Guide

Managing a remote team

With the cultural shift to remote work, it’s timely for some tips on managing virtual teams and keeping everyone engaged

A woman using a computer to manage her team remotely from her desk

The challenges of remote managing

Remote teams come in many shapes and sizes: you might be managing remote employees all in different locations, a hybrid team with some working in the office and some working remote or alternating, or a time-based project team. Whether you’re new to remote managing or a seasoned player in the virtual office, you'll be tackling some specific challenges in uniting your team:

  • physical distance and tech complexities can hinder cohesive teamwork
  • lack of face-to-face interaction may lead to misunderstandings and information gaps
  • building trust within the team can be a delicate balance
  • distractions and technical issues can hamper productivity
  • overworking is easy to do in a home office and can lead to burnout
  • noticing and managing employee wellbeing and their work setup is tougher from a distance
  • spontaneous corridor conversations are hard to replicate online
  • there will be tech, and that involves time and skill

Tips for managing your remote team

Managing remote workers is a high wire act, requiring a flexible yet structured foundation. Here’s how to build a team on the internet, without a net.

Set the tone: define roles, expectations, and good practice

When you’re managing a remote team, take the time to define culture, values, and the processes you want the team to follow, and ensure roles and responsibilities are clear. Create a team handbook that’s available to everyone and use it as a tool for reflection and growth.

When you’re project planning, factor in differing schedules, accountability, communication tools and technology delays along with project milestones, and workflow. Set up clear version control and document management.

Make sure new team members are onboarded quickly, given warm welcomes and the access and information they need, and, if possible, a mentor or onboarding buddy.

Check work health and safety laws and regulations, and support your team to set up healthy work environments.

Be air traffic control, not a helicopter parent

It’s fair that you want to know what your remote workers are up to and where they’re up to, but ask yourself before you check in for the third time in a day – what does productivity mean?

There are ways to enhance productivity without pressure. Encourage everyone to use status updates ('at lunch'; 'doing deep work') and communicate regularly, but also to respect when someone needs deep focus time. Foster an environment where your remote team feels at ease reaching out if they're running late.

Stand-up team meetings (where everyone updates on their progress, achievements, and roadblocks) are valuable. Schedule them according to team need rather than expecting them every day, and keep them concise.

Regardless of the communication tools you use, clarify their best use: emails for detailed information, chat/phone for conversation, video calls for collaboration. Many decisions are made in corridors (and not just in The West Wing). When you’re remote managing it’s harder to foster spontaneous ideas, but group chat channels can serve this purpose.

Consistent rules doesn’t mean rigidity, and flexibility doesn't equate to being a pushover. Clearly define non-negotiable rules and procedures, while identifying areas where flexibility can be applied.

How to team build without prompting eye roll emojis

Building teamwork in remote managing scenarios is about enabling connections without forcing them. Establish some rituals, regular catch ups, and chat, and allow for informal interaction at the start or end of meetings. Give your team safe chat spaces to share gifs or links and blow off steam.

Team-building activities like virtual games, coffee-break sharing of interests, and virtual drinks help decompress and create unity. If possible, look for opportunities to meet physically, but whatever you do, make it optional. Social catch-ups that feel like meetings aren’t fun for anyone.

Show your team you value them

Embrace individuality within your remote team – it’s a source of strength. Avoid enforcing uniformity. Successful remote managing includes factoring in people’s personalities, skills, and areas where they’ll need support.

Celebrate victories, professional and personal, and recognise achievements. Offer opportunities for advancement to help your remote team grow personally and professionally.

Check in with your people regularly, and mean it. Encourage everyone to check in on each other too.

When team members have a voice, they feel more engaged and committed to the success of your business. So, listen. Create opportunities for honest feedback, through town hall or all-hands meetings, or anonymous feedback tools like TINYPulse.

Use the right tools

There are some excellent remote managing project tools out there. They all have learning curves, depending on their complexity. What you use will depend on your project, team, and budget.

If specific expertise is lacking and your budget allows, you might hire an expert for system set up and troubleshooting. Before you go out and hire someone, look at the skills of your team. Perhaps one of them is a whizz with a particular tool and would be happy to be appointed as that tool’s team guru.

Project management software

A popular project management choice is a kanban board – basically a sophisticated sticky note system. Other software is more timeline-based and analytical. Some popular tools:

A kanban board style, using cards, tasks, and projects. User friendly and good for small teams and smaller budgets needing simple project/task mapping.

A project/task structured app, with various views including timeline management. More complex, it’s good for medium - large teams, projects requiring more metrics, project analysis, and task dependencies.

An agile development management system that’s also customisable. Good for teams that like agile scrum features (milestone-structured projects, such as design or development, sales, and marketing teams).

A cloud-based platform that allows users to create their own applications and project management software. It’s a budget-friendly version of Jira, which is popular for more complex development projects.

Explore and trial different systems to find the best fit for you. Some features will matter more to you than others. The main features to look for will be:

  • ease of use
  • collaborative tools
  • integration with your other tools, eg, Dropbox, Slack, Google Docs, or a shared email system
  • templates
  • options to customise
  • scalability
  • native reporting and variety of charts and views
  • task dependencies and task hierarchies
  • role and permissions structures
  • a good mobile app
  • value

Calendars

Use a shared calendar for all meetings, ideally integrated with your other communications systems, especially video conferencing. You can choose Microsoft integrated systems like Outlook/Teams, or Google Workspace, as two options.

Video conferencing

The best video conferencing systems integrate with calendars and make it easy for everyone to connect. Consider video quality and restrictions on meeting lengths and participants. The most popular are Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams. Others include Whereby and BlueJeans.

Xero integrated apps

Integration takes away the grunt work of cross-referencing documentation or reporting. There are some great apps that integrate with Xero accounting software to make the money matters of your team easier. Try Expensify, to capture receipts and manage expenses, Hubdoc to extract information from invoices and receipts, or Xero Projects to track time and expenses against jobs. Explore a wealth of integrated apps in the Xero App Store.

That might all feel like a lot, but remember the high wire act? It’s really quite simple: if your foundation is both structured and flexible, and if you move forward ensuring good communication flows both ways, you’ll find the right balance easily. Then, the challenges of remote managing will be more than outweighed by the rewards.

There’s a whole lot more to remote managing and building a thriving, happy remote team – check out How to build your team for more insights.

Disclaimer

Xero does not provide accounting, tax, business or legal advice. This guide has been provided for information purposes only. You should consult your own professional advisors for advice directly relating to your business or before taking action in relation to any of the content provided.

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