How to Effectively Manage a Remote Team

Standing at the intersection of large-scale trends such as globalisation and millennials demanding greater flexibility and work-life balance — remote working is the latest buzzword on everyone’s lips. Businesses today are embracing remote employees and distributed teams, hiring top talent regardless of where that talent may be geographically based. This trend is unsurprising given that the evidence for remote working is largely positive:

  • 82% say they experience lower levels of stress
  • According to Harvard Business Review: 87% feel more connected thanks to new video conferencing tools
  • A survey from ConnectSolutions: 30% says they get more accomplished in less time

However, remote working (or telecommuting, telework, teleworking, working from home, mobile work, flexible workplace, or any of the other buzzwords this trend has taken on) is not a new concept, having existed for at least several decades. The difference now lies instead within the prevalence of technological tools, such as SlackTribePulse, and Zoom, that have made remote working easier and significantly more feasible for the masses. If the majority of communication is via email or slack, what difference does it make if the person is in the same building or in a different state?

Even with remote teams, the role of the manager remains largely unchanged. Managing remote teams falls to the responsibility of a manager, and as the manager of remote team members, it is your job is to nurture, guide and support team members. This is a guide for managers to manage their remote teams and make team members happier. To effectively manage remote teams, there are a 5 key points you need to keep in mind:

1. Use the technology available to you

Remote working is not a new concept, but why is it that it is taking off in such a huge way now? The answer is simple. Technology. Tools such as SlackTribePulse, and Zoom, have made it super easy to communicate quickly and across long distances, often replacing the need for “in-person” conversations. To effectively run a remote team, it is in you and your teams best interests to make full-use of the tools available.

2. Communicate regularly

Some people might view remote working as an introverts dream, but working remotely doesn’t mean that manager should communicate less with their team members. If anything, it means that they should communicate more, I would even dare say that they should over-communicate. Office teams have an easier time communicating due to being in the same building. Remotely managing a team means that you first have to overcome the location barrier. Here, tools that allow for asynchronous communication, like TribePulse, are your best friend.

3. Organize your tasks

With team members distributed around the globe, it is even more important to make sure that everyone knows what they should be working on and even more so that everyone is working on the right tasks. Here, using a team management system such as TribePulse can have a major impact in help you keep on top of what everyone is working on. Along with this point, your role as a manager means you need to manage your team’s time. The common concern managers associate with remote working is that they can’t ensure that team members are working. Well, the rebuttal usually goes — how can you ensure that all the people in your office are working? In both cases, it is highly useful to get all team members to report on what accomplishments they have made each day as well as any outstanding tasks or challenges they are facing.

If a team member’s having trouble with keeping on schedule, don’t automatically assume that they’re just being lazy. Remote working is a difficult nut to crack, and even the best of us fall prey to the dangers of working alone sometimes.

4. Remotely manage by removing obstacles and roadblocks

It often falls to the manager to remove and obstacles and roadblocks and this doesn’t change just because your team is remote. While managers can worry about team members not pulling their weight, it sometimes falls to the manager to stop delaying progress just because the problem isn’t physically close to your. Remote working shouldn’t be an excuse for “out of sight, out of mind

5. Get real face time regularly

Even occasional face time can help make up for the lack of daily interaction, so make it a priority, even if you’re the one who travels, not the entire team. “If everyone is everywhere, a good rule of thumb is to try to get together once a quarter if travel budgets allow” says Nicole Wood, CEO and co-founder of career coaching company Ama La Vida.


In summary, to effectively manage a remote team you need to:

1. Use the technology available to you

2. Communicate regularly

3. Organize your tasks

4. Remotely manage by removing obstacles and roadblocks

5. Get real face time regularly

With these tips in mind, you’ll be well on your way to effectively running a remote team!

If you wish to learn more about how to engage your remote workforce, we invite you to check out our other content by joining the More signal, less noise Tribe.

Can You Manage Employees You Don’t See?

The trend of remote working has been increasing across all industries, according to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report. In 2012, 24% of employees were spending 80% or more of their time working remotely. In 2016, 31% were found to be doing the same. Moreover, the trend within remote companies towards fully remote is accelerating.

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The Positive Influence Of Remote Working

As employees increasingly turn to remote working, leaders and managers worry about the impact of remote working on individual, team and organizational performance. In 2013, Yahoo made the headlines when choosing to end their work-from-home program. IBM, Best Buy and Bank of America have also reportedly eliminated remote work for various roles such as marketing or engineering. In each case, the companies emphasised the need to improve teamwork, collaboration and communication as reasons for the change.

Despite the skepticism of some established companies, research has shown that all employees who spend at least some (but not all) of their time working remotely have higher engagement than those who don’t ever work remotely.

Indeed, through their study, Gallup found that remote working can positively influence employee engagement and performance but only when employees maintain some connection to the company’s offices.

The most engaged remote workers agree that someone at work cares about them as a person, encourages their development and has talked to them about their progress.

Great Managers Are The Key to Mastering Remote Work

Whatever the company, managers are increasingly supervising employees with very little face-to-face interactions.

Organisations that offer successful remote working are quite disciplined in creating structured plans and processes to effectively equip their remote employees. Several well-known tech companies offer to employees who are new to remote-working a set of all the equipment and learning support they need to start remote working.

However, this material support is far from enough. Much of what affect the engagement of fully remote workers can be summarised by two critical factors of engagement: relationships and development.

By definition, remote workers don’t have organic ways to interact with coworkers. Many successful remote managers leverage platforms such as Slack or online forums such as TribePulse to create a virtual community that mirrors or even surpasses the office environment.

But still, remote workers can struggle to receive guidance. It’s not as easy for managers to stop these employees in the hallway to see how their days are going, give feedback or ask how they are progressing on projects. But if managers begin to intentionally grow their relationships with these employees, they might find themselves with a powerful group of high performers.

Tactics The Best Remote Managers Use

Be intentional. Managers should make an effort to connect with remote employees more consistently  and thoughtfully. Engagement with employees should not be measured by volume, but by impact.

Know the needs of your employees. Successful managers from large, well-known companies all stressed the importance of getting to know your employees as people and caring for them as individuals.

Create a virtual community. It’s hard for remote employees to feel connected to their teams and the organization if they rarely or never meet in person. Successful managers of remote workers cultivate a social environment through effective use of tools such as Slack or Zoom.

Meet in person. While technology can help support remote employees and connect them to their coworkers, successful managers of note the immense power of face-to-face team meetings. If the budget and schedules allow, many successful remote teams meet at least once a year in person.

If you wish to learn more about how to engage your remote workforce, we invite you to check out the full report on Gallup and check out our other content by joining the More signal, less noise Tribe.

Boost company productivity by resetting expectations around response times

Summary

  • Deep work leads to greater productivity, but requires blocks of uninterrupted time
  • Traditional office environments over-index on synchronous communication, which is not conducive to deep work, partially explaining the greater productivity of remote workers
  • Traditional on-site offices can also realise these productivity benefits by resetting expectations around response times and shifting the communication mix towards async

The value of deep work and flow

Cal Newport, an assistant professor of computer science at Georgetown University, introduced us to the idea of deep work, which he defines as,

“professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limits.”

Based on this, he suggests in his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World that, in order to be truly productive, we should be logging out and working, uninterrupted, for long stretches at a time every day. But for most people, the modern workplace doesn’t support such a work style, instead,

“We instead find ourselves in distracting open offices where inboxes cannot be neglected and meetings are incessant—a setting where colleagues would rather you respond quickly to their latest e-mail than produce the best possible results.”

Such an environment cannot be conducive to productivity and yet we all accept it as the norm for modern workplaces.

Perhaps, the never-ending distraction of real-life offices can go some of the way in explaining why remote workers are more productive. Based on a nearly two-year study on China’s largest travel agency, where a group of 500 participants were divided into two groups – a control group (who continued working at HQ) and volunteer work-from-homers, it was found that there was an astounding productivity boost among the telecommuters of approximately 13%.

This naturally brings us to the question of why are remote workers so much more productive? Given that the individual stays the same, what changes to their environment bring about the heightened productivity? What is unique about the remote worker’s environment compared to a traditional office? By definition, the remote worker is not co-located with their team, making in-person communication significantly more difficult and rare. In general, the key communication channels would be digital channels i.e. voice, video, email, and instant messaging. However, one could argue, that all of these tools are also available to those that are working in a traditional office. So where does the difference lie?

One fundamental difference is the general expectation around response time.With the rise and proliferation of chat and email, many companies have work cultures that demand an always-on mentality. Teammates will make a request through a chat system and if you see the message, you’ll often feel compelled to respond. The problem with being always-on is you stay busy, but don’t reach much depth. Your co-workers may appreciate your quick responses, but your work will often be shallow. Conversely, for remote workers, the perception is often that because they are in a separate location they may be unavailable or otherwise occupied in a task that the colocated individual is unable to see – perhaps the remote individual has just gone to the bathroom or gone to lunch. Perhaps the places you’ve worked haven’t had such a stark difference in expectations, but the fact remains, it is significantly easier to walk up to someone located within the same office and tap them on the shoulder versus someone who is potentially in a different country.

The drivers between the differences in expectations are just one face of the issue, the fundamental difference we are talking about is the difference between synchronous and asynchronous communication. As such, traditional on-site offices can also realise these productivity benefits by resetting expectations around response times and shifting the communication mix towards async.

Synchronous vs Asynchronous communication

Asynchronous communication is increasingly becoming a buzzword, but what does it mean? Simply put, asynchronous communication refers to communication that doesn’t require an immediate response, while synchronous communication requires immediate attention. For example, a traditional meeting which requires all members to be present and participating is a synchronous form of communication, while a physical letter is asynchronous.

However, it is interesting to note that the synchronous or asynchronous nature of communication may not be solely determined by the underlying technology. Sure, where you have technology that is fundamentally asynchronous e.g. paper mail, it would be difficult to use it synchronously. However, where you have a communication channel such as email, which is able to achieve delivery speeds close to instant, the situation is slightly different. Email started off closer to being asynchronous due to the expectations around response time. However, as people became increasingly connected, this expectation has slowly but surely shifted – a recent study from USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering, showed that the most common email response time is just two minutes!. Perhaps this is indicative of communication channels inevitably moving towards the highest level of synchronicity possible. So then, how can we use any digital channel asynchronously, and how do remote workers maintain a higher level of asynchronous communication?

Technically, with the exception of perhaps in-person conversation, all other channels of communication could be used asynchronously if response time expectations are reset. However, this is harder in practice, sure you could mute Slack, reply slower to emails etc – but the perception remains that you were online and received a ping or notification and wilfully chose to ignore it. Perhaps a tool that works without statuses or notifications, would more forcefully enforce async communication. This is one of the key reasons why TribePulse leverages an Activity Stream instead of notifications. However, it is undeniable that any widespread shift towards async will require larger cultural shift across the organisation, perhaps in the form of greater respect for people setting their status to busy on Skype or Slack, or just explicit statements in emails specifying whether an immediate response is required or necessary.

Why is synchronous communication often the default?

We believe there are three key reasons why people tend to default to synchronous communication:

  1. Synchronous communication is more natural – if we consider that the most natural form of communication is face-to-face, which is the most synchronous form of communication possible, it begins to become easier to see why synchronous communication is often the default.
  2. Synchronous communication gives instant gratification – even where a response is not required instantly, the feeling of having an issue resolved instantly and closed out is more gratifying that waiting a few days
  3. Asynchronous communication is harder and requires better planning from all people involved – Unlike synchronous communication, the longer lead time associated with asynchronous communication requires better planning so that time is not wasted with unnecessary back and forth.

Downsides of synchronous communication

In addition to the constant drain on attention previously discussed, the other downside of synchronous communication usually mentioned is the cost associated with simultaneously using the time of several employees.

Benefits of asynchronous communication

Asynchronous communication has many benefits beyond the positive impact it can have on employee focus.

  1. Automatic documentation – Due to the nature of asynchronous communication, it is often automatically requires the creation of some form or record so that it can be processed at a later date. Inherently this leads to better documentation, as the discussions leading up to decisions are captured automatically. This has the benefit of helping remote workers feel more included, in getting the grounding around why decisions were made rather than being surprised.
  2. Higher quality discussion from more voices – Asynchronous communication also tends to promote greater reflection before responses. This tends to lead to higher quality discussion that is more thought-out and well-considered. An adjacent benefit of this, is that introverted personalities tend to be less overshadowed in such a setting.
  3. Timezone equality – By communicating asynchronously, team members in other timezones are not disadvantaged and have the chance to get their opinions into the discussion.

Balance is needed

Despite the benefits of async and the disadvantages of sync, it is undeniable that a balance is required. There are certain use cases for sync communication that can never be replaced by async. For example, socializing with your team and emergencies that need to be resolved immediately. Communication across an organisation will not succeed if purely asynchronous or synchronous and the specific balance will vary based on the industry, task at hand and type of work to be done. However, we firmly believe that in most modern workplaces the balance has tilted too strongly towards synchronous communication, and most companies will be able to realise productivity gains by resetting response time expectations towards more asynchronous communication styles.

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