• Maud Vanhoutte

Managing remote teams: 11 keys to overcome typical challenges

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, most managers and leaders had to learn to work with remote teams as most professionals started to work from home. In the past months, most professionals worldwide had to navigate uncertainty. For professionals who returned to the office; many are asking or will soon ask for more flexibility around remote work. After a successful experience over the past few months, it will be hard to refuse this shift to dedicated talents. Both during and after the pandemic, organisations are sure to see some long-lasting effects of the COVID-19 outbreak and need to be ready to change their working from home policies. In this article, you will find some great resources and tools to effectively manage remote teams and get ready for workplace agility.

Challenges of managing remote teams

With team members working from home, managers are facing some new challenges that they never faced in the workplace before. Some of those challenges are impacting their talents’ performance and the overall success of their organisation.

In the past months, many organisations and leaders have seen their talents accomplished an amazing work and successfully adjust to the new situation. At the same time, for other organisations and teams, this new setting brought some key challenges to address.

The following areas are directly impacted by virtual work:

  • Internal and external communication

  • Access to information

  • The lack of face-to-face interactions

  • The organisational culture and the feeling of a shared mission

  • The sense of belonging at work

  • The recruitment of new talents and the on-boarding process

  • The overall employee experience along with their motivation and level of engagement

  • The quality of teamwork and team bonding

  • The informal discussions and exchanges

Because managing remote teams will remain a reality for many managers, it is essential to assist them in making the most of this new way of working. You will find below 11 excellent keys and tips to successfully manage your remote workers.

Strategies and tools to manage a high-performing virtual team

To successfully address those growing challenges along with future ones (and there will be future ones as the workplace will continue to change); organisations and leaders need to learn to positively partner with remote teams and cater for workplace agility.

As for everything, leaders will need to adapt to people and situations. By using the situational leadership model, managers will be able to understand how much guidance and autonomy they need to provide for their talents. By keeping this flexible model in mind and following the shared techniques in this article, leaders will greatly support their virtual teams.

The notion of trust when managing remote teams

Supervising remote workers does not mean micromanaging them. When talents are working remotely, it becomes easy to picture some stereotypes of an unproductive remote workforce. You can find many pieces of research around remote work and how productive remote teams are. This article is sharing 9 research-based facts that prove that remote teams are as performing as on-site ones if not more. To successfully manage your remote team you will need to develop your trust in them and offer your support without micromanaging every step they take. You do not need to ‘check-in’ with them multiple times a day without a real reason and you might not need to be copied in on every email they send.

Provide flexibility and improve your remote workers’ accountability

Do not expect from your remote talents to work 8 to 5, but trust them to have the work done. The great advantage to work remotely for many professionals is the opportunity to balance their work with their personal commitments and their natural and personal pace. Your team members are not all ‘on’ at the same time. For some of them, the battery is fully charged in the morning, allowing them to perform some complicated tasks when for others; it will be easier to perform such tasks at night when the kids are asleep. Ask your talents to be available for a few hours that overlap with internal and external stakeholders and invite them to work at whatever time they choose in respect for delays and technical limitations.

Providing flexibility also involves developing new processes that will be more appropriate for the situation. In other words, do not stick to old methods when you can establish new norms.

Stay informed and updated with your remote teams’ projects and workload

Not seeing your talents does not mean that you should not know what they are up to and how much they work. As their manager, you need to stay informed about the development of their projects balanced with how many hours they worked on those projects. It is an essential step to better understand how much guidance and assistance they might need from you. The collected data also allows you to assess your talents’ productivity and to spot team members who are eligible for overtime pay. It is important not to let your remote workers work too much as they will then present a risk of burning out.

The same process will allow you to spot team members in difficulty or in need of assistance. It will also be a straightforward way to identify the team members that are disengaged and low in productivity.

Keep communication channels open with remote talents

One of the biggest challenges to manage remote teams is to maintain effective communication. In 2020 professionals are lucky to be able to select from a variety of technologies to communicate with stakeholders across the world. Today’s professionals can easily communicate using phone calls, emails, instant messages, video chats… Organisations can choose from WebEx, Zoom, Microsoft Team, Google Hangout, Slack, Skype, and much more. All those tools can help communication for remote teams but it can also make it disorganised or overwhelming. It is important to select the right channel(s) and to stick to it to facilitate the access of the information.

It is essential to keep communication channels open with remote teams as long as it is necessary communication. Oversharing and over-communicating with virtual teams are only creating interruptions and ruining remote workers’ productivity. Team meetings and one on one conversations are fundamental to remote workers and need to be organised regularly; however, daily meetings and catch-up are not always crucial or productive.

Planned and structured communication is key with virtual teams. It is essential to provide constructive feedback to help them grow and it is also important to encourage and invite feedback. A positive way to facilitate such discussions is to use the 4 steps of the reflection process created by New Reflections. As a leader, you want to highlight what is going well, what is getting better and to share some insights on areas of improvement for your talent’s work and behaviour. In return, you will encourage feedback around your management style, the guidance you are providing and the needs of your talent. Those discussions are becoming more crucial with professionals working from home as managers can’t ‘check on them’ or observe their body language and attitudes as well as before.

Facilitate engaging team meetings with remote professionals

Every professional can relate to boring and valueless team meetings that everyone is trying to avoid. As a manager of remote talents, you are in charge of those meetings and it is up to you to make those discussions valuable and relevant to everyone. Be sure to always set a clear agenda that will include everyone. Make use of your creativity to surprise your team and come with new ways of interacting. Find great icebreakers to reinforce the team spirit and research for new brainstorming ideas to break the monotony of the meetings. Prefer one-on-one setups for individual matters that will not benefit the entire team; everyone’s time is too precious to be wasted.

Implement a mentoring or a buddy program for remote teams

When working from home, it becomes easy to disconnect from the rest of the organisation, from colleagues and even from team members. Remote workers tend to feel isolated sometimes and may need some guidance and mentoring that is hard to provide from a manager’s perspective. Inviting a mentoring program at work is a great way to reinforce the sense of belonging, to strengthen a talent’s skills, and to develop internal links between collaborators. A mentoring or buddy program is also an amazing way to welcome new talents in this virtual context, as it will help new collaborators feel supported and welcomed.

Offer coaching and training solutions to your remote workers

Working from home does not mean that professionals are not willing to progress and develop their knowledge and competencies. When working remotely, talents tend to find more time to engage in coaching programs and training initiatives around personal and professional development. In times of crisis, it becomes critical to provide remote workers with such solutions to ensure their wellbeing, their mental health, and to assist them in maintaining their effectiveness. Focusing on programs around internal and external communication for remote teams in a perfect way to start. You can also concentrate on coaching programs around work-life balance, wellbeing, positive thinking and other specific topics across personal and professional development.

Invite remote workers to disconnect and relax

As mentioned above, some remote workers tend to work long hours and to find it difficult to disconnect. As a manager of a remote team, it is your duty to invite your talents to disconnect, to maintain an appropriate work-life balance, and to turn off their computers and phone notifications. Exhausted and stressed collaborators will not be productive in the long run.

Organise PUNCTUAL social events for your remote team

When many organisations put their talents on remote work, most of them tried to maintain social events online. As much as the idea was excellent, in practice, it did not always work as planned. The beginning of the pandemic forced everyone to adjust to a new reality; by then, staying late hours online to share a drink on Zoom with some colleagues did not always seem to be the best use of many professionals’ time. Some workers did it and enjoyed it but it soon became a ‘mandatory’ get together more than one that people were looking for. Overtime most teams and organisations just gave up on those informal gathering leading to decreased engagement and decreased sense of belonging with a direct impact on the company’s culture.

From this observation, should managers and organisers try to reinstall those social events? Yes! Yes, they should, but they should do it the right way. Inviting people on a Zoom meeting with no particular agenda or for weekly trivia will not create the expected results. Organise less gathering and social events but focus more on their quality. What about a lunch and learn with a facilitator (internal or external) to address a specific topic. This topic could be around team bonding, leadership, communication, or any topic that will be relevant to your teams. What about going the extra mile and surprising your talents with the delivery of a breakfast or lunch for the occasion? That will definitely be something that they will remember… Do not overdo it but do it right and with the right tools.

Develop your managing skills to lead remote teams

There is a lot that managers can do to support their virtual teams and it includes developing their own skills. In this new context, managers might benefit from developing a coaching management approach along with some developed emotional intelligence skills. Those skills will allow them to guide and support their team more effectively through great interactions; it will also assist them to deal with conflict resolution efficiently. A manager of remote teams becomes a bridge between talents, especially for new employees and needs to provide more encouragement and emotional support.

Meet in person when it will be an option again

Once the pandemic will be behind, no matter how much flexibility you are willing to offer, it will be important to invite your talents at the office from time to time. Allowing employees to work remotely does not mean that you do not get to see them and to work with them face to face. To create stronger bonds within the teams, it is crucial to get talents together on regular basics.

Maud Vanhoutte

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