This blog topic was requested by Fayann Dsouza (@fayann.loves on Instagram).
Crowdsourcing blog ideas rocks because I know it will make a difference to as least one person. And as my workload increases, finding the time to write a blog is getting tough! But when my community speaks, I listen.
With this topic, I went one step further and asked my Snapchat community to share their number one tip for managing a remote team. I wanted a well-rounded point of view, and the feedback was great! Their Snapchat handles are included in parentheses.
The deal is, and it’s no secret – managing is a not an easy endeavor whether it’s in-house or with contracted/remote workers.
I will outline several strategies to be successful with remote management, but there’s a singular element that MUST be an active part of everything we do – communication.
Tough love time – I believe that communication solves everything, and to bypass it when managing a team (regardless of our busy schedules) is foolish. Teams are a direct reflection of our investment, and if it’s not working then it’s time to take an objective look in the mirror.
As managers, we can’t control everything or everyone, but we can be purposeful about learning to be better at what we do on a consistent basis.
“But how do I manage a team that I can’t see? How do I stay on top of what they’re doing? Or ensure they aren’t off playing video games or shopping at the mall?”
Short answer is – you don’t.
And quite frankly, as long as their work is in process and/or complete, it shouldn’t matter what they’re doing. Your main focus is getting the work done in the most efficient time with the brightest quality. And that comes by respecting the people you work with, giving trust, communicating, and providing systems to grow a happy environment.
Let’s jump into the main components of managing a remote team successfully, and I’ll interweave the wisdom shared via my Snapchat community.
1. Learn how to interact with your team on an individual level.
Personality tests have always been fascinating. I love running them on myself and those in my life, so it was no different when I brought together a team in 2014.
My initial team at ARCH was comprised of people I knew well. They were personal friends and social media colleagues, so trust came innately. But it quickly became obvious that I needed to know them more intimately, i.e. how they work best, what they’re most passionate about, and what they love doing outside of work.
A few years back, I read “The 5 Love Languages,” and it gave me a deeper understanding of my loved ones. Fortunately, the author had just released “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace,” which was the same book with a business frame of mind.
At ARCH, this test is one of the first introductions to who we are as a team. It’s the first thing a new member does, and their results are posted on the team Slack channel. It generate discussion, and as a manager it helps me to understand all the important things – how to communicate when they mess up, how they communicate best, and how they receive praise.
While some managers may scoff at such an idea, it has been monumental in helping me understand my team, and provide them communication in a manner best suited for them as individuals.
“The key is to earn the trust of those you work with and serve as a leader who motivates and drives the team,” says Morgan Mandriota (@morgmand).
When we take an active interest in the people we work with it sets everyone up for success.
I’ve worked with managers who didn’t give a crap about me unless I performed, which made me feel used. Or didn’t provide me feedback on my work, which left me frustrated and confused about how well I was doing.
As you can imagine, neither one of those scenarios garnered anything close to my best work. Treat your team the way you would want to be treated, and never lose sight of that perspective.
2. Set clear expectations.
This is a biggie.
I’ve worked for companies that didn’t set clear expectations, and it leads to insecurity, doubt, and failure. Also, you can almost guarantee they won’t ever satisfy you.
Setting clear expectations from the start is important because it paves the way for success on both ends of the relationship. When someone knows what they’re responsible for, they have clear guidelines for what must be done and how they will be measured.
But setting clear expectations means you have to slow down to be clear and concise. More than once, I assigned something only to have the person come back with questions or frustrations. And when looking at what was communicated, I shook my head at how poorly it was executed because I didn’t stop and fully explain.
“My #1 tip would be.. you must ensure everyone has a clear understanding of the work they must do and how they will be measured,” says Michael Abrams (@michaeltabrams).
You think setting expectations is a waste of time? Think about ALL the time you’ll lose when they’re baffled and/or try to do it and can’t. Or do it incorrectly.
Save yourself the aggravation.
3. Accountability must occur in front of the team.
This was a huge learn for me.
Not long after launching ARCH, I realized that staying on top of everyone was a major waste of my time, made them feel like I was micro-managing, and created a lot of irritation. These guys were used to working independently, so I needed to come up with a creative solution to allow me to stay on top of what we completed and respect their space.
Thankfully, I found the solution in idongethis, an app that allows employees to record tasks they’ve completed or are in the process of completing for that day. At the end of the day, it sends out an email reminder to update it with any tasks that haven’t been included. And the next morning, it sends out a full report to everyone on progress.
It integrates with Slack (more on that later), incorporates a messaging element (so team members can comment on tasks completed), and is super easy to use.
It saves me time and makes the team happy because I don’t need to constantly check in and find out what is being done. And most importantly, it creates a team vibe because they see what others are accomplishing.
4. Utilize the right tools.
Tools, tools, tools – there are so many! It’s crucial to your the team that the right tools are discovered and put to use. It’s also crucial to not jump around with new tools unless it’s absolutely necessary.
“The vast majority of your communication will take place on email, Slack, calls, etc. You need to be able to communicate what you are working on and what your teammates can help with on a consistent basis,” said Jessica Malnik (@JessicaMalnik).
More tough love – do NOT expect your team to use what you don’t and/or incorporate anything into practice that you don’t. We are the managers, we’re the leaders, and we must always lead by example.
Due to the nature of my agency, I chose to incorporate tools that could be used from anywhere, on any device, and be easily adaptable at any time.
ARCH tools are as follows:
1. Slack. This is our team messaging platform. It integrates with almost everything, namely Google docs, Dropbox, idonethis, etc. They have an excellent iOS app, so it can be used on the go. It allows for public and private discussions, houses projects, and is SEARCHABLE. We need to be able to locate information, files or discussion at any given moment. In addition, and most importantly, Slack GREATLY cuts back on email. You should not use email for anything that isn’t necessary because it can get lost or overlooked. My team knows that virtually all communication is via Slack, unless it’s with a client.
2. Asana. This is our project management platform. Initially, we used Teamwork, but found it to be too bulky and complicated for our projects. I used Asana on a personal basis for a few years, like the simplicity, and for time sake chose to utilize it as the project management platform. I can color code (one of my favorite things in life), assign projects and tasks, easily create team calendars and to-do lists, and house client information.
Bottom line, sometimes the best app isn’t the new, fancy one, but the one you’re used to using – as a manager. It’s important to make a choice that is easy to explain to the team because they’ll have questions on how to use it, and you should know and/or have a quick way to find out. Chances are that if you’re struggling with a tool, they are too.
3. idonethis. Mentioned above in #3, this is a major component to running a successful remote team – the ability to track where folks are at in their workflow and what they’re doing easily.
4. Google docs. This is where the lion-share of our systems and client information is shared. It’s a paid account, so it’s secure. Pro tip: Use it for media instead of Dropbox. It’s crazy cheap, and will give you the same features.
And that’s it!
The best advice I can give you concerning tools is to find what works and stick with it. There’s always going to be a new toy on the market to play with, but it’s not worth your time or your team’s time to learn if it doesn’t fulfill a major need.
5. Create in-house atmospheres by personal interactions.
Have you ever been on a conference call and everyone is trying to speak while also trying to be polite? Have you been working online for so long that you forget who’s on the other side? Do you find yourself communicating too emotionally?
I think the online community suffers from a lack of compassion, and I don’t necessarily think that is our fault. It’s easy to forget we are dealing with legit humans on the other side because our world’s largest mode of operating is via electronic equipment.
“Communication is KEY.. and often. Via video and audio conference calls, we held meetings EVERY week, even if there wasn’t anything significant to discuss. Recognition in front of peers works WONDERS! And builds trust, respect, and appreciation for the supervisor,” said Liz (@lovelycreationz).
To create an in-house atmosphere, meetings should be conducted via video. Why? Because seeing faces will cultivate emotion among the team for one another, makes everyone stay focused on the meeting, makes it easier to share ideas and information without cutting one another off, and keeps frustration to a minimum.
Even though everyone won’t always look nice or have the best background setting, it’s important to find ways to remind one another we are a team, and we’re comprised of real people.
6. Have employees participate in the process.
When people feel like their opinion matters, it will turn the tide of what you get out of them almost immediately.
“Have everyone share their work goals and how they are progressing. Share successes and failures with the group. The group must become vulnerable and transparent with each other to become a cohesive group. When they feel they can freely share where they need help, then others will immediately step in to help them. This breeds an amazing sense of team and not siloed individuals,” says Michael Abrams (@michaeltabrams).
During weekly meetings, ARCH team members are given a chance to air any questions or concerns. In addition, they are constantly asked for their opinions on projects and ideas. My team knows that while I have the ultimate say, their opinion is VERY important to me, even if I disagree.
Allowing disagreement has been one of the hardest things for me to deal with as a manager because my ego doesn’t like to be questioned, haha. But I know it’s an important element in developing a healthy atmosphere for the team. And now I’m much better at dealing with it.
“We use the term RAZZLE DAZZLE when we’re feeling overwhelmed (usually with work stuff) and desperately want a time out! We have LOTS of other fun code words that makes working remotely fun and helps us stay connected,” shared Shanon Whiteswan (@ShanonWhiteswan).
Bottom line, we will NEVER get someone’s best when they don’t feel necessary or needed, and when they can’t be honest. It’s just not possible.
When I ask for the best from the team, it means I have to be willing to hear things I don’t want to in order to create what I do.
7. Be transparent.
This should be a no-brainer, but isn’t. Over the years, I worked with businesses who opened themselves up to their employees, so they could see what was happening. And I worked for those who didn’t. The difference in team atmosphere is enormous.
As Peter Freeman (@peterfreeman) said, “Be open and transparent, and build relationships with your people as it’s often easier for staff (and bosses) to hide their issues/feelings without the benefit of face to face interaction.”
If you want loyalty and trust, you’ve got to earn it. Just because we’re managers or business owners doesn’t entitle us to anything besides the bare minimum. We have to show our team that we are worth being followed, that we know what we’re talking about, lead by example, allow open discussion, and continually be cultivating an environment that brings out the strengths of each individual.
It is up to us to do the right thing and treat people with respect.
Everything on this list goes back to healthy communication. If we maintain this priority in all of our decisions, managing a remote team will be an enriching and enjoyable experience.