The spread of coronavirus made it harder for teams to stay productive. Many business owners who previously worked with in-house teams had to learn how to manage remote workers. In a way, the pandemic became both a challenge and an opportunity for remote team leadership since it encourages reviewing business processes and fuels digital transformation.
Microsoft executives, for one, have stated that they managed to hit the three-year digital transformation benchmark in two months.
As a team leader, how can you make sure that transitioning to remote collaboration benefits the project? In this post, I will address the challenges of managing a team on distance and share tips that help business owners streamline operations.
Challenges of Working With Remote Teams
Whether you are hiring a team abroad for the sake of cost reduction and facilitated talent search or are transitioning your current team to remote collaboration because of the COVID-19 outbreak, there are challenges business owners cannot afford to ignore.
Since Bridge is working remotely now as well, we, too, experienced the challenges of transitioning to long-distance collaboration. Here are the ones we had the most difficulties dealing with:
1. Lack of commitment
No matter how passionate your team is about the project, once you switch to remote collaboration, everybody’s level of involvement in the project will decrease. With little-to-no oversight from the leadership, team members will have to become self-starters who know how to manage their time and workload. Developing this kind of discipline and awareness takes time.
To facilitate the office-to-remote transition, business owners need to create a well-defined routine. Make sure you do not deviate from a daily stand-up schedule, have a well-defined set of communication practices, and are encouraging communication within the team.
2. Technical issues
When you are managing a team from a distance, ensuring that everyone has access to high-quality hardware and software, as well as a productive work environment is next to impossible. That is why the accessibility and efficiency of online meetings are often lower for remote teams compared to in-house ones.
There are several ways for business owners to mitigate the challenge. To start with, a team leader should publish guidelines on setting up a home office and share a set of tools that make it easier to run meetings (e.g. noise-canceling extensions).
Other than that, a business owner should consider establishing a hardware budget to support the team financially and help every professional have access to high-quality laptops, PCs, and other devices needed to stay productive.
3. Shorter attention span when communicating
Screen fatigue is a huge problem global teams face. It is considerably harder to stay present and engaged during an online meeting compared to an in-person interaction. That is why team managers might notice the lack of enthusiasm and engagement from meeting participants.
To mitigate the issue, project managers need to keep meetings as concise as possible. To make sure you cover everything on the agenda in less time, put some effort into writing pre-meeting notes, and encouraging teammates to do so. This way, every participant in the discussion is well-prepared and focused.
4. Higher workplace stress levels
If a remote team is working from a home office, the line between teammates’ work and private life blurs easily. As a result, you might notice that teammates handle assignments until late at night or get on calls on weekends.
This surge of productivity seems convenient to business owners – however, it is temporary. Eventually, high levels of workplace stress lead to burnout and low team efficiency. That is why remote team leaders need to put more emphasis on work-life balance, encouraging teammates to dedicate more time to their social lives, interests, or side projects.
Hiring an employer of record is an efficient way to establish remote leadership – find out what the benefits of hiring an EOR vendor are and how to get started.
Step-by-Step Guide to Creating an Efficient Remote Work Environment
Leading remote workers pushes managers to rethink and optimize most processes – meetings, project reviews, and others. If you have no experience in building a remote work infrastructure, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
To ease the burden of running a team outside of the office, we created this step-by-step guide team leaders should follow and share with teams to create a productive workplace.
Step #1. Set up high-functioning remote offices
The effectiveness of remote work starts with creating a nurturing, work-friendly environment that allows project managers and teammates to stay productive throughout the entire workday.
To build such a home office for yourself and help peers create one, implement, and share these simple tips:
- Create a well-established daily routine. Have a clear understanding of when the team’s day starts and ends. Allocate for lunch breaks and weekends to prevent burnout.
- Use scheduling and communication tools to monitor availability. Platforms like Slack or Google Calendar help track whether a teammate is online at the moment and get a bigger picture of what his daily schedule looks like.
- Choose a preferred communication style. There are two main approaches to staying in touch with the team – a synchronous (phone calls, conference meetings) and asynchronous one (emails and messages that don’t require an instant response). As a team leader, you want to use both in business processes. Make sure to have clear guidelines for when teammates should have conference calls and the cases when it’s better to have discussions via emails and messaging.
- Encourage socialization within the team. Schedule and participate in remote team activities that unite the team and help prevent monotonousness. Workshops, meet-ups, or collective gaming sessions are the types of events that are relatively easy to implement and uplifting for the team.
Step #2. Build a toolset to optimize processes
When you run a remote team, a well-designed infrastructure is a make-or-break factor of the project’s efficiency. Let’s take a look at the tools team managers use to handle different types of activities during a workday:
Planning and decision-making
When you don’t have a personal connection with the team, making decisions, brainstorming, and collective planning become considerably more challenging. The good news is, there are plenty of tools that help streamline the process – virtual whiteboards, Slack polls, and many more. The most common virtual facilitation tools remote team leaders use are:
Running meetings and communication
In successful remote teams, meetings are still an important way to align expectations, set goals, and review processes. However, efficient video conferencing is a challenge team managers should be prepared to face.
Finding the right tool for running teams is crucial for ensuring successful meetings. Here are the platforms project managers typically choose from:
Project management and task tracking
Documentation is an important success factor for remote teams. Since there isn’t as much room for oversight, keeping tabs on the tasks professionals are working on helps establish trust and ensure transparency. A well-defined toolset is necessary for project tracking. Here are the platforms business owners typically rely on for task management:
High workplace motivation is a huge driver of a remote team’s productivity. Since there are no face-to-face interactions between peers, in an outside-of-the-office environment, remote team building activities cannot be taken for granted.
Project managers need to put in conscious effort to bring everyone together and encourage socialization. Here are the tools that facilitate and streamline team building:
Using virtual reality is an innovative way to increase workplace engagement. VR-based events have a higher sense of presence and are a more engaging way to run meetings or team building activities.
To facilitate VR implementation in the workplace, you can introduce the team to the following platforms:
Step #3. Align leadership expectations
As a leader of a remote team, you need to make your job responsibilities and expectations clear to the team. That’s why it’s important to build a clear set of practices and values and share it with everyone involved in the project. In times of workplace turbulence and uncertainty, these are the job responsibilities a remote leadership manager should assume:
- Availability and ease of approaching. A team leader should not be intimidating – make sure you focus on building a link of trust between you and your teammates. Be ready to step in emergency cases and schedule regular one-on-one sessions with teammates to answer their questions and address concerns.
- Providing a fresh and positive perspective on the project. Unfortunately, it’s common for team leaders to play the part of a “bad cop” pointing out inconsistencies, flaws, and errors in the project. In fact, a better way to manage a team is the opposite one – bringing in a positive perspective on a project.
- Prioritizing communication. In the case of remote leadership, the focus on people management should be sharper than ever. Make it clear to the team that you care about everyone’s well-being. Emphasize the importance of communication and voice concerns – a popular saying among remote team managers is “If you are not sure if you should say something, you should”.
- Establishing corporate values. A team leader should have a clear list of non-negotiable practices for teammates to follow. As strict as it might sound, having several immutable values enforces discipline and order within the workplace.
Step #4. Monitor productivity
The next step on the list of a remote team leader is finding a comfortable way of tracking the performance of each professional. When it comes to monitoring productivity, it’s important to not overwhelm the team with too many tools and avoid using platforms that border privacy intrusion.
On the other hand, with little-to-no supervision, you risk not hitting project benchmarks and watch as your team loses motivation and engagement. How to find the in-between strategy for monitoring productivity? These are the strategies remote team managers rely on:
- Using task and project management tools to keep track of project updates and ensure deadline compliance.
- Encouraging teammates to write daily reports with a summary of tasks accomplished at the end of the workday.
- Using a timer to ensure that teammates are sticking to their schedules diligently.
Step #5. Administer payroll and benefits
Managing a remote team brings significant changes to payment and taxation. The process of compensating teammates depends on the status under which they work for the company:
- Remote employees – full-time professionals who work for the company outside of the office. When paying these professionals, you need to comply with the tax regulations of a state where employees live.
- Independent contractors – hired on a project basis, these professionals handle the responsibility for taxes and financial management on their own.
Make sure to discuss a preferred payment method (bank deposit, PayPal, Transferwise, etc) with the professionals on your team.
Other than that, during the pandemic, remote business owners of some states are obliged to cover employee insurance. In California, an employer even has to cover a teammate’s Internet bill cost – find out what your state’s policy on employee benefits is.
4 Tips For Effective Remote Team Leadership
The first step towards establishing a successful remote team leadership is accepting the fact that working remotely means doing things differently. That’s why managers should consider reviewing their practices and expand them with a couple more helpful strategies.
As a remote team, Bridge uses the following rules and tools to build effective remote leadership.
Tip #1. Set clear goals
It’s important to align the project’s and team needs and set goals that help both the company and each teammate grow and develop. To make sure the team has their priorities well-set, we group all goals into three categories:
- Organizational goals – those are project-based targets.
- Team goals – benchmarks managers should hit to ensure every professional’s well-being.
- Personal goals are those that fuel the growth and education of each teammate.
Tip #2. Provide and gather feedback
A remote team leader needs to make sure that each teammate understands whether he’s working productively and sees the areas for growth and improvement. That’s why one-on-one feedback sessions and status update meetings are crucial for ensuring high work efficiency.
Similarly, a team leader needs to be well-aware of the impression she makes on people. Be sure to regularly gather feedback on your work from the team and use it for improvement.
Tip #3. Delegate tasks
It’s important for team managers to understand they cannot do it all. Rather than trying to juggle multiple tasks at once, share responsibility with others, and train people who can step in and cover for you when you are not at work or are busy.
Make sure you are not the only source of answers to the main questions. Keep documentation so that the team is not clueless when you are not there. Establish clear working hours to make sure teammates know when and when not to expect an instant response.
Tip #4. Do not stress
Handling a remote team is overwhelming. That’s why it’s tempting to get buried in tasks and assignments, not allowing yourself to rest or have fun at work. However, stress is one of the manager’s most dangerous enemies since it leads to the rise of tension within the team and adds chaos to the workflow.
That’s why staying relaxed and mindful of your mental health is a prerequisite to being a good leader. To make sure the challenges of day-to-day tasks don’t get to you, follow these well-being practices:
- Keep your workplace clean and organized.
- Take some time to organize documentation and paperwork to ensure everything is in order.
- Schedule lunch breaks and allocate time for physical activity.
- Log off messengers and emails when you are not working.
Embracing remote team leadership is challenging – there are a distance barrier and a lack of personal interactions. However, it can be a blessing in disguise as well if you learn to use technologies as helpful tools, not barriers, and focus on creating an efficient communication strategy.
Other than that, working with remote tech teams can be a significant source of cost reduction. Take a look at how much business owners can cut on salaries by hiring talent abroad. Building a remote team in affordable regions like Ukraine, Mexico, or Argentina can be challenging if you have no clue about the local job market.