Whether you’ve been managing a remote team for years or COVID-19 forced you to quickly embrace a remote-work model, knowing how to build a successful and measurable remote work strategy is key. In this article, we’ll be diving into practical tips for managers to help them navigate managing remote team members while ensuring they’ve got a successful remote work strategy in place.
Throughout the article, we’ll be featuring expert opinions from the webinar How to Make Remote Work Part of Your Team’s DNA, where Darren Murph of GitLab, Helen Kupp of Slack, Darren Buckner of Workfrom, and Leah Knobler of Help Scout shared their expertise on leading remote teams.
Let’s dive in!
1. Change your mindset
If you are struggling with your remote work strategy now, the first piece of advice is very simple: Don’t panic; you’re not alone! However, if you want to start improving your remote staff management skills, you have to change your mindset right now.
The first thing you need to do is accept the fact that remote work is here to stay. Whether your organization becomes fully distributed or moves forward as a hybrid company, remote work will continue to play a crucial role towards the future.
Second, you should embrace the “new normal” as an opportunity with endless options in terms of innovation. As stated by Slack’s initiative The Future Forum, “the sudden move to remote work provides the opportunity to question decades of orthodoxy, to reimagine culture and norms, and leverage technology to create a better way to work.”
Along those lines, it’s likely time to update your skills and think differently, particularly by moving away from certain things you did in the past. According to Darren Murph, head of remote at GitLab, managers should consider taking a course on unlearning to get rid of outdated habits.
[Managers should consider taking] “a course on unlearning, literally teaching people to not do the things they’ve done in the past, [like] share early and often instead of holding things until they’re polished, and working with a low level of shame.”Darren Murph, head of remote at GitLab
Finally, if you are still in survival mode because COVID-19 forced you to go remote and ask your employees to work from home, you need to switch gears. “For any business to adapt to change, now, or ever, it is critical for the leader to be on the offensive move of innovation and growth, not just a defensive move of survival,” says Monty Hooke, founder of the outsourcing company The Exponential.
2. Assess your needs
Before trying to figure out how to build a successful remote work strategy, it is crucial to spend some time assessing the needs of your organization.
- What are your financial constraints?
- Can you save money (e.g. real estate costs) with a remote team?
- Do you have a good reason to implement a remote work strategy in the long run?
- Does it fit your corporate culture?
- What are the potential implications of your remote work strategy when it comes to your customer experience?
Once you have answered some of those general questions, you need to assess the roles and the teams within your organization. You should decide which roles fit remote work even on a permanent basis. While doing that, we invite you to use Gallup’s criteria for establishing an optimal remote work:
- Most or all duties can be performed at an off-site location.
- The tasks and processes are well-defined.
- The need for interdependent work is minimum.
Remember that behind each role there is a real person so it is important that you also take into account the level of comfort, performance, strengths, lifestyle, and circumstances surrounding each individual.
Along those lines, you should also measure the ability that a particular team may have regarding permanent remote work. In order to do that, you need to evaluate the dynamics as well as the level of interdependency, engagement, and trust that exist within the team.
Last but not least, it is very important that you distribute your remote work model across all your organization. If you keep your top executives on site, your remote employees won’t be able to see any room for professional growth, which can also hurt their engagement and motivation.
“If remote work is a thing that you want to make work, you need to distribute your executives via geography and availability just as equally as your employee base. Otherwise, you’re signaling the complete opposite if you don’t.”Helen Kupp, head of product strategy at Slack
3. How to build a strong company culture with a remote team
Culture may sound like an abstract concept, but consider this: By looking at the layout of an office, the meetings taking place, or even the way people dress and interact, you can get a good idea of workplace culture. But how does that translate to a remote work environment where that physical connection is absent and when most of your staff is working from home? How can you build a strong company culture with a remote team? We have a few ideas.
Use trust as your main principle for building a strong culture with a virtual team. How do you build that trust? A few tips for you:
- Use Slack for instant messaging, to promote transparency in your communications, and to keep everyone on the same page.
- If there is a miscommunication, encourage people to use Zoom so they can clarify everything in private without being exposed to the whole team.
- Set clear expectations of how you want to be updated on project progress.
- Focus on metrics and goals rather than hours clocked to foster both trust and autonomy across the organization.
Define the values of your organization, and share them with everybody.
Try matching each value with some practical experience related to the work of your company. If empathy is one of your core values, for example, extend that value to your policies. Perhaps that’s extended maternity and paternity leave for new parents, or an unlimited number of personal days.
Encourage public recognition of achievements among team members
Try implementing a recognition and rewards platform such as bonus.ly to increase employee engagement and retention.
Promote informal, non-work related gatherings
Try to encourage your employees to organize those meetings rather than taking care of it yourself. Alternatively, be sure to use the first minutes of work-related meetings to talk casually about non-work related topics and to catch up.
Create spaces where people can share their personal interests
Slack doesn’t have to be all work! Try using Slack to create channels based on various interests and topics.
Prioritize mental health and healthy lifestyles among your employees
Create a handbook and set up a list of resources with tips about these issues for your employees. You can also create a health and wellness budget and make it “available for your teammates to use, and [then] celebrate that, so when they do use it, or you yourself use it, make that a great thing, endorse that,” suggested Darren Buckner, co-founder of Workfrom.
“[Create a health and wellness budget and make it] available for your teammates to use, and [then] celebrate that, so when they do use it, or you yourself use it, make that a great thing.”Darren Buckner, co-founder of Workfrom
4. How to communicate with a remote team effectively
Being one of the biggest (if not the biggest) challenges of managing a remote team successfully, communication is crucial when it comes to building a solid remote work strategy. But, what is the best approach for communicating with your virtual team? What kind of communication do you need to encourage among your remote workers? Here are three things to keep in mind:
Encourage asynchronous communication among your remote team
Asynchronous communication (also known as async) occurs when one person sends a message to someone else without expecting an immediate response. This is the ideal type of communication for remote employees who might work in different time zones. Here are some of the advantages of asynchronous communication:
- Higher productivity: Without interruptions, your employees can focus more efficiently on their tasks.
- Comprehensive communication: Since there isn’t constant communication, people are forced to be very clear and effective when providing updates on their work.
- Solid documentation: Async communication promotes building solid documentation for all of your projects.
- Better lifestyles: Asynchronous communication eliminates stress and provides autonomy to your employees so they can have a better work-life balance.
Break down tasks and focus on results
Focusing on results and metrics rather than hours goes a long way in terms of building a culture of trust among your remote team. When it comes to communication, the most important thing is to let your employees know which tasks they need to carry out in order to reach those goals. Once you have communicated that, you can set short deadlines that will help you adjust to any potential delays while maintaining expectations in place.
Select the appropriate tools and channels for communication
There are lots of different messages within any organization, and that’s especially true in a remote setting. Because of that, it is important to use the appropriate channel for each type of message.
“Hot take: I think remote workers are much better communicators because you have to be, and you learn to be. And it’s a big way that you build trust, and it’s through communication both verbally, like over Zoom, and so much in writing.”Leah Knobler, director of talent acquisition at Help Scout
Keep in mind the following tips when selecting your communication channels and tools:
- Create a set of guidelines explaining what are the different channels you expect people to use in their communications.
- Select a default channel for your communication (e.g. email, Slack, or Asana)
- Choose a channel for urgent or sensitive messages (e.g. phone call, Zoom)
- Break down common challenges and projects into smaller issues, and organize small conversations only with key people.
When choosing these channels and tools, it is very important to define the way you want to work and communicate before selecting the tools you want to use in your organization. “I think it is much more important to define how you want to communicate, how you want to work together, and set those policies, and then think about the tools that fit those needs,” suggested Helen Kupp.
5. How to keep a remote team engaged
Engagement occurs when you have a solid corporate culture and a high level of trust and communication across your organization. However, there are some practical and innovative things you can do if you want to boost employee engagement. Let’s have a look at some of them.
Provide frequent training
Employees know that acquiring new skills plays a big role in career growth. That’s exactly why providing them with training will help them feel more excited and happy to work for your company.
Host virtual activities that are fun and interactive
There’s nothing better than having fun to boost engagement among your employees. Because of that, we invite you to host virtual events that allow your employees to have fun and interact with each other.
Innovation will be a key ingredient in terms of virtual gatherings and team building initiatives. “I hope to see more products and ideas of things that we can all do together but apart,” said Leah Knobler, director of talent acquisition at Help Scout.
Here’s a fun example: In the US, offsyte.co offers various activities that combine virtual activities with delivery kits. What about learning to prepare Ramen noodles while tasting a little bit of sake?
Treat your employees with physical surprises
Any physical connection you can create with your remote employees goes a long way in terms of remote staff management. What about sending your employees some snacks with a warm cup of coffee, or a home fitness box that helps them to stay in shape? Check out swag.com if you’re in the market for ways to surprise your remote employees.
Invest in travel for team building
While traditional business travel may continue to struggle in the near future, travel initiatives aimed at bringing teams together in a particular location will likely become quite trendy in the near future.
“I really hope that leaders invest in this and recognize that travel is now going to play a very different but very important role with people having fewer opportunities to see each other in person on a day to day basis,” said Darren Murph.
6. How do I measure the success of remote work strategy?
Making sure that your remote work strategy is working is one of the most important aspects of a successful remote staff management strategy. But how do you know if your strategy is working?
Make a list of questions about the things you want to measure in your remote work strategy
The first thing you need to do is consider what’s most important to you and your team in terms of measuring success. Consider some of the following questions:
- Are projects being turned in on time?
- Are projects over/under budget?
- How happy and engaged are your employees?
- Is communication across your company working properly?
- How happy are your customers right now?
Embrace Business Intelligence (BI) to track performance and productivity
If you want to stay on top of your projects, track individual performance, manage your budget effectively, and create custom reports, we advise you to get a time tracking system that allows you to implement business intelligence across your organization. This is one of the best things you can do if you want to optimize your business and measure your remote work strategy accurately.
Monitor your team’s engagement on a regular basis
We mentioned before some ideas to keep your team engaged. However, you also need to be able to measure if the members of your team are truly engaged and motivated. Here are some tips that can help you to measure employee engagement remotely:
- Check in with your employees on a regular basis to see how they’re doing.
- Set up one-on-one meetings for everybody, especially for those who are a bit shy or prefer to discuss issues in a private manner.
- Encourage your team members to express publicly how they feel, and keep track of their status.
- Implement engagement surveys to obtain real-time data and foster a culture of feedback within your organization.
- Take advantage of the honest feedback you get from stay/exit interviews so you can identify potential issues affecting engagement across your company.
Keep an eye on customer satisfaction
Measuring customer satisfaction is a great way to measure the performance of your employees and your organization. Because of this, we encourage you to implement a customer survey where you can gather information about the following:
- Are your customers satisfied with the interaction and communication they have with your company and your team?
- Do your customers feel confident about your ability to meet their needs?
- Are your customers satisfied with the level of the products and services you offer?
Any negative feedback in this area can help you identify potential problems with your overall remote staff management strategy.
7. Put your innovation to work
Many people who hadn’t been exposed to remote work before have been pleasantly surprised by the whole virtual experience. Still, remote work has its own set of challenges. Managers should take care of these issues if they truly want to manage a remote team successfully.
Research carried out by the Future Forum concluded that most people feel better about remote work than the office experience. In fact, almost every dimension (productivity, work-life balance, satisfaction with work arrangement, and more) is better in a remote environment.
Almost every dimension. The one thing missing in a remote setting? “A sense of belonging and the ability to build relationships and connect and build trust,” said Helen Kupp. Because of this, it is crucial to build a corporate culture based on trust, good communication, and employee wellbeing.
Apart from this, there is a technological challenge that Helen Kupp summarized in the following question: “How can we actually use technology to improve trust, and relationships, and connections?.” Coming up with innovative answers to this question will help your remote staff management strategy in the long run.
As you can see, there are many things you can start doing right now to manage a remote team. We hope you find these tips useful and we invite you to “update” yourself so you can start taking advantage of the greatest opportunities that this “new normal” world of fully distributed and hybrid companies is bringing to our lives.
Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash