Managing remote teams to ensure high quality work can come with all levels of success, problems, and the like. Virtual teams present their own specific issues tied to their geographically scattered nature.
However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be just as successful working with remote teams as you can with people who are in the same office with you. It just means you have to adjust your business processes to manage the remote workforce in different ways.
8 Ways to Better Manage Virtual Teams
With that in mind, here are some of the best practices to manage a remote team - with all of the complications involved - for the best possible results.
1 - Communication Compensation
The fact that you may be hours apart, not easily reachable by train or plane, can lead to communication issues in your small team. This is why it is vital to communicate perhaps more than you actually need to. This way issues, trouble with work, and the overall progression of a project won’t be hindered by lack of communication.
Communication doesn’t always come naturally, especially if you don’t get to see each other daily. So, forcing it at first may be necessary. But as they say, ‘fake it till you make it.’ What may be difficult at first can easily become a simple part of your team’s day-to-day schedule, which signals the successful establishment of your team.
2 - Find a Way to Balance Schedules
While you go through your 9 to 5 schedule, other members of your team could be asleep. The hazard of working totally different schedules is very real when dealing with a remote team. Luckily, there are ways to compromise and work around these conflicting schedules.
The best way to do this is to ensure you have a shared schedule that you can all see and update as necessary. If everyone knows each other’s schedules then penciling in meetings, creative activities, and other necessary time is much easier. It also removes some of the mystery regarding the activities of the rest of the team.
Should certain members be in different time zones, etc., then you can also potentially find overlapping hours to connect with each other. A remote team isn’t always able to perfectly align when it comes to scheduling, but you can make it work given the right amount of effort.
Ultimately, there is one important thing you should never compromise on when it comes to your schedule: never, ever, cancel an engagement unless absolutely necessary. Resentment can build up easily in any team, especially so in a remote team where grievances may be much harder to air out over chat instead of around the water cooler. Being consistent and reliable is the only way to prevent this.
3 - Use Video
Though you can’t necessarily see your team in person on any given day, that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from face-to-face chats. Video calls via Skype or other apps are effective and give you the valuable face-to-face time your team may need.
Impromptu video calls and meetings also force remote workers to be presentable, at least most of the time. So, while they may be working without any pants on, at least you will only be able to see their very best up top.
4 - Track Working Hours
This doesn’t make you Big Brother, but it helps with the productivity and overall output of your remote staff. Track the hours worked, attendance, and individual output. Knowing how much work gets done on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis is a very powerful tool for managing a remote team.
Basic tracking is simply a good way to ensure that everyone is working appropriately. In an office, you can easily see when a staff member doesn’t turn up to work or when they might be slacking off. This isn’t as simple with remote team members. So, for all of the things you can’t see, a tracking system provides insight into the workday of remote employees and prevents mistakes.
Some people also need some level of discipline when working from home. A tracking system, in whatever form necessary, can be the great motivator they need.
5 - Review Periodically
It’s vital to review the status of your remote team, from both a work and well-being perspective.
Conducting a quarterly review ensures they've adapted to your workplace and that their work quality remains high.
It’s also a good time to check in with your team members regarding their mental health.
Working at home can be lonely, isolating, and sometimes even a depressing experience for some workers. So, checking on a team member’s well-being is imperative to ensure such issues aren’t affecting them.
Small, manageable changes following periodic reviews can really help spruce up the morale of your remote team. Whether that’s a team get together day or other social activities, or better systems to improve communications, or simply a monthly gift package to give your employees a boost; such changes can be just what your team needs.
6 - Keep Work Flexible
Your remote employees are remote for a variety of reasons, but mainly due to the increased flexibility that comes with such a schedule. So, making remote workers fall into a rigid and inflexible schedule or timetable can remove the perk that they most enjoy. If a worker prefers working later into in the day and then later into the night, that should be their choice. Flexibility over scheduling should be there from the get-go.
Again, part of this goes back to effectively tracking work hours and knowing your team’s output. So long as they are getting the work done to a high standard, then the flexibility of work shouldn’t be an issue in a remote team.
7 - Do a Regular Face-to-Face Meeting
Yes, one of the success parameters for a remote team is to meet them in person. Weird, but true!
For short, one-off working relationships this isn’t necessary - as it will likely be more of a hindrance than anything. But for long-term and successful working relationships, that element of meeting in person is vital. So, whether it’s a quick get together over coffee or a work retreat, factor this into your calendar at least once a year.
If budget is a problem, consider only hiring virtual assistants within your own country to make actually meeting them in person a feasible feat. Although this will shrink your potential talent pool, it will ultimately strengthen your team and outweigh this issue.
8 - Don’t Forget the Small Talk
How was your day?
What did you get up to this weekend?
How’s the family?
Surprisingly, though many of us claim to hate this perfunctory office chit-chat, there are many indications that it actually improves the quality of our work lives. Small talk can reportedly improve a worker’s quality of life. This is due to a few things, but ultimately it can help to improve employee relationships, break up the monotony of the day, and even improve the quality of work.
Why? Well, happy employees produce happy work and small talk makes people happy, despite what many may say to the contrary.
Overall, remote team management presents a number of unique challenges to circumnavigate - especially in the formative days of such a team. But, implementing even a handful of these business process management techniques into your team activities can actually improve the long-term quality of life - and therefore work - in your remote workforce.
If you want the quality of a national or global team, then you have to be willing to put in the work and make the necessary sacrifices to achieve this. Once you have, however, the ROI can be extremely high.
Our guest author Zack Halliwell is a freelance writer in the business and marketing niche, giving advice on anything from the perfect branding to marketing your latest product. He currently works with a number of brands, including Airmatic, on a variety of marketing projects.