Three Best Practices for Managing a Remote Team
Note for March 2020: Adjusting to a remote work environment is not the only challenge facing teams in the workforce today. Many people are battling anxiety, uncertainty, and grief in our present climate. As a manager, I believe now is a time to extend grace and compassion to our team members, especially when it comes to productivity. Everyone is going to process this differently, so open and consistent communication is going to be your golden ticket. Consider setting the tone by sharing your feelings first, if you’re comfortable and think it’s appropriate.
Having managed remote teams several different times in my career, I’ve experienced many of the challenges and rewards of being responsible for a distributed team. There are times when it can feel disorienting: Where are people? What are they getting up to? What’s that noise in the background? For me, successfully navigating the dynamics of remote work comes down to embracing three practices: expectation setting, communication, and building trust.
Getting on the same page is important no matter your work environment. However, it becomes critical when you’re not sharing the same physical space. I suggest sitting down as a team and talking through what working together will look like and how you plan to get a hold of one another. For example, how quickly do you expect team members to respond to an email, call, or a chat request? Are there hours in which you expect everyone to be available and working? Set an example as a manager of responding within the time frame determined by the team.
As far as meetings go, I suggest setting the expectation that every meeting will have an agenda so that folks can show up prepared for the conversation. It becomes more important to be strategic about the time you have together since you can’t as easily have “the meeting after the meeting” to figure out what needs to get done. Once again, model this behavior for your team - show up on time and prepared for scheduled meetings and be clear about post-meeting action items. Consistency is going to be key as you define your new working environment.
Having these conversations early and often will pay huge dividends down the line as you settle into new routines and new communication channels.
When your team is (maybe suddenly) remote, communication may feel really different than you’re used to. Instead of wandering over to someone’s workspace, now you’re trying to reach them digitally.
I highly recommend setting some naming conventions and common expectations for your team calendar and asking everyone to keep their calendar up-to-date. I always look at my colleagues’ calendars before I message them with a “quick question” to see if they are in a meeting or have time blocked out to focus on a project. Work to respect those time blocks the same way you would if someone had their office door closed.
Another aspect of communication to consider is face-to-face time. Newly remote workers may feel untethered or lonely away from their work community. My team has been leaning heavily into video chats for meetings. Consider setting up other check-ins or holding virtual open office hours to allow teams to connect and collaborate the way they might if they were co-located.
The last practice, and sometimes the hardest for managers and teams, is the practice of building trust. If you’re used to watching people at work, not being able to see them may test your confidence that they are getting their work done. I think leaning into the first two practices, expectation setting and communication, goes a long way toward easing those fears, but trust building doesn’t stop there.
First up, focus on your goals and deliverables. If your team members continue to complete projects and tasks on time, that indicates that they are getting their work done. Regular check-ins (with video!) where you talk through timelines and address obstacles can help everyone stay on track and aware of each other’s progress. It’s also a great time to offer support.
Don’t worry too much if your teammate does a load of laundry or empties the dishwasher during the day - that flexibility is one of the perks of working from home! Allowing employees the freedom to arrange their day as needed can help them feel more secure in their relationship with us and more likely to be productive and report feelings of job satisfaction.
On the flip side, don’t mistake managing closely with micro-managing. Managing the transition closely and providing practical tools and support up-front can go just as far in building trust with your team and can instill confidence that your new remote working relationships will be successful.
Working remotely can be a positive experience for teams if they set expectations early and often, find ways to communicate productively as a team, and cultivate a trusting relationship.
Additionally, if a CRM is the missing piece that will help your staff come together as a team, maybe it’s time to talk to a consultant.
Bonus - check out Salesforce’s module on Virtual Collaboration to kick-start (or refresh!) your remote working relationships.