Managing a Remote Team

For the past several years, I’ve worked with and managed remote teams. There’s surprisingly little information on the topic available out there, so I decided to write this post to discuss the points and principles you need to know to when your team is physically based in a remote location.

Location, Location, Location

It’s not just for real estate! I happen to be located in the UK, so my mornings overlap with Indian afternoons and Eastern European lunchtimes. This allows me to have daily calls with my remote team members without anyone having to work unsociable hours. Meanwhile, my afternoons and evenings overlap the various time zones in the US, thus enabling me to meet with partners and team mates based there. Give some thought to the time differences between certain time zones; I recently had to turn down a bid from a remote worker based in Australia simply because the time zone differences were too great for us to be able to communicate effectively.

The Right People Doing the Right Things

Once you’ve determined an optimal shortlist of locations for your team, the next step is to find the people who will make up your team. With an ever growing ocean of potential candidates, it can appear overwhelming to find the right contractors! My own process starts with a thorough overview of the work the contractor will be doing, along with 5 key questions that require more than a one-word answer. This weeds out those who won’t take the time to answer them, and those who do not have the required level of communication skills; even then many apply who lack the necessary skills.

It’s tough enough managing a team remotely, without the unnecessary problems that can arise from hiring the wrong people. Before replacing anyone, consider if they’d be better suited in another role. Even remote workers have some investment of time and effort for on-boarding, and it can be less costly and more efficient to reassign a resource than to have to find and train someone new.

Hire People Who Get the Job Done

Doer’s in today’s employee selection are getting few and far between, that’s why you need to assess every candidate properly. I don’t have time for excuses, and a doer will get things done no matter the time or challenges involved. They are people who do not rely heavily on instruction and are able to work on their own and problem solve any issues that may arise. They are accountable, assume ‘ownership’ of the tasks assigned to them, and complete them without excuses. They use their time effectively, and when they do face obstacles, they’re quick to bring them you your attention, although they’ll usually also present at least one solution; they’re “glass half full” types.

Communication Skills

Of course, for our calls to be valuable, the team members must have a basic grasp of at least one of the languages I speak, preferably English! However, in a remote work environment, there are occasionally times when you can’t speak to the team member, and almost everything relies on typed communications. So it’s incredibly important to hire people that are comfortable with writing and typing. This is just as true whether you are communicating via email or your favourite instant messenger.

Avoid First Timers

Sometimes working alone and spending all day behind the PC or laptop can become isolating. For an individual who is used to a social environment when it comes to the workplace, it may present a challenge to handle the solitude that comes with the job. It’s critical, therefore, to know if your prospective candidate can handle this working environment. If they can’t, they will either leave after a few months, or show a steady decline in the effectiveness of their work as time goes on.

It’ll be important to try to create some social aspects with a remote team. But the truth of the matter is that remote workplaces are usually less social than co-located ones. People on remote teams need to be OK with that. And the best remote workers will thrive in this type of environment.

Accountability

Keeping tabs on your team and micro managing them in order to get them to produce will end up driving you insane. To keep your employees accountable, arrange a weekly one-on-one call with them to discuss the tasks and their completion rate, or use software that can log everything for you. Taking the time to monitor your team, should not be confused with babysitting them. At the end of the day, the team must produce and add value to the project, or you may as well be doing it yourself. Regular calls or software can greatly reduce your stress on the project. Aside from weekly calls with individuals, I insist on daily ‘stand up’ calls with the entire team to ensure everything remains on-track.

Automate, automate, automate

The best thing about working in the online world is the amount of technology available to us to assist us in our projects. Today there is an app for anything you could possibly dream of, so take some time to investigate software and apps that can assist you in remote management of your team. My personal favorites are Asana for project management and task tracking, Beanstalk for code review and version control, and New Relic for monitoring server and application performance.

Never stop learning

The online world keeps evolving the way we do business and the way we manage our teams. There will be mistakes made along the way as you progress, you just can’t avoid them. However, you can choose to learn from them; every mistake is a learning opportunity for you to figure out how to improve. With this attitude and the tips above, you should be better prepared for managing a remote team.