Best Practices: How to Effectively Manage a Remote Team
The sudden shift to remote working in recent days has put a particular strain on managers. They’re finding themselves hustling to figure out how they can keep motivating and leading their teams now that they are dispersed.
This means managers can no longer rely on “drive-by” conversations at the coffee maker or by passing a team member in the hallway. The good news is that, in many ways, with a little structure and consistency, managing a team remotely actually has its advantages.
Here are some things we do at Onix, where more than 50% of our 250+ employees work remotely across the United States and Canada.
Hold a Daily Standup or Regular Staff Call
The Marketing team here at Onix practices Agile, so for us, we have a daily standup meeting to start our day. Some of our team members regularly work remotely so they connect with the team via Google Hangouts Meet for virtual daily face-to-face contact. Just because they aren’t in the office doesn’t mean they can sit out this important daily meeting.
On Mondays, we take a deeper dive into each tile on our Kanban board. Tuesday through Thursday, each team member shares what they did yesterday, what they are doing today and what they are stuck on. During Friday’s call, we celebrate successes and do a retrospective for our weeklong sprint and then go through our non-Monday agenda.
Whether you choose to have a daily standup during this time of crisis (which I highly recommend, whether or not you are doing Agile), you absolutely need to get the team together on a call at least weekly. This helps them hear what other team members are working on and to get on the same page. It’s easy to duplicate work when you don’t have this kind of all-hands meeting in place.
Make Time for Regular One-on-Ones (or O3s, as we call them)
In addition to getting everyone together as a team, each team member needs to receive regular feedback, get decisions from their manager and have their work prioritized. Your team is likely under a great deal of stress with this change in working style. An O3 gives them a chance to ask questions they might not be comfortable sharing in front of others. Again, this is something you can do virtually through a video Hangout.
We do O3s on a biweekly basis with a special monthly O3 dedicated to formal feedback on what the team member is doing well and what can be improved. Concrete goals are attached to both. However, if remote working is new or temporary accommodation during COVID-19, our recommendation would be to hold O3s on a weekly basis. As a manager, holding your team together is your most important job right now.
Don’t Ignore Special Occasions
Because this current situation should be temporary, there’s always an option to postpone birthday and anniversary celebrations. The key concept here is to postpone and reschedule — not cancel. No one should miss out on being celebrated because of our current circumstances.
However, if you need to have your celebration on a particular date — get creative! Earlier in my career, our team managed a holiday celebration over a conference call. Everyone shipped their “Secret Santa” gift to the recipient and we opened them on the call. The novelty of it ended up being a ton of fun. Is it the same as getting together in person? Of course not. But it still ended up being a blast.
Develop and Enforce Communication Guidelines
If your team is new to remote working, it’s helpful to put together a guide that covers how and where you will communicate with each other. For instance, it’s a best practice to not make big “asks” in chat because that is more appropriate in email or a project management tool. Chat should be for a quick question or as a replacement for those hallway conversations.
Do you use Google Workspace (formerly G Suite)? If so, it’s helpful to encourage your team to collaborate directly in documents rather than sending a million emails around.
What about meetings? Will you allow a non-vital meeting to be scheduled just two hours in advance? Consider putting some guidelines in place here. There’s a good chance meetings will proliferate when you first go remote.
Take Care of Yourself
While I often see articles about “how to be productive when working from home,” I find I have the opposite problem. When I’m home, there are no boundaries. Since I’ll be home anyway, I generally open my email right when I wake up, therefore, starting my day a couple of hours early. And why take a lunch break when I can grab a snack and get back to work?
At the end of the day, it’s easy to find myself working a couple of hours late because I’m in the groove. As you can see, you can easily end up working five extra hours a day without even noticing it — and that leads to burnout pretty quickly.
Give yourself permission to step away from your workspace for lunch. Take a stroll if the weather is nice. Play with your pets. Do those dishes. Fold some laundry. Taking your normal lunch period should not cause you any guilt. Bonus points if you use it to get out of the house (if your area isn’t on lockdown).
I’m a big fan of the phrase flight attendants always tell you before a flight, “Ensure your oxygen mask is on before helping others.” You have a team to manage. You must take care of yourself before you can take care of them.
And also, please don’t hesitate to contact us if you want to talk with us about how you can make managing your team from home easier for everyone.