options available. This could mean video calls, telephone calls, instant messaging, email, and more. Clearly, there are significant benefits to video conferencing and this may be the best method of communication for team meetings. Yet, when a team member has a non-urgent question to ask, you probably will not want them to video call you. Provide various options and try to establish which form of communication is best for different situations.
4. Set Goals and Broader Objectives
The lack of in-person monitoring means productivity is always a concern with remote working arrangements. Although studies have suggested average productivity does not suffer in most cases, individual productivity might. There are options available for monitoring activity levels, but these can feel intrusive and may not necessarily provide an accurate reading of all kinds of activity anyway. A better way to keep productivity high may be to work with team members and set individual goals or targets, along with broader team objectives that will help guide individual decision making.
5. Provide the Right Software
Next, you need to make sure your team is equipped with the software they need to effectively carry out their roles and perform the tasks required. The exact options here will depend on what your team does. Away from specialist software applications, team members need access to communications software like Microsoft Teams or Zoom, and core applications, like Microsoft Office or Google Workspace. Furthermore, it is important to ensure all team members are using the same versions of the main applications in order to avoid compatibility issues, and also to provide training for employees who are unfamiliar with certain remote work software.
6. Try to Be More Flexible
Flexible working is valued by many employees. In fact, according to The Ultimate List of Remote Work Statistics – 2021 Edition, 76 percent of workers say they would be more willing to stay with their current employer if they could work flexible hours. Remote working provides an ideal opportunity to introduce or expand on this kind of flexibility. Depending on the work being done and how much real-time collaboration is required, you could opt to be flexible on work start times. In many cases, this has resulted in increased team morale and longer tenure from valued personnel.
7. Use Remote Work to Your Advantage
One of the more interesting advantages associated with remote work is the ability to hire people from anywhere in the world. After all, when people do not have to attend a physical workplace, they do not need to live close by. Use this to create a more dynamic, diverse, and specialized team. On a basic level, remote work provides a deeper talent pool to explore, which could result in new hires with superior skills. Beyond this, however, you can also benefit from workers being available at different times of the day or gain valuable local insights by having boots on the ground staff in key regions.
8. Serve as a Mentor for Your Team
Brent Gleeson’s article 13 Tips for Leading and Managing Remote Teams advises that to get best results, leaders should try to mentor more than they manage. Mentoring means different things to different people, but the aim is to assist with personal development. This means sharing knowledge and experiences with your team and taking an active interest in their progress. It may involve providing a certain level of emotional support – especially important with remote workers – and it also means making a conscious effort to lead by example and serving as a role model for team members.
9. Encourage Some Social Interaction
Remote work has a number of benefits, but one of the single biggest drawbacks associated with it is the potential for loneliness or social isolation. This can have a devastating impact on the mental health of team members, leading to absenteeism, lower morale, reduced productivity, and increased staff turnover. Fortunately, there are steps you can take, such as encouraging social interactions via your chosen communication methods. Many organizations set up specific channels for employees to share personal stories such as weekend plans, trips away, birthday wishes, etc. It may also be possible to arrange outings, in-person catch-ups, and other social sessions outside of work time.
10. Have One-to-One Check Ins
While regular communication is important for the team, it is also crucial that you take the time to check in with those you remotely manage on a one-to-one basis too. This does not need to occur every day, but it should happen regularly. You may have some team members who are dealing with issues that they feel unable to share with the wider team; depending on the nature of team meetings, they may not have been able to make points they would have liked to. One-to-one check-ins also offer a good opportunity to provide some coaching and to check on progress.
11. Do Not Become Overbearing
Careful management of your team is essential, but you will need to find the right balance and avoid becoming overbearing. In particular, micro-managing can become a big problem and can hinder your team’s effectiveness. When managing remote teams, it is crucial that you provide clear instructions, set deadlines, and ask for progress updates. However, you also need to trust your team and have faith that they know how to do their job. This means knowing when to take a step back and allow them to take charge of the situation.
12. Supply the Right Equipment
Many of those who are asked to remotely manage a team do not take the necessary time to ensure that all members of the team each have the equipment they need. This can then have long-term repercussions, especially if people are experiencing physical discomfort when working at home or if they are struggling to do their work effectively. In particular, you need to think about basic ergonomics. Do your team members have an appropriate desk? Do they have an adjustable chair with the right support to reduce back and neck issues? Are they aware of how to position their monitor? These are all issues that can be monitored in an office environment, but they are easy to miss remotely.
13. Offer Encouragement and Feedback
Morale is important in any team setting, but remote teams may require an extra level of encouragement. After all, team members are not likely to experience some of the smaller interactions that can help to keep people motivated. For this reason, it is worth taking the time to provide positive feedback when a team member does something well, or even more generally when the team does something well. Words of encouragement can help team members to feel valued, while a lack of encouragement could lead to situations where team members do not feel valued and lower their effort levels.
14. Listen to Employee Feedback
Aside from providing feedback to the various team members, it is also useful to take the time to request feedback from them. This feedback could be on the way tasks are organized, the way the day is structured, the workload, etc. Once you do this, it is important that you actually listen to what is said and understand it. You should also try to identify any clear trends within the feedback, such as issues raised by more than one team member, as these may need to be addressed as a priority. When feedback is heard, people feel more valued, and practices can be improved.
15. Accept an Adjustment Period
Finally, when managing remote teams, it is best to accept that there will need to be a period of adjustment, where team members get used to working in this way. It is almost inevitable that some unanticipated problems will arise, and certain team members may initially feel unsettled or overwhelmed. Technical issues are common but can almost always be resolved, while long-standing work habits formed in office environments can take a while to dissipate. Try to stay calm and adopt a patient approach in the early stage
Summing It All Up
Getting used to managing remote teams can take time, but the new challenges thrown up by remote work do have solutions making it a perfectly viable arrangement. By using the 15 best practices provided, you can lead an effective team remotely, achieve high levels of productivity and avoid problems to do with morale, well-being, and social isolation.