Managing Remote Teams – Strategies for Success

The standard white collar workplace, where nearly every employee comes into the office 4 or more days a week, is not so “standard” any more.  According to Entrepreneur, as of this year (2016), only 53% of companies are operating this way. Another 37% report having a main office with people working remotely, while (by yesterday’s standards) a whopping  10% have no brick and mortar office at all. Managing remote teams is a skill that every company leader now needs to acquire.

Who are these remote teams? Some are work-from-home salaried employees, but a growing percentage of them are temporary or contingent workers at all levels, right on up to the Executive Suite. In the Finance and Marketing sectors, we see plenty of those being engaged through Graphite. Growing numbers are also hiring through us for full time, permanent roles. In the majority of cases under either scenario, though, the person being hired does not expect to relocate (some travel may be involved). The expectation is that once the handshake is done, on boarding happens and initial work plans are devised, that worker remains in their home office to perform their job.

Here are five proven strategies for managing remote teams:

1. Organize and stick to a work plan.

Since employees are working from different locations, a goal-directed work plan supported by a good project management system is essential. In my experience as a contract professional, a weekly conference call or video chat is the best way to promote team cohesion and keep everyone aligned on the same goals. Prepare a daily or weekly written plan outlining what is expected of each person on the team, and go over it in the weekly chat.

2. Include periodic virtual face time with the team.

Virtual office communications tend to rely mainly on emails and phone calls. But when you don’t see facial expressions or body language, you’re missing a lot of important nonverbal cues that could affect project outcomes. This kind of daily feedback about performance helps team leaders and participants understand if they’re truly singing in harmony with everyone else. Consider gathering the team once a month for a virtual meeting using Google Hangouts, Skype or similar, either to replace the weekly check-in call or to review the overall work plan, perform a SWOT analysis, or other more big-picture items.

3. Be very clear about what you mean, especially if you’re emailing.

Emails are great, but a lot can get lost in translation and small disasters can result. Replying to an email with something like, “that’s OK” can be easily interpreted in the wrong way. If a question requires more than a simple answer, make sure the response is thorough. If you hate writing or time is short, a phone call or text chat allows everyone to hear what is being said and will clear up any unresolved issues.

4. Respect schedules, especially if people are spread over different time zones.

Your team will appreciate it if they know what their expected “working hours” will be, and if you give them the chance to weigh in. Personally, I don’t appreciate getting non-emergency calls from a new employer in the late evening, as recently happened to me during one of Michael Phelps’ medal races in Rio. Try to set a range of hours during the day when you expect everyone to be generally available. With contractors, you cannot set an actual work schedule for them but you can tell them what times of day you may need to reach them, and set milestones with dates that are reasonable for them to achieve if there are wide differences in your time zones.

5. Understand the best and most effective technologies to deploy.

Know the tools and applications out there that will best achieve your communication goals, and how to use them most effectively. If managers only use webinars or webmeetings as one-way broadcast tools, for example, they’re severely limiting their team interaction and effectiveness. With so many cloud-based 2-way messaging tools out there now, the choices are wide and frequently changing. Currently, the most popular apps include Hipchat,  Slack and Skype but WebEx is still hanging on, and there are plenty of smaller competitors appearing all the time.

If you’re looking to assemble a remote team that includes top-level finance and marketing professionals, you could start right here.

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