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During the height of the pandemic, remote work became a necessity for nearly all companies. Now lockdowns are ending, but many businesses have decided to stay working remotely. There are a number of advantages to remote work, including lower costs and more productive, happier employees. However, if you’re planning to have a permanent, full-time remote team, you need to master remote-team management.
Managing remote teams has different challenges than managing an in-person team. As advanced as communication technology has become, it still can’t replace in-person communication perfectly. Remote-team-management mastery can be achieved though — here’s how.
1. Communication is key
A communication breakdown in an office setting is frustrating and time-consuming, but when teams are working remotely, missed messages and misunderstood instructions can be catastrophic. One survey found that large companies with 100,000 employees suffered an average loss of $62.4 million per year due to inadequate communication. Smaller companies of 100 employees lost an average of $420,000 per year for the same reason.
Assigning projects and tasks via email may have worked in an office when employees could walk over to their manager’s office for a live demonstration, but in a remote environment, it’s simply not enough.
Having multiple communication channels available and making the most of your company’s communication stack will help remote team members stay organized, collaborate and get the feedback that they need when they need it.
Related: 7 Mistakes Leaders Make When Managing a Remote Team
2. Team chat and collaboration apps are a must
Team chat apps such as Slack and Microsoft Teams will organize your teams’ communication into channels or threads so that remote workers can keep track of the latest company updates on any particular project or department. Team members can also reach out to each other directly and, with most solutions, can further organize their direct and group messages into threads to keep track of progress on specific topics.
Some chat apps like Microsoft Teams and Ryver also combine the team chat functionality with project management. Remote workers can use Microsoft Teams to edit documents and presentations right within the app while Ryver includes a kanban-style board called tasks that allows team members to create, organize and complete tasks.
In order to make the most of the team collaboration software that you are using, spend some time researching the features available. For many popular providers, a quick Google search with the name of the software and the words “power user” should bring up some helpful materials. For example, Microsoft Teams offers an advanced-search function, the ability to save messages that you want to come back to later and keyboard shortcuts. Slack and many other applications allow users to customize notifications so that team members can avoid distractions when they need to focus but never miss an important message.
3. Regular video meetings
For training and more formal meetings, video-calling apps are essential. Although they are not a perfect substitution for in-person contact, there is something about seeing people’s faces that helps communication to be clear and direct.
Due to the pandemic, we have all likely had an experience where we finally met someone in person that we had spoken with several times over video. Most likely, you recognized the person immediately and felt like you knew them. This is because video-calling apps such as Zoom do a great job of creating an in-person experience that is almost as good as the real thing.
Some ways you can use video calling to boost effective communication are to have smaller video conferences of five people or fewer, get rid of distracting background noise and create an agenda ahead of time. Additionally, spend some time learning about the features your video-conferencing provider offers to be able to get the most out of your software. Some communication-enhancing features to look out for are screen sharing and whiteboard capabilities.
Related: 5 Tips for Aligning Your Remote Team’s Goals
4. Cloud and mobile-phone solutions
A cloud phone system that leverages the power of voice over IP technology is an absolute must for remote workers and business communication in general. Business VoIP is cheaper and infinitely more versatile and scalable than traditional landlines, but where business VoIP really shines for remote teams is in mobility, with the evolution of softphones.
When selecting a VoIP provider to facilitate excellent remote-team communication, some features you want to look for are voicemail transcription, find-me follow-me, mobile app, voice notes, texting and (probably the most important feature for remote teams) reporting and monitoring.
When managing any team, it is important to set clear expectations. With remote teams, your workers need to know when they are expected to be available and when they can focus on other things such as family. This is important for both the health of the business and of your remote team. If employees feel that they are “on-call” 24/7, they will be more stressed, and their mental health will suffer.
To avoid this, establish structure in your business. Give your employees a loose schedule for their day. Flexibility for remote teams is good, but you should set some working hours so that employees can communicate with each other and you can touch base with them.
On that note, try to touch base with team members on a daily or at least weekly basis. This can be as formal as a video call or as informal as a message on Slack. Regular check-ins will help your remote workers structure their work and make adjustments based on your feedback.
6. Focus on results
Micromanagement is a poor practice even in an office setting, but with remote teams, micromanagement can cause a huge amount of unnecessary frustration for both employees and managers.
A better practice is to set clear KPIs, hire the right people and let them figure out the best way to achieve their goals. Research has shown that when employees are given clear direction on roles, responsibilities and goals, but given flexibility on the process, they tend to ask for advice and collaborate more and think more creatively in order to hit targets.
These areas should all be addressed simultaneously, as there is a lot of overlap between them. For example, when there is a focus on results instead of processes, there is more incentive to collaborate and communicate effectively. An intentional structure that includes regular (but not obsessive) check-ins allows managers to stay organized in their follow-ups and make sure that goals are being met. It also fosters open communication.
If you make sure to focus on these areas during your transition to a remote workforce, you can have all the benefits of a remote workforce without a painful transition.
Related: How to Future-Proof Your Remote Team