“Expert opinions on managing remote teams effectively”
The current global outbreak of Coronavirus COVID-19 has forced businesses to take new measures in preventing the spread of the pandemic.
Locally, amidst the growing number of confirmed cases across the country, the Federal Government of Nigeria at the time of writing imposed another 14-day lockdown on both worst hit and high-risk states, i.e. Abuja (its capital city), Lagos State (its economic hub) and Ogun State (its industrial hub).
With the air of uncertainty and unpredictability on how long this would last, the coronavirus pandemic is expected to fundamentally change the way many organisations operate for the foreseeable future.
Almost overnight, remote work has become a new reality hence the need for managing remote teams. Companies around the world are encouraging their employees to work from home to prioritise the health and safety of their workforce.
Are organisations prepared for this sudden change? Not many. Working through this change can be very hard.
In this article, our Chief Operating Officer, Olutomi Rone, offers insights on challenges in managing remote teams and offers some guidance on how to navigate through some of these challenges.
Challenges of Managing Remote Teams
# Challenge 1: Communicating Effectively
Effective communication is critical when managing remote teams. Organisations run the risk of losing employees when there is no rhythm or systems established to cascade information on latest happenings at the company, its clients and its objectives.
In addition, a lack or inadequacy of a rhythm and collaborative tools to communicate, often contributes to non-clarity of roles and responsibilities within teams as well as dependencies on others.
Solution: Choose the Best Fit-For-Purpose Collaborative Tools
It’s no surprise that working alone can be isolating, so it’s important to leverage the right technology and collaborative platform that not only connects everyone, but makes them feel physically present.
Video conferencing is also particularly useful for complex or sensitive conversations, as it feels more personal than written or audio-only communication.
Below are some types of tools that can facilitate communication in remote teams, and some popular options for you to consider:
- Chat: Slack, Twist, Google Hangouts, Skype for Business
- Project management: Scoro, Trello, Asana, Notion, Time Doctor
- Web and video conferencing: Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Zoom, Cisco Webex, Zoho Remotely, GoToMeeting
- Scheduling: Calendly, Doodle
- Workflow automation: Favro, Zapier, Microsoft Flow, Monday
Also worth exploring are a suite of collaborative tools which may be less expensive than getting a variation of tools in managing different workstreams. Some include:
- Office 365
- Zoho Workplace
- GoDaddy Email & Office
Some of the tools highlighted may not be a good fit for remotely managing your teams. However, Consider trial periods or task someone with conducting research on all options in determining which best suits your needs and budget.
Employees should also be trained on the tools adopted to ensure they are all using the tools consistently and maximising its full benefits.
Solution: Establish a Rhythm and Culture of Communication
When managing remote teams , frequency of communication cannot go down. Lead by example by giving regular updates and holding daily check-ins with your team.
If your employees see that you’re an effective communicator, they’ll follow suit by picking up this habit. Newer employees, those working on critical projects, will require extra one-on-ones.
These check-ins should be regular and predictable, and serve as a forum where employees consult with you, and where their concerns and questions are heard.
In addition to establishing a rhythm, be very clear about how communication is handled via the mediums earlier highlighted.
Provide guidelines that highlight the kind of messages and information that should be passed especially when you have a culturally diverse team.
Solution: Establish “Rules of Engagement”
Remote work becomes more efficient and satisfying when managers pre-set clear work expectations and establish the frequency, means, and ideal timing of communication for their teams.
Managers should also let the employees know the best way and time to contact them during the workday while also keeping an eye on communication between team members to ensure that they are sharing information as needed.
It is best practice for managers to establish these “rules of engagement” with employees as soon as possible, ideally during the first online check-in meeting.
You should set clear expectations for:
- Work hours
- Communication system
- Timely meetings
- Key projects and deadlines
- Scheduled meetings
- Respond to email
# Challenge 2: Productivity
The most obvious risk and biggest fear for leadership with remote work is productivity. In an environment where workplace productivity is an increasing concern, some team members may not use their time wisely without day-to-day physical oversight.
This is also compounded by infrastructural challenges in Nigeria such as power and internet connectivity and other distractions at home
Solution: Hire the Right People
Working remotely requires that you hire people who can get work done while working independently. You don’t have to give doers tasks to know that something will get done.
You’ll still have to provide direction and guidance around the most important things to be executed, but in the absence of that, such employees will make something happen.
So invest your time and money in hiring the right people who embody the value of getting things done.
Solution: Build a Culture of Accountability
How do you know if employees are actually working? The best way to ensure everyone’s doing their job is to set clear expectations for each role and have regular check-ins to gauge progress.
These regular check-ins also provide perspective on some of the challenges employees may be having in executing some of their deliverables, e.g. power, internet connectivity etc., thus, helping the manager and employee plan to overcome these challenges adequately.
In addition, having an idea of how long tasks take while recognising the strengths and capabilities of your team is central in determining how much work an individual should accomplish either daily or weekly.
Some of the tools earlier mentioned like Asana, Trello, Harvest (for tracking billable hours and expenses on client work), Toggl; are very useful in creating and promoting a culture of accountability.
Solution: Develop Structure and Processes
Daily huddles and check-ins are critical in promoting productivity, accountability, transparency and engagement. It keeps the team on the same page and holds everyone accountable for their daily tasks and ongoing projects
Outside the daily check-ins, ensuring a more formal hierarchy and mandatory one-on-ones monthly or quarterly helps keep everyone on the team feel more engaged with the company because they have a manager that can help make sure to align their own career interests and concerns with the strategic goals of the company.
Solution: Provide Adequate Remote IT Support
Before businesses enable remote work, IT end user support must be available round the clock if possible as there is significant reliance on technology to function effectively remotely.
Inadequate IT support could render employees ineffective in delivering on their tasks. In addition, adequate measures/security protocols should be put in place to provide employees with secure access to corporate information and institutional databases.
This would normally require the creation of a virtual private network and extension of IT support to employees working remotely.
The objective is to ensure the safety of proprietary corporate information and intellectual assets, this is particularly important for financial service, telecoms and other organisations where employees require access to the institutional database to carry out their work.
# Challenge 3: Build Trust & Respect
According to Ernest Hemingway’s advice: “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them. This is especially difficult in an environment where there is hardly any physical interaction and where there are potential distractions and challenges.
As a leader, your responsibility is to equip them in the right way and continuously communicate while hoping they produce results you expect. Non-performance becomes unjustifiable if you play your part.
Solution: Focus on Outcomes not Activities
Clear and consistent outcomes communicated to the right people means less micromanagement and more freedom and accountability at individual level.
Rewarding employees for achieving or exceeding these outcomes also improves engagement and trust between both leaders and their teams.
Solution: Foster Collaboration
Some organisations undermine the importance of collaborating by failing to form teams with shared goals which can create low cooperation, teamwork and conflict. It is important to
- get everyone together face to face. These gatherings may be pricey at times, but they really pay off long term. The energy from these gatherings is always high and provides a unique opportunity to have big discussions around culture, vision, and the company or team’s future that would be difficult to do with people in different locations. It also allows for team bonding that you just can’t create on a video call.
(P.S. shy away from such while we fight together to beat the Coronavirus pandemic)
- encourage teams to meet regularly via video conference to build a sense of familiarity.
- ensure feedback and sentiment is collated by team leads or managers. This will ensure executive leadership is aware of pain points and how to best incorporate and provide feedback with the goal of creating a unified and collaborative environment that prioritizes open communication and support.
While we can’t predict what will happen with the world and our country in a few months, weeks, or days, we can confidently say that remote work is the new norm, and companies need to adapt to remain competitive.
Hopefully, leadership teams will equip managers with tools to feel heard, gather feedback, celebrate wins, understand work preferences, and deliver results. I hope this guide helps you set up yourself and your team for success.
Remember, to stay safe, a healthy workforce is a productive workforce.
Article Written by
Chief Operating Officer, Workforce Group