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How to Effectively Manage a Remote Team

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According to Flexjobs, remote work has grown by 44% in the last five years. And that statistic was published before the remote work boom of 2020. Remote work is here to stay. 

Managing remote teams image
Managing remote teams requires planning, and you'll see the best tools and techniques in this article. (Image source: Envato Elements.)

If your team is navigating the switch to working together while apart, you might be facing challenges that you didn't encounter while sharing an office. Learning how to manage a remote team is a must in 2020.

Working remotely can unlock your team's full potential. But it takes a conscious effort to ensure that everyone stays connected. In this article, we're going to share the top tips, tools, and techniques so that you never miss a beat while managing remote workers.

Three Top Benefits of Working Remotely

Too many workplaces see managing remote workers as purely a challenge. In reality, working remotely lends itself to benefits that lead to a happier and more productive workforce.

Let's look at three of the top reasons that'll convince you that managing remote workers is an advantage. With these advantages, you'll see that learning how to manage remote workers helps your team thrive:

1. Convert the Commute to Productivity

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American commute time is 26 minutes—each way. Add up the math, and you'll soon find this means more than 200 hours (or nine days!) just going to and from work. That doesn't even include the time spent preparing for or unwinding from work.

It's clear to see that this is a tremendous waste of time in most jobs. Plus, it's costly, thanks to transportation costs. And it certainly has an environmental impact.

Stuck in Commute Photo
The average American spends more than 200 hours each year commuting. (Image source: Envato Elements.)

It's hard to understate the value of eliminating a commute and the preparation time for work. It gives your team more hours back, which translates to a happier team. That's sure to lead to productivity, all the while reducing the load on our infrastructure.

2. Expand Your Talent Base and Embrace Inclusion

If you limit your hiring base to "driving distance from the office," you're sure to miss out on the best candidates. When you expand your search range, you might find the perfect candidate that might have been excluded.

It's important to note that remote work is becoming the norm, and it's highly appreciated by employees. Nearly half of the employees working from home want to keep doing so, according to a poll from The Grossman Group. Managing remote workers is a must to compete for talent.

3. More Time for Deep, Focused Work

I've worked in a traditional office environment for most of my career. I love spending time around my talented co-workers, collaborating on the challenges we solve each day.

But the office environment also includes too many distractions and interruptions that conflict with deep, focused work. Sure, it's easy enough to reply to emails and complete simple tasks in an office. But focused work requires uninterrupted thinking.

Interruption work remote
Workplace interruptions are the hand that stops the dominos of productivity. (Image source: Envato Elements.)

With a properly configured home setup, you can dive deep into an issue or interesting project. It enables hitting the "flow state," a feeling of full immersion where many creatives do their best work. Managing remote workers can be an advantage in the form of high-quality work.

5 Top Challenges of Managing Remote Teams

Here's what we know for sure: remote work is here to stay. It's clear to see the advantages that we highlighted above. So, learning how to manage your team remotely is vital.

But it's clear that remote work is a different way of working. You can't form fit the traditional way of working into a distanced setup. You've got to acknowledge that things are different, then find a way to solve them.

Office work is its own platform. Remote work is its own platform. Trying to simulate office work remotely is the wrong approach. - Jason Fried - Founder and CEO at Basecamp

Let's look at five elements that make managing a remote team unique. Acknowledging each of these as a difference in remote work is important to learn how to manage your team remotely.

You'll see tools for remote teams that each play a role in solving these challenges. Each of these tools has a role as you learn how to manage remote workers.

1. Onboarding and Training

It's easy to onboard an employee when they're located nearby. Training sessions and meet and greets come naturally when everyone is in the same location.

It's a different story when your team is totally remote. Imagine being a new employee on your first day. Opening your laptop at a brand-new job and not being sure where to start is a tough learning curve to conquer.

Onboarding remote teams v2
Remote work is easier for existing members than new hires, so make sure you take onboarding seriously. (Image source: Envato Elements.)

Onboarding is an essential part of managing a remote team. First, it's important that it goes smoothly so that a new teammate feels immediately at home. Moreover, it's crucial to get the employee onboarded so that they can do the job you hired them for as quickly as possible. 

2. Staying in Sync as a Team

Teams exist in a workplace for a reason. Most often, it's because they're working together on common tasks and projects. 

But it's not always easy to know exactly what everyone is working on. The larger the team, the more tasks, and projects are likely in motion at any time. The worst-case scenario is that projects conflict and productive efforts go to waste. This is one of the key challenges in managing remote teams.

Staying in sync is one challenge that really benefits from the tools for remote teams. These help your team stay connected and in sync. It's a crucial part of managing remote workers and staying aligned on strategy.

3. Communication Takes Conscious Effort

When we speak face-to-face, we infer meaning from others' body language. In a written format, we might try to "read between the lines" to really understand what's being said. Remote teams communication has to be managed closely.

Email managing a remote team
Written communication is more important than ever when it's the primary form of communication. (Image source: Envato Elements.)

Written communication requires a conscious effort. Try not to leave room for misinterpretation or misunderstanding. Carefully writing concise and straightforward emails is sure to save a lot of confusion in remote teams' communication.

As you start managing a remote team, it's crucial to coach and hire strong written communicators. It's important to remember that many employees can grow. It's as much a part of your journey learning how to manage remote workers and teach them ways to improve.

4. Building Community

Has there ever been a better time to be an introvert? With the entire world moving increasingly to remote work, many of us are benefitting from fewer forced social interactions in the workplace.

But many of your employees might look to the workplace as a source of social structure. According to Officevibe, 70% of employees say that having friends at work is the most important part of having a happy working life.

You can certainly make friends while working remotely. It requires a more deliberate approach (like remote team building activities). Remote work means you'll otherwise miss out on the casual exchanges that can lead to friendship.

5. Measuring Performance and Results

If you're used to managing a team in an office, you might be feeling nervous about your team going remote. Too many managers feel a degree of nervousness about monitoring progress in a world where they don't see their employees.

This is rooted in old school thinking. I've heard too many managers share concerns of "not knowing if employees are working" if their team is remote.

"Management, like meetings, should be used sparingly." - Jason Fried (as published in Inc.)

It takes a shift in thinking when managing a remote team. Don't focus on the "easy-to-observe" metrics like the number of emails sent. Instead, establish ways to measure your team's progress. 

5 Best Tools for Remote Teams

To navigate the new way of working, you need tools for remote teams. These tools bridge the physical divide helping you with managing a remote team with efficiency.

In this section, I've separated top tools for remote teams into several key categories. Think of these as the technical pillars that every remote team needs to manage remote work. You'll see the recommended app options for managing a remote team:

1. For Meetings: Zoom

Zoom has capitalized on the remote working boom like no other application. It's easy to see why. Its simplicity, ease-of-use, and free tier make it a natural choice to stay connected with your team.

Zoom app homepage
Zoom's popularity is easy-to-see thanks to its free tier and ease-of-use.

It takes an intentional effort to make your Zoom call a success. Make sure to check out our full guide that's sure to teach you how to use Zoom (or other virtual meeting apps.)

Here's a tutorial that'll help you learn more about running virtual meetings:

No matter which tool you choose remember: meetings can weigh on productivity and employee well-being. Many remote users report suffering from "Zoom fatigue" after spending too many hours on video calls. Make sure that you choose the meetings that matter most before pulling everyone into a call.

Other options: Skype, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, join.me

2. For File-Sharing: Dropbox

It's crucial to avoid the antiquated workflow of emailing files back-and-forth. That's simply a version control and productivity nightmare. You've got to find more efficient ways to share files so that you stay in sync and up to date.

File sharing is something that practically every team should consider while working remotely. Our top choice for file sharing is Dropbox, thanks to its reliable syncing and easy-to-use interface.

Dropbox business homepage
Dropbox is a file-sharing platform focused on collaboration.

Other options: Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Box.

3. For Documents: Google Docs

Documents are a cornerstone of most workplaces. Whether you're building a spreadsheet for structured data or a presentation to show your findings, it helps to have a platform.

Google Docs is the original collaborative document platform, and it's still our top choice. It's another free option that helps you keep costs in line without missing a beat as a team.

Google Docs screenshot
Google Docs makes collaboration with team members easy and takes place in real-time.

Google Docs helps you capture ideas in a single place. Like other tools in this roundup, it's ideal for moving work away from email and into a more robust platform like Google Docs. Whether you use the document, spreadsheet, or presentation options, make sure to check out Google Docs.

Other options: Dropbox Paper, Microsoft Office Online, NotionQuip.

4. For Onboarding and Documentation: Notion

Remember: one of the key challenges of working remotely is onboarding new team members. Experienced employees might already know what to work on. New employees need a roadmap.

Notion is a powerful tool for teamwork. It's combination project management, collaboration, and document creation inside of one flexible tool. Its flexibility makes it an ideal choice to build documentation and work instructions.

Notion roadmap homepage
Notion is a hybrid of many tools with collaboration as the central pillar of its design.

Notion is a great way to build out team documentation. It's got a built-in document builder with support for screenshots, linking to other documents, and collaboration with others. Use it to build the resources your new hire needs to be effective on day one.

Other options: Google Docs, Slite, Taskade.

5. For Chat and Communication: Slack

Many teams work better together in realtime. Quick answers to questions can keep your organization moving, especially if they're new to the team. 

That's why instant messaging and chat can be a vital part of the remote work tool belt. Slack takes the crown for our top chat app. Instant messaging feels less formal than email. It can help your team's personalities shine through, building camaraderie and a sense of team.

Slack bring team together
Slack can help you reduce the number of emails and create a less formal space to collaborate than email.

Slack is also useful for remote team building activities. Consider holding a synchronized check-in to flag open items and set priorities. Deliberate remote teams communication platforms like Slack can address the challenge of building trust.

Chat and instant messaging are other types of tools that require conscious use. Employees shouldn't feel beholden to the "ping" of a new IM notification. The beauty of remote work is letting your team work asynchronously, so integrate chat mindfully.

Other options: Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Discord.

Learn More About Remote Work

If you've still got questions on managing remote teams, we've got more resources. Here are more tutorials to study:

You Learned How to Manage Remote Teams

Here's what I know: remote work is here to stay. Managing remote workers is going to be part of your journey as you grow as a leader. Companies and teams that adapt quickly will be rewarded by attracting the top talent and staying productive.

What tools for remote teams are you currently leveraging? Do you have any remote teams communication challenges you're still solving? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

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