Virtual teams are quickly changing from novel to commonplace. In the past five years, the number of companies with remote, international teams has more than doubled. Predictions are that this number will double again in the coming year. Nonetheless, many business owners find managing a remote team challenging. In fact, it can even be difficult for the most experienced manager to overcome challenges like the lack of face-to-face collaboration and uncertainty about what tools to use.Let’s take a look at some proven strategies for managing a remote team. We’ll also provide you with some suggestions for top remote team tools. Finally, we’ll share some powerful remote team-building activity ideas.
What is a remote team?
A remote team is made up of a group of professionals who are not located in the same geographical area. In fact, these individuals may be based all over the world.
Many managers, from solopreneurs to those at Fortune 500 companies, are choosing virtual teams for several reasons. One of the most common is to reduce overhead costs, such as by contracting freelancers instead of hiring employees. Another is the chance to select the best talent from around the world, instead of being limited to people who live near (or are willing to move to) the company’s physical location.
Common challenges when managing a remote team
You may be working with the best talent in the world; still, managing a remote team can pose some significant challenges. A few common challenges include:
- Tracking productivity
- Building trust and rapport
- Maintaining a healthy company culture
- Encouraging collaboration
- Scheduling work across time zones
Communication is one of the most challenging skills to master — even in face-to-face relationships, both personal and professional. Adding distance and differing time zones to the mix just complicates things further.
To minimize issues with miscommunication, managers should use several best practices. First, implement the right tools. The tools you choose should be easy for everyone on your team to use — we’ll name some of the best ones later. Next, work on improving your listening skills. Managers who work hard to listen carefully to the needs of their individual team members, as well as the group as a whole, see the best results.
Although there are bad actors in the freelance and contractor space, most people genuinely want to form long-term relationships — not least for the chance to receive regular income. Empathy can go a long way toward driving productivity. Managers who are able to bring kindness to the table receive respect in return. This leads to motivated workers and high-quality work. In contrast, when workers fear business leaders, you tend to see poor communication and lower productivity.
Always think about the big picture. It’s easy to develop bad habits like micromanaging, particularly if you don’t trust your team, but a better approach to take is to focus on goals and outcomes. When you focus on what matters, you’ll realize that minute-to-minute updates are an expensive and tedious way to invest your working hours.
Build trust and rapport
Nobody enjoys working with strangers. In fact, a lack of connectedness and trust can create problematic behaviors like information hoarding and unnecessary competitiveness.
Make time to communicate with and get to know your remote workers. Things as simple as remembering birthdays, using preferred nicknames, and asking workers about hobbies, family, and pets can develop connections and build trust.
Furthermore, focus on strengths. Recognize the accomplishments of individuals with the team as a whole. When team members see each other in a positive light, they build trust more easily.
Pro tip: Autonomous, self-directed teams are often more productive and collaborative.
Maintain a healthy company culture
Company culture can inspire great teams to do great things — or it can doom a business. Poor culture can lead to high turnover and contagious negativity. A great culture can create brand ambassadors who promote the organization.
Make time for fun. Companies with great cultures take time for breaks, fun, and laughter. Play digital games together and make time to get to know each other.
In addition, close skill gaps. Giving individuals the chance to grow shows them that your organization cares. Plus, it gives workers the chance to gain a deeper understanding of their work. By keeping things interesting, allowing workers to grow together, and offering continuing education opportunities, your team becomes stronger and you significantly reduce skills gaps.
Lack of collaboration is one of the biggest reasons companies bring remote workers back into the office. When Yahoo! recalled hundreds of remote workers in 2013, it was a controversial move — but it wasn’t because of a lack of trust or individual productivity. The Yahoo! recall was because the company believed idea generation and the opportunity to capitalize on intellectual capital depended on the casual, collaborative problem-solving that occurs in face-to-face work environments.
The growth of remote teams has since dispelled that notion. The greater number of collaboration tools and strategies for digital teams has been a major driver. Plus, many companies have discovered that when they use strategically icebreakers and other conversation starters, they can encourage idea generation. Finally, providing workers with the autonomy to find solutions and work together, rather than asking everyone to report only to their managers, can be highly effective.
Scheduling work across time zones
Hiring talent from around the world can be a win for everyone, but a significant drawback is coordinating work across time zones. Meetings and collaborative activities can end up taking days instead of minutes.
Information sharing is one of the best solutions to the time zone conundrum. Unfortunately, information sharing is one of the pieces of the puzzle many managers miss. Instead of using old ways of relaying information, such as back-and-forth emails, choose centralized document-sharing platforms like Slack. Another thing you could do is rotate meeting times to allow everyone to contribute.
Transparency is the new black
Transparency needs to be a best practice for leaders and remote workers. Everyone should feel free to share ideas, talk about what works and what doesn’t, offer opinions, and understand expectations. When a workforce practices inclusion and makes workers feel like their opinions matter, you all but guarantee success.
Organization and clear expectations
Everything is better when you’re organized. Help remote workers understand their job and how to prioritize by setting clear goals and objectives. As a result, everyone will have less clutter on their desks and in their minds, which will make them happier and more productive.
Check in with individuals and teams regularly. This will ensure that workers know when they’ll have the opportunity to ask questions. It will also give them a sense that the organization is dependable and they aren’t alone.
Pro tip: Managers are more likely to gain buy-in from their team if they ask for input and implement changes their workers suggest.
Our fast-paced digital world can leave us feeling like we have to move at light speed to keep up. However, the science behind productivity shows that multitasking is ineffective. To prevent multi-tasking, ensure that each team member is only working on one or two projects at a time.
Tools for managing a remote team
To develop an efficient, well-functioning team, the right tools are crucial. At a minimum, you likely need to track time, communicate, collaborate, and store files — and you need to find the right tools for the job.
Even though you want to build trust throughout your team, blind faith is irresponsible — you need to be able to hold team members accountable. There are a number of popular time trackers, although one of our favorites is HubStaff, as it allows you to time track by project. The tool also has invoicing capabilities, among other features.
You have numerous options for communication tools, but only a few stand out as the best. Zoom is ideal for holding video calls and sharing screens, whereas for chat, Slack is a favorite with big and small organizations alike.
Casual conversations and chatter are important, but productive work requires structure. Google Drive has yet to see a competitor that poses a real threat to its live collaboration features. However, to organize ideas, leave comments, and have a centralized location for deadlines, there are several favorites. For example, Trello, Monday, and Asana are all excellent platforms for collaboration and facilitating project management.
Pro tip: Small teams of remote workers run most of these collaboration platforms. If you adopt a tool and then find it’s missing a feature you need, tell customer service. They’ll often build your feedback into coming updates.
Ideas for remote team building
Team-building activities are crucial for managing a remote team. Icebreakers can get the ball rolling at the beginning of meetings and help you avoid awkward small talk. An icebreaker can be as simple as asking everyone to answer to the question of the week. By quickly going around the “room” and giving everyone a moment to share, teams can get to know each other. This icebreaker is also ideal because anyone can play, regardless of how familiar they are with the company, team, or current project.
Games are also a great way to get team members who may not otherwise interact and to engage your team on something other than work. Plus, games can reveal strengths and interests that people may not have found out about otherwise. One fun game that won’t sacrifice precious meeting time is a scavenger hunt where workers pair up to solve puzzles or answer questions.
We have many great ideas for low-cost and free team-building activities, just for remote teams. Read the blog post and try the ideas out with your team — we’re sure they’ll love them!