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From 2014 to 2019, remote working has expanded by 44%, with many companies seeing it as an increasingly normal way of doing business. Some companies, like Trello and Zapier, rely completely on remote work. And more and more internet entrepreneurs depend on small teams of remote workers to help them build big businesses at small costs.
There are plenty of benefits to hiring remotely: no office space costs, wider talent pools, and improved quality of service—to name a few. But building a business in part or full around off-site employees also has its fair share of challenges from a management standpoint. So in this post, we’re going to look at how to manage remote teams so that your success doesn’t have to suffer as you adapt to this new way of doing business.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the most challenging aspects of running your business remotely. These are all common pitfalls that are either non-issues or easy to avoid in a traditional work setting.
Lack of communication. In a typical office or cubicle, it’s very easy to walk down the hall to one of your employees and talk to them as soon as you need to. Whether it’s to communicate feedback, shoot the breeze, or offer correction, getting in touch is just a little bit more difficult when you can’t physically see your team.
Lack of team building. A side effect of your inability to easily communicate with remote workers is their inability to get to know each other. A traditional office team generally has plenty of downtime, lunch breaks, and hallway crossings to get acquainted and build bonds. This just doesn’t come naturally with a remote team.
Lack of accountability. There is something about being physically distant from their employer that may make a worker feel like they are less accountable. Humans are used to picking up on subtle cues based on everything from tone of voice to facial expressions. If your workers aren’t getting that, then they may not establish the same sense of accountability that they would in a face-to-face setting.
With some of the most important difficulties established, we can take a look at the steps that you can take to counteract them. This isn’t an exhaustive list of how to manage remote teams, but it should provide you with a good idea of the sort of approach necessary for getting the job done.
Standard operating procedures (or SOPs) are the backbone of any systematic business. They are especially important when it comes to managing a remote team, though, because you aren’t physically present to manage the tasks of your workers. Realistically, they might be working from the other side of the world during the hours that you are usually asleep.
So by establishing clear SOPs for the most common tasks that each of your employees are responsible for, you will cut down on the need for back-and-forth communication that could reduce efficiency or drain away your valuable time.
You can’t fully understand how to manage remote teams unless you actually treat them like a team. In other words, if your business relies on employing the services of 7 different remote workers, you can’t treat them like 7 independent contractors who are all working apart from one another.
Even if each person has a specialization, they need to know that they are supporting a much larger overall goal. There are lots of ways to do this. For starters, let your remote workers know who their teammates are. Don’t allow them to work in a vacuum, separate from the others.
Beyond that, find ways to implement all the usual elements of team leadership in a virtual setting:
Unfortunately, the nature of remote work does make it easier for your team members to slack off if you don’t put the right systems in place to prevent it. Generally speaking, remote workers aren’t employed to be on the job for specific hours. This can be a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, you are only paying them for the work they deliver. On the other hand, you have to count on them to manage their time wisely. If you aren’t their only employer, this can be difficult at times.
The simplest way to overcome the issue is to set clear expectations of what you want from each of your remote workers. Then, review their progress on a regular schedule (say, once a quarter). This is a typical process for regular employees, so there is no reason not to hold remote workers to the same standards.
A team that clicks usually has more in common than just the work they are doing. They build rapport with one another, get to know one another, and care about one another. Whether it’s sharing funny stories about the kids or chatting about the latest Marvel series, these seemingly little water cooler conversations play a big role in team building.
To recreate these effects for your remote team, you’ve got to offer them an avenue for this same sort of chit-chat: some sort of virtual water cooler. Using a chatroom like Slack is a good example, especially if you are also using it for communicating about tasks and projects. Of course, this sort of communication might seem unnatural to your team, so you’ve got to lead by example. Find ways to genuinely interact with them, just like you would if you were in the office across the hall.
“Done is better than perfect,” so the old saying goes. So don’t let your fear of getting it wrong put you off from building the remote team you need to build a successful business. No one gets everything right the first time around. Get started today, learn from your mistakes, and grow your team stronger and stronger one day at a time.
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