We’re All in the Remote Boat
Before COVID-19, just over 40% of people in the U.S. worked remotely at least some of the time. Since COVID-19, all 50 states have had varying levels of lockdown restrictions, forcing the vast majority of businesses in every industry to figure out how to enable some or all of its employees to work remotely. Now, a Gartner survey reveals 74% of CFO respondents plan to keep some employees remote permanently. Nearly 25% intend to shift at least 20% of their on-site employees to permanent remote positions.
If CFOs of hundreds of companies are any indication, the workforce post-COVID-19 will look vastly different from what it did before the pandemic changed everything. This means every level of management will need to know how to effectively manage remote teams. It’s more than just assigning work and expecting it to get done on time. Productivity is only beneficial if all of that effort is driving real value for the business. How do you keep tabs on that?
Before you can expect the best from your employees, you have to set the stage to empower, equip and enable them to do their best, even if they’re working remotely. Where people work shouldn’t be a major factor in how well they can work. Some may thrive in group office settings where others flourish working alone from a home office. As a leader, it’s important for you to help them excel no matter where they are because with COVID-19, they may not have much of a choice.
Let’s begin with the person before we jump to the work.
Effectively Managing Remote Teams: Stay Connected
The last thing a manager wants is for his team to feel remote. Studies show that employees who feel like they belong are more productive workers. Those who feel like part of the team experience a 56% increase in job performance and a 50% reduction in turnover risk. They’re also 167% more likely to recommend their company to job seekers.
Gartner found highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability and the most successful organizations make employee engagement central to their business strategy. Note that nowhere in the Gallup study did it say that those results are based only on in-office teams. Engagement has to happen in or out of the corporate office.
Making sure your remote employees feel connected to the business isn’t just good for business, it’s the right thing to do.
Create a cohesive team
With your team being remote, it’s easy for you as a manager or your team members to feel isolated with a lack of team cohesiveness. If you want to bring everyone together, team communication must increase and include everyone. You can accomplish this through live online team meetings, group chat discussions, and regular COVID-safe remote team building events (think outdoor activities). Make sure everyone knows each other and why they are on the team. Help them by giving them a platform to collaborate, collaboration software and regular meetings are always better than impersonal email that just gets lost.
Have 1x1s each week
As great as remote team building events are, not everyone may be able to participate. Virtual may have to do. But, don’t be discouraged. Virtual doesn’t have to mean boring and you can work them in any time, even if you are hosting in-person team building events too. Here are a few ideas to keep things interesting:
- Heads Up game. Just have everyone download the free app from the App Store or Google Play on their smartphone and let the shenanigans begin.
- Enneagram personality test – have each team member take the online enneagram test (there are dozens of free online options) and review the highlights as a whole. Make it interactive so the team can chime in on feedback.
- Book Club – Have the team agree on a book and read a certain amount each week. Offer an optional bi-weekly meeting for people to join and discuss the book. Try choosing books relevant to your industry or sector to build knowledge as you go.
- Kahoot! is an online platform where you can host live, timed trivia quiz sessions (you can create your questions or use an existing Kahoot! quiz for your team).
Effectively Manage Remote Teams: Stay on Track
Okay, time to get to business. Now that your team has the warm and fuzzy corporate glow, you need to feel confident in their performance and that doesn’t mean just taking their word for it. Tracking their progress and work status can be challenging when you are managing them remotely, but there is no shortage of software out there that makes it much easier.
Know the Objectives
First and foremost, you have to know what your objectives are so you can tell your team what their team objectives are. Then, within your team, each member will have their own objectives, which may be the same or different from other team members. Make sure those objectives are spelled out. What is the business wanting to achieve? How is the team expected to contribute to helping the business reach their goals? How will each team member’s work directly impact the success of these goals? What tasks need to be completed by whom by when? Assigning tasks, creating timelines, and defining the expectations will set your team up for the best possible outcomes.
Do you have a system to do all of this? Do you need software to help you track and prioritize objectives at the business and team levels? Cloud-based software is helping all types of companies manage their projects remotely and ensure they everyone is on the same page. If you don’t have anything better than email and spreadsheets, it’s time to look into project management software.
Keep Work Aligned
Alignment is key. Work has to be aligned with business strategy. Any work that is happening outside of this either needs to be nixed or reprioritized. When you have your 1x1s and team meetings, everyone needs to walk away with a clear understanding of the work they need to focus on and how their work affects the bigger project or program picture. Understanding dependencies is important at every level. For strategic initiatives to be successful, everyone involved must be working towards the same goal and do their part.
Again, cloud-based software may be your best friend here. Not only will it provide 24/7/365 access to remote team members and management no matter where they work, but it will help you ensure work stays aligned with strategy. Pet projects, “emergency” projects, and even a too-heavy emphasis on “keep the lights on” projects can throw everything off and squash innovation, so be sure you have a way for people to see what’s prioritized, why, where things stand, and how work is flowing through the system.
Over-index on status reporting. If you don’t already do this, create a weekly status report that highlights the previous week’s accomplishments and what is upcoming this week. Have a weekly call to review. Does it take time? Yes. But with a remote team, strong communication is more important than ever and providing your team with a clear picture of what has already been accomplished, what needs attention now, and what is on the radar is critical.
Don’t feel like you have to manually create these reports, either. Software helps here, too. With the right solution, you will be able to generate status reports that not only show you where your current projects stand, but it will tell you things like how much effort each is requiring, how much budget has been spent, and how well your team is executing on tasks.
Remote may or may not be ideal, depending on who you ask, but one thing we can probably agree on is that it’s something we all have to get used to. As a leader, it’s up to you to build a foundation of transparency, collaboration, and unity among your team members. If you aren’t sure what types of technology can help, work with an experienced IT and digital consultant who will take time to understand your business and your workflows before recommending the right software or other technology. Getting an objective opinion, one that is customized to your particular situation, can be a game changer and save you a ton of money in the long run.