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Case Study

Managing remote teams

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The way we work has changed tremendously in the past 10 years – employees are looking for more freedom and flexibility in their working schedules and hiring remotely is a way to attract top talent and reduce costs. However, today working from home is not a privilege – it is a necessary measure all of us need to take to protect our society. We know that working remotely could be quite challenging for teams that do not have experience with it but there is nothing to worry about! Many teams from the IT industry have been successfully practicing remote work for years. So, we decided to share what we’ve learned from years working from home with remote teams in a series of blog posts.

Sharing information & fostering communication

The biggest challenge of remote teams is to make sure that everyone is on the same page. It is easy to get in a room with everybody working on a project and discuss your plan and progress but it gets much harder when you are communicating digitally. Thus, it is your role as a manager to foster efficient communication. Accept the challenge as a great way to push your team to build discipline. Here are some proven good practices:

  • Instead of using a personal chat to share information, create a common one per project and add everyone working on it.
  • Ask people to share important or urgent information via email, so you can prioritize it and react timely.
  • Schedule online meetings with your team (there are lots of tools you can use – Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams). The great thing about online meetings is that they can be recorded, and can be used later as a reference point of what you’ve decided. Still, ask someone on the team to take notes with key information (targets/tasks/deadlines) and send them via email afterward. Thus, even if someone was not able to attend the meeting, they will be up to date with the development of the project.
  • Keep in mind that online meetings could take longer than in-person ones. You can improve the efficiency by simply putting an agenda and moderating the discussion so it does not deviate too much from the agenda. Some online meeting tools also have a “raise hand” function, allowing an attentive meeting host and a well-disciplined team to hold a guided conversation.

Trust your team

Once the team is not in the office, a manager might feel that employees would work less or would get distracted with personal responsibilities. Keep in mind that building trust is the heart of every high productive team.  If you have ambitious, talented people on your team, they will manage their time in order to achieve their goals. Instead of asking them to work 40 hours a week, set clear, specific targets and let them decide how to fulfill them. An increasing number of researches show that working from home could increase employees’ productivity with up to 8%. Sounds good, no?

“If I am on the phone all day, I get “me time” while taking care of tasks around our house throughout the workday. This “me time” affords reflection and keeps me fresh for the next call!”, shares Peter Loos, Managing Member at Seabeck Systems LLC and remote team manager for over 20 years.

A great moment to introduce lightweight team interactions

If trust is the heart of highly productive teams,  strong interactions are the backbone. In the case of a remote team, a lack of processes could sabotage even the most dedicate teams. In the IT industry, a common practice for teams is to use SCRUM as a way to organize their work. But don’t worry about that fancy word; it is a set of simple practices that could be applied in any team context. Here is what you should do:

  • Break the tasks in smaller chunks that can be fulfilled within a day or two.  It makes it easier to follow the progress of your team and predict any delays before it’s too late.  
  • Set daily meetings with your team in a convenient time for everyone – think of them as a status report – everyone should share the progress they’ve done during the previous day, if they have encountered some problems, and set goals for the period until the next meeting. The goal is to help the team members stay informed and also ask for help if they need it to finish their tasks.
  • Set a longer meeting at the end of the week/ beginning of next week on which the team will talk about what went well, what could have gone better during the previous week and ideas for improvements going forward. This is the moment to learn as a team how to ask the tough questions. Encourage everyone to be honest. In an upcoming article, we will share more details on how to structure and manage such a meeting.  

Define a fun & open team culture

Working from home, though great, at times may feel isolated and lonely. Peter Loos has been working from home with many dispersed teams for more than 20 years. He came up with a number of strategies a manager can use to create an inclusive and united team.

  • Encourage participation by asking every member on your team to make a short presentation. Create a schedule – each week a different person will share their experience with the rest of the team.  
  • Create a space for fun and jokes where everyone can share non-work-related content (it could be a common chat). Make sure that you post regularly at the beginning to show that it is ok to joke and goof around.  
  • Build trust throughout the team through open, timely, and considerate communication.
  • Remember – lead by action, not by words.

These are some simple practices that will help you handle remote teams. In our next post, we will focus on some great tools and security practices to protect your data while you and your team are working remotely.

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