3 Musts for Managing a Remote Team

Quickly: Think about your first email…Where were you? What were you feeling? Maybe you were using a brand new desktop at a school or library. You probably felt a bit overwhelmed, too. Where was this information going? And how did it know which “@” symbol to find? Now, think about the last email you sent. It was probably today and you probably didn’t even think twice. You had your address book take care of where it was going, and as for how it got there…well, it just did.

The Internet is here to stay. So why not embrace it…use it to its fullest potential to bring your business to its maximum potential?

In many industries it’s becoming more common and more acceptable to have teams working remotely. With the Internet’s growth and with the innovations that were borne from the wide expansion (Online Meeting platforms, office chat applications like HipChat, and online repositories), having teams work remotely can significantly help your business’ productivity by freeing up the team members’ rigid work schedule.  Sounds great, but you still have to manage. Here are 3 imperative virtual world managing tactics you must employ to effectively manage your remotely working team members.

1. Practice OverCommunication.

OverCommunication, as of yet, is not a word you’ll find in any dictionaries. But, trust me, after the writers and editors of the next edition of Roget’s begin working from home, you can bet you’ll start seeing “OverCommunication” right after “Overcoming.”

Since you won’t be working face-to-face with your team, you will need to find ways to be sure team members have a clear avenue to ask questions and have those questions heard. Email is great as a broad stroke form of communication, but as I’m sure you have experienced, sometimes emails slip through the cracks, especially when it’s crunch time. Establish multiple ways for the team members to interact with you, your team leaders, and, if you think it will benefit, other team members. HipChat is a great chat service. So is Google Chat. These are wonderful ways to informally talk with team members and solve minor problems in a convenient way for you and the question asker.

Also consider investing in software like Citrix’s GoToMeeting so your team can see each other and you can conduct a virtual version of an analog style meeting. This gives you and your team leaders a way to clearly align the goals of the business day.

The reasoning behind the OverCommunicating tenet of managing a remote workforce is (as you know) that problems arise even if team members are in the office next door. What if they are 500 miles and two time zones away? There is no need to pester or micromanage, but establish a system of “Mile Marker” style updates where the team member checks in periodically to let you or the team leaders know how the day is going and how much has been completed. This can be in the form of Chat, Phone, Email, or through the videoconferencing platform.

2. Be Generous.

Being generous (in this case) has very little to do with total compensation or being a push over. In fact, by being generous, you can establish yourself as the opposite of a push over. Since you’re already practicing OverCommunication, don’t shy away from presenting yourself as someone who cares for and supports the team. Often times, since your workforce may very well never meet you in person, or don’t often physically work with you , there is a sense of detachedness between team leaders and team members. By having a virtual workforce, there might be times where signals get crossed or deadlines aren’t met. While this isn’t something that should ever become a habit, it is important for you to understand that having team members who work from home, their personal lives will sometimes (inevitably) get mixed up in their workday. Or, if there is a lapse in communication, and work doesn’t come in as expected, the way it would in an office setting, there needs to be a little give to the situation. A Generous leader knows there is a problem, and understands the limitations of a virtual workforce. He will adapt the best way possible because in the long run, having a remote team pays off for his business.

Generous = Being firm… Being available… Being understanding.

3. Training Pays Off Big Time!

Imagine: You have a team working for you. A man in Houston, a woman in Minneapolis, and a fresh out of college young woman in Boston. You were new to the virtual office experience, so you trained them yourself at a painstaking rate. And now you’re enjoying not having to work in an office everyday. You spend your day checking in, chatting with each of the geographically scattered workers. Life is great.

Now it’s time to expand. Training and training systems are crucial to your growth.

Make sure you are spending the same amount of time (and actually, more time since your business is always evolving) training each new team member. It may seem like it is a waste of time and money for you to do this every time you hire, but it isn’t and training systems will help reduce time and money spent on effective training. The same way you would train a new team member in your physical office space needs to be applied to remote team member, but maybe multiplied by… 10.  This is where OverCommunication and being generous will come in handy.

You must develop training systems that develop well trained new hires. It is invaluable. If, on the other hand, you’re not taking the time to properly train (and retrain) your team about how your business operates and its culture, you WILL lose money. And more importantly, you will lose time. While the easiest path of allowing your new team member in San Jose to “learn on the job” or “learn to swim or sink” might seem like you’re saving time (and money), but over the course of the first few months, with the mistakes made and elongated learning curve, you will inevitably fall behind. And it will cost you.

Spend the time up front training and developing ongoing training systems even if it is arduous. Get the team member to a point where she is comfortable. Remember training is a continuous activity. And also remember: Be generous. And always OverCommunicate.