Managing remote teams isn’t easy. You often find yourself jumping from (virtual) meeting to (virtual) meeting, dialing into one conference call after another. The challenges of managing a remote team share many of the normal challenges of management but amplified. Communication, scheduling, productivity – these are issues all managers must confront, but when it comes to managing a remote team, the solutions take shape differently.
The challenges of managing a remote team
Communication looks different for remote teams since you don’t have the benefit of casual interactions in the break room or the chance to grab a quick working lunch. Managers of remote workers have to be intentional about establishing great communication in terms of technology used, response times expected, and overall tone of conversation within the team.
Even when you’re all working in the same office, it can be hard to get the whole team together for a meeting. With a remote team, schedules can be even more out of sync, especially if your team members are sharing workspace with other family members or have kids to attend to.
Perhaps the greatest challenge that comes to every manager’s mind is productivity tracking. When your team is all working outside the office, how do you know they’re actually working? Truth be told, lots of people sitting in offices only look busy, and there are better ways of tracking productivity than checking in to see who’s behind a computer screen eight hours a day.
So how do you meet the challenges of managing a remote team?
Step 1: Find the right balance
When working with a remote team, it’s essential to find the right balance among independent work, collaboration, and teamwork.
Encouraging your team members to work independently can increase efficiency, improve each individual’s confidence, and foster the right environment for creative thinking. To help your team be more independent:
- Don’t micromanage. Assign tasks and give parameters, then trust your team members to get it done.
- Make sure everyone has consistent blocks of uninterrupted time to get work done independently.
- Forgive mistakes easily. The freedom to fail creates space for innovation.
Teamwork goes well when everyone knows her role and has the tools to accomplish her piece of the project. Help your team strategize about how best to divide and schedule the work so everyone is empowered to do his or her best. Foster a team culture in which everyone feels free to ask for input and help and also to reach out to team members with suggestions.
While great teamwork depends on everyone doing their part with little input, excellent collaboration is built on the exchange of ideas. Teams that collaborate well don’t just talk about a project; they inspire each other to solve problems creatively, combining their collective expertise to deliver better results than any individual could have done alone.
We’ve looked at independent work, teamwork, and collaboration separately here, but of course, these modes of working overlap regularly during the course of a project. This happens fairly naturally in a physical workspace, but how does a remote team do it?
Step 2: Embrace the digital workplace
A digital workplace can help solve many of the challenges of managing a remote team and provide a platform in which your team can work well both independently and together. How?
The big picture
A good digital workplace gives your team an overview of each project on a single screen, so every team member can see the status of the work and understand what needs to be done. For example, Kanban boards allow your team to visualize their workflows, identify bottlenecks, and implement WIP (work in progress) limits to keep projects running smoothly. Digital kanban cards allow for drag and drop organization. In a well-designed interface, they can be customized to feature the most important identifying information, and then users can click to expand, revealing a form with greater detail on each specific task.
In addition to an intuitive kanban board system, a great digital workplace has multiple visualization features, giving you the ability to switch to a spreadsheet layout or an activity stream view, for example.
With all your information in one place, a digital workplace can solve the problem of productivity tracking as well. Analytical tools can give you a more accurate picture of your team’s productivity than just a time tracker can.
Automated approval features
From budgets to creative requests, nearly every business has some portion of its work that must pass through various levels of approval within the organization. Approval features in a digital workplace can save a manager (and a whole team) significant amounts of time as well as preventing tasks from being forgotten or neglected. In Kissflow’s Digital Workplace, for example, you can set up a form, create a workflow, and designate approvers for each step, all without any coding required. As work is submitted, the designated approvers automatically get an alert, allowing each person to sign off on the progress with one click, automatically passing it on to the next stage, and alerting the appropriate team member that new work has arrived in her queue.
The digital workplace can also facilitate communication among remote team members, providing a place for discussion within the context of each project and task. Parallel comment streams allow for discussion to be carried out and saved alongside the relevant task information. Discussion channels can be created for individual topics, departments, projects, and more. The digital workplace can also store important documents and images, so your team doesn’t have to go searching in multiple databases to find what they need.
Step 3: Manage yourself well
In addition to finding the right independent/team/collaborative work balance for your team and getting everyone set up in a robust digital workplace, you need to set good work patterns for yourself as an individual.
- Create a routine that works for you and stick with it.
- Schedule your meetings and check-ins strategically.
- Block out undisturbed time for focused work.
- At the end of each day, identify priorities for the next.
- Know when to stop. Take breaks during the workday and leave work alone on your days off.
Managing a team is challenging, and doing so remotely requires a fresh approach. With the right tools and an innovative mindset, however, both you and your team can thrive.
Stay Productive While Managing a Remote Team
Managing remote teams isn’t easy. The challenges of managing a remote team: 1. Communication 2. Scheduling 3. Tracking Productivity. Solutions: Find the right balance between individual work and collaboration. Define your process. Be set up with the right tools for remote work. Create a routine that works for you and stick with it. Schedule your meetings and check-ins strategically. Block out undisturbed time for focused work. At the end of each day, identify priorities for the next.Know when to stop. Take breaks during the workday and leave work alone on your days off.