Essential Practices in the Management of Remote Teams
As the remote phenomenon expands and working outside the office becomes a normality, new management models emerge around the concept of flexible work. These models are meant to ensure the proper team functioning not only in our current unique times, but also in the future. After all, the expression “remote is here to stay” is now well integrated in our vocabulary.
For most managers, the accommodation to remote work forced by the pandemic was a double challenge: firstly, as employees, they had to quickly adopt themselves to this model of work; secondly, from their management position, they had to find spontaneous solutions to coordinate teams unfamiliar with working outside the office. By then, many organizations had only summarily mapped out this possibility, in the form of major crisis procedures that seemed unlikely to ever happen.
What does remote management call for?
No matter where you and your team work from, being a good manager means being like an orchestra conductor, with firm but subtle interventions, in order to stimulate the performance of each employee, the cohesion of the team and its alignment with the organization’s goals. In essence, a manager must have a special talent for synthesis, encourage collaboration between teammates, delegate the right tasks to the right person, highlight and motivate each employee individually.
To do all this in a remote context means to take into account some additional risks derived from the lack of direct interaction between people, such as the feeling of social isolation, defective communication, poor access to certain information, lack of synchronisation between colleagues and the related delays.
That is precisely why being the manager of one or more remote teams does not mean simply transposing the old procedures to working outside the office, but knowing which of them to give up in the new framework. By doing so, you will avoid making the processes more difficult and know what to add to your coordination practices, so that in the end the whole team works very well remotely. The result translates into more performance, freedom and flexibility for everyone, including you, as a manager.
Specific techniques for remote teams management
Fundamentally, the solutions to the challenges of working outside the office come from drawing up basic rules regarding remote collaboration, regular team interactions and one-to-one discussions between managers and each employee.
1. The basic rules in remote collaboration involve establishing clear aspects such us:
• synchronous working time; hours when each employee is expected to be available, his/her work time schedule;
• contact information for each employee; how and when to be contacted, depending on the urgency of a given situation;
• communication rules: means of communication (when to use email, internal chat, telephone, videoconferencing, etc.); deadlines for replies; using a similar writing structure by everyone (e.g. cases when an email can be marked as urgent).
Since remote communication lacks some additional information offered by face-to-face interactions (gestures, mimicry, voice tone), it is important to encourage within your team an elegant, coherent, sufficiently friendly and relaxed written communication style, but also concise and to the point.
As a manager, you need to know how to read between the lines, and when a written negative feedback is required, you need to carefully weigh your words, so as not to discourage, but to stimulate performance improvement in your team.
• doing things the same way versus autonomy: each employee must understand very well what should be done in the same way by the whole team and where autonomy – a feature that remote work favours to the fullest – is allowed and encouraged.
2. Remote teams meetings are recommended not only for discussing ongoing projects, but also for maintaining the spirit of companionship between colleagues. However, in the name of efficiency and focus on results, as a manager you need to avoid unnecessarily frequent, long or tiring meetings.
If you opt, for example, for a weekly video meeting, it is best not to last more than an hour. This would offer enough time to keep your team up to date with the latest news in the organization, then for each to share with others his work in progress, possible blockages, and requests for other colleagues or for you, as a manager. In the end, everyone will benefit if you reserve 5-10 minutes for casual chat, like the coffee break small talk.
3. Regular one-on-one discussions with team members help you to provide the specific support and guidance needed, to understand the reality of each subordinate and to support everyone to become more productive. Still, you should be careful not to turn these talks into micromanagement lectures.
It would be useful, for example, to find out:
- if working from home is problematic in some sense;
- when it would be more convenient for your employee to use a coworking space;
- where he/she considers to be more efficient since working remotely;
- how he/she feels about team collaboration in this context and resonates with the idea of long-term professional development as a remote worker.
In addition to all these, you can ask your employees for regular feedback on your remote management style. When involved in decisions that concern them directly, employees can prove to be very good managers and suggest smart solutions to optimize team rules.