Lessons Learned After 10 Years of Building & Managing Remote Teams

Lessons Learned After 10 Years of Building & Managing Remote Teams Publié le 7 September 2021 Par

Create a virtual workplace that remains successful with these helpful lessons learned after 10 years of building and managing remote teams.

Working remotely is no longer considered odd, brave, or adventurous. In fact, it’s becoming the preferred way to work for a large number of people. Even businesses that have never worked remotely prior to 2020 are now considering adopting the practice full-time. 

As someone who has been working remotely and managing remote teams for over a decade, I can’t say this has come as much of a surprise. After all, remote work provides much more flexibility and is often less stressful. Or, at least it can be stressful in a different way.

In this post, I’ll share my experiences with remote work to help you better tackle your own remote work situation. Let’s dive right in. 

The Benefits of Remote Work 

First, let me briefly touch on some of the benefits that come with building a remote team:

  • Being able to work remotely provides more autonomy for your staff.
  • There are fewer in-person interruptions.
  • Employees can tailor their working hours to their peak productivity times.
  • Everyone’s work setup is completely customizable. 
  • There is no commute, which makes for both less stress and more free time.
  • It can be more comfortable and more relaxed than working in an office setting.

You, as an employer, are also able to:

  • Access a practically infinite talent pool.
  • Extend your working hours.
  • Reduce your operational costs, as there are no office premises to consider.
  • Lower your carbon footprint.

The Challenges of Remote Work 

However, remote work is definitely not all fun and games. There are numerous challenges to overcome, especially if you’re taking a currently centralized team remote. Here are some of the more prominent ones:

  • Workers, themselves, are responsible for their levels of productivity.
  • There are abundant distractions readily available at an employee’s home.
  • The utility bills an employee is paying are likely to go up.
  • Isolation and loneliness are practically inevitable.
  • Fostering a team spirit and camaraderie becomes more difficult.
  • Collaboration is made more complicated.
  • Project coordination, work supervision, and evaluation all need to be rethought and relearned.

Don’t let these points discourage you, though. When approached and set up right, remote work has the potential to make your employees happier, more satisfied with both their personal and their professional lives, and it is able to unlock the door to unlimited growth. 

Here is what I’ve learned about making it work.

Lessons Learned After 10 Years of Building & Managing Remote Teams:

  • Management is still vital
  • Communication should be a part of your company culture
  • Encourage employees to work on their skills
  • Scheduling time off is crucial
  • Managing physical and mental health is your top priority
  • The right tools can make all the difference 

Management Is Still Vital

The number one hurdle managers of remote teams will face is the lack of face-to-face communication. This complicates the processes of setting goals and keeping track of how your staff spends their time.

The key, I’ve found, lies in striking the right balance: refraining from micromanaging yet still managing. You don’t need to be checking in on your employees every hour of every day. In fact, the more trust you show, the more comfortable they will feel.

What you should be doing is clearly communicating what the tasks at hand are, who is handling which task, what the desired outcomes are, and who is accountable for what. Be incredibly specific, go into detail, and don’t rush through the communication. 

You should also set up a timeframe for each task, as opposed to one final deadline for the completion of a specific project. These micro-tasks are great for better organization, and they also allow you to have some wiggle room left in case a task is not completed on time. 

Ideally, you want to be using some kind of tool for tracking time. You don’t need the kind that takes snapshots of your staff’s screens, though. Even a simple calendar will do, as long as it is updated and kept honest. 

It will help you not only stay on top of deadlines but also delegate better and in accordance with every team member’s capabilities. Plus, you’ll also be able to ensure you are billing the right amount of time. 

Communication Should Be a Part of Your Company Culture

For a relationship – any relationship – to work, you need to communicate well. In a remote setting, this means having a lot of video calls and exchanging a lot of chat messages. Working from home can be challenging enough without miscommunication getting in the way. 

Establish different communication channels for different purposes: 

  • email for data-heavy messages that need to be referred back to
  • chats for more immediate discussions that perhaps you don’t need to refer back to
  • phone calls for absolute emergencies

By making sure everyone knows which channel is used for what, you can eliminate a lot of confusion and streamline your communication. 

Also, make sure there are plenty of one-on-one channels available and that every team or every group of people that need to be in touch on a regular basis have their own regular channel. That will prevent new group chats from popping up, where important information may get lost. 

Encourage Employees to Work on Their Skills

Regardless of the position they hold in your company, provide all of your employees access to courses, educational material, workshops, and similar opportunities to level up their skillset. 

Ideally, you want these courses to at least partly be aligned with their role. However, make sure they’re also able to learn more about the things they’re interested in that may not be directly linked to their job.

For instance, while it’s perfectly natural to send your copywriters to content marketing courses, if they would also like to learn more about design, ensure the opportunity is there. The more informed and educated they are, the better they will feel about themselves – even if they may not be able to apply their newfound skills immediately. 

Scheduling Time off Is Crucial

Remote employees can often fall into the trap of working too many hours in the day. As their work is always right there, they don’t take enough breaks, keep checking their email late into the night, and end up inadvertently causing a serious work-life imbalance

Even if they manage to stick to a “regular” work week, scheduling some time off is incredibly important. Even when you happen to love the work you do and don’t mind the long hours, your body and mind both need to reset and recover. They can only do that when they’re away from the office. 

Whether your employees like it or not (and I don’t mean that nearly as harshly as it sounds), make sure they all take time off. Ideally, they’ll have at least two weeks off yearly and can take a couple of shorter breaks as well. 

If you can, be completely flexible with vacation times – in the sense that you provide endless days off whenever someone needs them. This may seem like a dangerous move, but it actually promotes productivity and efficiency. Employees who know they can rest whenever they need to are much more likely to give it their all. 

The one thing you need to ensure is that there’s someone on hand who can cover for the person going on vacation. Create a simple vacation calendar everyone will have access to. That way, your staff will be able to align their own plans with the needs of the team. Meanwhile, you won’t have to repeatedly answer the same “when is so and so taking time off” question.

Just make sure no dates are entered into the calendar before you approve them, as that would result in chaos. 

Managing Physical and Mental Health Is Your Top Priority

Working from home can be quite bad for your health. There’s a lot of sitting around, and if your desk and chair aren’t great, you’ll start feeling pain in your back, neck, and hips. We all know the detrimental effects of sitting too much, and if you add to that some poor sleeping habits, questionable diet choices, and not enough social interaction, you have a recipe for disaster.

Of course, you’ll never be able to do anything about the choices your employees make while they are at home. It’s certainly not your aim to try and invade their personal space. However, you can do a lot to educate them and provide the right tools. 

For starters, you can establish a weekly or bi-weekly company workout. Or, you can provide a specific financial amount your staff can spend on gym memberships or another  physical activity. You can do team walks, where everyone walks at the same time in their own neighborhood. 

Educating your employees about the best ways to take care of themselves (through workshops or webinars) will give them the skills they need to improve their own work environments

When it comes to your staff’s mental health, make sure there is a happy hour and a water cooler chat room. Provide the space and time where they can chat about things other than work. 

Having a mental health specialist come in and do some virtual counseling sessions can also be incredibly helpful, you can also ensure that employees have a health benefits package that will allow them to pursue any support they desire on their own. Make sure you also tune in to your staff’s performance and mood, and genuinely ask them how they’re feeling. Be there as a manager when they need you.

Something as simple as being more flexible about working hours or deadlines can significantly impact someone’s mental health. So, be as forthcoming as you possibly can. 

The Right Tools Can Make All the Difference 

Finally, let me just briefly touch on the importance of using the right tools. In most cases, this will involve a chat app, a project management tool, some sort of accounting software, a scheduling tool, and a whole host of other apps and software solutions you require to get a job done.

When choosing these tools, make sure they work for you. Just because a tool is popular doesn’t mean you will like to use it as well. For example, most companies use Slack. We don’t. We use Lark, and it’s been a great choice. 

In short, make sure you tailor your software choices to your own team’s size and needs. Invest in the pricier solution if it will help you be more efficient or just save you a headache. 

Final Thoughts 

There’s always something new to learn in the world of remote team management. Hopefully, the brief insights I’ve provided will help you achieve more with your own remote teams.

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