Whether you run your own business or work at a company that has remote employees, you have likely had at least one person on a recent project that is not in your physical location for most of your time working together. This is the nature of the gig economy we are currently living in. So the question isn’t why? It’s how. How do I manage a remote team and over-deliver on all my projects and revenue projections?
I’ve managed remote teams for years – on extremely complicated projects and really short, simple ones – and I’ve developed a few key rules that ensure communication is clear, deadlines are set and met and everyone gets the attention they need to thrive.
- What kind of manager are you? Be honest. Several managers who are uncomfortable with remote employees don’t ever seem to get comfortable with it — they want to see their team members every day and if they can’t see them working, they will always wonder if they really are working. Other managers have a certain collaborative style in which they’d like to pull people into meetings all the time, throughout the day, for quick brainstorms and check-ins. Do you know what type of manager you are? What type of communication you need to feel work is getting done and the team is being productive? This is key to setting up your remote team. If you need a lot of FaceTime, daily video chats with your entire team will be vital. If you trust your team and want to manage to deadlines and deliverables as your measure of success, task management systems like Asana and quick, easy communication tools like Slack may be all you need.
- Clearly document expectations, deadlines and deliverables. If you scope the work clearly, communicate it clearly and have systems in place to track progress regularly, you can manage anyone remotely for years and have great success. The key here is “clearly.” What is clear to you may not be clear to others. Err on the side of over communication and give team members ample opportunities to ask questions before they get started. Since they can’t just walk over to your desk and ask you, be sure to clarify those early steps of a project so when they are off and working, there’s no ambiguity about what’s expected and by when. Let those guidelines and systems help your team deliver rather than you micro-managing them because you can’t see them. No one likes that.
- Be human. Though you don’t see each other as you fix your lunch in the office kitchen or as you wait for the elevator each morning, it’s important to check in with your team members about human stuff often. How was their weekend? How was their vacation? What are their plans for the holidays? Remember their birthdays. Their children’s names. And listen to them when they share their answers. It’s important and provides that human connection.
- Meet in person whenever you can. I’ve managed so many people remotely that we eventually learn a shorthand with each other and communication and expectations are even easier. But that takes a long time to establish. I’ve found the most critical times to meet in person are at the beginning, during big sprints on a big project and as you are nearing the final stages of something. This builds instant rapport, it helps with the being human bit and it gives you a real sense of how best to work with the new person you’ve brought on to the team. I like to use these in person meetings to figure out what makes them tick and agree together what mode of communication works best for when we are remote.
- Hold your team accountable. When deadlines have been missed or the quality of work delivered is not where it needs to be, you need to be clear and direct and firm with your remote team. You don’t need to belabor the point, but because you are not all in the same room, sometimes it can be difficult for a team to palpably feel the disappointment. When noting how a team has fallen short, remember to end that meeting with clear goals about how to course-correct. You want to be firm but you also don’t want your remote team to despair so much that they lose a day of work disconnected from others and concerned.
- Hire great people who thrive remotely. This seems like a no-brainer, but I’ve hired the wrong people for remote jobs several times. They believe they want to work remotely and manage their day on their own. They believe they want to focus on work and not engage with co-workers for hours at a time. But once they get into the role, they realize they really miss having lunch with people. And chatting in between meetings. And planning happy hours and outings together. Some people are made for working remotely and others are not. Hire amazing people who are self-motivated and professional and know themselves well enough to know that they can thrive working remotely.
- Give praise where praise is due. Effusively. With such clear expectations and deliverables and systems in place to manage it all remotely, it can be a little too easy to improperly celebrate big wins. Huge projects completed. New accounts won. Big goals met. Go out of your way to celebrate those wins as a team to let your team know you really see them, really appreciate them and value their work.
What other systems have you found helpful in managing teams remotely? Would love to hear them!