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Managing Remote Teams: A Crash Course

Julie Zhou

VP of Digital Marketing and Growth

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Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, much of the country’s workforce is in a work from home (WFH) situation. But, while this may seem like a simple enough work scenario, it can be challenging for many managers to grapple with, especially since many have never managed fully remote teams before. You might feel as if you have little to no control over the situation or that connecting with and gaining trust from your team is difficult. These concerns are valid and must be addressed because working remotely is the way of the future workplace. Here are some tips on managing remote teams. 

Set Up Regular Check-Ins

This may come off as a micromanagement tactic, but it’s actually a critical component of managing remote teams. Having regular check-ins helps align team members towards specific goals, fosters open communication, and combats miscommunication. 

Try to have check-ins once in the morning to discuss your top one to three priorities for the day and call out any blockers. Then, have another check-in at the end of the day to discuss progress towards your priorities. These check-ins also help your team to set a beginning and end to their official workday so that it’s easier for them to switch on and off from work mode.

Set Up Regular Fun Check-Ins

Yes, there are such things as fun check-ins! For example, you can host a weekly virtual happy hour for your team. It’s just what it sounds like — a group video chat where each team member has a beverage in hand. Or, you could host virtual 1-1 “coffee dates,” where teammates socialize in pairs. You could even commit to spending the first few minutes of weekly team meetings to catch up. The point of these little “meetings” is to focus on topics that aren’t work-related. They’re the best possible substitute for the serendipitous conversations that happen in hallways and break rooms.

Explicitly Define Your Norms

What’s the expected response time for an email? For a Slack message? If you happen to be really busy all day and the only time that you have to think creatively is in the evening, you might end up sending a lot of Slack messages to your team late at night. Make sure they know that they don’t have to respond to you in real-time!

Be Responsive to Your Team on Slack

Although your direct reports are out of sight, they should never be out of mind. It’s important to be available and responsive to your team, no matter what communication platform you’re using. Unlike the office, where they can lean over their desks to ask you a quick question, your direct reports are now heavily dependent on your response time to finish their work. 

Trust Your Team

There's often uncertainty around the quality of work that's produced from home versus the office. After all, there are plenty of distractions around the house — what if they're watching Netflix instead of working? What if they're busy doing household chores instead of being present in a meeting? Well, you can put those fears to rest, because the truth is that most remote workers feel that they get more done when working remotely. 

If you check in on your direct reports constantly or consistently ping them to ask about the progress of certain tasks, you might be demoralizing or even alienating them. Trust that your employees will manage their time effectively. If that means taking a short break to visit the grocery store, or taking ten minutes offline to fold their laundry, it shouldn't be a problem as long as they're still getting the work done.

For further transparency, consider setting up WFH guidelines — for example, text messages are only for urgent situations, emails must be responded to within a day, and no calls or meetings are allowed between certain hours to ensure that nobody is over-working. 

Recognize Accomplishments

Even though it isn't feasible to present something like an "employee of the month" trophy, it's still important to acknowledge remote employees' achievements. Perhaps you can come up with a recognition program where they're rewarded for reaching individual goals, or you can call out their achievements via company-wide emails or general Slack channels. 

Encourage Direct Reports to Give You Feedback

This is a difficult time for all employees — understandably, it takes some getting used to. Encourage your direct reports to provide you with feedback on what you could do to make their day-to-day tasks go by smoother. Ask them what could be done to help them feel more connected to the team — is it by starting with a fun icebreaker before every team standup, hosting a virtual movie night, or picture sharing? If they're reluctant to answer or give any suggestions, you can offer a variety of options through a poll or survey. 

Now that you've read tips on managing remote teams, how do you keep company culture alive when you’re WFH? Here are some tips to help forge a connection with your colleagues when you’re working remotely.

For additional reading around how your business can prepare for a new normal, download your copy of Tips for Acquiring and Retaining Customers Through Economic Change.

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