I’ve been working with several virtual colleagues for 4 years now. Overseeing far off representatives initially made me need to rip my hair out. It’s hard to trust that people are working when you can’t see them. That was my first obstacle.
Then you have to deal with the problems associated with each area. A tornado in Texas might make you lose a developer for a day or a week due to power outages. This can feel stressful when it’s a hot sunny day outside in California. We can recruit individuals from any area around the globe which makes it much simpler to employ gifted individuals.
Now and again I had no clue about what my group was doing, or that colleagues would “go missing”– they’d work viably for some time and afterward their nature of work would tighten or they’d quit, or I get baffled about not having the option to speak with them successfully, or I had numerous issues finding and employing incredible individuals distantly. Managing remote teams is tough.
In any case, presently I realized that I am better about how to make virtual groups work than I was years ago. Leaps and bounds better. The systems I use to manage my team broke down to exactly how I would like to be managed. In essence I treated others as I expected to be treated. I also created clear guidelines so my remote teams were always on the same pace. Below are some great tips for overseeing Telecommuting teams.
Top Tips for Overseeing Telecommuting Teams”
Tip 1: Track hours worked, attendance and all key indicators of success in their role.
It might make sense simply to track hours worked. However most remote teams are not paid hourly, they are paid salary. Which helps a lot. Salary employees are easier to measure. You are reserving their output with a salary. I personally never cared if a team member worked 35 hours or 45 hours so long as they consistently accomplished the goals required of their position.
In an office environment you can see who is coming in each day even if you are not tracking attendance so you know who is late and how is early. In a completely virtual environment it can be difficult to understand exactly what is going on, how long each person actually was working and what they were working on. Maybe they got stuck on a problem for 2 hours and it looks like they did nothing for the first half of the day because of it. But you can’t see that. All you know is that it’s not done yet.
Some people are extremely disciplined and can get to work on time, stay on task, and avoid any and all distractions around them at home. The majority of us need some accountability. For some that means “clocking in” and making sure we avoid distractions like Facebook or YouTube. For others that means having clearly set goals with clear timelines.
We built 1 on 1 Track to better track goals and ensure that team members are following direction, finishing projects, and progressing professionally.
Tip 2: Implement systems
Without systems, your business can and likely will fall apart. A business run in an office can compensate for not having systems and processes in place by having a few proactive staff members who lean over cubicles and get the information they need quickly. In a telecommuting team each person can be in their own little world. They might forget that there are 100 other team members at the company or they could forget their role in the bigger picture because they generally only need to work with 3-5 other staff members.
Remote workers may even develop their own processes and procedures that don’t sync with the way other team members at your company are working. It’s best to have a documented standard operating procedure that details what should be done for all stages of your processes so that staff can be held to these processes. This also helps with on-boarding.
Our team follows a clear set of rules for setting product demos and communicating product feedback. Feedback is not shouted out to the entire team. It doesn’t go straight to the owner. It goes to the development team so that it can be tallied and if we see enough of the same suggestion we know we have something we should be addressing.
Tip 3: Allow a degree of flexible work hours for remote team members.
People working in remote roles will likely want some flexibility with their work hours. It is important to allow a degree of flexibility when managing remote employees. However you can hurt your team by being too flexible or too lenient. Staff should be held to their goals and projects and work should be done to ensure that your team is meeting the company’s overall goals.
Does it make a huge difference if a team member is working between 9 and 6 opposed to 8 and 5? It likely doesn’t. So why not allow it?
While working from home (telecommuting) we allow staff to do dishes make dinner and do laundry. We know these things will happen and when we hear them mention that they were just doing that when we call we don’t jump down their throats about productivity. We ask what’s for dinner.
It all boils down to trust. Remote team members get an hour of break a day. It is up to them how they use it. If they want to use it in 4 15 minute intervals to load laundry then that is fine with me. Some people like doing that kind of stuff midway through the day because it helps them clear their minds. It could make them more effective.
What we measure is goals and projects. We keep a clear eye on if team members are completing week to week objectives that are given when we have our 1 on 1 meetings.
In each 1 on 1 we give a specific important task that needs to be completed between our meetings. Then using 1 on 1 Track we are able to see how often team members accomplish this goal. This lets us know who is staying on task and who is not performing quite where we need them to be. With this information we can then begin to work on training improvements to help the team members get better.
Tip 4: Organize overlapping times for communicating in different time zones. (Remote teams and meetings)
Timezones can kill communication in a remote team if you are not careful. If members of your team work in different time zones (which isn’t very uncommon), then make sure that you have an overlapping time period where everyone is planning on working and you can organize your virtual meetings during these overlapping times. If you manage teams on the east and west coast you might have a “morning” meeting at 11 am, when the last of year team starts to work at 8 am their time.
However this might not be enough. Depending on the type of work you are doing you may want to consider only hiring people in the same timezone or where the time is only 3 hours apart (For instance, across the United States). Working more than 3 time zones apart can get pretty hectic and cause gaps in communication.
Working across time zones increases the need for clear consistent communication. As a manager you might not even be awake when the first problem your team runs into happens. Or you could be taking your significant other out to dinner (with your phone off) and not realize there is a problem. Your teams need to understand that while they are harder to reach, so will you also be.
Tip 5: Have a chat room open at all times
Your team can just pop over to your desk. Remote teams need to know that they can reach you. They need to see that you are there. Having a team chat room and individual chats on a system like Microsoft Teams, Skype, or Slack can really make communication easier.
It’s less formal and team members can ask each other questions. This allows them to help each other and it allows you to see their communication back and forth. You may answer a question for 1 of them and find that multiple team members had the same question but were afraid to ask.
Be wary of Chat and Email overload
It is hard to communicate enough and easy to over communicate. No one is going to read a long chat message or an overly long email. You need to keep things short and easy to understand and you need to limit communication to only the necessary times.
Depending on your intention you need to choose the method of communication that works best.
- Email – For quick interactions that are not meant to be long conversations.
- Chat programs – Skype, Microsoft Teams, or Slack are great tools for team communication.
- Video chat – Anything voice related should be done over video chat so that you can see each other. We do our 1 on 1’s in a video chat and then track those interactions in 1 on 1 Track to help improve our teams performance.