What I’ve learned from 10 years of remote team management

9 steps to set up your remote crew

Team management skills don’t come naturally to many people. They have to be earned through experience — in my case 10 years and counting of it. I eventually founded Hubstaff to automate the process I developed. This article goes over the management methods I used to grow multiple virtual bootstrapped startups to more than 1MM in annual revenue. I practice what I preach with my distributed team at Hubstaff, but the same could be applied to a co-located team just as well.

Why Focus on Team Management?

  1. It’s hard to build a successful company all alone, and you definitely can’t grow one alone. Your team is essential to the overall growth and success of your business.
  2. Once you have an awesome team in place, your business can generate passive income whether you’re actively working or not.
  3. We spend around 30k a month for our team and bring in around 50k. This means 60 percent of our revenue goes to our team, not including the founders. You need proper team management or that expense will go to waste.

The great thing about how we manage at Hubstaff is that it’s good for both our team and our managers. You can read the completely free 70-page book on how we manage here.

Our General Management Style

We focus on autonomy and freedom, some of the core beliefs of our company. We hate meetings, which our time tracking software lets us get away with.

Thanks to the randomized screenshots and activity levels we get a complete picture without having to disrupt our team’s work asking for progress reports. Managers can quickly see where projects are at, set budgets and see the workload of each team member.

We prepare everyone we hire for our process in onboarding, then we set them free to show us what they’ve got. Since no one bills for unproductive time, we get to focus on rewarding productivity and enhancing collaboration.

How We Manage Our Teams: A 9-Step Process

Step 1: Decide on and set up a project management system

A project management system will help you capture your ideas in one place, assign tasks efficiently and store all communication and discussions in a centrally accessible place.

Asynchronous communication is great when you have different time zones, sleeping schedules and optimal working times because you can view everything saved in one spot regardless of who is online or not.

Step 2: Add and prioritize all tasks into your project management software

Invest time into uploading clear, concise tasks into your project management tool and assign priorities.

For Hubstaff I used Trello boards to create different channels for each umbrella topic, then in each board a card is one actionable task.

Step 3: Assign 3 to 4 projects or tasks to each member of your team

You typically don’t want to give team members more than four high-level tasks at a time to keep them from getting overwhelmed.

Be reasonable with the timelines and keep them accountable so they know the task is all on their plate.

Step 4: Kill Email

Emails are great ways to lose information in a long discussion. Kill them as a collaboration tool unless you want to forward an email or something simple like that.

When someone emails me something about a task, I’ll ask them to add it to Trello so they get used to the process.

Step 5: Track time to assigned tasks

You gain more insight into what’s going on in a project when you track time, especially in a remote setting. You know when it’s time to hire another employee, whether your team is using their time well, and which projects are within budget.

For example, without time tracking I wouldn’t have realized one of my best developers was spending 60 percent of his time on customer support.

Hubstaff integrates with Trello, so once a team member is assigned to a card in Trello it’ll show up intheir Hubstaff timer. They just have to select the task then click start.

Step 6: Set up sprints

Some of the people on my team have as many as 30 Trello cards (tasks) assigned to them, which is frankly way too many to manage effectively. It’s easy for minor or ongoing tasks to build up, so to combat this we create sprints.

I set up a sprint board to manage short-term, high-priority items. Sprints make it undisputedly clear what needs to get done and when.

Here’s a sprint template you can copy and use for your business.

Step 7: Watch the sprint items unfold

These are high-priority and high-level tasks, so it’s important to monitor their completion. When my team tracks time into a card, I can go into Hubstaff and see work unfold in real time.

As they get done, we move them into the delivered column so I know it’s time to review their work.

Step 8: Follow up on unfinished sprints

The best contractors are going to get their things done on time with no excuses most of the time, but sometimes things remain unfinished. When something didn’t get done, it’s important to follow up.

I typically send an email to my team asking them for an update on Fridays.

Step 9: Analyze where time is being spent

Each month I use Hubstaff reports to get a clear picture of where time is being spent. This is important for me as a manager so I can improve the process and make sure there are no blocks in the machine.

I use reports to understand where each individual spent their time and see which projects are consuming more time versus creating more profit.

In Conclusion

This process eliminates the need for meetings and back-and-forth instructions. We document what needs to get done and do our work up front.

My team management process has helped me work more efficiently. I only spent about 20 minutes on Friday (sprint follow-ups) and 20 minutes on Monday setting up the upcoming sprints.

Throughout the week, all I have to do is discuss minor details with my team, answer questions and focus on the overarching strategy of my company. It’s my job to mark the path ahead of us.

Anything I missed?

Questions, thoughts, disagreements? I’d love to hear them in the comments below. My team and I are always looking for ways to improve the usefulness of our posts!

This post originally appeared on the Hubstaff blog and was written by Dave Nevogt, co-founder of Hubstaff. You can subscribe to our blog where Dave regularly shares valuable tips to manage a distributed team successfully.