How Much Does Your Remote Team Actually Need to Know?
Working remotely is no longer taboo as more and more entrepreneurs, like yours truly, are opting to hire remote teams. There are distinct advantages to having a far-flung team, like gaining access to a deeper talent pool, avoiding the expense of needing a large office and fueling more productivity.
To get the most out of your remote team, however, your team members need to have all of the relevant information -- and a few golden nuggets of advice -- at their disposal.
How to make remote collaboration real.
Communicating and collaborating with your team is key, but this is especially true with remote employees. After all, you can’t simply stop by their office to ask them a question or resolve a misunderstanding. You aren't gaining the subtle information about their motivations and habits that you pick up in working side by side every day.
So how can you effectively communicate and collaborate with team members who aren’t in your immediate proximity? First, look in the mirror, and strengthen your communication skills so you can explain yourself clearly and concisely. That includes learning to identify the right tools for the specific communication job, from email to Slack to video conferencing. You shouldn't have serious conversations about performance via Slack; you also don't need to burden a staffer with a 10-page memo for two kernels of information that apply to her situation. Keep your team notified of any workflow or company changes though group emails.
Make sure that each communication channel has a purpose and that your team knows how to use each; attempt to occasionally have in-person meetings or retreats for the team to maintain a collegial vibe and keep up a feeling of team camaraderie. Encourage your team to ask questions and raise concerns.
More tactical tools can also be helpful. Calendar and management tools should be streamlined and accessible to your entire team so you can schedule meetings and track productivity across multiple time zones. Take into account time zones when scheduling meetings; if an employee can’t attend, record the meeting so it's accessible later.
Provide contact information or a staff directory. This eliminates the middleman, allowing your remote team members to go directly to the source. Give your team access to relevant files and software, and share everything from company mission statements to long-term plans. Ensuring your remote team members are still absorbing the culture of your company is crucial to consistent work and employee retention and engagement.
Empower employees by handing them the reins.
If you hired a content specialist for your company’s website, for example, that’s her responsibility. She's churning out written content for your blog and helping your marketing team develop sales collateral. Hand the reins over, simply ensuring the remote worker is actually doing the work she was hired to do. Empowering her by making yourself available -- while avoiding hovering -- will spur increased productivity for both of you.
Once remote workers are on board, you also need to provide them with guidelines and procedures. This allows the writer to jump right into an article, knowing exactly what’s expected. And if she has a question down the road, she can turn to the document instead of waiting for me to respond. If she finds a problem not addressed by the document, that triggers an update to our procedures so others who run into the same problem know what to do.
Can remote workers achieve work-life balance?
Even seasoned remote workers struggle with work-life balance. Because they’re not clocking in and out, remote workers tend to overwork, not underwork. There's no clear divide between their home space and their workspace. This can eventually lead to burnout, which isn’t good for you or them.
As a leader, you can work against this tendency. Don’t assign more work than your remote workers can handle in an allotted time period, and encourage them to step away occasionally. The only way to find out whether this is happening is by communicating with them frequently so you can gauge how they’re doing. You can also use time-tracking tools to see how long they’re actually working on a task, and then plan accordingly.
Experiment with schedules.
We all have different times of the day when we’re most productive. For some of us, that could be first thing in the morning; for others, it's at night. Encourage your remote team members to find out when they’re most productive by experimenting with their schedules until they find their “prime time.”
Generally, our prime time is based on our own ultradian rhythm. This is a recurrent cycle that our bodies go through daily. Have your team members download this Prime Time Calculator Spreadsheet so they can determine when they’re most productive.
An even easier method is having them track their time. This can be as simple as writing down how they spend their time each day for a week or so, noting how long they spent on specific tasks or how long communication with a certain client required. There’s also time-tracking software you could invest in to easily view the team's productivity at a glance.
Also, remind remote workers to note how they felt. If they’re tired and spending 45 minutes on social media in the early afternoon, that’s definitely not when they’re most productive.
Remote workers struggle daily with unclear priorities and constant distractions. Be empathetic as they sort this out. It may involve some trial and error, but if you guide them, your team members will get this down pat.
To steer your team in the right direction in regard to priorities and distractions, encourage your team to keep their to-do-lists short. This should include only their top two or three goals for the day. (On your end, this means not bogging them down with lengthy to-do-lists.)
To meet those select high-value goals, let them know the power of scheduling. I plan my entire day the evening before; this keeps me focused and prevents anything that’s unplanned from wasting my day. To that end, give them tips on how to eliminate distractions. I let my remote team in on my secrets: This includes turning off email and message notifications on my phone and batching similar tasks together. If I work from home, I sometimes place a “Do Not Disturb” sign on my office door.
If you have something important to discuss with an employee, don’t email him throughout the day. You’re better off scheduling a five-minute phone call to address the matter. This way, everyone can stay focused on work instead of sending back-and-forth emails for hours.
Encourage employees to be their own tech support.
Remote workers are completely at the mercy of technology. This means if a computer crashes, their internet connection fails or their power goes out, they have to fix it ASAP or make their way to another location. Either solution results in time spent not working. And if they don't seek out those solutions, they’re not making money, as well as falling behind on the work you’ve assigned.
As such, they need to serve as their own tech support when they experience hardware or software problems. The first place to start is to let them know who to speak to. If their internet goes down, they should have the direct tech support number for their internet service provider. That eliminates time wasted on the phone with an employee who can't assist them. It also helps to ensure employees have a mobile hotspot in case of emergencies.
If you have an employee who seems to excel at IT problem solving, you may even suggest that she take some online tech support classes. For a small pay bump and reimbursement for the classes, she can add to her skill set and serve as your team's go-to tech assistant in addition to her regular duties. This can empower your employee and provide others who are less tech-savvy with some needed relief.
Remote workers tend to be self-sufficient employees who excel at figuring things out. That doesn't mean, however, that they don't need tools and resources only you can provide. Think through the ways you could be hampering your remote workers' productivity, and do your best to get out of their way so you can both reap the rewards of remote work.