Managing a remote-working team efficiently is a learning curve for any company switching from location or office-based working.
At Exposure Ninja, we manage our team 100% remotely and have done for more than seven years. Not to blow our own trumpets, but we like to think of ourselves as an incredibly efficient and effective virtual team. That’s not to say we didn’t hit a few bumps in the road along the way.
While managing a virtual team can seem daunting at first, it can be a blessing in disguise. Moving your company to a remote working set up pushes you to improve your processes, be clearer with what you expect from your team members and make your company leaner.
Watch our webinar on how to survive and thrive when transitioning to remote work from our Head Ninja and remote working veteran, Tim Cameron-Kitchen.
Challenges with Managing a Remote Team
You’re going to encounter some new challenges when moving your team to a virtual workplace — but what’s important is how you manage them. Here are some of the most common challenges faced by remote working teams:
- Not having the right tools for remote working
- Disorganised or inadequate methods of communication
- Lack of accountability and clarity on responsibilities
- Boundaries on work hours and respecting everyone’s time
- Disjointed work schedules
- Difficulty tracking work, productivity and performance
- Problems with identifying when staff are stressed or overburdened
- Feelings of isolation and lack of team bonding
We’ve tried and tested different approaches to managing these challenges. Some have failed, but others have been successful. In our Remote Working Revolution training, we take you through our successes and failures, so you can avoid making our mistakes and go straight to implementing the great stuff.
How to Ensure Your Remote Team Is Managed Efficiently
Managing a remote team doesn’t have to be a headache. With the right processes in place, you can establish a smooth-running online operation that will make you wonder why you didn’t go remote before.
1. Set Clear Expectations and Work Hours
When you expect your team to work and what you expect them to work on when switching to remote working is an important consideration. Handing your staff over a laptop and sending them home without any explanation will result in inconsistent work hours and patchy work.
While remote working can be flexible, it’s important to manage how flexible you’re allowing that time to be. Set expectations on work hours with your team through one-to-one conversations, updated contracts or a written agreement for home working. Each team member needs to be clear about what work hours are expected.
At Exposure Ninja, we take advantage of flexible working hours by allowing many of our staff to work flexibly providing they always work at least four hours per day, Monday through Friday, during the UK nine-to-five. With client-facing roles, there’s less flexibility, but we’ll still allow our team to manage their break times, and offer the options of working eight-to-four or ten-to-six instead.
2. Set out Clear Communication Etiquette and Meeting Schedules
Are your team going to communicate by email and WhatsApp only? (I hope not!) What tools should they use for communication? How will meetings be held? Where and when? These are just some of the initial questions businesses have about remote working comms.
Here’s what we recommend:
- Use Slack for all internal communication. Slack is an instant messaging tool that can be installed on desktop and mobile to allow team members to communicate quickly and efficiently.
- Use Google Calendar to schedule meetings. Everyone on the team should use the same calendar system to avoid people double-booking meetings or writing everything in their pen and paper diary.
- Schedule meetings in advance and only schedule the time you need. Create clear meeting agendas and assign a meeting chair to direct the discussion and move the meeting on when necessary.
- Use Google Hangouts for meetings. Google Hangouts is a video conferencing tool that’s free to use. When you schedule a meeting in Google Calendar, it’s automatically assigned a link to the Google Hangout. Simply click the link to join the meeting.
- Give your team guidance on how to communicate effectively with remote working colleagues. Moving to remote work means an increased amount of online messages and much less face-to-face interaction. As you can’t rely on your body language and tone of voice through written messages, it’s important team members know how to write to their colleagues effectively.
3. Use the Right Tools
Efficient remote teams have the right tools in place. While the communication tools mentioned above are step one, it’s also necessary to have the right tools to manage other aspects of your company’s operations.
These are the key tools we recommend at Exposure Ninja:
- Teamwork* — Project and task management tool to keep track of and assign work tasks and projects.
- Hubstaff* — Time tracking tool to track work hours and activity levels.
- Xero — Accounting software for payroll and managing customer invoices.
- Lastpass — Secure password management tool.
- Infusionsoft/Keap — Sales CRM. Read more about CRMs here.
All of the tools we’ve recommended here, we use ourselves.
4. Put Processes in Place
Once you’ve sorted out the software and tools you need to run your company well, it’s time to put processes in place. Processes are the backbone of a successful remote-run business and I cannot emphasise enough the importance of clear, efficient and replicable processes.
At Exposure Ninja, we use Teamwork* to manage tasks. Teamwork has a functionality that allows you to build task lists (like checklists) for the core tasks in your business. These ensure staff never miss a beat because they always double-check their work. It’s also incredibly helpful for new team members starting work remotely as it gives them a clear step-by-step guide.
Making the switch to remote working? Do processes sound like a headache? Our Remote Working Revolution training and consultancy takes you through setting up robust remote processes step-by-step. Sign up for all the secrets.
5. Make People Responsible and Accountable
As with any business, the most successful are those where team members have clear responsibilities and are accountable for certain tasks or processes. Who those people are and how adept they are at running the processes they’re responsible for is integral to a smooth running remote business.
If your business is going to need new processes to operate remotely, make a specific person within your organisation accountable for establishing each one. If you have an individual who is strongly operationally-minded, it’s worth assigning them to set out criteria and review the processes put in place.
6. Manage Different Time Zones
Different time zones can wreak havoc on a virtual team unprepared for them. While it may be cheaper to outsource certain tasks to teams based in other countries, if your core customer base is in the UK or the USA, you’re also going to need staff available in those time zones. The other consideration is when your employees need to interact with each other and to make sure there’s a crossover between their work schedules.
Many successful remote businesses, including Buffer, have teams based in different locations and time zones, as does Exposure Ninja. On the plus sides, your company can be available to respond to your customers more frequently. Be sure to put in place clear work hours and check those schedules align between colleagues.
7. Understand When Employees Need Support Remotely
An employee walks past your desk, unusually 20 minutes late into work and with a deep frown etched on their forehead. You ask them if everything is okay, and they seem to be stifling tears. It’s easy to spot when an employee needs support in a physical workplace where you have face-to-face interactions.
When your team is working remotely, you don’t see those same signals. But there are signals. Look out for changes in behaviour, odd hours worked, missed tasks, and make sure you’re asking directly too.
8. Schedule Regular 1:1 Catch-Ups
Regular one-to-one catch-ups ensure your team is on track with their tasks. It’ll give them the direction they need, and give you the peace of mind knowing that progress is being made. Catch-ups are invaluable for keeping the bond between managers and employees tight and running a remote team efficiently.
9. Add Social Activities
Just because your team is virtual doesn’t mean the social side of work should be left by the wayside. Replace staff room chats and after-work drinks, with Slack channels and interest groups. At Exposure Ninja, we have a Watercooler channel where our team discusses all sorts as well as book clubs, fantasy football leagues and more.
Avoid the temptation to pack your staff off with their laptops and cross your fingers. That’s only going to lead to one outcome: disaster. Follow our steps above and take our Remote Working Revolution training or book a remote working consultation with our expert team to safeguard your business’ future.
*Some links within this article are affiliate links which Exposure Ninja receives a fee for promoting (these links are not sponsored). Exposure Ninja only promotes services we already use within our marketing stack