7 Tips for Managing Remote Teams in the New Virtual World
August 05 2021 • 3 min read
Managing a virtual team requires more strategic planning than merely recreating in-office scenarios in a digital world. You know this already. But it’s possible no-one’s telling you exactly how to successfully manage remote teams you rarely, if ever, see in person.
Yes, many of the same activities are involved, like hiring, onboarding, reviewing performance, 1-on-1s, and coaching. But those activities are conducted differently in a remote setting. Plus, accounting firms need to define a new, variable schedule for their staff; one that provides flexibility while balancing the need to visit clients in person… perhaps, a hybrid model.
Against this backdrop, overseeing remote staff is not business as usual. Rather, it requires leading in a specific way. So here are 7 considerations that can make or break a team now.
1. A tool for managing projects
As remote teams have become more common, so has the range of video conferencing and project management software. You’re probably already aware that chats and emails looking for status updates are distracting and inefficient, but do you have – and use! – a central repository for a team to capture projects and tasks?
Here at Makosi, we use Asana. But there are countless other programs available. Balance cost with function and scale-ability (consider API integrations and favorable pricing as teams grow).
Conversations should move from email to a project board that’s available to all team members. This helps colleagues find information and answers to issues that have already been handled.
2. A plan for technical problems
Technical problems are okay. Significant delays are not. And as a manager, you’re accountable for your team’s ability to complete tasks – whether or not there are glitches in the matrix.
An in-house IT team helps, but without this in place, you may need a special arrangement with several service providers, depending on the location of the team member. You could also maintain access to a shared workspace nearby, where employee/s can go when working from home is technically challenging; in the case of a black-out, a WIFI interruption, or a system crash.
3. New communication styles
Misunderstandings are common in business communication and are exacerbated by reliance on emails and chats. After all, writing is a shoddy platform for conflict or confrontation.
Without in-person dialogue and the ability to read body language, how do you clearly communicate expectations and responsibilities?
At Makosi, we utilize DISC, a self-assessment that measures how an individual prefers to interact with others. DISC creates a common language, making it easier for managers to understand the communication styles of new and existing employees.
4. Re-defining outcomes
In a traditional work setting, many employees consider sitting at a desk and keeping busy to be a “full day’s work”. Now, since most people “live at work”, it’s difficult to separate work from home. For this reason, managers must provide clarity on the outcomes expected over a given period. Encourage the employee to break projects into smaller deliverables, with deadlines to track project health. Focus less on time at the desk, and more on what’s being delivered.
In the accounting world, sometimes there is the need to remote-track employees, to determine time to complete a task. Makosi recommends a time tracking tool like Workplus Clocker.
5. Recurring 1:1 meetings
Leaders at Makosi anchor their team relationships around weekly 1:1 meetings, which are viewed as the bare minimum of “face-to-face” communication required to stay connected to remote employees.
While an agenda is a good idea, 1:1 meetings need not be beautifully structured every time. Allow room for employees to raise what is important to them, and leave space for diving deeper into issues. These meetings have to have video on. We’ve found that conducting a 1:1 with audio only is ineffective, with participants tending to treat the meeting as more of a chore than an opportunity to connect. Send a follow-up after each 1:1, containing the agreed upon tasks and desired results.
We try to make a point of thanking the employee for something they contributed during the meeting. Show genuine appreciation, to indicate that what they’re doing now matters.
6. Healthy boundaries
Working from home really blurs the lines between “on” and “off” the clock. As it is, remote workers tend to work longer hours than in-office workers, which puts them at higher risk of stress and burnout. You can help keep your remote employees happy and well by setting healthy boundaries around work, such as:
- Limit their expected hours of availability
- Promote self-care
- Integrate wellness into your team activities (e.g. mindfulness breaks)
- Encourage and welcome sharing about family life, pets or personal interests
- Require regular breaks from the screen
7. Recognition and reward
Employees need to know they matter. But working remotely allows for individual contributions to go unnoticed or be taken for granted, which can lead to disengagement. Make employee recognition a vital aspect of your virtual culture and engagement approach. If you demonstrate appreciation for achievements big and small, both publicly and privately, your employees will feel their work is valued. To create a culture of mutual appreciation and gratitude, you could even consider small prizes like e-cards for recognition or having treats delivered.
As a manager, you know employee engagement’s had a bumpy ride lately, and yet you still have to lead a remote workforce. If you prioritise these seven considerations, you’ll have a more effective, more cohesive team – virtual or not.