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How To Delegate To Your Remote Team

Delegating assignments to a virtual team is challenging. Managers must ensure that tasks are communicated clearly, understood and executed on schedule. Follow-up can be equally taxing. Is work being completed as assigned? When you can’t physically see those in charge of a given project, or visit their office for a quick one-on-one, anxiety can set in. In this article, I aim to alleviate that anxiety.

With some careful planning, clearly defined roles, attention to communication and regular check-ins, you’ll delegate to your remote workers in confidence. Let’s get started.

Just make sure you don’t pick up the Batphone on accident.

Understanding & Setting Expectations

Before you sign off on the start of a new project, make sure everyone clear expectations: workflows, assignments, timetables and the eventual outcome or target. So often people will agree to something they don’t understand to avoid looking incompetent in front of colleagues or superiors. While the confidence behind, “I’ll figure it out” might be admirable, more often it’s troublesome.

How can you gain this assurance? Add a simple practice to your meetings. Before dismissal, review each participant’s Next Actions. “Jane, your next actions are to contact the vendor and schedule a demonstration. John, you’re to write all social posts for launch week,” etc. Additionally, set a deadline: “We’ll check in on this one week from Friday.” It may seem tedious but it ensures that everyone knows what expected and when.

Here are a few takeaways:

  1. Delegate specifically. Tell a co-worker exactly what the task is, and what the outcome should be of that task. Be careful to not solve the problems for your team. Let them solve the problems.
  2. Always set a timeline and due date. If a project is large, break it up and assign due dates to each task. Failure to set a due date always results in missed deadlines, and even missed opportunities. It can be costly.
  3. Always follow up and make your team report back at the next meeting. Seize the opportunity and embrace “lessons learned” during your meetings. Educate yourselves about what went right, and what went wrong.

Communication Software

There is a tremendous amount of software and services available for virtual teams and those who manage them. Before we even begin looking at those, we must discuss the thought that should precede all digital communication.

Before you send an email, group text, chat invite or Skype call out to a team member(s), ask yourself: “Is this the right venue for this conversation?” Here’s what I mean.

Jane sends an email to the group. It contains information pertinent to everyone in the “To” field, so a reply-all is warranted. A reply is received and elicits another question. A new message is shared, and then another. And another. Seven messages later something has become apparent: this should have been a Skype call.

Knowing which communication strategy to use is so much more important than the software itself. That slick new solution that everyone is buzzing about is useless if your team isn’t using it properly.

Another question of “proper venue” comes in the form of casual or off-topic threads. Yeah, it’s fun to joke around a bit or share something light-hearted in office chat. Slack is great for this, as its real-time nature allows for a little morale-building humor. Except when someone finds it painfully distracting or irritating. In this instance, the main General channel is not the venue for a quip on the latest meme. Instead, leverage the channel called “Offtopic” and tell the group how to opt out of notifications for that channel. That way those who can use it and remain productive have an outlet, while the rest can blissfully pretend it doesn’t exist.

Lastly, consider where you are in a project’s history. At the very beginning? Schedule a Skype call or video chat. This is the time when questions (and ideas) will be the most numerous. Don’t leave your home-based workers alone to guess. As time progresses, duties become more clearly defined and questions answered, you can switch to a quick message in chat, Slack, Trello, etc.

With that out of the way, we can finally talk about the software itself.

I mentioned Slack several times, and that’s because I’m a huge fan. I love that Slack can contain a project’s entire history. Every conversation, question, regulation, asset and so on all live in one place, entirely searchable. The one thing Slack lacks is a clear way to assign tasks. For that, we can look elsewhere.

Basecamp is the 300lb. gorilla here and for a good reason. It lets you save communications, assets and supports task assignments. Trello is another fine choice, and its “card-based” system will be a great fit for many people.

A few more takeaways:

  1. It’s always better to set aside the time to plan and explore new software solutions before implementing them. Develop usage strategies for your team, and ensure that policies and procedures are in place to ensure success. Don’t figure things out on the fly. It never works out in the end.
  2. Remember that people learn in different ways. Some people are visual learners while others do better with audio based instruction. There’s nothing wrong with prioritizing different communication strategies for different teams or team members.

Weekly Check-ins

The folks you’ve got on your remote team are likely those with an internal “motor.” That is to say, they like to be moving, thinking of new things and tossing out ideas left and right. That’s both great and a problem.

Let’s say you’ve taken the precautions described above, launched Project X, handed out the assignments and put the gang to work. A few days in, someone is distracted by a compelling idea. It’s not on the punch list but it’s close enough (let’s call it “punch list adjacent”) so it gets a little attention. Then another idea pops up. Soon enough the original task is being ignored.

Set up a reliable, predictable time to check in with workers. Use that time to check that your colleagues have completed their duties and that no one is distracted by punch list adjacent ideas.

A couple more takeaways (last time, I promise):

  1. Let people brainstorm new ideas and features, but give them their own time and room to breath. Not every idea is worth exploring, but the exercise is worthwhile. But, make it clear that project deadlines and goals can not be sacrificed at the expense of “punch list adjacent” ideas.
  2. At each weekly check-in, make sure your team is reporting back to you both their successes and blunders. Reporting on blunders or hurdles not only helps educate other team members, but it will also give your team the ability to brainstorm solutions together.

I hope you found something useful here. Lastly, make your remote workers feel like a part of the team at large. Inclusion will foster loyalty and motivate your team. I’m sure you’ll have a happy and productive group in no time.



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