Leading Remote Teams

By Sudarshan Reddy
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Flexible work arrangements (FWAs) are an important recruiting and retention tool for businesses. Since flexible work arrangements urgently becoming the popular new normal, project leaders need to use technology to communicate and collaborate with remote workers. With improved technology, rising transportation costs, and the emergence of viruses, the reasons for working remotely are starting to outweigh those for working together on-site.

Working remotely creates a new set of challenges that are being amplified by the added stress of school closures and by the anxiety many are facing during this pandemic. As a leader, having the right mindset, structure and strategies to enhance communication and building a team bond will help you ensure that you manage your remote team effectively. The sudden move from the workplace to a home space can take an emotional toll on people when they no longer have social contact with work friends and colleagues. It becomes imperative to keep your remote team productively focused on required techniques, tools, and soft skills that may be outside a project manager’s traditional purview.  Meetings and frequent check-ins both with the whole team and individual team members need to sit at the top of your to-do list.

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Selecting employees suited for remote work

Just as it takes specific techniques, tools, and soft skills to effectively lead a remote team, working remotely requires its unique combination of work ethic, technical savvy, and personal attributes. The manager has to work with the HR to ensure that right people are hired for remote working. HR should select people not only right for the positing but also the candidate should have all those qualities fitting to work remotely too. Begin to establish a sense of community and encourage team members to let you know whenever they need any kind of support whether related directly to their work tasks or to any challenges they might be personally facing in the new situation. Develop team norms which support the team in self managing behaviours, practices and performance. Like an office procedure, establish a daily 30-minutes meeting where the entire team check-ins. These morning check-ins, no matter how short are invaluable for maintaining a sense of community, checking in on how team members are doing, and to stay focused on key priorities so that momentum and performance is maintained.  To keep in additional check, you may need to invest in the employee tracking software. The employee tracking technology not only benefits management in evaluating the performance of the employees, but it also offers multiple benefits to employees. PulseHRM strongly recommend its newly introduced Employee tracking system for your organization.

Create outlets to replace missed outlets.

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For those of us used to office life, those quick, personal interactions at our desks or in the cafeteria, birthday cake in the lunch room and the days of the “fly-by” or the hallway conversation are temporarily gone. Remote employees miss out on these interactions. These need to be replaced by other means.  Create dedicated digital spaces for celebrating special days like birthday. Conduct team bonding activities that don’t require employees to be in the same location. People update during a team meeting or private chats, finding ways to share what’s happening in our personal lives. A manager should give leverage for the team to indulge in such not work-related topics during meetings. Creating some personal space will do wonders for your mental health and help you to avoid going down the path of burnout.

Communication challenges

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Both managers and their employees often express concerns about the lack of face-to-face interaction. Many a times employees struggle with reduced access to managerial support and communication one of the training series is a must for all newly hired employees which can help their teams overcome basic hesitation of reaching out to the seniors. One should consider being clear on how to communicate properly in tools the team uses for daily interactions, such as discussion boards, kanban boards, customer relationship management software, or other systems. Creating a psychologically safe environment encourages flexible work arrangements.

Managers should make themselves accessible using tools like skype chats and thus be very supportive and helpful to his team. They should make available all necessary information to their team in a shared calendar as well through other tools like web conferencing as necessary to communicate. Encourage the team to try new tools and software and sharing them with the rest of the team in tools like Google Drive. This allows all in the team including the manager to learn.

Make available sharing advice from project professionals and also add blogs from other business leaders and managers on how they tackle issues. This will help the team to overcome their hesitancy and solve many of their basic doubts just like a FAQ.

Time zone overlapping:

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A manager should first understand that different team members might have different time zones due to their location and it would be incorrect to expect team members to work in odd hours. Train the team to always schedule an overlap.  Communicating these differences on a shared calendar or posting it on a shared discussion board will help the team members to collaborate easily.

Brainstorming sessions

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Manager can churn out occasional get together for remote teams- like my previous team at White Coat where we were all in the office, would occasionally get together for a FABSOB – Friday afternoon brainstorming session over beers. That 4 O’clock session was a great time everyone would look forward to. We would talk about challenges and how we could solve them and many times these discussions lead to many not work-related topics too. These can be also planned once in two weeks using a web conferencing with a beer in hand sharing and discussing with enthusiasm filled in the heart.

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