A woman is using a laptop and writing notes while working from home, symbolising managing a team working remotely.
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 How to manage your team when it’s working remotely

16 Mar 2020

Getting to grips with managing a team working remotely? Here are some snippets of advice from experts and experienced leaders.

This could be your first time managing your team while you all get to grips with working remotely. From keeping up morale and productivity to checking in with people, it can be a daunting practice at first.

Thankfully, remote working has been a topic of discussion at Silicon Republic for some time and, as a result, we’ve talked to some of the people around the world who are championing it in a spectrum of industries.

So, here are some tried-and-tested tips to help you.

For a visual aid with great tips, the Business Backer has a handy infographic that spells out nine ways to motivate your remote team. The first big milestone it gives is defining clear expectations and ground rules, which include team deliverables, individual roles in the organisation and who to contact – and how – for specific issues.

Another tip is something that could be referred to as a ‘virtual watercooler’. It’s important that your team still has access to a social space where they can get to know each other and blow off steam. A great way to do this – particularly in light of social distancing and remote working – is with online chat tools such as Slack.

Something else that can go a long way here, according to the Business Backer, is dedicating the first 10 minutes or so of meetings to catching up with your team on matters beyond their workloads. It can be strange transitioning from a bustling office to working at home, so giving your team room to converse is key.

And on the topic of meetings, make sure you still check in with members of your team individually. One-to-one catch-ups shouldn’t be left by the wayside just because you’re no longer working on the same premises. Whether it’s through video calls or, again, online chat tools, carving out space for personalised progress should remain a priority.

Productivity when working remotely

Working from home changes how you get things done – there’s no denying that. People aren’t relying on public transport, for example, to get into the office on time. And with schools closed too, they may be juggling their work duties with childminding. So, it’s worth thinking about allowing your employees to work flexible hours so that they can maximise their productivity in a way that suits them best.

In line with that, the Business Backer also recommends measuring productivity by results rather than time. Time tracking can feel “invasive”, it points out that, while it’s certainly necessary to keep communication going with your team, remote working calls for greater flexibility here.

According to a crowd-sourced study of what companies around the world are doing to help their staff carry out their work from home, some employers are financing the improvement of peoples’ home working conditions to help them maintain productivity levels.

Whether it’s laptops, desks or ergonomic chairs, there’s a range of items – from small and cheap to more costly – that can seriously boost comfort and project delivery in a home-working environment.

Room for experimenting and growth

Earlier this year, we chatted to CMO at tech solutions company Igloo Mike Hicks about the ingredients to successful remote working.

Hicks highlighted some of the advantages of remote working that we should note, including distancing ourselves from team requests that can impede our productivity. But he also gave us some advice on ensuring that remote working is successful.

For example, managers should take this time to allow their employees to try things out and see what works best for them. Encouraging them to get into their own routine and see what times of the day work best for the different aspects of their to-do list is one way they can feel empowered to work from home productively.

Hicks also pointed out that while clear communication is key to successful remote working, employers should be wary of “communication overload”, which can lead to employee burnout.

He said: “Ideal remote work looks like a well-supported and connected team, despite being in different geographic locations. From a business perspective, when done correctly, remote work shouldn’t seem any different than a typical eight-hour day in the office.”

Advice from a remote-first advocate

For some companies, remote working has been the norm since day one. For Art & Logic – a US software development firm – the mentality is ‘remote-first’ as opposed to ‘remote-friendly’.

The company’s co-founder, Paul Hershenson, told us that he has worked from “gyms, trampoline parks, horse ranches and music studios”, giving him unique insights into what works best when it comes to remote working.

Based on his extensive experience having founded Art & Logic 29 years ago, Hershenson emphasised the importance of being aware of the “limitations of various communication channels” during this time.

He explained: “Face-to-face is better than video conferencing. Video conferencing is better than phone. Phone is better than text or online chat. Text and chat are better than email.

“That doesn’t mean, of course, that all communication needs to be face-to-face. If that were the case, remote work wouldn’t be viable at all.

“But to be successful in a remote work environment, employers and employees all need to be aware of the limitations of various communication channels in use and should never hesitate to bump up to a higher quality channel.”

Tips from Trello

Finally, perhaps most relevant to this conversation is the voice of someone working at the company responsible for one of the most popular tools for working remotely – Trello. Last year, we spoke to the company’s product team head, Justin Gallagher.

He’s faced with the challenge of keeping people productive and engaged, and one measure he takes is keeping a close eye on employee relations.

For one thing, having people working in different locations means that, sometimes, they only reach out to one another when they need something, and that can lead to “transactional as opposed to social” interactions.

How does Trello overcome this? By hosting a “PM happy hour” in which employees can spend time together discussing non-work-related topics. It can be done using video conferencing platforms, such as Zoom, and can help teams get past that “transactional” state.

For 13 useful tools to help you and your team work remotely, read our list here.

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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