Not long ago, remote work might have seemed like a pipe dream for many companies.
Whether it was the age-old "productivity" excuse or something more in-depth, like a lack of proper software resources, managing remote and distributed teams to scale wasn't a challenge most companies ever thought they'd face.
But things change.
Whether you work for a company that has always had remote working capabilities or you're new to the work-from-home scene, if you've found yourself suddenly managing employees from afar, you might be wondering the best ways to keep everyone on task at a distance.
We'll go over six tips for managing schedules for your distributed workforce to help ease you through the transition to remote work.
One of the biggest struggles for managers with distributed teams is the lack of face-to-face interaction. While most corporate businesses have taken fondly to team collaboration software solutions, these same businesses probably never thought their team's productivity would end up relying on the quality of interactions over the web.
To ensure your teams are maintaining productive daily schedules, managers need to know the right ways to communicate and collaborate to ensure maximum productivity will follow.
While it's always important to communicate clearly, it's even more crucial to clearly define expectations for your distributed employees. If you're communicating via Slack or another team chat platform, your written words could potentially be misunderstood or misinterpreted. For instance, if you say something needs to be done quickly, but don't give finite time frames or timelines during which work should be completed, you may unintentionally leave your team members feeling uneasy and unsupported.
Instead of vague language, use clear words to explain your wants and needs from your team. If something should be done by Friday at 9:00 AM, make sure everyone's on the same page and has the resources they need to complete everything on schedule. You could also set up reminders within Slack or through your calendar. You can encourage your team to work better with tools such as the Pareto Principle but at the end of the day, you need to trust your team to get the job done.
Decide – from the outset – which software tools you intend your team to use for the following: social and professional communication, meetings, task tracking, and idea-sharing. Your team should know where to go for each of the above needs, and it's your job as their manager to show them where to find whatever they're looking for.
If you keep professional communications and social banter in one place (ahem, Slack), that's fine! But make sure your team members are aware that they should not be emailing work-related questions to your inbox; they should shoot you a quick chat to get things sorted out. Similarly, if your team members have specific to-do lists daily, all of their tasks should be neatly laid out in whatever project management platform you all like best.
Being at a distance from coworkers can be difficult, sometimes more so for extroverted personality types. Regardless, keeping up social communication that isn't centered around work is important. Sure, it's more difficult to have naturally-occurring conversations since you can't just walk over to your coworker's desk to have a quick chat about The Bachelor, but you can still make sure the social aspect of coworkers-turned-friends carries on.
Set up virtual catch-up sessions, happy hours, and game "nights" to keep your direct reports engaged. Maybe you throw a quick 30-minute social call on their calendar just to see what they've been up to or what new show they're binging. Even if you think it's the "least you can do," it's better than nothing. We are social creatures and crave more than just work talk as engagement – so make sure to keep your team members engaged.
For slightly larger groups, set up once weekly video conferences that double as "happy hours" (that don't necessarily have to include alcohol). Whether it's a coffee hour, a cocktail hour, or a grab-your-nearest-beverage hour, have this social call be low-stakes and fun so that everyone can engage the same way they usually would at your monthly team mixer.
Most people assume managers have everything under control. And while you might want to pretend that's true, it's important to let your reports know what you're feeling and the kind of struggles you're having, too. In your 1:1s, you undoubtedly ask if there are any questions your teammates have or how you can better assist them with productivity. But do you ever let them know how they can help you?
While you should keep the hierarchy of manager to employee apparent, being honest, approachable, and transparent about your feelings and struggles will open more doors for real conversation and problem-solving techniques you hadn't thought of before.
If you're feeling overwhelmed by deadlines, let your teammates know, and then remind them that feeling overwhelmed is ok. Then, show them how you get your head back in the game to maximize your productivity when times get tough. They might come up with some unique ideas you can take forward and share with your other direct reports and managers as well.
In that same vein, make sure your 1:1 meetings are regular. A quick 'how's it going' message through your internal communication tool is nice, but you bring a whole new level of authenticity and empathy to your interactions over video.
These meetings are a combination of checking in (on work and any issues that may arise), social interaction (some individual face time), and relationship-building (by encouraging verbal conversation).
Remember how we said that companies often held an illogical fear of productivity loss with the concept of teams working remotely? A study from Stanford University negated this fear completely. In fact, remote employees are often more productive for several reasons: no commute (and therefore no lag time in starting work), fewer breaks (since they can get up and do things around the house at a moment's notice), and people won't leave work early for any particular reason.
The above information doesn't mean you should expect your employees to work themselves to death – or work beyond their scheduled hours – but it does mean you can trust them to get all of their work done in a given eight hour day.
Plus, 82% of employees have indicated working remotely would make them feel more trusted. So instead of constantly checking in to make sure your employees are staying on task, giving them your full trust shows that you know they're goal-oriented adults who want to succeed. Give proper feedback to let your employees know they're doing well and that you trust their ability to excel even without you being physically there to support them or check-in.
Remote teams will continue progressing in the age of digital transformation. With access to advanced communication tools, managing a remote team – whether temporarily or indefinitely – will become less intimidating as time goes on.
Your role doesn't change much remotely vs. in-person, though managing remote teams might be a bit more deliberate when you work with distributed team members. To ensure your team members maintain their productivity, make good use of your managerial title by engaging, communicating, and collaborating to keep employees happy and successful.