It was inevitable. As digital communication became easier and more sophisticated, elements of the workforce began to work remotely. By the end of the last decade, about 34 million entrepreneurs and employees worked from home. This year, according to Forester Research, that number will increase to about 63 million. Many of these are employees, working as parts of a remote team, on projects and tasks for which each member has a significant and independent but dependent role to play. There are huge benefits to this:
- Overhead costs are low, a factor that results in higher profit margins and better pay for employees
- Team members enjoy some flexibility in work hours, skip the rush hour commutes, and go to work in sweats or PJ’s.
While the benefits are obvious, remote teamwork is not without huge challenges as well. A manager has to be very careful when employing members of a team. They have to be self-starters with a strong work ethic and ability to take the initiative. Nothing is worse than having a remote employee who requires “hand-holding” through every project. Managers themselves have to be comfortable with delegating tasks – micro-managing will not work in this environment. The biggest challenge, of course, is to keep a team productive and on schedule, and that is a management issue. Here are 5 basic ways to boost productivity of your team.
The Team Has to Bond
It’s easy to bond in a physical workplace. Teams can get together during the workday; teams can go to Happy Hour; teams can get together on weekends with their families for picnics and other social activities. Remote team members cannot “play” together. It’s important, then, to set up time for personal communication, using apps and tools that allow team members to see one another as they talk. Using Skype, Slack or HipChat will allow conversations that are team-wide, but will also allow individual team members to communicate privately and on a personal level. You want to encourage this private communication so that team members get to know one another on a personal level. They may even want to “bitch” about you or their tasks at times, and that is okay! Simulating a real office environment is a good thing. And you should set team social activities even though they occur remotely.
Give Very Definite Time Deadlines for Tasks
Self-starters will respond to deadlines, even if they are tight. In fact, most people who are successful as remote workers prefer tight deadlines and a bit of stress. They focus; they will isolate themselves until the task is completed. Be certain to set reasonable but tight deadlines – they’ll do what it takes to meet them.
Set Regular Team Meetings and Honor Time Zones
The entire team needs to converse together on a regular basis. This is the time to talk about issues and get help from one another and from you, as well as to give progress reports. If you have members all over the globe, meetings will never be perfectly convenient for everyone. Rotate meeting times so that everyone shares the inconvenience. You may be inconvenienced more than everyone else, but that is part of being a team leader.
Apps and Tools Must Cross All Devices
Each team member has his/her preferred devices and may use a variety of them during a normal work day – PC, tablet, iPhone, Android. As Sumit Khantwal, CEO of Info Geekers says:
“Team members need the flexibility to work from wherever they may be physically. The apps or tools you select for communication must be compatible with every possible device.”
Monitor Work and Give Feedback Privately and Publicly
Just as in a regular office environment, it is important to monitor progress toward task completion. You may ask for reports at specified points in time or you can use an app like Timedoctor which will monitor team member activity during “work hours.” There are also lots of project management software options for this.
Give public praise to team members who meet deadlines and perform well. When criticism or remediation must be given, do so privately. This is basic management 101.
Remote team management is challenging but don’t turn it into a nightmare. Get your team on board professionally and personally, let them bond, show your trust in them, honor them as individuals, and keep those lines of communication open.