5 Tips for Successfully Managing Remote Teams
In March last year, the arrival of COVID-19 forced businesses across the UK to close their offices, pack up their desktops and send their employees home.
Almost overnight, remote working became the norm for many and nearly a year later, 60% of our country’s adult population continue to work from home.
This new reality has brought with it a myriad of challenges for businesses, not least for team leaders. While we’ve all enjoyed the cat’s company and working in our PJs, turns out working from home can be a bit, well… rubbish. Lack of employee motivation, blurred lines between work and home life, crumbling communications, loneliness, technical difficulties (Linda, you’re on mute) — these are just a handful of the challenges facing team leaders today.
So, how do you effectively lead a team when you can’t actually see them? Here are our top 5 tips for successfully managing remote employees.
1. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Good communication is vital to effective leadership, even at the best of times. But when you can’t be in the same physical space as your employees, it’s even more important to ensure you communicate with them regularly and in the right way.
And I don’t just mean dropping them a token email once a fortnight to ask how their weekend went. I mean really taking time to listen to your employees, asking the right questions and building a healthy communication culture between all your team members. Piece of cake, right? I’ll expand a little.
Have regular “face-to-face” meetings with all your team members
It’s easy to check in regularly with team members you work closely with, but what about those you don’t? Scheduling regular video one-to-ones with each member of your team allows them to voice their concerns, clarify what they need from you and give you their personal perspective on working remotely.
If workers are struggling, they may not volunteer this information without being prompted through fear of appearing incompetent or foolish. They may be ensure of expectations, having trouble juggling childcare with work, or suffering with health issues that have been exacerbated by lockdown restrictions. Giving them a space to discuss these issues not only helps them feel listened to, but gives you a chance to support them in a way that makes their life easier and improves overall productivity. I’d call that a win.
When you’re working in an office, over-communication can be irritating and get in the way of employee productivity. Having your manager popping up at your desk every five minutes regaling their expectations and cheering you along would get anyone’s goat. But when you and your employees are stuck at home, over-communication is actually key to effective leadership.
Only 7% of human communication is verbal; the other 93% is through non-verbal behaviour like body movements, posture, facial expressions, eye contact and tone-of-voice. When remote communication takes place via text, many of the nuances of human speech are lost in translation. Miscommunications can lead to mistakes, misunderstandings and confused objectives, none of which are conducive to a productive team.
So, be as explicit as possible in what you say, repeat yourself where appropriate, and check in more regularly than feels necessary. Your workers will benefit from the clarity and you will encourage a culture of open, active communication in your team. And don’t be afraid to use gifs and emoticons to express emotion. I know it may feel schoolgirlish, but a smiley face at the end of a sentence goes a long way. Trust me. 🙂
2. Be crystal clear on expectations
Make sure that all your employees know exactly what you expect from the get-go. For example, which channels should your workers use to communicate with you? Do you want employees to track their time? Are they required to check in with you daily, or will a weekly briefing suffice?
Working from home is new territory for many us, so don’t assume your employees automatically know the answers to these questions. If you haven’t done so already, create a Remote Working Policy detailing your expectations. By letting your employees know what you want from them, you remove room for doubt and ensure you are all on the same page.
3. Be flexible
Remember that working from home can be difficult for some. If you are lucky enough to have a zen home workspace surrounded by succulents and motivational quotes, then bully for you! But right now, many employees are working to a backdrop of partners on work calls, frustrated kids studying from home and very small people demanding constant attention. Not to mention the struggles of working from home with a cat.
So while it’s important to set clear expectations, you should also be flexible on how your employees meet them. Give your employees the room they need to get their work done and manage their disrupted home life. This might include adjustments to time tracking and flexible scheduling outside of normal working hours.
If you’re a leader who is used to running a tight ship at work, you may need to relinquish some of that control. Being rigid with your demands won’t help you right now; it’ll stress your employees and breed resentment in your team. Instead, trust your employees to get their work done in a way that works for them right now — without judgment. Of course, if the work isn’t getting done then a conversation needs to be had, but the default position should always be trust. Give it a try — the results may surprise you.
4. Work with your employees to set clear goals
Being flexible doesn’t equate to leaving your employees to ‘just get on with it’. Your workers still need clear direction from you to stay on track. Setting measurable goals with specific metrics and timescales gives them a clear focus, allowing them to prioritise and manage their workload effectively.
When it comes to defining objectives, don’t just pluck vague targets out of the air and tell your employees to hit them. Nothing is inspiring about that. Instead, work with your employees to establish long and short-term SMART objectives that motivate them personally and make sense to the company as a whole. You’re probably already familiar with SMART goals (many of us encountered them in school), but here’s a quick refresher to jog your memory.
SMART goes are:
Specific — Avoid vagueness! Ensure goals are well defined, clear and tailored to each employee.
Measurable — Make sure the
goal is quantifiable. What metrics will you use to measure progress?
Achievable — There’s no point setting impossible goals. This will only demotivate your employees and make them feel pretty rubbish about themselves. Nobody wants that. Set reasonable goals that push employees forward without breaking them.
Realistic — Encourage ambitious employees to strive for excellence, not perfection. Ask yourself: is this goal reachable, given the time and resources available?
Time-Bound — Nobody likes deadlines, but most of us need them. Without deadlines, I would no doubt fall into an internet vortex of funny cat videos and Tiger King memes (don’t pretend you’ve not been there). Setting time-bound goals creates a sense of urgency that motivates your employees to get the job done.
For example, if you want to improve your health, you might declare “I want to lose weight and get fit!” You might eat a few salads and go for a run or two, but without setting a SMART goal, your efforts probably won’t last long. Equally, if you set yourself a goal to run a marathon within 2 weeks, you’ll probably give up — or break yourself trying. However, if you said: “I want to run 5k without stopping and lose a stone in 6 months”, with a plan to track your progress weekly, you might get somewhere. It’ll still be tough, but creating a SMART goal significantly improves your chances of success. The same is true for your employees.
5. Recognise success and reward employees
If you’re going to set objectives, it’s important to acknowledge when your employees reach them!
Recognising your employees achievements makes them feel valued and lets them know that you appreciate their efforts. Research shows regularly praising your workforce increases productivity and reduces employee turnover — which is great news for your business. Plus, it makes your employees happier, something that all good leaders should strive to achieve.
When you’re all rubbing shoulders in the office, it’s easy to regularly praise employees with a simple ‘thank you’ or ‘great work’. But when your team is working remotely, you need to make a concerted effort to recognise their hard graft. Public acknowledgements at meetings or via email are a great way to motivate your workforce, while rewarding specific team members for a job well done. A lot of the time, a simple phone call to an employee to personally thank them for their efforts can greatly impact their wellbeing. We all enjoy praise, so don’t be afraid to dish it out where it’s due!
Managing a remote team is tough, but it can be done with the right strategy and commitment. Successful remote leaders listen well, foster relationships, facilitate open communication and give their employees space to thrive. Support your workers through this challenging time and who knows, your team may become even stronger apart! And with working from home fast becoming the accepted norm, building an effective and productive remote team could be the key to your future success.