How to Effectively Manage a Remote Team

When your entire team is remote, you might be concerned that things won’t get done…or that your employees will slack off and take advantage of not having you looking over their shoulder.

The good news is that data has shown that remote employees actually tend to be more productive than their non-remote counterparts. But in order to really ensure productivity, as well as a highly functional team, there are a few management techniques that every boss should implement.

1. Build a Rapport With Your Employees

When you’re not sharing the same physical space as the rest of your team, it can be easy to spend all of your time together discussing only work-related issues. It might not be as easy to get to know your employees remotely, but it’s still possible.

At SUCCESS agency, we have 15-minute “Daily Kick-Off” sessions, where we all come together. Part of the time (if not all of the time) is spent discussing what is going on in our personal lives, whether it’s a funny TV show that we can’t get enough of or something that happened to us the night before. CEO, Avin, makes the effort to ask us each how we are all doing and check up on each of us individually.

And a few months after any team member joins the team, we give them “20 Questions,” where one person asks the newbie a bunch of questions to try to get to know them better. The questions range from “What’s your favorite movie?” to “What five people would you invite to dinner, dead or alive?” It’s a simple and short exercise, but one that helps us each to get to know that person a little better.

Even a simple private message, asking your employee how they are doing, can go a long way. Ask them how many siblings they have. Learn about their background and interests. This shouldn’t be the primary motivating factor, but the more that you show your employees that you care, the more that they will like you and the harder that they will want to work for you.

2. Use the Right Tools

Part of good management is knowing what tools to use—and how to use them. At SUCCESS agency, we use the chat application, Slack, to communicate with one another. When we’re on Slack, we’re “in the office” so to speak. Google Hangouts is where all of our meetings take place. Basecamp and Teamwork are our primary project management tools, where we record all of the tasks that we are working on.

Find out what tools work best for you and your team. And make sure that you and your team members are using them correctly. For instance, Slack is a great tool and one that many remote teams can’t live without (including ours). But when it’s not used correctly, it can lead to failure.

Knowing the right tools to use and figuring out how to use them might take some trial and error at first. Get feedback from your team members to find out what tools they find to be most efficient and useful.

3. Hold Monthly One-on-One Feedback Sessions

On that note, make it a point to give and receive feedback from each team member. The Zapier Co-Founder and CEO, Wade Foster, says that he has monthly one-on-one feedback sessions with each of his employees. In the session, they go over three things: one way that Wade can improve as a manager, one way that the employee can do their job better, and one thing that the company can do better to “make everyone’s lives easier.” Then, the responses are recorded in a Google doc, so that next month, everyone can see how they did.

Whether it’s once a month or once every few months, make it a point to check in on your employees. Find out what they are unhappy with and what they think can be improved upon. And then provide them with feedback on what they can do better. This will ensure that both you and your employees stay satisfied.

4. Get in Regular Face-Time

Working remotely, it can be easy to let days or even weeks go by without any face-to-face interaction. And without any face-to-face interaction, it can be easy to feel disconnected from the people that you work with. Messages can be misconstrued and questions can go answered.

The solution? It’s simple really. Act human. As CEO of SUCCESS agency, Avin, notes, “If two people are in the same office building and someone had to really express something that the other person needed to do better, they are probably going to go face-to-face to talk to them. Sometimes when people are remote, they just go to email them [instead]. Whereas in reality, you can still be a human and talk to [that person] in a video call.”

Which is why at SUCCESS agency, we have made face-time non-negotiable. Our Daily Kickoff sessions help bring us together and make us feel more like a team. We never do audio-only calls. Having that video component is crucial to making us feel more together.

Make this a priority. Schedule face-time into your days, whether it’s twice a week or once a day.

5. Time Track

When you are working remotely, you have no way of really knowing how your employee is spending the day. For all you know, they could be spending the majority of the day watching Youtube videos. At the end of the day, the only way that you have to measure your employee’s success is by the output. What kinds of results are they putting out there? If you’re satisfied with the results and your employee seems trustworthy, then you have to trust that they are spending their time wisely. And for everything else…there’s Hubstaff.

At SUCCESS agency, we use both Hubstaff and Harvest to track our time. Hubstaff is where we clock in and out. When you’re clocked in, the app takes screenshots every ten minutes of your screen. So if you are questioning how your employee is spending their time, this can give you an idea of what they are doing. Harvest is where we all track time for individual projects for our investors. That way, we can look back and see how long we spent on certain projects. It helps to hold each person accountable.

Each team member also submits a “Daily Plan” at the start of the day, which just as it sounds, outlines what we plan to accomplish and how long we estimate each task will take. Then at the end of the day, we recap with a “Daily Recap,” or a summary of what tasks we worked on and how long was spent on each task, along with a tentative Daily Plan for the following day.

These are small rituals but ones that help each team member to prioritize, stay organized and remain aware of where they are spending their time. And from a managerial perspective, it helps Avin to have an idea of what is being accomplished.

6. Build a Positive Company Culture

Just because your team is remote doesn’t mean that you can’t instill a strong company culture. It might take a bit more effort and creativity, but our team is proof that it is definitely possible.

Curious? For one, we have established core values. We also have weekly rituals that are our unique to our team. On select Tuesdays, each team member will present a “Value-Add” or something valuable that they would like to share with the rest of the team. Then on Thursdays, we all share something that we learned from our one-hour of Intentional Learning (or hour per week that is devoted to learning something new). These go along with our core value of always growing. Fridays are what we call “Small-Win Fridays,” where we all mention a “small win” on the team that we saw that week.

The point is, it is possible to create a company culture even if your team is 100% remote. And it’s not something you should push under the rug or forget about—because having one is crucial to your employees’ happiness.

7. Maintain Structure

Structure is the key to success for remote teams. Without it, most companies will fail.

How can you make your company more structured? Start by outlining your company policies and procedures. Designate a virtual collaboration space and set aside a time each day for team collaboration. At SUCCESS agency, we set aside the first part of the day to team collaboration, so that we can all spend the rest of the day 100% focused and free from interruption.

Final Words

Managing a remote team definitely takes more work and intentionality than managing one that’s location-dependent. But it is possible.

When it comes to the smaller, tactical things, keep in mind that what works for us or another team might not work so well for your team. There is no one-size-fits-all way to manage.

The universal key is to really listen to your employees. Take the time to get to know them. Make sure that they get to know one another.

And of course…don’t forget about the golden word: structure.