The remote-first mindset assumes that the work team will be, first and foremost, a remote team, even if part of the team works from an office. This decision poses certain challenges for managing and organising remote teams that make it distinct from an office-based team.
As a manager, your priorities are, on the one hand, to ensure that the work is living up to your clients’ expectations and fulfils business objectives, and on the other hand, safeguards employee satisfaction and well-being. Different strategies are needed for the effective organisation of remote teams in order to achieve these objectives.
Strategies for the Effective Management of Remote Teams
The main strategy is to ensure that all members of the team have the same prospective for visibility and capacity of interaction with their colleagues’ work. This leads to greater cohesion, the team’s confidence and independence levels are boosted and efficiency is raised. So, how can this be achieved?
1. Promote Proactive Communication
The first point to understand is that people often work at different places and to varying schedules, so a team member may not necessarily be available when someone needs them. Therefore, work should be organized so that if one project happens to be held up, others can still move forward.
When working remotely, your colleagues need to be given enough time to respond to each request. It is preferable to specify when exactly you need an answer or have a mechanism that allows you to find out the availability of the rest of the team.
It is important to be proactive when communicating with the team and remember that it is better to communicate more than less. If someone has a doctor’s appointment, is travelling, or is not going to work at their usual schedule, it is preferable to communicate this in advance. Even better is to use status updates on tools such as Slack in order to keep your colleagues posted, so that they have an idea of when they will receive a response.
Working with a remote-first mindset, there could be people in the same team working in different time zones. In these cases, it is preferable to try to make the schedules of the team overlap as much as possible and try to concentrate meetings, calls etc. inside this block of time. In cases where a member of the team doesn’t share the same work hours as the rest of the team due to their location, they should make themselves available outside their normal timetable to attend meetings and calls.
2. Document Everything Possible
Sometimes a call can resolve a matter quicker than a conversation via chat, but whenever possible, the best way of communicating is via messaging channels. Firstly, because if something is forgotten, you can always look for it and find it. Secondly, because it can serve as a document of a decision-making process that helps foster responsibility and avoids misunderstandings. Mandy Brown, VP of Product in Vox Media, in an article about the management of remote teams, says that remote working “magnifies the possibilities of misunderstandings between colleagues”.
All meetings should have a shared document amongst all the attendees with the agenda of the meeting. In this same document, the conclusions of the meeting should be written in order to keep a clear record of any decisions and discussions. Therefore, if someone, for any reason, was not able to attend the meeting, or had a technical problem, they can keep updated.
3. Provide Communication and Collaboration Tools to Promote Transparency at Work
Use one, or several, project management tools for remote teams. Slack is the best option to encourage communication between members of remote teams. Although there is no reason to talk only about work, we all need a GIF or a photo of a companion’s pet from time to time to refresh our minds. Other tools will also help to assign tasks and provide everyone with visibility on the status of a project.
4. Well-Documented Meetings by Video Call
A weekly video call between all team members is useful for maintaining frequent and personal contact. Calls serve to reinforce the visibility of projects and are also useful for fostering responsibility, since everyone knows that, for example, on Fridays they must present that week’s work to their colleagues.
If your budget allows, organise at least one face-to-face annual meeting for the entire team. Despite all the advantages of working remotely, the dynamic of a team physically working together on a task is difficult to replicate. In addition, this point of contact serves to create ties between team members, get to know each other better on a personal level and improve empathy with your peers. Face-to-face contact can help you better understand the personality and communication style of your colleagues.
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