We have been working with organisations and their teams since 2015, and even before the pandemic, some of those were remote. Here's what we've learned about managing remote teams - both our own and those we've worked with:
The two most important ingredients for successful management of remote teams are:
1) The team culture
This is the personality of your organisation - it plays a crucial role in the happiness and motivation of all employees. But the culture that existed before remote working really took hold won't necessarily function well for your remote team now; it will need rethinking and redefining for the new world of remote work to make sure the team stays functional, aligned and content.
2) Relationships between the team members
Never, ever, EVER, underestimate the power of forging strong inter and intra-team relationships by bringing colleagues together to get to know each other. Whether you organise some virtual team time or make time for a little 'office banter' in weekly meetings, team members work better together when there's a connection between them. See it as creating a workplace support system!
We'll share our tips shortly, but first, here's a snapshot of the remote working landscape from 2023. As you'd expect, there's positives and negatives.
Employees feel pretty strongly about working remotely:
12.7% of full-time employees work from home (this will rise to 22% by 2025)
28.2% of employees work a hybrid model
98% of workers would like to work remotely at least some of the time
57% of employees would look for a new job if their company didn't enable remote working
These figures does not include full-time roles that cannot be worked remotely (medics, emergency service, teachers, etc) so with that in mind, the stats are pretty compelling (Source: Forbes Advisor).
When so many employees already work remotely, maybe only spending one or two days in an office each week, it's clear that remote and hybrid work is not going away. Luckily it's come a long way since the early days of the pandemic and many businesses spend time online together in ways that feel normal! Certainly digital tools like Slack, Miro and Google docs facilitate collaboration for virtual teams (more about digital tools later).
Working remotely is brilliant for many people and the benefits are plenty too, including the ability to easily connect colleagues in different locations, flexibility around personal life and bendy work hours so that employees have more control over their day. But...
Remote working has created a new set of problems for team leads to manage:
Poor productivity: people go adrift because they lose track of the team's objectives and purpose
Poor collaboration: colleagues don't know each other very well, if at all
Company culture: gets lost in the cracks between what it was and what it needs to be to support the remote work world
Long working hours: less delineation between work and non-work time
Loneliness: fewer human interactions in the work day other than meetings
In fact, 53% of remote workers say it’s hard to feel connected to their coworkers
The good news is that you can mitigate against remote team problems by bringing people together more often, more intentionally and more meaningfully.
Bringing people to gether is pure magic✨
We are big advocates of creating moments for human connection; it forms the backbone of all our work and we frequently witness the incredible impact this simple thing has on individuals and their organisations - from the worker bees to the leadership team and ultimately, the bottom line, it's positive all the way. Our Cross-Cultural Collaboration programme was designed to inspire remote global teams to create something bigger than the sum of their parts - see how this worked for logistics giant, Stuart.
There are many ways that your remote team can spend time together; you could allocate as little as a few hours each month for remote team building activities, like playing virtual games, or creating a psychological safe space where people can talk about their mental health and what might be stopping them being fully present at work. All inter-colleague interactions are incredibly important as they promote collaboration, communication, and people's sense of wellbeing at work.
Appreciate the value of informal time together
Team meetings over video calls to discuss budgets and deadlines don't count as getting-to-know-you time... By informal time, we mean team members coming together to show each other a baby picture or tell stories about their pets/children interrupting virtual meetings. Remote team managers should encourage personal and open communication as a way to help team members get to know eachother. This ensures that colleagues feel like colleagues, not just a random group of people who happen to work from home together.
We'll say it again... do not underestimate the power of colleagues bonding, knowing, understanding and caring about each other - it leads to beautiful working relationships!
How can managers help team members achieve this when they're not in the same office, or in any office?!
Facilitate moments of togetherness
As remote teams can't rely on impromptu office cooler or kitchen chats to get to know eachother, team leads have to intentionally boost connections, giving team members time and space to come together, creating moments of energy, serendipity, ideas, chat, feedback, and so on. Facilitating such moments is a great way to do some virtual team building as well as generate cross-team, cross-departmental and cross-function connections, no matter where people are in the world.
Team members can learn from each other
Young people coming into their first or second jobs used to learn from the people around them at work - they could observe, shadow, listen, ask questions. But how do they learn now, not only from their own team or department, but from others? Team leads and managers have to create intentional moments of connection between colleagues because it’s rarely happening by osmosis or serendipity any more. These moments of connection help build a culture of learning.
And to prevent things going sour...
Co-create remote rituals and routines
Together as a team, decide how you work can best together - particularly how the team communicates. Communication structures will provide clarity, consistency and keep remote team members connected. It can be as simple as Use Slack! Don't get stuck in email chains!
Don't forget to make feedback one of your remote team routines, but make sure you provide the skills and tools for both giving and receiving feedback so that it's effective. You want to reduce conflict, not create it! How about setting up a dedicated Slack channel for feedback - we call ours #kudos and give random praise there when we feel someone in the team has gone above and beyond.
Now, here's those tips we promised:
10 tips for managing your remote team with a magic touch
Or: 10 ways to make sure your remote team is communicative, creative and collaborative!
Every team member is valuable and as the remote team manager, it's up to you to set clear expectations, making sure that everyone working from home knows how the team functions, what the culture is, and even who everyone is!
1. Create connections between remote employees
Team cohesion depends on it
We've already banged this drum, but it bears reiterating - make sure your team members know each other. Do team building, do awaydays, do offsites, do video conferencing, do online events, encourage instant messaging, create a virtual whiteboard where people can leave messages for one another or post something personal. Do whatever it takes for your team to feel connected and a sense of belonging even when they're never in the same place physically.
2. Do tours of remote working locations
Get the team to share their office environment/office space
In the summer of 2020 we shared some quite eccentric photos of our makeshift outdoor offices... Imagine laptops in cardboard boxes fashioned to block out the sun the screen, but allow the human to soak up vitamin D... It might sound silly, but colleagues being able to see each other's home office provides a context wider than the realm of video conference calls, reminding everyone that colleagues have lives outside of work.
3. Connect team members that usually don't work together
They might become firm friends
Work is where many of us used to make lasting friendships, but of course that's much harder now. This has several negative repercussions, including lonliness and lack of belonging (source: Forbes). So, create opportunities for team members that don't usually work together to meet... You never know what might happen - they might cross-pollinate their skills and come up with some amazing ideas!
4. Try live remote coworking
Go with us on this one - it's better than you might think
You can simply have an ongoing Zoom call that anyone can join if they feel like it, or use one of the many dedicated apps or platforms, like Flow Club or VR Gather.
Benefits include feeling less lonely in your home office, being more productive because there's more of a sense of 'live' accountability, and social interactions that could lead to an alternative perspective on a challenge you were facing.
It's probably worth establishing some rules in the remote coworking space to make sure everyone behaves! Though your cat might ignore the rules.
5. Encourage feedback
Make it a habit
At Abracademy we have multiple feedback rituals - ask us about Feedback Funday or Exploding Kittens [mailto link]... Make sure, however, that you inform your remote workers the art of feedback - which means teaching them how to give and receive feedback so that it is a sensitive and constructive process. Feedback is intended to reduce or remove conflict between team members, not create it!
6. Workout, meditate or dance together over video
Yes, you will feel foolish at first
But you might also feel less stressed after some desk yoga or closer to colleagues after some silly dancing together. Like feedback, done sensitively and inclusively, it can enhance the work day and one's sense of belonging at work.
7. Communicate over group chat 💬
Break the ice with non face-to-face comms
We've all felt Zoom fatigue so consider the advantages of group chats in a dedicated Teams or Slack channel:
It's flexible: people can post a message on their own time zone and it can be read when others elsewhere are awake and ready.
It's asynchronous: giving people time to respond when they can give the matter due attention.
It's inclusive: by accommodating employees with different communication preferences or abilities.
It's diverse: allowing for cross-cultural and multilingual communication, making it easier to work with teams all around the world.
8. Hold lunch and learn sessions
Short and hunger-appeasing
We've heard it many times - taking time out of the work day to learn is great in theory, but difficult to manage in practice. So help your team members with some convenient, engaging, knowledge-sharing, growth and development boosting lunch and learn sessions. Teach them and feed them, win-win for everyone!
9. Set clear expectations
To achieve goals and mitigate misunderstandings
This is an important part of being a team manager, especially a remote team manager because, as we've already outlined, communication can easily disintegrate in remote teams. Setting realistic expectations provides clarity, guidelines and boundaries around how to work together and what the performance standards are in the team. It creates a framework for success and creates a positive team culture because ambiguity is removed.
10. Challenge remote employees
Encourage their initiative
Here are some ways to boost your remote team's productivity and sense of satisfaction:
Foster ownership of individual tasks as contributors to the team's successes
Encourage independent decision-making to resolve problems move things forward
Set ambitious, but realistic goals (and help people achieve them!)
Have regular check-ins for updates on plans, progress and problems
11. Purchase software tools that facilitate remote working
Oops, we said ten suggestions, but we lied - here's a freebie
There are so many tools that make remote working easy, enjoyable and collaborative. Don't skimp on the freebie version! Invest in your team with software that helps them work better remotely. We use Slack, Miro, MURAL, Typeform, Surfer, Canva, Hubspot, Mailchimp and Notion to name a few.
TLDR... the key takeaways:
Review your culture and update it for the remote work world
Foster strong relationships between remote workers
Bring team members together often and in different ways, both professionally and socially
Create moments for remote workers to bond and to learn from each other
Create rituals and routines together, including how to communicate as a remote team
Offsites and awaydays are a great opportunity to bring colleagues together informally - encourage friendly competition, elevate teamwork skills, collaborate, practice problem solving, boost morale, increase job satisfaction and see team leads in a new light. Here are our awayday ideas: