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How to Effectively Handle a Remote Working Team

See also: Overseeing Work

The development world was one of the first to dive wholeheartedly into the possibilities of remote working. When the main thing (sometimes the only thing) that matters is the quality of your code, it doesn’t much matter where you are when you produce it. Owing to this, many developers get to benefit from highly-flexible working, choosing their hours, location and conditions.

This is ultimately great for everyone, raising morale and productivity while cutting down on equipment and office space costs, but only if it is implemented correctly. Moving to a remote working model without understanding its unique challenges is very dangerous.

Managingg a remote team with a laptop and phone.

If you’re looking to corral some remote workers — or you’re already doing it and having some issues — then this is for you. Here’s how to effective handle a remote working team:

1. Clearly Establish Performance Expectations

When someone is working in an office with you breathing down your neck throughout the day, they’re able to form a clear idea of what you expect them to accomplish. If you’re glaring at them angrily, it might well be an indication that they’re falling short of your expectations — and if they take a lengthy break and you don’t seem concerned, they’re most likely doing alright.

But when they’re working remotely, they don’t have that clear feedback, and it can lead to a lack of direction and motivation. It’s vitally important that you discuss performance expectations with each worker individually, giving them the gift of knowing what exactly you require of them. This will keep them from getting too little done, but also from getting too much done (the latter is useful in small doses, but in the long run it will lead to resentment and burnout).

And if you notice someone struggling to achieve the required level of performance, do what you can to help them out. Link them to useful resources, such as this guide to avoiding distractions when working remotely, and listen carefully to their concerns. If you stick by them, they’ll likely be able to overcome the hurdles they face and start exceeding your expectations.

2. Track time, but not too closely

Time is money, as they say, and very few businesses can afford to get particularly lax about hourly rates and project budgets. When you’re watching over a team in an office, you can see when people arrive, when they leave, how many breaks they take, and how diligently they’re working (or at least how good they are at feigning productivity).

Remotely, you essentially rely on self-reported time management, which is why you must use tools for logging time to projects (using tools such as Toggl or its cheaper rival Clockify — and make them mandatory. In doing so, though, allow leeway. Some tasks will require stricter time logging than others, and you don’t want people to feel chained to their (remote) workstations. Find the right balance between overlooking procrastination and being overly invasive.

3. Encourage workers to better themselves

As someone managing a remote team, your primary concern is likely always going to be productivity. That’s entirely understandable. If you don’t meet your overall performance targets, you’re not going to be able to pay that team, so you can’t afford to just let people stop taking their work seriously and start goofing around.

That said, aside from being the provider of strict oversight, you must also make an effort to help your remote workers make the best of their advantageous circumstances. Think about it: what use is it for you to allow remote working if your employees end up sticking to classic office-style arrangements elsewhere? If they don’t benefit, then you won’t benefit from an uptick in morale, positivity, and personal responsibility.

Wherever possible, encourage your workers to get out and, for lack of a better phrase, smell the roses. Suggest activities and exercises to try. Point them towards self-improvement and wellbeing podcasts aimed at self-starters, such as Get Yourself Optimized or Accidental Creative. Will it technically be optimal for productivity? No, of course not, but we must also factor in the astounding company loyalty that kind of approach engenders. The happier people are in their lives overall, the more valuable they’re likely to be in the long run.

4. Maintain Consistent Lines of Communication

How many ways are there to communicate with a remote worker? There’s certainly no shortage. You can call them on the phone, or over VoIP — you can email them, send them an instant message, text them, get them on Skype or Hangouts, exchange notes through Evernote, or use project management software. And you need all of these communication channels to ensure that no important information is ever lost (something that can happen when messages have no physical immediacy).

Communication is also essential for keeping everyone working together effectively. Even if you have a remote team, it should still be just that: a team. A group of individuals working together to achieve shared goals, instead of a selection of strangers who happen to coexist within the same business. Get people talking and they’ll understand each other to a much greater extent.

5. Arrange occasional in-person meetings

Could a 100%-remote company work? In the right circumstances, absolutely — but that doesn’t mean it’s something you should aim for. Meeting in person (at least on occasion) is invaluable for making team members more comfortable with each other. It also adds a sense of community to your business, encouraging everyone to feel more personally invested in it.

It may not be economical to do it more than once each year, but if you can do it, then it’s completely worth it. Get everyone in the same place, address any grievances, form plans for the future, and you’ll all return to your remote working arrangement feeling refreshed and ready to take the business to greater successes.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

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Allowing (or even encouraging) remote working, particularly for heavily-digital businesses, is a huge net benefit when you get it right. Done poorly, it can turn your operational model into a mess, so don’t take that risk: follow these steps to establish a healthy and productive remote working arrangement.

About the Author

Kayleigh Alexandra is a content writer for Micro Startups — a site dedicated to giving through growth hacking. Visit the blog for your latest dose of startup, entrepreneur, and charity insights from top experts around the globe.

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