Managing remote teams is a fairly new challenge for many leaders, but one likely to increase in the coming years. According to our 2020 European Consumer Industry Salaries, Skills & Benefits Report, 25% of our sample already work from home regularly and 34% enjoy an agile working environment – working when, where and how they choose. What’s striking is that two-thirds of respondents consider agile working their preferred scenario.
Companies that hire remote workers or allow employees to work remotely as part of their normal schedule, report various benefits including:
• Increased productivity
• Positive impact on employee health and wellbeing
• Significant cost savings
If remote working scenarios continue to become ‘the norm’ for businesses, leaders need to adapt their management style and approach. Here we consider the best ways for you to excel at managing remote teams.
Acknowledge the issues and pitfalls of remote working
Before you can embed solutions, you need to first understand the potential problems when managing remote teams and mitigate against them. It’s common for leaders to feel like they have no control in a remote working scenario. The belief is that your people may not work as hard or as efficiently at home and engaging with them and building trust will be especially difficult. Your worries, aside, from the employees’ perspective, people who work remotely often express frustration with a lack of communication and management support. This includes when accessing information they need, even if it’s just answers to simple questions. Isolation is another key issue. A lack of daily ‘social interaction’ with colleagues can harm mental health and impact performance.
Establish several avenues of communication
When managing remote teams, you need to get creative around your use of communications technology. Email is definitely out and instead, you should investigate solutions for different scenarios including one-to-one’s, team meetings, workshops, and virtual socialising. Video conferencing tools (Skype, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts) should be at the heart of your strategy. These are ideal for one-to-one’s or smaller team meetings, as they facilitate intimate and personal interactions where visual cues offer clarity and help build rapport. Consider using instant messaging applications (Slack, Zoom, WhatsApp) too. Instant messaging is more visible than email, and it encourages immediate, faster and less formal interactions. Emojis and gifs are permitted within reason. And remote whiteboarding and other collaborative tools are also important. Ensure employees can share ideas and documents with minimal fuss.
Set expectations and have a clear engagement strategy
Engagement shouldn’t be ad-hoc. Be clear when communication will take place, as well as what you expect from remote employees regarding working patterns, appropriate behaviours, and performance. During a remote onboarding process, you should maintain regular contact. A daily catch-up is ideal. The frequency of this can diminish over time, of course, but a weekly one-to-one should be a bare minimum moving forward. Team get-togethers should follow a similar pattern, and make sure your remote worker is always included in all relevant group virtual interactions. Give remote employees a sense of purpose by setting clear objectives and focusing on output rather than activity. And show your support and build trust by acknowledging the unique challenges they may face e.g. working at home with kids.
Traditional manager/employee relationships should usually maintain a degree of separation between the professional and personal. This approach can be relaxed when managing remote employees – especially during a time of crisis and forced isolation. They’re going to look to you for guidance and reassurance more often. Always be available via Slack, Skype, etc. And augment the impact you have as a leader, by engendering closer bonds than normal – ask about their family, find out what common values and beliefs you share, and discuss their anxieties and concerns. All the while offer positive affirmations and encouragement. Longer one-to-ones should factor in ‘small talk’ and conversation about non-work matters. Furthermore, never cancel an appointment with a remote worker, and practice video conferencing techniques to avoid common pitfalls.
Extend informalities to the whole team
Every team is different when it comes to social interaction. As a leader, you should facilitate these activities, bearing in mind the level of frequency people in your team want or expect. Your role as facilitator is even more important when managing remote teams. While you may enjoy a more casual relationship with remote workers, it's essential that they get to ‘let their hair’ down with other colleagues too, even if it’s in a virtual setting. Propose virtual coffee or lunch dates, virtual end-of-the-day drinks, a virtual lunchtime quiz, or even a full-scale virtual office party with food/drinks packages delivered in advance. Any of these events require excellent video conferencing platforms, so liaise with IT to ensure whatever tool you use guarantees maximum reliability, security and quality vis-à-vis the context. Remember, the aim is to have fun and instil a genuine sense of community and camaraderie amongst peers.
If you would like to find out more about working remotely or remote hiring, please feel free to contact one of our specialised and experienced Recruitment Consultants who will be more than happy to help. Alternatively, you can contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org or +49 211 976 32 837.
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