Managing Remote Teams – 7 Deadly Sins and 6 Keys to Success

the challenges and keys to lead or manage remote team

Managing Remote Teams – 7 Deadly Sins and 6 Keys to Success

Managing Remote Teams – 7 Deadly Sins and 6 Keys to Success 1024 586 Dr. David Arrington

Managing Remote Teams - 7 Deadly Sins and 6 Keys to Success 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread around the world, there has been a massive realignment in the modern workplace, requiring millions of people to work from home. Almost 88% of the organizations have encouraged their employees to work from home since we entered this crisis.

Working from home, remote work, and virtual teams have become the new way work gets done.

In a message, Eric S. Yuan, Founder and CEO of Zoom, has mentioned that the company has crossed over 200 million daily meeting participants due to the requirements of remote teams to communicate through video conferencing.

While many companies are successful as remote teams, there are team leaders who are still struggling to successfully manage remote teams.

In an interview for Marketplace, Matthew Grimm, who leads Audio Engineers at Activision said, “Keeping people on task can be a difficult thing because you don’t see them every day,” he further added, “There was a lot of confusion and miscommunication, people took that very personally, where talking face-to-face that never would have happened.”

Managing your remote employees and maintaining productivity are two of the main hurdles of the “New Normal.”

In fact, a report by the United Nations International Labour Organization found that while employees are more productive when they work outside from their workplace, they find it difficult to find the boundary between work and life.

In a report by Buffer, remote teams have their own set of struggles. Some common struggles are improper communication, loneliness, distractions, etc. 

manage remote team struggle

Image Source - Buffer

Apart from the struggles listed by Buffer, leading virtual teams can pose its own set of unique challenges. 

You should know what those challenges are so you can avoid them. 

Let’s take a look at them.

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The 7 Deadly Sins of Managing Remote Teams 

As the world struggles to come to terms with remote work, it is no surprise that many team leaders are struggling to manage their remote workers successfully. 

In an interview with Marketplace, Eric Reddy, who leads the sales team at Reward Gateway, said, “There’s not a ton of introverted salespeople out there, this is a very unique setting for people who are traditionally extroverted, love to jump on the phones, love to talk to people. I’m just noticing a challenge to keep people as motivated and energized as they might have been when they were looking at you in the eye every single day,” he added.

So, what do the problems or sins of managing remote teams look like? Let’s find out.

1. Expecting Your Team To Be Constantly Available

Working more hours does not increase the total output. In fact, hours worked is a terrible measure of anyone’s productivity. When managing remote teams, it’s okay to be curious about how engaged your team is with their work assignments, but expecting your team to be available all the time is unreasonable and a recipe for burnout and frustration.

Expecting your team to be constantly available adds unnecessary stress, leads to exhaustion, and will negatively impact your overall productivity and morale.

2. Expecting All Interactions to Be Video Calls

There’s a weird echo on video calls. A dozen heads stare.

While Zoom calls are on the rise during the COVID-19 Pandemic due to remote work, there is nothing more irritating than having a video conference without having an agenda.

Team members can easily waste 4.5 hours or more in unproductive video conference meetings every week. 

One of my executive coaching clients mentioned that having constant video calls is more exhausting than regular audio-only conference calls. There is the feeling that you are being watched and your facial expressions are being judged.

As a team leader, you can always limit the video calls to those that are necessary to gain productivity for better management. Encourage emails and quick phone calls as a less taxing alternative.

3. Not Expecting Conflicts & Disagreements

Whether you are working remotely or in the same office, conflict is a part of every team’s story. Even under the best circumstances, remote working affords many opportunities for misunderstandings and conflicts.

Conflict can arise for a variety of reasons, and in an online environment, can go unnoticed for longer periods of time. When conflicts are left unmanaged, it can damage the overall productivity of any remote team.

So when you’re managing remote teams, you should anticipate conflicts and be prepared to deal with them in a healthy way. It may take longer to realize that conflict is occuring when working remotely, therefore understanding how to handle conflict in a remote team is a critical skill set you need to develop. 

4. Failing to Encourage and Model Trust-Based Relationships

Trust is a key ingredient for remote team success. Remember you are not just leading a team, you're leading individuals working as a team. The difference is important.

Each individual is different and they have their own career goals, personal goals, motivations, desires, expectations, and strengths, and you need to take care of all of them.

Make time to build and strengthen the relationships on your team. Just because you can’t walk down the hall to say “hi”, doesn’t mean you stop saying “hi”. You can also encourage your team members to schedule virtual coffee breaks to continue their relationships.

To manage remote teams, you need to focus on the entire team and it’s individual members so that they can feel personally connected to you. Trust is fundamental to high-performing teams so you want to encourage, create, schedule, and make opportunities for your team members to grow together and build trust.

5. Failing to Train Your Team Members

Training is a must. Just because your team is working remotely, doesn’t mean that they don't need personal development. It’s easy to forget about training in a virtual environment. Continually developing your team members’ skills needs to be a priority.

Here are some quick training tips that you should apply :

  • Conduct regular training sessions to hone skills.
  • Use screen sharing options to train your remote team. Tools like Zoom and Skype allow users to share the screen.
  • Ask them to create a list of questions that they want to ask and skills they feel they need to learn or sharpen.
  • Leverage internal training resources.
  • Identify internal mentors.
  • Bring in external trainers to augment specific skill sets.
  • Bring in external coaches.

Some people on your team might need more attention to close specific skill gaps. By making the effort to know your team members you will be able to identify training needs and opportunities on your team.

6. Omitting Team Building

A remote work environment does not remove the necessity of team building.

Another element easily lost when working remotely is team building. Remember that your team is composed of individuals and your role is to help them work together as a team. Failing to create a team spirit in a remote workplace is a common mistake.

As I mentioned above, you lead individuals and you create a team. That’s not always a straightforward process, especially when you aren’t physically in the same office.

You need to give them opportunities to connect with other team members and provide an opportunity to build a team. You can’t expect a high-performing team if you aren’t intentionally working to create one. 

7. Setting Fuzzy Goals and Objectives

In a study, 63% of team members reported that they wasted time at work because the goals, priorities, and objectives were not clear.

Fuzzy goals and objectives often result in the wrong deliverables. If you aren’t clear on what needs to be done, it won’t miraculously become clear in the minds of your team members too. 

You have to clarify your outcomes before you begin asking for results. This can be even more problematic in remote team environments. When your team members are remote, confusing or fuzzy goals and objectives can go unnoticed for much longer. 

When you are clear about “WHAT” they need to achieve and more importantly “WHY” it’s important, they will be better able to provide the right deliverables.

6 Keys to Successfully Manage Remote Teams

Now that you know the 7 deadly sins of managing remote teams, let’s look at how you can manage remote team workers successfully.

If you are struggling to create a highly productive remote team, the following steps can do wonders.

1. Build “Culture” in Your Remote Team

We all might work in the age of social distancing for an unknown period, but creating and sustaining a healthy team culture is as vital as ever.

Let’s dig deeper to understand how to create a positive organizational culture in a remote environment, while working from home.

The way you handle your people, conflicts, issues, and the other essential things, is all a part of organizational culture. 

I like to say that your organization or team culture is your internal brand.

But when you manage remote teams, you can easily forget to focus on the culture because you aren’t co-located and you are not seeing each other.

So, how can you nurture a healthy team culture in a remote work environment?

Let’s try to find out.

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, author of Remote, said, “You don’t need everyone physically together to create a strong culture. The best cultures derive from actions people actually take.“

You need to talk about culture with your team. Make your team culture a part of your regular conversations. You can make that happen by discussing why you do what you do, the way you do it. 

2. Set Clear Expectations

Setting clear and easily understood expectations not only enhances the understanding among your virtual team but it also builds their confidence in you.

It prevents them from spending time on unnecessary rework or missing deadlines. Thus, in virtual team management, it is important to set clear expectations and achievable goals.

This might be a little overwhelming because you can’t see each other. Additionally, there might be some miscommunication but, you can still set the right expectations if you plan things wisely.

Let’s see how you can easily do it

Set Expectations Early 

If you set the expectations early, at the outset of the project, it will help you manage your remote teams with less miscommunication and misunderstanding. Because the whole team will be on the same page throughout the project. 

Clear expectations also help you manage priorities and deliverables throughout the project and everyone on the team will know their roles and what outcomes they are working toward.

As the leader, you set the expectations of how often you will meet, how many hours are required for the project, the preferred or required communication processes, and the decision-making process, to name a few.

Build Trust

Imprecise workflows, ineffective tools, micro-management, and miscommunication are common leadership mistakes that undermine trust. Managing remote teams requires you to build trust among your team.

Trust is a two-way street. You have to trust your team so your team will trust you. Yup, you have to trust them before they trust you. 

Ensure Your Team Knows They Are Valued

An element of leadership is motivating and inspiring your team. Don’t take for granted that your team members know that you appreciate their efforts and diligence. 

Make sure they know by telling them, often. This is even more necessary when leading virtual teams because the distance can lead your team members to feel isolated and potentially unappreciated.

Be Transparent and Honest

The team always follows the leader. If you are transparent and honest, your team is more likely to bring you their concerns before they become critical.

Creating a transparent culture even when you are working remotely is crucial. Be honest about both the success and the failures, share your learnings with the team and let them know how you plan to move forward to meet certain expectations.

For instance, if you are struggling with the transition to working from home, you can share that but also share how you are adapting.

Encourage Team Members to Strive for Balance

As we discussed earlier, expecting your team members to be available constantly because they are remote is unsustainable and a buzzkill for their morale.

Encourage your remote team members to keep normal hours that you all agree to. You can talk to them about balancing work and life, but in a remote working environment when work and life are all happening under the same roof, you might want to encourage work/life integration.

3. Focus on Effective Team Communication

When you are managing a remote team, it’s your duty to make sure that everything runs smoothly and for this effective communication is required.

Working and leading remotely means you will have to deal with different time zones, varying internet availability, language and cultural differences, to name a few issues. 

To overcome some of these hurdles, ensure that you clarify how and when team members are to communicate. Work to create a common technology stack, set behavioral expectations, and clarify where conversations will be had. 

Venngage uses a variety of visuals and templates for effective communication with their virtual team. Apart from visuals, you can use tools like Asana, Zoom, Basecamp, Slack, Trello, Google Meet to coordinate and communicate with your virtual team.

Here are some tips to help you with effective team communication.

Schedule Meetings In Advance 

We forget things. Meetings can be one of them, especially when managing remote teams.

Since you won’t bump into your team members in the hall or in between meetings, you need to schedule your meetings in advance. This will help to build and sustain relationships that are at the heart of leadership. 

Use Easily Available Technology

Don’t reinvent the wheel when managing remote teams. There are so many solid tools that you can use to lead your team remotely. You don’t need to spin up a server or build a WordPress site. 

There are so many readily available SaaS products you can use immediately like: Dropbox, Google Drive, Workflowy, Asana, Trello, Basecamp Zoom, Skype, the list goes on. If you need to get something done, I’m sure “there’s an app for that.”

Use Live and Pre-recorded Videos

When you are managing remote teams, you will have to be both flexible and creative. You should use live and recorded videos to effectively communicate with your remote team(s).

You can use live video in meetings and video conferences and recorded video when you need to share the same message consistently or as a training tool. 

With tools like Zoom and Loom, you can record your computer screen, your voice, and face to create an instantly shareable video to convey a clear message in no time.

Encourage Social Calls

All your communication doesn't need to be about work. When managing remote teams, it’s important to encourage your remote team members to get to know one another. Teams that like each other often work better together.

You could create a Facebook Group, WhatsApp group, or Slack channel for non-work related chats.

Sacrifice, if Needed

When time zones vary widely, we often choose a specific time zone for meetings and everyone else has to adjust. Be a good example, and try to work with your remote workers to fit in their time-zone.

Don't miss out on opportunities to build trust - work late if you have to connect and communicate with your remote team. This is an essential part of managing remote teams.

4. Help Your Remote Team Gel 

Just because you have a group of people doesn’t mean you have a team. Don’t expect your team to become a high-performing team without doing the hard work of helping them to gel. In 1965, Bruce Tuckman, a psychologist, identified that a team goes through 4 stages of development and these are - forming, storming, norming, and performing.

Many teams get stuck in the storming stage where everyone is fighting for their piece of ground. 

Here is how you can help your remote team stop storming, and start performing.

Create Opportunities to Celebrate Team Wins

Even if you are managing the team remotely, your team can benefit from a little motivation every now and then. Celebrating even small wins adds a lot of positivity, and boosts morale.

Recognize and Celebrate Personal Milestones 

Remote work can be lonely. Dan Schawbel in his recent publication - “Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation” highlights how successfully you can create opportunities to know your team better and help them feel connected. 

You should celebrate personal milestones like birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations to help your team gel. When you’re managing remote teams, you want your team members to have good relationships, and in a remote environment, that takes effort and creativity. 

This can help you build cohesiveness among your team members.

5. Keep Your Team Engaged 

While adjusting to a remote work culture, employees can feel isolated and disengaged. This Gallup poll shows that almost 70% of employees are either not engaged or actively disengaged, and that was in co-located teams.

Engagement on virtual teams poses even more challenges.

Here are some tips to help you with remote team engagement.

Engage Individuals First And Then Teams

When you’re managing remote teams, you should try to be a team-oriented leader. It actually means listening to every individual within your remote team.

Always remember, your team members want a sense of belongingness. So, invest your time in each individual to create a highly engaged team.

Create A Supportive Team Culture

Before working from home was manatory, you were always a desk away to solve your team’s problem.

However, managing remote teams requires more effort, flexibility, and trust to get things done. Ensure that everyone on your team remembers to be patient, supportive, and assumes the best intent as you work virtually. 

Even when you get an employee onboard, your team culture should speak to them. You can welcome them on a video conference call and introduce them to the whole team. This way, they’ll know immediately that they are part of a larger team and have support and colleagues.

This speaks of the culture you are building on your team as well and can help you in managing remote teams well.

Organize Fun Activities

Managing remote teams means that you need to keep your team engaged too. Keeping your team engaged with some fun activities like small challenges, competitions, games, etc. is always a great idea.

For example, if fitness is your employees’ motivation, hold virtual fitness challenges, or share healthy recipes from their respective cultures to help your team members know each other better.

6. Promote Accountability 

Building a culture of accountability is essential for remote and co-located teams. It’s often the first thing I help clients with. In an interview, Jennifer Chatman, a professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business said, “There may be a few failures as your team learns to step up, but ultimately they will perform much, much better with greater accountability and less interference.”

To build trust, you need to create a culture of accountability on your remote team. 

According to Peter Bregman, an author and CEO, “Accountability is not simply about taking the blame when something goes wrong. It’s not a confession. Accountability is about delivering on a commitment. It’s a responsibility to an outcome, not just a set of tasks. It’s taking initiative with thoughtful, strategic follow-through.” 

So, how can you make your remote-team accountable? Let’s take a look.

Clearly Define “Success” To Your Team

It is important to define success for your team members with their roles and contributions. Define key performance indicators (KPIs) for them. 

Make sure your remote team members know how their success will be measured based on those KPIs. This is a crucial part of managing remote teams.

Choose To Be An Accessible Leader

Having one-on-one meetings with each team member to make sure they are not facing any issues is a great approach to help them succeed. By having regular meetings with your team members, you can identify and correct any issues before they have a chance to impact the team.

Don't Micromanage

When employees work from home, leaders have a tendency to micromanage, say experts. Micromanaging reduces productivity and kills motivation. 

According to Steven Covey, “If you can hire people whose passion intersects with the job, they won’t require any supervision at all. They will manage themselves better than anyone could ever manage them. Their fire comes from within, not from without. Their motivation is internal, not external.”

You should focus on output instead of their activities. Give your team the freedom they need to perform. 

Conclusion 

While managing remote teams can pose different challenges, by following the suggestions outlined within this post, you can become an effective remote team leader.

Additionally, you’ll be able to create a remote team culture that will keep your team members motivated and engaged. There are several ways to make the remote-work experience highly productive, engaging, and enjoyable for your team.

To create sustainable change within your remote team and organization, download the ultimate leadership checklist and figure out the secret recipe to success.

I am sure you got amazing tips from this article about managing remote teams. 

So what are you waiting for? Make an effort to bring in the change you want to see. Want more help leading your remote team? Check out my Quick Course on Leading Remote Teams.

If you are managing your team remotely, share your thoughts about it in the comments below. 

Dr. David Arrington

David a husband, father and the principal of Arrington Coaching. He and his team work with leaders, teams, organizations, and entrepreneurs. He regularly speaks and writes on leadership development, team alignment, and peak performance.

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