Working remotely is an employment choice brimming with positives for both the employee and employer. It can noticeably cut down on business expenses by removing the need to pay for office space, it enables us to pool talent from all over the world and it gives us the opportunity to manage our working timetable, within reason, so that childcare, housework and other responsibilities no longer make our lives difficult.
Move towards remote employment
Statistics reflect a general global shift towards remote employment. According to West UC, 1.75 billion people over the world (that’s more than 40% of the globe’s employed workforce) will be working remotely by the end of this decade. One can only begin to imagine what the working world might look like by 2050. There is evidence that working at home boosts productivity. But even so, the virtual workspace is not all cupcakes and party streamers. Managing a team of remote workers can be a particularly challenging role and one that takes some getting used to.
Virtual managers may find the responsibilities of remote project management quite stressful if they’ve not been sufficiently trained to get the best out of their online team. Trying to pull all the people together virtually can be a challenge in itself. The good news is that there are a number of procedures and solutions that can help us become effective virtual managers, most of which are easy to implement and offer relatively speedy results.
1. Stay connected and offer real support
Staying connected and getting to know your team will also help you to gauge when certain members need more support. Not all employees speak up when they’re feeling unsure, unhappy, undervalued, or just plain overwhelmed. As managers, if we’re in constant contact with our members of staff, we’ll be able to pick up on any problem areas before they get out of hand and we end up losing a valuable member of the team to another company.
Also, as a manager, part of our job is to find solutions. There are tools that help manage distributed teams, but team culture is just as important. If our team knows how to contact us and receives relatively timely responses to all needs and concerns, we build a reputation as someone who can be relied on; a golden quality in a manager and one that most employees would be loathe to lose.
2. Choose your communication style wisely
Communication in a remote team is especially important. Conversations that relate to contractual changes, pay or promotions are best not handled via email, for example. As managers, it’s foolish to think that remote employees don’t deserve the opportunity to look us in the eye when discussing certain matters, particularly as there are so many ways in which we can choose to communicate.
There are team chat tools, video calls or even short recorded videos. When providing professional training or implementing a new process, for example, a video might actually be a much more effective way of engaging and communicating with our team, as opposed to a long, convoluted email.
3. Make an effort to understand cultural differences
One of the great advantages to managing remote teams is cultural diversity. If we’re managing a global startup and we want to reach a range of consumers worldwide, our global team can offer essential (and free) insight into the detailed intricacies of each market. At the same time, however, we are challenged as managers, because we must adapt to account for cultural differences within the workforce.
What might seem like acceptable manager behavior in one country, could actually be perceived as quite offensive in another. We need to research, ask questions and follow through with regular staff evaluations in the early stages to get a real grasp of what it means to work with each member of our team, whether they might be from Japan, India, Argentina, Italy or the U.S.
4. Choose your management tools and then actually use them
There’s nothing that can make the administrative side of our jobs easier than the correct selection of communication and management tools. Scheduling tools, audio and video calling, time tracking tools, chat for teams, screensharing, payroll systems and shared document folders and so much more.
We cannot manage the work of others remotely without having the right resources to hand. It’s also vital that, once we have these tools in place, we train our staff to make proper use of them. We must also remain a stickler for the rules by encouraging them to follow company protocol and communicate via the channels made available.
5. Make time for professional reviews and rewards
A remote team still needs to be motivated and remember, not everyone is motivated by money. Indeed, when professionals choose to make the move to remote employment, many of them are happy to take a pay cut if it means they can have more control over their working day. There are so many ways in which you can reward your team, above and beyond a pay rise or monthly bonus.
Consider the idea of providing all your employees with the cash needed to invest in a decent laptop, offer to install programs for free on their computers, reward with more vacation time (either paid or unpaid) and give them a valuable contract with job security, decent healthcare and the chance to invest in a private pension. Whatever kind of reward you’re able to offer, the most important thing is to schedule regular (at least quarterly) professional reviews to give employees the chance to raise concerns and to give you the chance to tell them how fantastic they are. Everyone thrives on praise, so make time for it.
Contribution from freelance writer Jenny Holt. Jenny’s previous experience in business has allowed her to specialize in the sector, although she also enjoys writing about entrepreneurship, leadership and new technology.