In today’s connected world, your next star employee could be in Los Angeles or London, and hiring managers are taking advantage of the global marketplace. Research by Global Workplace Analytics (GWA) found that, as of January 2016, “…3.7 million employees (2.8% of the workforce) now work from home at least half the time,” and “…80% to 90% of the US workforce says they would like to telework at least part time.”
There seem to be financial benefits of engaging a remote team as well GWA notes that, “If those with compatible jobs and a desire to work from home did so just half the time…a typical business would save $11,000 per person per year, and telecommuters would save between $2,000 and $7,000 a year.”
Remote teams foster unique challenges, like maintaining productivity among people you might never meet. When Jane Employee works outside of the building, for example, you can’t visit her desk to check on progress. Likewise, Jane can’t step into your office when she’s stuck or has a question. How can you as a manager maintain peak productivity from remote workers? That’s what I mean to describe in this article.
Having managed a team of eight writers and a stable of freelancers across two continents for more than ten years, I’ve picked up a few tricks and strategies for keeping a remote team productive and focused. Let’s get to it.
Build a team
First and foremost, make your remote workers feel that they’re a part of the team at large. I recommend using real-time chat as the virtual office and making sure that all employees – local and remote – are logged in while on duty. Not only does this foster communication between all workers, it helps those on the “away team” feel a part of the decisions, conversations and overall project goals that happen every day. Feeling like you’re a part of a vibrant, active team keeps motivation and productivity high.
As for the right tools, choose from Slack, HipChat or even good old IRC if you want to go old school. If you want to add project management/task assignments to your collaboration, consider Basecamp or Asana.
Respect Time Zones
Next, and this is a biggie: respect the time zones. You’ll likely have workers whose 9–5 isn’t the same as a site-based employee’s. While this can potentially be troublesome, taking steps to respect the difference will keep everyone on track.
This comes down to trust. If you selected people for your remote team successfully (more on that later in this article), you’ll have a group of motivated workers who thrive in that setting. Give them their assignments, set up methods for regular check-ins and let them get to it.
Also, focus on schedule overlap. There might be two hours, one hour or even thirty minutes when everyone is “on duty” simultaneously. Identify that time period for check-ins, video meetings and critical communications.
Lastly, smart delegation will serve you well here. If the on-site workers are several hours ahead, give the away team assignments that pick up where the local folks leave off. Communication is critical here, which brings me to my (predictable) next point.
Communication is critical. Here’s where a solution like Slack, Basecamp or Asana will pay huge dividends. Each can store an entire project history, including communication, assets, meeting notes and more in a single, searchable location. Centralizing communication like this lets workers tag each other, share files, have meaningful discussions in one place. Get disjointed conversations out of email inboxes and reap huge benefits.
Finally, identify a process for addressing any lapses in productivity. The best way to get started is to look for “overlap time.” That is, the block of time during the day or evening that all parties are online and available. Perhaps there’s a two-hour block in the morning or 90 minutes in the afternoon where all team members – remote and local, management and front line – can connect. Schedule a consistent, predictable review for this time period.
Perhaps a quick “stand-up” could happen at the start of each overlap period. A weekly wrap-up via Skype is a good idea, as is a monthly all-hands lets all employees – remote and otherwise – know when their work will be reviewed and expected. Lastly, here’s a great time to talk work performance with anyone who needs a boost.
Managing a remote team can be rewarding and challenging. Take the steps outlined above to keep your workers on task, productive and happy.