You should probably know that management is a pretty hard thing in itself. The bigger it gets, the more complex it becomes to track activities and spur workers to get the job done. Like in a big government, even the highest authorization can’t grant you smooth workflow as it depends on a multitude of factors, and the person in charge can’t have a grasp on them all.
And speaking of the remote team collaboration, it doesn’t get any easier when you can’t interact face-to-face and impose your will towards people who are oceans away from you.
But what you can certainly do is to set up the core working principles and the way each participant communicates with the rest of the team. I’ve spend most of my career helping companies build and manage dedicated, remote teams and over the years, I developed a certain pattern that help business owners subjugate a big mess, called a “remote team”.
1. Use communication tools
The very basis of any contact, instant messaging is the bread and butter for a project of any scale. Right now, the competition is quite lackluster, but that is due to the fact that the two biggest players have almost reached their peak in terms of convenience. You guessed right, I’m talking about Slack and Telegram, so let’s break it down a little bit:
– Slack is now a go-to choice for all sorts of projects and contains everything you could want when you arrange team chats: setting up the topics, adding tags to each employee, pinning and sending documents, marking the location of international members, sending notifications.
But the integration is probably its most juicy part — you are free to use the favorite tools inside Slack, such as Trello, GitHub, Google Drive, Zendesk, etc. Being able to conjure e-Bots inside this system is also appreciated by the developers who can make them do commands that improve Slack’s usage (for example, sorting and messaging the users based on tags).
– Telegram is a narrow competitor and despite falling short in the integration department, it grants you an unprecedented level of security thanks to end-to-end encryption and is well-known thanks to denying access to the authorities. It is very capable of delivering upon basic projects’ needs with messages and files transferring, as well as managing the topics and editing of names for each participant.
2. Make it a stress-free zone
According to the PGi report, 82% of remote workers feel less stressed compared to regular ones. You have to respect their wish to work from far away as the laid-back job was probably the main reason why they even started doing it in the first place (alongside with access to the international market, of course).
So, if you can plan their tasks and goals in a smart way, consider tracking the tasks in special software instead of bombarding them with messages. Show your trust and loyalty, being annoying to your workers can barely help — in the end, it only distracts them from doing the job you paid for.
This, however, doesn’t keep you from intervening in a situation when it’s clearly out of control.
3. Consider time-zone adjustments
When residing in the US or Europe, it’s unlikely that you will hire a dedicated team from your land, let alone the same state/region. In fact, you don’t always have the luxury of hiring people from the same place, so prepare to deal with the devs from Ukraine, India, or even Australia existing on the same team, which can make the schedule a bit complicated.
You should try to arrange them so that the work time could overlap for at least an hour. Even still, based on numbers, sometimes it’s simply impossible given that a day has 24 hours and not many employees want to work for more than 8 hours a day (24–8–8=8 hours max discrepancy). If there’s no gap for you to meet online, make a proviso that the messages get read and addressed instantly upon delivery. At the same time, the default timezone should be attached to the place where the management staff resides to keep everyone connected to the deployment schedule.
4. Make straightforward instructions
Keep in mind that employees aren’t your friends — they can’t take the words out of your mouth. What may seem like a clear instruction for you is a vague phrase for a newly-introduced developer. The more obvious your message is, the better it will be for both parties — you don’t want a whole team to spend time carrying out a task in the way that was not supposed to be done.
Keep in mind that you can’t be too clear with your message, but being misunderstood is very simple. Don’t make the team waste its time by interpreting your signals or contacting you one-on-one to receive clarification about the goals.
One more important thing to do. It’s better to put all of your instructions and explanations in a writing form to avoid any misleading. When you set the task for your employees, keep it in logical order — write what exactly needs to be done and when it should be done. Add a picture, diagram, or example to illustrate your words and make a task more understandable for employees.
5. Socializing is the key
Although you can’t present a birthday cake to someone, maybe it’s a great idea to present a… virtual birthday cake? Of course, you should! I can argue that remote workers are less socialized that their office peers, but human nature is hard to ignore and this activity will not cause harm. I can’t recall a single case when even the quietest team member would mind receiving virtual presents or well wishes from colleagues. Reaching certain project goals or employees who have served for a long time should be awarded tons of digital goods that are only limited by your imagination.
Creating custom emojis, gif-animations, or even playing videos is what I prefer for that matter. If we talk about Slack or Discord, the custom bot is what can make it possible. Even if the team can spend a few minutes a day by having fun by typing !male or !old commands to modify someone’s appearance in a chat, that is still worth it and is a small price for making them bond with each other and the project.
6. Be careful with informality
Keeping the informal mood and doing some humor is another great thing to adhere to when managing a remote team. But you have to keep in mind the often extreme differences in mentality (social or otherwise) between the countries so that maintaining certain moral boundaries is a must. Even within the scope of the same country, we are very different and can disagree on a number of topics — now imagine it on the world scale. And yes, IT pros are in another nation themselves and are much more tolerant towards any kinds of humor, but remember that not every country has reached the US equality and tolerance level. Even secularism is surprisingly not that popular among fairly prosperous countries.
So, when I deal with the team of international backgrounds, I avoid highly controversial topics like religion, politics, human rights, wars, etc. Discussing hangouts are also out of the question and shouldn’t be done by any means.
According to my experience, European (of both Western and Eastern origin), as well as North American and Australian employees are generally the most open towards any sort of discussions, meanwhile, Asian (especially Middle Eastern) workers tend to appreciate a more rigid and formal way of communication.
7. Leading by example
Whether you’re called a Project Manager or any other proper rank, never forget that you’re the raw model for everyone involved in the same venture.
Spreading positivity and filling everyone with energy is arguably more important than having technical skills for this position, and people will always look at you and associate their project with you.
At all costs try to avoid the word “no”, exclamation marks, or negative emojis. With no live interaction, the sub-context will always replace your facial expressions, tone of voice, and appearance to form a virtual unconscious bias. Make no mistake, the power of words can give away even more than you intended to give.
Even word order plays a crucial role, so always keep in mind to make your sentences concise and with a clear structure.
In the beginning, try to explain why this is important for the recipients, and finish it with a clear message of what has to be done or which conclusions need to be made. I would also recommend limiting the frequency of announcements as fewer would automatically increase their value in the eyes of your team.
8. Have a Plan B
Like any human interaction, a remote partnership can end at any moment, so keep in mind how you could painlessly replace the unit that fell short. Many aspiring managers view each remote employee as their first love and think that they will stay together forever until getting abandoned by a critical mass of such workers. This is the inevitable part of such teams, even if the company and PM were doing their best to maintain each dedicated team member. It could either be illness or moving to another place, or just laziness, but almost always that’s the more interesting/profitable project for an employee, and he/she didn’t even dare to discuss that with the current PM.
Everyone is replaceable and a good manager will keep his/her project going no matter what. Like a good sports coach, you should have a short-list or at least dedicate some time to searching for potential candidates to replace the current employees. Don’t focus on this aspect too much, but always have a Plan B if you want to make your project a long-lasting success.