Managing remote teams comes with its own set of challenges—from work visibility and trans-time zone communication, to cultivating a sense of belonging and trust—as many teams learned the hard way during COVID-19 lockdowns. With hybrid and remote work set to stay, businesses need to move beyond the organic approach to remote working experienced during lockdowns to actively enable, support and develop mature distributed workforces. That starts with investing in the right kit to serve your team long-term. We've pulled together some of the essential tools for managing remote teams—from enabling fluid collaboration and remote participation, to ensuring work stays visible.
The challenges of managing remote teams
It can be difficult enough to track office-based performance, but in a remote or hybrid makes it that bit harder to stay in touch. It can become extremely difficult to keep work visible—knowing what specific people are 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. Team communication itself has to change, with everyone needing to follow set processes to keep information accessible and clear.
To protect against remote employee burnout, you’ll want to have a firm grip on team capacity, availability, overtime and engagement, which becomes even harder as people work different work hours and potentially need to coordinate on when they will be in the office.
🍻 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, critical emotional information can get lost from text-based communication, and many virtual events fail to truly engage remote colleagues.
Tools for managing remote teams
The remote work tech space is already very saturated, but it will only continue to grow in complexity as hybrid working becomes a permanent fixture. While it's good to apply a remote-first logic to all tech purchases you make, you really don't have to take out a ton of new software subscriptions to keep your virtual workforce connected. Here are the bare bones essential tools companies need for managing remote teams.
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 (and if you already use Microsoft 365, you may already be using Teams), but Zoom is arguably one of the simplest video conferencing tools to use.
2. Timely - for keeping work, team resources and overtime visible
Time tracking is a critical tool for every remote worker, keeping all team activity, capacity and work visible. As far as team and project management goes, it's also pretty essential; you can't document overtime, bill clients accurately or plan work effectively 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 cuts timesheet admin by 75%. Timely also offers real-time dashboards to keep team workloads, capacity, availability and overtime visible. Privacy lies at the heart of the tool, meaning remote employees actually feel comfortable using it.
3. Trello - for workload and task prioritization
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.