Managing a team is not an easy feat, especially when you can’t see each other face to face. The dynamics of a team in a modern workplace have changed rapidly thanks to new technologies and tools. A 2019 survey showed that working remotely is 78% less stressful than working on-site, and 51% of on-site employees plan to work remotely in the future, proving how virtual teams are gradually becoming the norm.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many companies were pushed to start operating remotely. Some industries quickly adapted to the change, while it proved to be quite a challenge for others. However, the concept of virtual working and managing remote teams is not completely new. A 2017 study featured in the journal for Academy of Management Perspective touched on the importance of developing virtual intelligence to follow the emerging trend of virtual teams. 

Successful virtual teams are considered as such when they’re able to maintain autonomy, cohesiveness, and performance no matter where they operate from. Here are 10 effective tips on how to manage remote employees that you can try to implement with your virtual team. 

Define operational rules

The first thing remote employees and their managers need to do is to come up with rules and guidelines for remote working. This can include setting working hours, communication tools, meeting ethics, delivering projects, and so on. It can be as simple as saying “good morning” or “signing off” at the beginning and end of your workday. This way, boundaries are set and it encourages work-life balance.

There’s no hard rule when it comes to how to manage remote employees. If there’s a set of rules that prove to be inefficient once remote work commences, it can always be changed anytime after deliberation with the team. Remember that these rules are put in place to maintain, or even increase, efficiency in a remote team. So, when something doesn’t help your team’s productivity, modify it or remove it completely.

Clarify boundaries

When working from home or from a remote location, it’s easy to let your work spill even after working hours.  Your team members can easily leave their work in the office when they clock out and focus on themselves, family, and friends afterwards. Without the presence of a physical office, it makes it more challenging for employees to create boundaries between work and leisure. 

While you and your virtual team set up operational rules, clarify boundaries to promote a healthy work-life balance. For example, everyone is required to be reachable online until a certain time. After team members sign off, try not to message them unless completely necessary.

Determine essential tools

Many companies have already begun using virtual tools to make communication and delegating tasks easier. There are Slack and Microsoft Teams for instant messaging, Zoom and Google Meet for town hall meetings, Trello and Jira for project management, Miro and Parabol for whiteboards, and many more. 

To avoid miscommunication within the team, decide which tool the team will be using before starting any remote work. If you can, try to use a centralized task management tool where you can communicate, delegate, and update all at once. This will ensure that everyone is aligned on what they’re supposed to do at a given time.

The task management feature by GoKudos is a great example of a tool you can use to track your team’s daily progress. This project management tool can let you track and save progress, set reminders, as well as comment on task cards, easing communications with your team members regarding a certain project component.

Do regular check-ins

It’s hard to gauge how an employee is performing when teams are operating virtually. This doesn’t always mean how they’re dealing with daily tasks and responsibilities, but it also covers their physical and emotional performance as well. Schedule a weekly or bi-weekly one-on-one meeting where you don’t have to discuss work, but things outside of the workplace too. 

Virtual one-on-one meetings are also a great way to humanize each other after working only through texts, emails, and audio calls throughout the week. Through video, you can see each other’s expressions and body language, which are a great way to gather non-verbal information.

Set expectations with your remote teams

When managing remote employees, try to set clear expectations and desired outcomes of each project and meeting. As an example, when conducting a one-on-one time, set an expectation of what the meeting will cover and what the outcome will look like. For instance, if employees are worried about the lack of socialization that can impact their performance, the action plans can be built around improving team interaction through video conferencing methods.

Avoid putting too many things in the action plan and stick to those that are easily achieved for the coming weeks. This will make it easier for you and your remote employees to follow through with the expected outcomes. To make things easier during your one-on-one meetings, ask your team members to send their agenda ahead of time and assign a theme for the session.

Change the success metrics

Managing remote teams requires a different approach when it comes to KPIs and success metrics. Since employees are not physically present around each other, it’s best to leave out behavioural performance from the success metric. This will be helpful to employees who need extra time to adapt to the dynamics of a virtual team.

Instead, focus on results and how remote employees approach operational challenges. Some examples of measurable success metrics when managing remote employees are how efficient they are in communicating, their participation in meetings or daily scrums, their attendance in seminars or workshops, and so on.

Timebox your meetings

A 2016 study conducted by Neil Bradbury of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science states that the average attention span of students in a lecture ranges from 10 to 15 minutes. This can also be applied to meetings, training, seminars, as well as conferences happening in the workplace. 

This study refers to in-person lectures and seminars, so it would be different during online meetings in a remote environment when employees are exposed to more distractions.  When scheduling a meeting or training, try to take this into consideration. If your agenda can’t be fitted into a 2-hour meeting, break it up into several sessions. It will ensure that your remote team members are properly absorbing all the information shared during the meeting without overexerting their attention span.

Plan virtual events

During the Covid-19 pandemic, some employees might be required to be isolated in their homes if they are considered high-risk. This can be challenging for these virtual team members, especially if they don’t live with family or friends. To curb the loneliness due to being isolated, managers can plan virtual events or get-together to boost team morale. It can also be a break from the daily remote work hustle. For instance, plan Google Hangouts where employees can virtually dine or play online games together like Kahoot, Charades, and so on

Utilize GIFs and emojis

If you manage a virtual team that mostly comprises of millennials or gen Z’s, utilize GIFs, emojis, and reaction memes as much as you can. This will lighten up the tone of the chats and keep up the spirits of your employees. For example, when your team members did exceptional work, you can simply send a GIF message to praise and highlight their achievement. Not only are you setting the tone of your remote team’s communication, but you are reinforcing positive behaviour as well.

Offer emotional support

Not all of your employees are made for remote work. These team members thrive with face-to-face interactions and small “water cooler” talks, so they might have their own challenges when moving into a remote working style. This is why it’s essential to provide space and support emotionally and mentally when you manage a remote team.

When thrown into a virtual working environment, those who prefer to work on-site may need extra time to adjust and adapt to the changes of their circumstance. Be flexible and understanding if their daily performance shows a slight drop. If this is the case, utilize your one-on-one time to get to the root of the problem. Aside from that, console your team members by offering support in any way that they need. It’s important that you build trust and provide a safety net, especially during uncertain times.

Hopefully, managing remote teams can be more of a breeze with these tips. Considering that the culture of remote working might stay around even after the pandemic is gone, it’s good to equip yourself, as a manager, and your team with virtual intelligence.

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