It sounds simple, and yet this is one of the hardest parts of managing a remote workforce. It's also the most important. With a remote team, you can't rely on side conversations and chance meetings to convey information. You have to schedule regular touchpoints and make time for meetings and phone calls, no matter how little time you may think you have. For instance, we host highly focused, 15-minute daily standups where every team member discusses what they've completed, what they're working on, what they will work on next and what, if anything, is standing in their way. Use technology.
Implement text-based communication tools (we like Slack) and video conferencing tools (Zoom is a favorite), and use each method strategically. Don't engage in long Slack or email debates. Those conversations are more effective when done via video, to eliminate the risk of misinterpretation and encourage healthy debate. And when it comes to delivering criticism, we've found face-to-face communication is always best. It opens the door to questions, and nothing gets lost in translation. Apply all the same rules of management.
Tell people when they're doing well. Log facetime. Encourage virtual socializing. If your team isn't comfortable with working remotely, the isolation can affect them and their work. Have a shared channel on your communication platform for non-work conversation, so that people feel more connected on an individual level. Employee engagement is just as important for remote teams as it is in person. And your people will be more productive and committed if they feel like their company has a vested interest in them. Embrace Agile.
It doesn't matter the flavor of Agile you prefer; it only matters that you use it. The concept encourages teams to break projects down into small tasks. That makes a project more manageable, particularly for remote teams removed from higher-level conversations. It empowers your people to deliver value, and it gives you visibility into every project. You don't need to micromanage a team when you can see exactly what they've done, what they're working on now and what's on tap next. (Here's a helpful guide
for the uninitiated.) Encourage employees to manage up.
No one wins when you have a team that waits to be told what to do. Instead, you want to encourage productivity with a proactive approach. Tell your team you want them to spot opportunities for improvement, to anticipate problems or hang-ups and identify potential solutions. Yes, your managers need to have a handle on the development process, but we're big believers that more heads are better than one. Empower your team. Created a dedicated Slack channel where people can share ideas and suggestions. That ensures the lines of communications always stay open. Measure everything.
When you're new to managing a remote team, it's easy to start questioning people's productivity and efficiency. Over time, you will build trust, but a core piece of that is to start measuring everything. Set key benchmarks for your team — keeping them well-informed of each — and track their progress to completion. For instance, with a remote sales team, track how many contacts they're adding to the CRM or how many new deals are being created. You'll gain insight into how your team works, and how quickly they're able to complete certain tasks. It also alleviates that all-too-common question when dealing with remote teams: "How much work is actually getting done?" Find a work environment that works.
If you're used to working in an office, it can be a difficult change to start working from home full-time. Add in spouses who are also transitioning to a home office, plus kids who are out of school, and it can be difficult to hit the level of productivity you're accustomed to. Do your best to find a quiet space and section off dedicated work time. As much as possible, try to avoid saving important tasks for the end of a long day. And invest in tools that will make your work easier, such as dual monitors or a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones (we recommend Apple Airpod Pro
). Turn it off.
There's a saying we know well: "If you work from home, you're always at work." When you work remotely, it takes a deliberate effort to shut down the computer and step away from your job. It's also vital to your team's productivity and overall happiness. Encourage that your people maintain some type of work-life balance by instituting "off-work hours," times when you cease communication. Then enforce that with every member of the team. Emergencies and special exceptions will always arise, but if you can stick to it more often than not, your entire team will benefit. Talk to your family.
You also need to establish clear expectations with your family. Set boundaries around work time and family time, and respect both. It will take some time for everyone to adjust — spouses, kids and yourself — but routine and structure will go a long way finding success in a new normal.
You can be successful working with a remote development team. We're living proof. But, we can say from experience, it takes patience, commitment and a few carefully chosen technology tools.
Below, find a list of some systems that can help, plus links to find out more. And if you need to fill a short-term gap in your technology talent pool, give us a call. We're happy to talk through your needs and how we can help.