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Do’s and Dont’s of Managing Remote Teams

by May 16, 2021Leadership and Management

Sean Hopwood
MBA President and Founder at Day Translations, Inc.

A remote work setup provides several advantages. However, it also comes with drawbacks and pitfalls. To make sure that you reap the benefits and evade potential problems, there are dos and don’ts to consider. The following points should serve as a helpful guide in managing remote teams across different settings.

The DOs

1. Establish Communication Standards

Communication is critical in a remote work setup. It can be the difference between success and failure in the management of telecommuting teams. That’s why having effective internal team communication is a must, and it only makes sense to adopt an unambiguous communication playbook. There needs to be a unified and systematic way for everyone in the team to communicate. Managers should lay out a dependable process for contacting each other, for managers to reach employees, for employees to raise concerns, and for everyone to be able to respond accordingly.

  • Choose priority means of communication. Decide if the team should stick to using Gmail and Google Hangouts and if everyone should also have Skype and a conventional telephone or mobile phone number. There are many ways to communicate, but it’s essential to choose one or two platforms as the primary communication streams. This is important for consistency and to make it easy to track correspondence or calls. It would be difficult, especially for managers, to keep up with the telecommuting team if different platforms are being used. It is inefficient for management and can be taxing on computing resources to boot. Imagine an accommodating manager who has to install and regularly run multiple messaging services (Facebook Messenger, Skype, WhatsApp, WeChat, etc.) to communicate with team members.
  • More is better. While it’s advisable to choose one or two main communication platforms to use, it wouldn’t hurt having several other ways to contact each other. If one becomes unavailable, it is advantageous having other means to send messages or make calls. This does not mean teams have to run all messaging services at once. It is about having another contact option when it becomes difficult to reach someone through the usual methods.
  • Everyone should be able to communicate through traditional telephone or mobile phones as far as possible. Don’t rely on email and web messaging. Not everyone can be online all of the time. There have to be non-online ways to reach employees, especially when there are emergencies or urgent tasks.
  • Require everyone to confirm the receipt of messages. When sending emails or when using communication methods that don’t entail instant responses, receipt confirmations need to be sent in response. Confirmation, or the lack thereof, will alert managers of what to do next. Likewise, it tells remote employees to follow up or resend what they are supposed to send.
  • Create standard processes for different kinds of communication. For example, when submitting reports, aside from having deadlines, there has to be a specific mode of transmission and format of the report. Additionally, the receiver should confirm receipt upon getting it. Another example: when a manager and a remote employee discuss a task, the discussion results or the points decided upon should be converted into a new task expected to be completed within a specific timeline.

 

2. Set Clear Goals and Expectations

All team members should be made aware of short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals. At the same time, the management should present expectations to serve as a guide for remote workers. Managing remote teams is not a one-way street. Cooperation is a must, so everyone knows what needs to be accomplished and how they are expected to attain team objectives.

It helps to have a private online page (accessible to remote team members) that tracks the goals and expectations set for a team. This can help motivate employees and create a sense of achievement as items on the list are slowly crossed out.

3. Use Reliable Remote Work Software

It’s not compulsory to get a remote work software solution to be successful in managing remote teams. You can use a combination of different software and web services in lieu of a single telecommuting software platform. For example, you can use Google Drive (including Google Docs and Google Sheets), Gmail, and Google Hangouts to manage a team of online content writers or even a group of remote translators. You can creatively take advantage of the different free online services and apps to facilitate remote team operations.

However, using a telecommuting software solution can make the job considerably more efficient. These systems streamline virtually everything, from the assignment of tasks to the billing and payment of wages. In choosing a remote work software, take the following into account:

  • The software should have SSL encryption and be proven free from malware or backdoor channels that compromise your data.
  • Never use a telecommuting platform that is known for occasional crashing, stability issues, or bugs. If it is web-based, it should have very minimal downtime or offline times due to server maintenance.
  • It should be intuitive or easy to use. Learning its different features and functions shouldn’t require extensive training.
  • All of the essential functions should be present. These include an efficient system for managing assignments or task queues, messaging, collaboration, file sharing, screen sharing, as well as invoicing, and the ability to integrate with other applications.
  • It would be great if you can find freeware, but it wouldn’t be a bad decision to spend money on the software if it is guaranteed to be secure, reliable, intuitive, and complete with the features you need.

 

4. Follow Up and Through

Working with remote employees is challenging because of the physical distance. It’s difficult to communicate or conduct meetings even with all the advances in communications technology. Communication systems can encounter problems, or employees can always make up excuses for being “uncontactable.” It’s completely different from simply summoning someone who is in another room or office.

That’s why managing remote teams entails more than the usual follow-ups and following through. Managers need the assurance that tasks are completed as expected. For remote employees, especially those who have self-discipline issues, this helps set the pace and ensure that they are properly guided on what should be done.

This does not mean that you shouldn’t trust your remote employees. However, a manager should be perceived as an annoying superior rather than risking the completion of tasks or the output quality. Remote team managers should be involved in every step of the project instead of assigning tasks and expecting an output at a deadline. Giving remote employees the complete trust that they would deliver what’s expected of them should only be done after establishing a good track record.

The DON’Ts

1. Don’t Be Too Trusting and Lax

Even if you hire the best telecommuters, there’s no guarantee that they will always be able to complete what they need to do. You don’t necessarily have to abandon your trust in people, but don’t trust that everything will always proceed as expected. Technical issues, calamities, accidents, illnesses, and other problems can sometimes get between dedicated, hardworking remote workers and their deadlines.

As such, managers should periodically follow up on the progress of tasks or projects. It helps using a telecommuting software platform that compels everyone to post regular progress updates. These will make it easier for managers to act accordingly if there are problems.

2. Don’t Obsess Over Updates

While it is advisable to stay updated with the progress of tasks or a project, you should not overdo it. It’s unnecessary and can be irritating (for teleworkers) to demand updates every hour unless the output is urgently needed. Eventually, you should be able to assess the performance of your remote team and determine if you can trust them enough to complete tasks on time without the constant heads up. Following up and following through are different from unnecessarily requiring remote workers to send reports every so often.

3. Don’t Set Unrealistic Deadlines

Make sure that the goals and timelines of a project are reasonably achievable. It’s not a good idea to set deadlines earlier to rush employees and extend the deadline because of the failure to get tasks done on time. Some managers try to trick employees into thinking that they are already way behind schedule to force them to expedite the delivery of the expected output. This strategy can become counter-productive in the long run, though. Employees may no longer take deadlines seriously as they realize, based on experience, that deadlines are often reset because they regularly fail to fulfill the unrealistic requirements.

4. Don’t Neglect Your Remote Workforce

This is a no-brainer but worth emphasizing. If you demand good performance from your remote team, it’s only logical to treat them well. Promptly address their complaints or concerns. Don’t coldly admonish or penalize them for mistakes or failures without hearing their side, as this can create unnecessary conflict or a sense of hostility. Send them their pay on time. Never treat them with disrespect and arrogance, as these can be reciprocated with poor performance.

5. Don’t Throw in the Towel Too Soon

Managing remote teams is not going to be easy. There are many challenges along the way. Be prepared for these and try to make it work. If there are concerns from employees, address them accordingly. If inefficiencies are encountered, take the time to analyze the situation and implement the necessary tweaks or changes. If you picked the wrong people to work from home, replace them.

Final Thoughts

You can unlock the full benefits of a remote work setup by paying close attention to the things you should and shouldn’t do as a manager. Ensure good communication, be transparent, use excellent remote work software, and stay in control. On the other end of the coin, don’t be complacent, excessively fixated with updates, negligent in your responsibilities to your remote team, or quick to be discouraged or demotivated.

Sean Hopwood
MBA President and Founder at Day Translations, Inc.

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