Managing remote teams comes with its own set of challenges – from work visibility and trans-time zone communication, to cultivating a sense of belonging. But as the popularity of the remote work model continues to gain force, businesses need to be ready for the realities of distributed workforces.
So what’s the trick? How do you manage the performance and engagement of someone you may never meet in person? Cultural shifts aside, it ultimately requires a very specific toolset. Here’s what you need to manage remote collaboration and ensure everyone feels like an equal, valued member of your team.
The challenges of managing remote employees
It can be difficult enough to track office-based performance, but in terms of remote working the lack of face time means managers may risk losing touch with team members. It can become difficult to gauge basic employee performance KPIs – like what they’re working on, how long tasks are taking them, what they’re prioritizing and how engaged they feel.
Effective remote communication is the bedrock of any effective distributed workforce. Knowledge sharing, company news and team bonding between colleagues can fall to the wayside if they’re only getting to know each other through messaging platforms. Remote workers may also find it more difficult to share their input or suggest improvements, and feel locked out of feedback discussions.
Simple tasks like keeping on top of project updates or working on a document together can be tricky when you work remotely. Unlike a central office team, where you can brief someone in-person and quickly tackle misunderstandings, assigning ownership and synching schedules can often get lost in translation.
Great leaders ensure everyone is on the same page. But in a distributed environment it takes an extra effort, since expectations and goals must be set out explicitly to workers for them to stay on-track. Your contact also has to change – making the time to connect and regularly check-in via video calls instead of face-to-face meetings.
To protect against remote employee burnout, you’ll want to understand remote employee capacity, availability, overtime and engagement are all crucial for protecting against burnout. But with remote teams not being there in the flesh, it can be a little more challenging to allocate resources among your team.
🍻 Building Rapport
Meaningful interaction is crucial to every team, but it’s obviously hard to bond with your colleagues if you never actually meet them. Managers may find it hard to gauge openness and transparency, and when issues do arise, the distance of email can be off-putting – it may not convey the tone in your feedback you really want to give.
Invoicing can quickly become complicated when you have workers in different countries, with different banks, systems and currencies. In terms of your own profit, getting all employee time sheets in to bill clients accurately can also be tricky. The monthly faff of chasing employee time sheets becomes much greater when transposed to a multi-time zone, purely digital setting!
Tools for managing remote teams
The remote work model can only work with the right technological set-up. To fully support remote employees and facilitate cross-team collaboration, here are the five essential remote team management tools you’ll want in your belt.
1. Zoom - for synchronous face-to-face conversation
This one's obvious for a reason. Rich, face-to-face video calls are the staple of remote team management, helping to bridge the physical gap between you and your team. While people like to hate on meetings, don't underestimate the importance of this having regular visual conversations with your team. Since COVID-19 lockdown, Zoom has become something of a household name. It provides a dynamic space for holding one-on-ones and team chats, as well as company-wide meetings that require breakout rooms. There are of course plenty of alternatives out there, but Zoom is arguably one of the simplest to use.
2. Timely - for KPI tracking, managing resources and invoicing accurately
Time tracking is a critical tool for every remote business, keeping all team activity, capacity and project work visible. As far as payroll goes, it's also pretty essential; you can't document overtime or bill clients accurately without it. Timely is one of the few time tracking apps out there that actually automates the whole job for you. It captures all remote employee work in the background and uses AI to draft their time sheets. Managers can then use ready-made real-time dashboards to review employee workloads, capacity, activity and project budget spend. Active employee consent is integral to the whole app, meaning remote employees actually feel comfortable using it.
Trello helps remote teams easily track project plans, tasks and progress so that each remote worker’s backlog is visible to everyone. Using different boards and workflows – which can be as simple as the classic “To-Do”, “Doing” and “Done” – team members can check-in on their workload with agile boards. You can add customized tags to mark task priority so no-one misses a deadline.
4. iDoneThis - for leading, managing and checking in
Remote leaders shouldn’t be left guessing how their team is getting on. iDoneThis is a lightweight, agile task management tool where workers submit daily check-ins, which are later compiled into digestible reports. You can also send out a morning recap of all the happenings in your inbox and set personal achievements for each worker.
5. Engagedly - for performance, guidance and building trust
Engagedly integrates ongoing check-ins, goal-setting and learning benchmarks to make performance reviews as easy as possible. Its 360-degree feedback tool means managers, peers and any other colleagues can offer their feedback, and remote workers can enter self-evaluation comments through a set period.