Managing a small team that is constantly on the road is more difficult than managing other types of teams. You often don’t have the opportunity to speak to team members face to face, since they are not physically present, and sometimes team members don’t get the chance to bond with each other.
Here are some tips with to strengthen the way you manage your remote team.
Get team members with the right qualities
People who work in a team that is constantly out of the office and away from the supervisory eye of a manager need to possess certain qualities. They need to be self-motivated and enjoy working independently. Some people require someone to look over their shoulder every once in a while to keep them going. Others (the kind of people you want in a remote team) are able to set goals autonomously and then complete them without the need for outside motivation.
Note that we also said that remote employees should ‘enjoy’ working independently. Some people may work well independently on a superficial level, but are perhaps more likely to become disenchanted with their work since there is so little social interaction involved. Find employees who like working on their own and don’t mind having little interaction with fellow employees – but still have good interpersonal skills.
Since communication is such a big issue with remotely working teams, you need employees who are open, forthcoming and straight to the point about their work. If you ask them about their progress they should not just tell you what they think you want to hear, but give you honest feedback. This type of feedback is necessary for you to know where your team stands, and provides you with the ability to see when problems may be arising.
Create a team purpose
Establish a roadmap for your remote team that includes a mission statement, the role and responsibilities of each team member, and what key resources are available. This roadmap can use the SMART framework to set goals and objectives, which should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. By measuring goals set against these five attributes you can establish whether they are reasonable and achievable given your team’s abilities. This will make it easier for your team to form a cohesive unit.
Schedule team bonding time
When a team works outside of the office most of the time, they often miss out on activities that enable employees to bond with each other on a personal level. This bonding is important for employee happiness, as well as providing an environment where people work together in harmony.
With remote or constantly moving teams it is very important to arrange activities that promote bonding. Encourage all team members to set up a profile with general information about themselves in a data-sharing folder. This will help people to feel more in touch with those they work with. These profiles should also include contact information in case of an ‘emergency’ work situation.
Since no ‘water cooler talk’ takes place in a remote team, it is important to make time for chit-chat. This will help the team to be better able to relate to each other. Of course this shouldn’t take the place of work, but must be integrated in such a way that it builds a feeling of team membership. Scheduling chit-chat can involve having the team meet for coffee every few weeks to catch up on each other’s lives and how they are coping with work.
Work conversations over the phone can often feel impersonal, and it may seem easier to disregard someone when not looking them in the eye. That’s why important conversations need to take place via webcam or Skype. Face-to-face contact also allows for visual cues to come through, and promotes fluent communication between team members.
Provide access for all to project information
No matter how rarely a team sees each other or interacts, they are still a team. This means that the team works on similar projects at the same time. To ensure cohesiveness make sure to set up a project management system online that every member has access to. This should provide everyone with the ability to view, organise and change deadlines as well as project details.
This system should also have a way for the team to discuss the project with each other so that there are no misunderstandings. Software like Basecamp and Trello come highly recommended.
Feedback keeps communication channels open
Feedback is essential for getting things done correctly, as well as for fixing any issues before they become major problems – and is even more valuable in a remote team.
Weekly reports are a great way of getting the feedback you want from your team. Create online forms that include questions you would like answered by each team member regarding what they are doing, progress on a particular project or any challenges they are facing. The questions are entirely up to you and should be based on the employee you are talking to, the project they are working on and what items you feel you need most clarity on.
Once you’ve created these online forms you can have weekly email reminders sent to your team members with a link to the form. This helps to place it in their minds that it is a ritual they need to adopt to be good communicators, and ensures that you get the updates you require every week.
Feedback sessions should never be seen as waste of time in the eyes of your employees, but rather as being essential to doing their work correctly and well.
Continually inspire and motivate
Providing inspiration is an important part of any managerial post, and even more essential when employees are not always in office. Let your remote employees know that they are valued and that the work they are doing is important to the overall success of the company.
Often remote employees feel underappreciated as they do not receive regular communication and feedback. Also, because they have less time to bond with their colleagues they may feel left out of the company’s vision. Make an effort to let them know the bigger picture of the organisation and how valuable their role is to this.
Managing a remote team can seem frustrating – but the results achieved from allowing employees to work independently and show initiative are very rewarding.