Remote work is fast becoming the norm. Because of technology and the rise of the younger generation in managerial positions, remote work is embraced now more than ever. Upwork, one of the largest freelancing platforms in the world, published the Future of Workforce Report 2019 that supports this claim.

The report highlights that about 69% of those surveyed have team members who are allowed to work remotely. The results also estimate that by 2028, 73% of all departments in an organization will have remote workers, with 33% of them being full-time employees working remotely. In less than 10 years from now, Millenials and Gen Z workers are estimated to comprise 58% of the U.S. total workforce. That’s more than half of the working population.

Gone are the days when employees are expected to sit within the four corners of an office to get things done. We are gearing towards location independence and flexible working arrangements. With remote work and flexible talent becoming the norm, a different approach to team management is required. How can you effectively adjust to this new way of working and how can you ensure your teams work efficiently despite the distance?

What are Remote Teams?

To have a common understanding, remote work is an arrangement where employees do their job outside the traditional office environment. Remote work promotes location independence and is tied to the belief that employees don’t need to be in an office to perform their duties and become productive. This working style also takes advantage of technology to help teams effectively work together.

In the same manner, remote teams are comprised of individuals who work remotely. Remote teams can be located in the same time zone or spread across different ones. They can also be a fully distributed team with nomadic team members.

How to Effectively Manage Remote Teams

With the challenges that come with remote work, some managers may find it hard to effectively manage their teams. The idea of not having to see your team (and what they’re doing) can make some managers anxious. Then again, if you’re still asking how you can “monitor” your team’s work remotely, then you might not be ready for remote work at all. To do remote work, you must achieve a level of trust between you and your team and give them the autonomy they need to succeed.

But if you’re all up and geared for it, here are five tips to effectively manage your remote team.

Have a Remote Work Policy

Apart from being explicit about the tasks you assign to your remote team members, it’s also important that any ground rules for remote working be understood from the get-go. For instance, will you be needing an overlap time for those who work in different time zones? How soon do you expect your remote team members to respond to queries or issues? Are there specific productivity metrics that your remote team member should be aware of?

As employees set their own work schedules by working remotely, these must be bound by the availability, responsiveness, and performance metrics that you would expect from them. A word of caution about productivity metrics, focus more on outcomes and accomplishments rather than hours worked. Time spent online does not necessarily equate to productive time.

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Create an Inclusive Culture

If you’re working with both a local and a remote team, it can be easy to take remote teams into secondary consideration. But if you want to keep your remote team members engaged, you must include them in every decision and program you make. Treat your remote teams as you would your local employees.

Setup regular catch-ups where both your local and remote teams are present. Town halls and team huddles can be set up via video conferencing to include everyone.

Schedule one on ones with your remote team members and follow through with them as regularly as possible. This will make them feel that they are an integral part of the company and can help alleviate the loneliness that may come with remote work. If you’re a purely distributed team, then this becomes all the more important.

Make Your Process Explicit

For work to run smoothly, there should be a clear process in place as to how everyone will work. Are there reviews and approvals that need to be performed before an output is considered done? How about handling issues? Remote teams are no stranger to problems. When this happens, there must be a clear communication strategy in place so that work can continue as soon as possible. To whom should remote team workers escalate to when they encounter bottlenecks to their tasks? Ensure that everyone in the team knows and works according to the process that you’ve set as this will help you achieve a stable flow of work.

Invest in Remote-Friendly Tools

Remote work is possible because of technology. Your team must be equipped with the necessary tools to perform their duties and collaborate with their team wherever they are. Determine the tools you’ll use for video conferencing, messaging and collaboration, and file storage and sharing, to name a few. There are many free and paid tools that you can explore for these.

Last but not least, determine what project or task management tool you’ll use. This is a critical ingredient to the success of any remote team. With a project management tool, everyone in the team can know what’s being worked on and what task they should pick up next. You can explore using a Kanban board for your remote team.

Trust Your Team

Trust is the most important ingredient when managing remote teams. Some companies are reluctant to let employees work remotely because they fear that the quality of work will get compromised. But did you know that remote workers are more engaged and focused than in-office workers? The flexibility that comes with remote working allows employees to ditch all the stress that comes with commuting to and from work. Remote workers are spared from common office distractions such as gossip and unnecessary meetings. This boosts employee morale and overall well-being which makes them more creative and productive. Ultimately, the company benefits in the long run.

Remote Working is the Future

The Millenial and Gen Z population will strive to keep a work-life balance and would opt for a company that offered flexible working arrangements than those who don’t. As they fill up the majority of the workforce, remote work will become a necessity for companies to retain and attract talent. Is your company remote ready? If you’re just starting your remote team, these guide questions can help you kickstart your company’s remote work journey.

Are you currently handling remote teams? What tips do you have to manage remote teams effectively? Share your comments!

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About the Author: Lena Boiser

Lena Boiser is an Agile enthusiast. Starting off her career as a Software Business Analyst in 2010, she eventually performed other roles including Project Manager and IT Business Manager. When she was immersed in Agile methodologies in 2014, Lena found her way through honing her craft and eventually became a Certified Scrum Product Owner. In 2017, after 7 years of working in the corporate world, Lena started her own remote consulting practice. Today, she provides project management and Scrum Product Ownership services to various businesses including software development companies, e-Commerce business owners, and small to medium sized companies. She believes that even teams working remotely can harness the benefits of Agile in order to deliver results for their companies. In her free time she likes to write. One day she could be writing about Agile, the next she could be writing anything about fashion or travel.