Working in the same place than your team does have a lot of benefits. It makes communication way easier and generally things progress faster. However having a collocated team is not always possible. Very often business owners need to hire team members that are located somewhere else in the world.
So how do you go about managing a remote team? There are tons of online tools and technologies to help you, but is that enough? How do you keep the team engaged? How do you make them feel good?
Here are a few tips based on my experience to effectively manage remote teams.
Make sure you allow enough time
Things go slower when you are working remotely. It’s just the nature of it. Many times this is due to working across different time zones. When your team is collocated, you can easily walk for one minute to your colleague’s desk and discuss the latest design updates. When you are not on the same location, you need to agree on a specific time to meet up and talk. And the further apart you are, the longer it takes.
My advice is to try to work with a team that at least is working at the same time than you are. If you can’t, try to have no more than 4 hours time difference.
Take this into account when you plan your project and do your estimations. Allow for room to breathe and be realistic about what it can be done and when.
Explain the project properly
Make sure you explain your team the requirements of the project as well as what is the vision and the big picture. They also need to understand what is their role in the project, what is needed from them and why. Where do they fit into the whole picture? Why is their role important? Ensure everyone understands the project requirements and knows exactly what to do.
Set up tools and processes for communication
The possibilities are endless. Make sure your team is comfortable with the tools of choice and that there is a shared point to share your work.
These are the tools I normally use. They are free, easy to use and almost everyone is familiar with them:
Google Drive or Dropbox for file sharing
Google Apps (email, calendar, docs, sheets, presentations and even drawing tools)
Trello to keep track of your product backlog, tasks, work in progress and work done
Slack for chats and quick updates
Skype or Google Hangouts for video calls, although they can also be used for chat. I like Hangouts because you can set up events and get reminders in your calendar so you never miss a meeting.
Redpen to give feedback on design (your designer can upload images and you can give feedback by adding comments to the same image)
Git for version control (software development)
Have effective meetings
Meet with your team often, at least twice a week. Have a video call, see their faces. Ask them to share their screens to show what they’ve been working on. Even if the work isn’t finished, they should share what they’ve done. Make sure everyone has the time to talk and give feedback and create a comfortable environment so that everyone feels that they can talk and express their opinions.
When having a meeting, make sure camera is turned on so that people stay focused on the conversation and don’t get distracted.
Ensure each meeting has a purpose. Is it a follow up meeting, a planning meeting, a meeting to solve an issue? Your team needs to know. Create meeting agendas and distribute them in advance.
Use the chat for less important conversations, for day to day updates, questions or comments. Even for a bit of a chit-chat, that will create a more relaxed atmosphere.
If there is a question or something that is unclear, the best option is to have a conversation. Stop sending long emails - it takes time and more often than not they don’t clarify anything. Pick up the phone or jump on a quick Hangout and have a conversation. Share your screen if needed; visuals help to understand things better. This will save you time and frustration. Believe me, I don’t write emails anymore.
Keep them happy
Make sure you follow Daniel Pink’s theory on how to motivate people. The three key elements are: autonomy, mastery and purpose.
Autonomy: Let people manage their own work. Let them be autonomous and work their way. Make sure the deliverables are what you need, but don’t tell them exactly how to do it.
Mastery: Allow your team to get better skills. Allow for a learning environment to try new tools, experiment and get better at what they do.
Purpose: Your team needs to know what is the purpose of their job. Why are they doing what they do? Who are they helping? Is it meaningful for them?
Celebrate and run a retrospective at the end
Celebrate milestones and achievements. Make sure your team knows that you are happy with their work and their results. You can even send them an online gift card by email or flowers to their house. Just go that extra mile to show that you really care. At the end of the day, if your team was good, you would want to work with them again, right?
Have a retrospective meeting or a “post-mortem”, as they call it sometimes. Go through what did work and what didn’t. Think about what can be improved for your next project and analyse how the estimates have compared with the actuals. What have you learned from working with your team? Make sure everyone shares their view.
I hope this is helpful for you to get better at managing remote teams. I’d love to hear more tips, please post them on the comments below!