How do I effectively lead a remote team?
Over the course of the last decade, remote working has exploded in popularity. According to researchers at Gallup, 43% of employees now work outside of the office at least some of the time and this trend is progressing across virtually every industry. Tiny start-ups and major multinationals of all shapes and sizes are beginning to implement resolute remote working policies for their workers, and individuals are more actively seeking out those remote working opportunities.
Why? Above all else, surveys indicate that workers crave autonomy.
As an employer, you are in the unique position to offer your team members that autonomy to work in places, ways and times that suit their own individual lifestyles consequently cutting your business costs, building a new level of trust with your staff and developing a much more flexible and progressive company culture. That being said, allowing your staff to work remotely also goes hand-in-hand with a few major risks.
For a start, the management process gets a whole lot trickier when your employees aren’t in the same place you are in.
A whole lot gets lost in translation when you’ve got a team of employees working in three different cities on wildly different shift patterns, and it can be incredibly difficult to ensure your company is running on adequate lines of communication. Worse yet, trying to manage staff and ensure everyone is staying on-task while working from afar is a formidable task for even the most experienced employer.
But those challenges shouldn’t put you off. Managing a remote working team can be efficient, successful and even a little bit fun. To help you find your feet and get started, we’ve compiled this guide outlining some basic remote management strategies you should be able to try out with your business.
Why should you let your employees work remotely?
Before outlining how you can manage your remote staff, it’s worth running through all of the reasons you should be jumping at the opportunity to get your employees out of the office every so often. So, why should you let your employees work remotely? Above all else, because it makes them happy.
One survey by Gallup found team members who spend three to four days per week offsite show engagement levels of up to 80% higher than co-workers who are constantly sitting behind a desk. A lot of that is because the opportunity to work remotely some or even part of the time means leaving behind horrible commutes. That saves your employees a huge amount of money in travel costs and frees up to 15 hours of their time each week.
Working from home also increases your teams focus. Remote workers don’t have to deal with cramped conditions, chatty co-workers or office politics. That means lower stress levels, better moods and less distraction.
Finally, your employees will love working remotely because it enables them to develop a better work-life balance. Although your company presents great opportunities for individuals, a whole lot of workers don’t want to have to sacrifice their family time to pursue a career. According to one survey from Microsoft, nearly a third of workers say they wished they could work from home to spend more time with family. A great remote working role allows talented individuals to devote more time to their children and loved ones and still find success in the workplace.
But your employees aren’t the only one who will benefit from remote working arrangements. Telecommuting can give your company an incredible boost in a wide range of ways.
First and foremost, your business will benefit from an expanded talent pool. By advertising a new role in your company as a remote working or telecommuting job, you’ll open the role up to prospects from across the globe. You can expect to receive applications from talented individuals who wouldn’t have applied for an office-based job with your company, and you won’t have to wait or contribute towards the relocation of your employees.
Companies that allow staff to work remotely also tend to enjoy reduced attrition rates. According to research from Global Workplace Analytics, 95% of business owners say that working from home substantially bolsters their staff retention rates potentially saving them thousands in recruiting and training costs.
Whats more, implementing a company-wide remote working policy can also drastically slash your overheads. If you operate company premises, getting some or all of your team out of the office every once in a while will mean you can save on utility costs. Depending upon the type of work your business does, you could even shun brick-and-mortar premises altogether and manage a remote team from your own home. That means you’ll save an incredible amount in rent and insurance.
Believe it or not, you can even save on salaries, too. Not only do two out of three workers want to do their jobs from home, but 37% of employees say they’d even be willing to take a salary cut in exchange for the opportunity to work from home.
So, not only will your employees be happier and more efficient in their work, but you’ll save a decent amount of money in training and overhead costs. Although remote working isn’t right for every business in every situation, research suggests remote working is on the rise for a reason. If you think it could benefit your business, it is definitely worth exploring.
How do I lead my remote team effectively?
If you do decide to trial remote working, or hire team members who will be telecommuting in, you then need to turn your attention to how you can effectively manage those individuals. When employees are working from home, you can check up on them in the same ways to ensure they’re staying on task and you might find it difficult to convey instructions or set up meetings to ensure everyone on your team is on the same page about action items.
One way to overcome these hurdles is to ensure you’re setting clear standards of communication from the moment your remote workers are on the job. Depending on the type of company you run and the sort of work you do, you might need to schedule weekly, daily or even hourly check-ins to maintain a certain level of cohesiveness across your team.
Establish a meetings routine that your employees can set their watches to and even when you’re unsure whether a meeting is actually necessary, you should still check-in with your team to ask what they’re up to and the sort of support you might be able to offer them.
Next, you need to optimise your remote working setups by implementing the perfect communication tools. There are dozens of brilliant videoconferencing platforms on the market, and there are also some fantastic task management services available that enable teams working across the globe to stay on-task and in the loop. From Asana and Trello to Skype and Google Hangouts, each platform has its own USPs that could be ideal for your particular team or company circumstance. Finding the perfect platform for you could be a matter of trial and error but once you’ve found a communication solution, it will make remote management a whole lot simpler.
To manage your remote team effectively, you also need to ensure you’re paying close attention to whats happening within that team. When you allocate tasks and projects across your team, a lack of communication across lower tiers of your workforce can often lead to inefficient (or even inapplicable) processes. Communicating with your team isn’t just about catching up with them on a regular basis or nagging employees about deadlines.
You need to read between the lines, chat with each employee and get a real feel for how your employees are interacting with one another and working with each other to carry out big projects.
As a remote manager, you must also do your best to hold people accountable for their work. One of the top fears you’ll no doubt harbour in allowing your employees to work from home is that they’ll slack off. If they do, you need to call those individuals out.
It is crucial that you set achievable goals for each employee and check in with that individual to make sure they are meeting those expectations you’ve set. That’s not an excuse to start micromanaging. You should always try to exercise a degree of trust in your remote working relationships just make sure you aren’t being taken for a ride.
Finally, one of the easiest ways to manage a remote team is to choose your employees a bit more carefully in the first place. Interview each candidate thoroughly, check their references and walk them through how you currently (or would like to) manage their workload remotely. Ask them about their attitude towards remote working, the processes they might carry out in certain situations and how they feel about particular aspects of your company culture.
It might sound painfully obvious, but the easiest way to avoid having to deal with a remote management nightmare is to prevent that nightmare from ever entering into your employment in the first place. When trying to fill a remote working vacancy, you should feel entitled to demand a little bit more in terms of talent and discipline.
The bottom line
At the end of the day, remote working isn’t right for every company. Some industries require teams to be operating in the same place at the same time. Likewise, a huge number of roles must inherently be office based for a number of reasons and some employees simply aren’t organised or motivated enough to be given the opportunity to work from home. That’s fine.
But if your company is not bound by location, you trust your staff and are wanting to shake things up, remote working is worth a try. Surveys suggest your employees will be happier, work harder and you’ll save loads of money in costly overheads.
The key to managing those employees from afar is communication. To effectively manage your remote team, you need to establish a firm work regimen and choose the right communication platforms that work alongside your company processes. You also need to make sure you’re paying close attention to your team’s cohesiveness, and aren’t afraid to crack a whip. More important still, you need to be particularly careful when hiring incoming staff to ensure they’ll be a good fit for the sort of company culture you’re trying to create for your business.
As long as you stay focused and keep your team on the ball, there’s no reason you can’t find success in managing a remote team.
This blog was brought to you by Ewan Sutherland of Blue Square Offices - Scotland's Nr 1 Virtual Office Provider.