Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world earlier this year, working from home has become standard for many of us. Many companies are convinced of its benefits, and intend to continue the process after restrictions have been lifted. Others are counting down the days until the office re-opens.
Whatever your preferences, working from home is now a permanent reality for many employees, and executives are quickly learning that leading remote teams requires new strategies and tools to continue driving their business forward.
New challenges abound—communication is harder, deadlines may be more difficult to hit, and some people struggle to separate their work and leisure time. To lead a remote team successfully, you need to not only be aware of these challenges, but also know how to work through them, handle new ones, and get the best out of your remote team.
In this article, we’ll cover some of the easiest ways to manage your remote workers, to ensure that the company continues to perform.
Talk about problems
Communication is important in any team, and because remote working has the potential for new problems, it’s critical to encourage an open channel of communication. Problems for employees include a greater number of distractions (Netflix is tempting), finding it difficult to collaborate with colleagues, and being unable to unplug and distance themselves from the day. Loneliness has also shown to impair the productivity of those working from home2.
Having conversations about these problems with your team and letting them know they have your support is important. Weekly catch-ups are a great way to ensure projects are on-track, and that the health and productivity of your team continues to improve. Open dialogue encourages team members to acknowledge areas they may need help in, and creates an environment where members feel comfortable discussing challenges, as well as successes.
Communication is key
One of the biggest challenges to working from home is how your team communicates. Gone are the days when we can shoulder-tap a colleague for a quick chat, or to fire over a critical document. If we’re to succeed in leading remote teams during lockdown, we’ll need the necessary collaborative tools.
Thankfully, there’s plenty out there. Some of the best collaboration tools for remote teams include:
- Slack—a real time communication tool, which allows you to create unique channels for particular topics or purposes. You can also directly message your colleagues, share resources, and do pretty much whatever you need to collaborate.
- Zoom—a great tool for meetings, which offers essential screen-sharing and recording options. You can also split off into smaller teams for specific topics, and return to the main group afterwards.
- OneDrive, DropBox, Google Docs and SharePoint—these are resource collaboration apps, where you can save and share works-in-progress, as well as completed documents, spreadsheets, graphs, images, graphics, etc. Tools include the option to review, edit, track changes and add comments. There are also file-creating and sharing tools, which can be helpful in separating separate projects or clients. Storing team content on these platforms is much easier than saving files on inaccessible hard-drives.
- Other great collaborative apps include Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Trello.
When introducing a new app to your team, you’ll need to make sure they know its exact purpose, to ensure that it’s used correctly. For example, Slack should be used for daily updates and easily sharing resources, Zoom for video conferences/meetings, and Google Docs for storing and collaborating on work. Training videos provided by the app itself are also a great way to teach your team members about them.
Create a clear structure
To keep productivity ticking over, you’ll need to implement a clear structure to your team’s work day4. This might include daily, weekly or fortnightly catch-ups over Zoom, to keep everyone in the loop. Once a schedule is set, it’s critical to stick to it to avoid any confusion—keep meetings at the same scheduled times every week, and follow a routine for each of them to get the most out of every meeting. After a couple of weeks, every team member will learn what is expected of them, and what to expect from their colleagues.
Other things to keep in mind for online meetings include:
- Use face-to-face technology where possible—video conferencing uses both sight and sound, which makes it much more personal and effective than email, messaging, or phone calls.
- Take 5-10 minutes at the beginning or end of a meeting to ask everyone how they’re doing5. This builds connections within your team and shows support for each other, which helps create a more cohesive group. Some remote companies also schedule social catch-ups, like a Friday afternoon Zoom catch up with beer and wine, or an online group game.
- Focus on results, instead of the day-to-day work. Instead of asking each team member what they have accomplished any specific day, keep the questions about projects or works-in-progress.
- Leave time for comments, questions or discussion about work processes in video conferences and meetings. In order for your team to continuously improve, all team members need a chance to be heard, as with a regular in-person meeting.
Working remotely creates challenges, and leading remote teams successfully means facing these challenges and working through them with your team members. In order to successfully lead a remote team, it is important to find what works best for you and your team members, and communicate this to everyone. Whether you are going back into the office soon, or will continue using the work-from-home structure, the way you communicate, the platforms you use and the structure you implement are essential aspects of a successful team.
- John Eades, 2020, How Great Managers Successfully Lead Remote Teams, Learn Loft.
- Barbara Larson, Susan Vroman and Erin Markarius, 2020, A Guide to Managing Your (Newly) Remote Workers, Harvard Business Review.
- Sheila Marikar, 2016, Eight Apps That Will Revolutionise How You Work From Home, Inc Magazine.
- Georgina Pacor, 2020, Ten Tips to Successfully Lead A Remote Team, The Australian Industry Group.
- Nicole Bendaly, 2020, Leading High Performing Remote Teams: Your ‘Top Four’ Checklist, Forbes Media.