5 essential tips for managing teams remotely

A women in a dark top holds a document showing a brightly coloured graph. Her laptop screen shows three men and a woman on a video call.

If there is one thing the world has learnt recently, it’s that remote working is here to stay.

Working from home is rapidly becoming an essential part of the way we run both business and society.

For the past five years, myself and my team have been analysing team workflow. We’ve worked with hundreds of businesses across the globe to understand their digital needs and create online environments where teams can thrive. From teams of three to hundreds, what is most fascinating is the similarities businesses face when moving to flexible working arrangements.

Regardless of industry, size or physical set-up, we all face the same problems, and opportunities. Can we create remote working patterns that help, not hinder, business operations? How can my business keep track of productivity? How can we ensure our culture remains prominent?  Can we make the change with ease and ensure longevity?

After half a decade of research and development, here are some of my key insights to set yourself and your team up for success.

1. Get on the same page, literally

You’re only as good as the tools you use. The first step towards effectively working remotely is deciding on the tools you are going to need to run your business with ease.

Don’t head straight to reading the product/app reviews. Instead, spend five minutes writing a list of all your current key communications and processes used to run your team. For example, if afternoon stand-up meetings are an essential part of your team’s everyday, ensure you’ve found a digital tool to keep these going whilst working remotely.

Think about the rhythms of your workplace, including off site meetings. How can you replicate these to ensure the business can operate remotely?

The bare minimum tools you will need;

  • A collaboration/project management tool where you can create tasks, set deadlines and assign team members – such as Trello. Take some time to decide if you need external sharing access to your projects and timelines. Some tools are easier than others to share information outside of the organisation. If you try a tool and it’s not working, try another. Don’t waste time trying to make something work.
  • A chat tool to make internal communication easy and natural.  Asking a simple question in an office setting can be as natural as turning your head and speaking to a coworker. It’s important to have a tool that mimics this. mails just don’t cut it. Consider a workplace chat system that includes a mobile app and group chat options so you can stay in communication from literally anywhere. Your team will feel connected knowing they can contact each other for instant support.
  • A file sharing method such as Dropbox, Google Drive or a remote server. Streamlining the sharing of files will mean that your team will have more time to work on tasks and avoid any version control issues.

If you are looking to keep everything neat and centralised, try using a singular collaboration platform that has multiple tools in one such Hassl or Microsoft teams, specifically designed for remote working. This will allow you to have file sharing, group chats, task allocation and project planning all in the one place.

Lastly, don’t forget about video conferencing. Technology has come a long way since MSN Messenger, and as long as your broadband can keep up, your virtual meetings can run just as smoothly as they would in person.

Zoom offers good screen sharing functionality, although you need to download the software to join and meetings longer than 45 minutes lead to a costly monthly fee. Google hangouts is a great cost effective alternative that offers screen sharing without any log-ins or runs entirely in your browser.

2. Take a moment to digitally upskill everyone

Now make sure your whole team is confident with the tools provided. Most remote working tools come with online training in the form of blogs or simple videos. Ensure your staff are given access to this training and provided the time to learn during your initial remote set-up. If your whole team isn’t using the tool properly, you may as well not have a tool at all.

Often the most challenging issue teams face when they start using a project management or workflow tool is their level of customisation. The same tool can be set-up very differently depending on team and workflow needs. To supplement general training, try to document how your team should use the tool in their workflow. Set parameters of who is allowed to edit core information, making sure everyone in your team knows how – and more importantly, why – you are working this way.

If you have capacity, document both your remote working ‘toolkit’ and processes so staff have a central point to refer back to if they feel lost or overwhelmed.

3. Take accountability into account

An easy to avoid pitfall of running a remote team is keeping a tight understanding of what everyone is working on. There are numerous ways to ensure accountability remains across your organisation, such as implementing a time tracking tool, using time sheets, monitoring activity feeds and implementing one-on-one manager meetings.

Time tracking tools provide accountability, ensuring your team is running efficiently on an ongoing basis. With time tracking, tasks are clocked in real-time against individual tasks and reports automatically generated to management. For team members, they don’t need to fill out a timesheet or report back on their every day, removing a layer of bureaucracy.

This is an important aspect to clarify with your team. No one will work well if they feel like someone is scrutinising every minute they spend on a task. Time Tracking adds a layer of transparency and validation to remote working that makes working from anywhere justifiable. For a stand alone time tracking tool you can try Harvest. Alternatively, you can try Hassl’s integrated time tracking function.

4. Create routines based on conversations

There is an ongoing debate around how many virtual meetings is enough. Many teams find themselves in aha moments when they realise 30 minute meetings could have been a message.

At the same time, keeping communication links open is vital for wellbeing when running remote teams. You need to ensure your team doesn’t feel unsupported or isolated. Overcompensate for the lack of physical connection by scheduling regular video meetings where you share your weekly/monthly team goals and give your staff the opportunity to share their individual goals and progress.

As a bare minimum meet with your team and each team member once a day. Have these meetings pre-scheduled via a calendar tool such as Google calendar or Microsoft Office so staff have a schedule to work towards.

5. Make time for social moments

Compared to March last year, searches in Victoria for social loneliness haven risen by 24.8%.

We need now, more than ever, spaces for people to share, laugh and connect.

If your team is used to working in the same building together, it’s important to offer new digital spaces for ongoing team-building and social moments. Here are some suggestions of essential, non-essential digital moments for team building:

  • Team chat feeds where you share non-work related jokes, inspiration, news etc.
  • Daily stretch club where you all get onto a video call and stretch together
  • Stand up meetings via video call where team members can chat freely
  • A shared team playlist for everyone on Spotify
  • Online social events such as team charades or Friday after work vino

Ultimately, this is about creating digital patterns of behaviour that your team feels comfortable with.

The key to managing teams remotely lies in analysing the way your business usually operates offline and creating infrastructure, processes and communication methods that mimics this familiar environment online.

Take the time to plan, train and implement clear communication channels to empower and connect your team in the oddest of times.