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The Entrepreneur's Guide to Managing Remote Teams

What is a remote team?

Virutal or remote teams are groups of people working together from different locations, using digital communications tools to do their jobs and collaborate. Different types of remote teams include Networked teams, Parallel teams, Production teams, Service teams, and Hybrid teams.

Remote work used to be sought by many and enjoyed by a lucky few, but thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic it’s become far more commonplace. In fact, 58 percent of employed respondents have the option to work from home for all or part of the week, according to McKinsey. If you still had any doubts, put them to rest. Remote work is here to stay.

Virtual employers reap many benefits from employing remote teams, but doing so comes with a number of challenges as well. Knowing how to overcome these obstacles when managing remote teams can lead to cost savings, increased efficiency, and access to a greater pool of talent. So, it’s worth taking them time to learn ways to effectively manage remote employees.

In this article, we’ll look at the different types of remote teams, the benefits and challenges of working with remote teams, and how to overcome potential stumbling blocks.

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What Are Remote Teams?

A virtual or remote team is a group of people who work together from different locations through digital communication. Some of these teams are entirely remote, functioning without a common physical office. Other remote teams are considered hybrid, with some or all members required to work from an office at a designated frequency. Types of remote teams include:

    • Networked teams: groups of individuals with specialized knowledge who work together on a shared project. The team is typically comprised of a combination of company employees and freelance or contract workers. Role requirements on this type of team change over the course of the project so people are added or removed based on tasks needing to be completed as the project progresses. A networked team can enable you to grow your business without overstaffing your company and risking layoffs as staffing requirements evolve.
    • Parallel teams: unlike networked teams, consist entirely of company employees focused on recommending improvements to a system or resolving a problem. This type of team brings together workers with various backgrounds to offer differing perspectives on a particular challenge.
    • Production teams: comprised of members who perform ongoing, day-to-day work for your business. Each individual team member works independently to fulfill their responsibilities. These types of teams are often seen in software development, marketing, or creative companies.
    • Service teams: often consist of people who live across different time zones. This enables you to provide 24-hour customer service and support without asking employees to work different shifts. Instead, support agents can work during the day in their time zone. And this level of service can help boost customer satisfaction.
    • Hybrid teams: include a combination of in-person and virtual employees. Hybrid for one company may mean that employees are all required to work at the office on a designated schedule. But for another it may mean that some workers must always work from a central worksite while others are entirely remote.
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Benefits of Working with Remote Teams

There are numerous advantages to working with remote teams, such as:

Cost savings

Employees working from home can cost less compared to expense of hiring locally or requiring workers to come to a physical office routinely. Office space, utility costs, and employee travel expenses are examples of costs reduced or eliminated when employees are working remotely.

A larger pool of talent

Virtual employers can look beyond a single geographic area when recruiting talent. They have access to the best candidates worldwide. This increases the odds of finding a greater number of qualified contenders to meet your company’s needs.

Greater productivity

Allowing employees to work from home eliminates commute time before and after work, boosting productive worktime. Remote employees can wake up, mentally prepare for the day, and begin working without the stress or time challenges of traveling to and from an office each day.

24-Hour service

Using remote employees enables you to offer your customers 24-hour service without asking anyone to work an off-hours shift. This boosts the level of service provided to customers and can improve customer retention as well.

Better work-life balance for workers

A flexible work schedule when working remotely allows employees to complete their work on their own schedule as long as they are meeting deadlines. This allows them to attend to demands in their personal life, like care for a sick child or parent, or even go to the gym, without impacting their ability to do their work. This often results in a better work-life balance and reduces the stress of trying to meet personal needs while working.

An added perk to a flexible work schedule is that it is a highly desirable attribute that workers often seek. McKinsey research found that 87 percent of people surveyed want the chance to work flexibly. Providing options for working remotely can give you a competitive hiring advantage, making recruiting new talent that much easier.

Challenges for Remote Team Management

Although remote teams offer businesses many advantages, there are several common challenges when managing a remote workforce. Some of the most typical issues remote team managers experience include:

Communication

Employee engagement is more intentional when managing remote workers. You lose the opportunity to ask questions or check the status of a project during a brief encounter in the hallway or at the water cooler. This works both ways, leaving workers to find ways to replace these casual interactions that can be quite beneficial.

One way to replace these face-to-face office interactions is by using a messaging platform such as Slack. This facilitates in-the-moment communications without a lot of disruption to workflow.

Lack of trust

Some managers find it difficult to trust workers to actually do their work without direct supervision. In some cases, this is warranted, but this doesn’t always need to be a concern. It depends on the worker, the manager, and the type of work, along with a number of other possible factors. There needs to be a certain level of trust by all parties involved.

If that trust cannot be built, then remote work might not be the best option for your team. That being said, there are applications available today that can track work progress, such as project management platforms like Asana, Monday, or Basecamp, that can help alleviate much of these challenges.

Expectations & boundaries

Failure to set clear expectations can certainly create difficulties, especially work working remotely. If workers don’t know what is expected from them, deadlines to meet, when they are supposed to work, and how much flexibility they have in establishing their work hours, nobody will be satisfied. Plus, failure to set boundaries around when work is to be completed can cause workers to blur the lines between work and personal life to the point that they feel like they are constantly working.

Cultural differences

Managing employees from various countries where attitudes about careers and family are different can be challenging. This can lead to contrasting work ethics and approaches to their work day.

Different time zones

Although scheduling meetings increases in difficulty as the number of people involved grows, adding in scheduling across a broad range of time zones can make it nearly impossible. This is especially true when coordinating an all-hands type of meeting or a team building gathering. Working across time zones can also weaken real-time communications and cause people to make concessions to participate.

Team building

Without the casual, happenstance interactions and the ability to spontaneously gather coworkers for events like happy hours after office time, remote team building can be challenging. Connecting your team is still important. You want to develop camaraderie, especially if team members work together and must engage with each other on a regular basis while doing their jobs.

Mental health

It’s essential to be mindful of the challenges that remote workers experience while doing their jobs. Be on the lookout for symptoms like burnout, isolation, and loneliness so you can proactively head it off. Otherwise, you risk decreased employee productivity and job satisfaction, as well as the possibility of losing a valued team member.

20 Actionable Tips for Managing a Remote Workforce

You can address the challenges of managing remote employees by leveraging any (or all) of the following strategies, all of which have been proven in real-world application to work well to varying degrees, depending on your unique business situation.

1. Establish Boundaries

Setting boundaries to help remote employees define their work and personal time is a good idea. This is especially true with workers in different time zones to avoid disturbing employees with notifications or chat messages during sleep or family time.

2. Embrace diversity

Cultural differences are important to recognize and honor as you expand your global team. To avoid misunderstandings and conflicts on multicultural teams, learn more about individual preferences. People from different regions accept feedback differently, celebrate different holidays, and have different cultural practices.

3. Set clear expectations from the start

All employees, remote or otherwise, need to understand what is expected from them so they know what to do. Create realistic expectations when managing remote workers so they can deliver. Provide clearly defined guidance to set them up for success. Include exact due dates, precise quality standards, and detailed project information. Remember that you cannot dictate how virtual workers spend every minute of their time. Empower online workers to stay on track and hit deadlines by providing clear direction.

4. Develop effective communication skills

Communication is always essential when managing a team, but managing a remote workforce requires effective online communication. Avoid confusion by being quick and concise in your written messages. Express yourself clearly and use remote collaboration tools to simplify the process of virtual teamwork. Applications like virtual whiteboards, messaging platforms, team chat apps, and project management solutions are all useful to improve remote work communication.

5. Optimize onboarding

The onboarding process is important in any work setting to help employees learn about things like their new company, procedures, policies, work culture, and benefits. The better oriented your online workers are, the better they will understand how things are supposed to be done. Onboarding makes remote workforce management easier by starting the relationship out on the right foot.

6. Conduct efficient meetings

Meetings can be a huge time suck if they aren’t well planned. Take the time to prepare ahead of meetings, regardless if they are with your entire remote team or with one of your online workers. Be sure that it is purpose-driven and worthwhile.

7. Encourage input

Although you need to establish expectations and procedures for remote teams, keep an open mind and be willing to receive input from your team around ways to improve operations. This involves them in your business, boosts morale, and encourages creativity.

8. Create a communication strategy

The inability to chat with workers on the fly at the coffee machine or in the hall can hamper communication. Encourage open communication with your remote teams by blocking off times on your calendar where individual team members can book short sessions with you. Tell your team and share your calendar so it’s easy for them to book a meeting with you during these times.

9. Focus on output, not activity

When managing remote workers it’s not about whether they are clocked in and sitting at their desk, or what hours they are working. Instead you need to focus on work completed or deliverables submitted. To accomplish this, clearly delineate what each online worker needs to accomplish over a designated period. To keep workers on schedule, create milestones that have specific deadlines and schedule follow up meetings or use a project management platform to help track progress.

10. Document and distribute standard procedures & best practices

Avoid uncertainty around how things should be done and ensure consistency across your remote team by preparing, documenting, and sharing clearly defined procedures. A great way to share them is on a Google doc where they are easy for all work from home employees to access and refer to. Plus, posting procedures in this way makes them easy for you to revise them without needing to send out updates. The current one will always be in place, so when making changes, you only need to notify your remote teams once.

11. Get everyone involved

Some people are quieter than others and won’t actively participate in meetings and group discussions on their own. To ensure all team members engage in team meetings and other activities, intentionally ask a different team member to present something during these events. Going around the virtual table to have all team members share their thoughts on a topic is another way to encourage engagement by all in attendance. It’s a great way to make everyone feel like a part of the whole.

12. Encourage social interaction

To replace the natural social engagement that occurs in a physical office, it’s a good idea to plan virtual group activities. This boosts team relationships and strengthens bonds that would typically form at the water cooler or during a coffee break. You could schedule periodic Zoom coffee breaks or create a virtual water cooler where remote employees can interact and share information or news. Another way to boost casual engagement is by facilitating the creation of employee resource groups (ERGs). This gives them a way to build community and get to know one another while sharing common interests.

13. Encourage in-person meetings

Although not always geographically feasible, encourage remote workers to meet in person routinely. This creates bonds between coworkers as they get better acquainted. Colleagues who work in the same region can plan to meet up for coffee or other organized activities. Anytime a team member is travelling, they can plan to meet coworkers who live in that area. And, as a remote manager, you can plan to travel to regions where your online workers reside so you can meet them in-person while you are there.

14. Hold remote team-building activities

Another way to develop the cohesion of your remote teams is with team-building activities. Ask team members for suggestions of games or competitions they’d enjoy and schedule these routine activities. Having them compete in multiple small groups will help them get to know their coworkers and make collaboration easier on the job.

15. Don't play favorites

Although it may be easier to extend some benefits or perks to local employees, remember to offer the same perks to remote workers as well. For example, if you bring in lunch for local team members to share each Friday, remember to find a way to provide this perk to team members working from home outside your geographic area. One way to accomplish this is through gift cards for virtual employees to use, or by having meals delivered via services like Doordash or Postmates. Then help organize a zoom mealtime event so remote employees can enjoy their meal together too.

16. Offer emotional support

When managing remote workers, you don’t have the benefit of physically seeing how overwhelmed or stressed a team member may be at a given moment. That’s why it’s essential to routinely check in with remote team members to make sure they aren’t struggling to manage their time. Engage them in conversation and offer emotional support and empathy. Let them know that your virtual door is always open when they need support or are overwhelmed by their workload.

17. Build trust

Trust is an essential element in any work relationship, but it’s critical when managing remote employees. It’s a two way street where you need to trust that the employee is doing what they are supposed to. If you don’t trust your employees to do their job independently, perhaps you need to rethink your employee selection process. Establish clear expectations, and respond promptly to requests for additional information or clarification.

18. Recognize excellence

Take the time to openly recognize remote employees for their successes on the job. It’s an excellent way to reinforce great performance or going the extra mile. For example, when a team member goes above and beyond to help a customer and the customer tells you. This is a great opportunity to recognize what the team member did at the next team meeting or giving them a shout out on your team chat channel. This also boosts employee morale.

19. Encourage collaboration

Look for opportunities for coworkers to collaborate on projects instead of assigning them to only one team member. This gives them a chance to get to know one another better and combats isolation and loneliness.

20. Support the team

Beyond emotional support, providing your remote teams with the right technology helps them perform better and more efficiently. Leveraging digital tools like a customer relationship management (CRM) platform, project management software, messaging application, and virtual phone system can all boost productivity across the board, while helping your business run more smoothly.

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Unlock the Power of Effectively Managed Remote Teams

Remote work is here to stay, so why not embrace it? Leverage your knowledge of the challenges and the above strategies & techniques to overcome them so that you can start enjoying the advantages of employing a global remote workforce. It may take some trial and error to find the best way to implement these tips in your business, but it will be worth the effort. The result will be a more profitable and productive company with a diverse culture.

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A special high five to Margot Howard for her outstanding research and contributions to this article. We love working with and supporting like-minded entrepreneurs who are passionate about business success strategies. Thank you Margot! ❤️

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