5 (Simple) Strategies to Manage Remote Teams Effectively
Don’t Allow Distance to Damage Your Leadership during Covid-19
To manage a remote team presents many challenges. These include (but certainly aren’t limited to) issues such as:
- How do you communicate effectively with your team when they are so dispersed?
- How do you know that your people are doing the work they should when you can’t see them?
- What happens to teamwork and collaboration between colleagues?
As you adapt to the world of working in cyberspace, you’ll learn new ways of managing your remote team. Of course, COVID-19 has accelerated your need to learn and evolve as a manager. It’s a process that I went through myself when I first started working from home 15 years ago.
5 Ways to Manage Remote Teams with Less Effort
1. Create and evolve boundaries that encourage autonomy
In the traditional office, you may be used to giving precise instructions of what must be done, how and when. You’re not on hand to do this when managing a remote team. You’ll need to guide rather than instruct. This means you’ll need to allow the employee to decide how to do the task best and when to do that task.
This doesn’t mean leaving your people entirely to their own devices. Rather, it means giving them leeway to do work when they are most productive. For example, instead of saying, “This must be done at this time,” you should allow a degree of autonomy – “I need this done by this time”.
This empowers your team to arrange their daily routines in a way that suits their time best, and allows them to work during their most productive periods (yes, there are ‘morning people’ and ‘afternoon people’). You’ll find that this approach helps to motivate your team to peak performance.
2. Learn about your team
Take the time to learn how each member of your team works best. Set up a regular one-to-one session with each – there are great video tools to do so – and discuss personal barriers to working from home and help them by giving autonomy over their work schedules. Ask what help you can give and make sure you are approachable if your remote team (or any individual within it) runs into problems that they cannot solve.
3. Facilitate productivity
Your job as a manager of a remote team is not to micromanage. Rather, you must facilitate productivity. This is a learned skill, and includes:
- Managing interpersonal dynamics
- Listening and communication skills
- Creative thinking
- Time management skills
Facilitating others to work at peak performance needs you to provide the resources that your remote team needs. This may include:
- Technology and tools
You will also ensure that virtual team meetings are conducted effectively and empower problem solving.
4. Coach your team to be self-sufficient
In the normal office environment, you probably provide solutions when employees have problems. You can’t do this when managing a remote team. You won’t always be available – and you don’t want to be, either: you want to benefit from working remotely, too.
This is one of the biggest hurdles that you may need to overcome – especially if you have been thrust into managing a remote team because of COVID-19. Learning to coach self-sufficiency is key to helping your whole team (including yourself) gain the maximum benefit of working from home. Here are a couple of pointers to help you do so:
- Get into the habit of encouraging your people to ask questions that lead them to answers. This may include asking:
- What is wrong?
- Why have I got this issue?
- How is this issue stopping me from working?
- Encourage people to develop solutions – by asking themselves follow-up questions, such as:
- What do I want?
- What do I have influence over?
- What skills or resource would help?
- Who else will be affected?
If you develop people to be self-sufficient (or to seek a solution and then to propose it), you’ll lead a resourceful and high-performing team in which everyone benefits from working from home.
5. Coordinate work with RASCI
Coordination of tasks is another common challenge. You’ll need to ensure that confusion is avoided, and that tasks are not duplicated. An effective framework to achieve this is RASCI:
Assign one person to be responsible for the task. This doesn’t mean they do the work themselves (though they might).
The person who has control of how the task is done is the one who is accountable for it. This person might assign work and roles, and provide resources.
These are the people responsible for providing support to get the task completed.
There may be people who need to give relevant advice and help. These are the people who can be consulted.
These people are the ones who must be kept up to date with progress of the task.
To employ RASCI effectively, you’ll need to know your people’s strengths and weaknesses to assign roles effectively. Understand what the role involves, and the capability and experience needed to perform that role.
When you employ the RASCI framework to the management of your remote team, you will ensure that each member is working to their full potential within roles to which they are most suited. You won’t be telling people explicitly what they must do and how they must do it, but you will minimise ambiguity, delegate tasks effectively, and use the strengths of your team.
You Must Adjust to Manage Remote Teams Effectively
It’s likely that the regulations surrounding the management of the COVID-19 outbreak have forced your organisation to move your people to working from home. This means that your role as a manager has changed dramatically. It’s a difficult time, and there will be some adjustment needed by all – including you.
As I adjusted to working from home and managing people remotely, I learned from the experience. I’ve honed how I manage my virtual team over many years. These five strategies I’ve outlined above are the result of this experience. They will help you navigate the challenges you’ll face now you are managing a team that isn’t seated just a few feet away from your desk.
The author of this article, Craig Smith, runs two businesses from his home. He is the author of “The Practical Guide to Working from Home” and the presenter of the online workshop “Working from home – A practical guide”.