Mary Connaughton, business strategist at the Code Institute, gives her seven key tips on how to get the most out of managing a team remotely.
More people are now working from home – some out of necessity, others by choice. As a result, many managers are now faced with the challenges that come from managing a remote team.
A study last year suggested that more than 80pc of employees in the US expressed a strong preference for working remotely. This is driven by reasons ranging from commute times to family commitments, and chasing the elusive work-life balance.
So, what are the key skills and strategies you need to manage a remote team?
First of all, a remote team needs full connectivity. This means having the hardware, software and broadband speed to work.
Build the relevant tech stack with online calendars and video conferencing tools that are freely available from low/no-cost options like Google Hangouts, Zoom and Skype. Likewise, team management software platforms like Slack or Teamwork can help keep track of projects. These are great for real-time team communications.
Be clear and present
Managing remote teams requires excellent communications skills. Above all, the three top considerations are clarity, tone of voice and brevity. Getting any of these wrong can create unnecessary misunderstanding or, worse, cause offence.
So, think about your request; keep a friendly or neutral tone; keep it short. Develop a house style for communications. Nobody wants to wade through a 500-word email in search of the 10 words that apply to them.
Finally, build time for more complex discussions and presentations. Give remote team members clear pre-reads and always set an agenda and timeline for longer meetings.
Using graphic data and presentations helps remote teams to visualise the bigger picture, aims and goals. For instance, treat remote team members more like clients in terms of how information is presented, and encourage them to do the same.
Visualising how data or ideas look helps avoid misunderstanding, highlights what’s important and why, and brings faster focus and clarity.
Break down projects into specific, actionable tasks and give team members ownership of their area. Have daily check-ins or stand-ups to monitor progress.
In fact, this will also help you to manage speed bumps and deal with issues before they escalate. Build a culture of communication and efficiency.
Have a project strategy from planning to execution that’s visible to all remote team members. At the same time, you should optimise motivation and focus among remote team members with regular check-ins, project updates and deadline shout-outs.
One of the key frustrations experienced by members of a remote team is not feeling connected to colleagues. Therefore, building a community that bridges remote team members and local teams can remove the sense of isolation.
In fact, this should be part of your internal communications strategy. So plan regular live events, meetups, work sessions and social occasions that bring remote team members together as a group and with other employees. Community spirit is a real factor in motivating remote teams, even more than physically connected teams.
Keep learning options on the agenda for remote teams. It’s important to keep skills sharp and updated. The ability to work remotely enables people to learn remotely. So look for ways to increase competencies and cross-functionality of remote team members.
Technical, flexible learning will lead to greater efficiencies in productivity, management and product development.
Finish and refresh
Plan a group meeting into the end of each day to assess achievements, troubleshoot issues and plan for next steps. Importantly, just like in the physical workplace, you should look for opportunities to switch around teams and bring different skillsets together on various projects to keep things fresh and dynamic.
Certainly, we have the technology, capability and expertise to manage remote teams. However, it’s critical to keep them challenged and continually develop their skills in-line with advancing technology.
Mary Connaughton is a business strategist with the Code Institute, an Irish ICT education company.