For the past 12 months I have been fortunate to have experienced the joys of leading and managing a remote team. Located in Nadi, Fiji our team of three – Marie, Shilla and Dora – provide outsourced customer services support to valued clients along with back office support, research and sales & marketing expertise for our business. Through the ups and the downs of the past year, I have landed on three key themes which have formed the basis for successful remote management systems. Communication, Collaboration and Wellness are the pillars for success when managing virtual teams.
Tools to manage remote teams
Effective communication is a challenge. Communication is challenging enough when you have the benefits of reading body language and building rapport in person. When managing remote teams, you need to rely on structure and systems to overcome the tyranny of distance. The system you implement will provide both yourself and your team with comfort and security.
- Schedule Weekly Video Conferences – A week can evaporate quickly. By scheduling a weekly meeting you provide both yourself and your team with an anchor point for communication. Be sure to not allow these meetings to be moved unless absolutely essential. They are fulcrum of building your relationship.
- Understand your people – It can be tempting to consider your remote team in a different light to those that may be located with you. This is especially so if your virtual team is based offshore. No matter which country your team is located in, they are still people with individual preferences, especially around communication. Invest in a form of behavioural profiling such as DISC to provide insights into how best to engage with each team member.
- Quality Video conference facilities – We have all experienced the frustrations of poor video conferences. Freezing faces, crackly audio, low quality microphones and cheap cameras equals time consuming and ineffective meetings. Invest in virtual team management tools which facilitate clear and clean video conferences.
- Use an instant messaging platform – The curse of email communication is very real and is accentuated when managing virtual teams. Our team has to work in multiple inboxes to complete tasks. Important instructions can be lost in the inbox. Using an instant messaging system saves team, is more efficient and also allows for banter, fun and more personal communication. We are often engaging in virtual conversations with our team via our messaging platform.
- Screen share or process videos – Written instructions can be misinterpreted by a virtual team, especially one where English is the second language. Rather than focusing on written Standard Operating Procedures, try using screen shares where you can demonstrate the steps of a process, recording the screen as your progress. You can then save these “training videos’“ for other team members. A picture says a thousand words.
- Be very specific with your needs – Clarity of expectations is vital. Your virtual team will have a deep desire to satisfy you and do a great job. Being aware of the cultural, linguistic and knowledge gaps when communicating will serve you well. Be sure to use the SMART principle of goal setting by being specific, set measurable targets, ensure what you want from them is achievable & realistic and set a time-frame. Where ever possible, provide examples of work for reference.
Managing a remote workforce proven practices
It is easy to fall into the trap of assigning tasks without gaining valuable feedback and contributions from your remote teams. From our experience, the more we have opened the avenues to collaborate with Dora, Marie and Shilla, the more mutual benefits we gain.
- Get boots on ground – Although not always possible, investing a few dollars in road trip to visit your remote team pays tremendous benefits. As humans, we crave touch. We desire a relationship based on trust. Trust is more easily built when there is a personal connection. Planting the seeds for connection are best sown via a site visit. We have traveled to our team twice in the past 12 months in Fiji. These visits have formed the basis for the trusting relationships we now share.
- Managing remote employees training – Creating quality training material takes effort and time. We created over 200 pages of procedures last year. This formed the basis for collaboration, as it is our team who have refined and improved the procedures as they complete their tasks. Whether you are remote worker or local, you deserve to be adequately trained to enable to do your job well. We have built a library of material from our screen shares. The more you are able to build your library the more self sufficient your team will be.
- Feedback & Reflection – Ask your team for weekly reflection and feedback. Do not assume that all is well due to them being out of sight and not in the forefront of your mind. Only by implementing a system to periodically gather feedback will you remain ahead of an any emerging issues. We ask our team complete a weekly reflection which provides us with trends of employee satisfaction. With this data we can act quickly to rectify issues.
- Track Actions – Managing virtual teams is far easier with a clear and transparent action tracking system. Who is doing what, by when and how. We reference our outstanding action report at our weekly team meeting. We celebrate achievements, rectify slippages and re-calibrate priorities using our action tracker. This action tracker is accessible to all members of the team including the actions that are assigned to me. Accountability is key!
- Seek opportunities to use individual strengths – linked to understanding your people, when you know your virtual teams strengths you can harness them for your mutual benefit. Attempt to design your workflows and requirements to suit the individuals within the team. Like anyone, a person who is doing work that they excel at, that they enjoy and is of benefit to the organisation will achieve great things.
Managing remote workers toolkit
Being conscious of the well being, both physically and mentally, of your remote team is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. It is difficult to accurately measure a person’s level of well-being from afar. With that said, we have incorporated some fundamental steps into our routine in order to stay close to our team.
- Monthly Self Assessment – one of the tools to manage remote teams is a monthly wellness check-in. Our Assessment asks the team to answer ten questions related to their self perception of stress.
- Monthly Manager Assessment – in conjunction with the self assessment, we ask our local Team Leader to complete an assessment of observed behaviours. Questions relating to attendance, time keeping, quality of work, sense of humor, judgement quality & irritability are asked. Where we find a concerning trend between the self and manager assessments we intervene.
- Build Connection – we have made a conscious effort to get to know each team member on a personal level. Life stories, challenges overcome, hopes & dreams and career ambitions – understanding these allow us to identify the early warning signs of stress or over work.
Maintaining as much of this activity in the one system or platform as possible is beneficial. Everyone of us has a finite capacity to use software systems, and we naturally gravitate to those that offer the most value in getting jobs done.
Managing remote teams has its challenges. We have experienced turnover. We have had to rectify difficult performance issues. From time to time, performance will fall short of expectations. This is all part of the responsibilities of managing a team, be they local or virtual. We have found that with the foundations of Communication, Collaboration and Wellness in place, backed by the right virtual team management tools your virtual team can achieve great accomplishments.