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Best team-building practices for remote team leaders

International teams, with 24/7 activity. Dozens of tools for chatting, conference calls, collaborative editing, and performance tracking. “Zoom fatigue”. Colleagues you’ll never see in person.

The pandemic changed the way the world approached work. Before the COVID outbreak, remote work was optional. After the virus hit, it became obligatory for teams who wouldn’t have otherwise given up their offices.

Now that the scientific community is not predicting a surge of COVID cases, leaders start planning office returns. However, even FAANG companies (Google and, recently, Apple) fail to bring teams back to offices. Over the pandemic, employees got used to the freedom, flexibility, and productivity associated with working remotely.

On top of that, the pandemic gave rise to thousands of distributed teams — meaning teammates are based in different countries and time zones. Bringing everyone back to the office is, for them, next to impossible.

While it’s clear that, in some form, remote work is here to stay, managers might feel challenged by the prospect. Lack of workplace communication and engagement were the reasons behind growing employee turnover and the rise of the Great Resignation.

Over the last two years, team leaders have firsthand realized that managing a remote team is different from running an in-office one. However, most management playbooks and strategies haven’t adapted to the change and don’t work in remote and hybrid environments.

In this post, we will offer actionable remote management strategies that help bring people together and build strong teams.

Best team-building practices for remote teams

Remote work makes the human component of any team fade into the background, with employees knowing each other only through Slack DMs and occasional Zoom calls. The relationships that used to be genuine in the office, become transactional when everyone is working remotely.

Best communication practices

In our opinion, communication and connection are the first steps toward a functional team. That’s why we want to dive deeper into the practices managers can adopt to keep the human side of what it means to be part of a team alive.

Invest in technology that prioritizes communication

A manager’s approach to leading a team is seen clearly when you take a look at the tools she invests in. Those who prioritize productivity and efficiency often look for better project and task management software. Those focused on performance tracking will look for reliable ways to know what exactly is going on in the company.

If you want to shift your team’s focus to communication, start by investing in communication-first tools.

At oVice, we see how using a virtual office platform helps team leaders instantly bring employees closer just because they have a common space where they feel at ease, can reach everyone, and start spontaneous discussions.

While tools like virtual offices are still as good as people using them, having the right technology for seamless interactions is an important step to connecting everyone on the team.

Encourage water cooler conversations

As teams shifted to remote work, a feeling of constantly interacting with the team disappeared. Instead, employees are burdened by calls and want to wrap them up as soon as possible Such an environment makes it hard to share knowledge, make friends, and build connections.

In the office, the room for breakout talks is created naturally — as people grow tired of sitting at their desks, they gather in the kitchen for some casual banter. Remote work doesn’t offer much room for casual chatting — that’s why team leaders should deliberately make some. Encouraging teammates to casually chat on Slack and hosting non-work video calls are a few ways to create a relaxed and friendly remote workplace.

Keep work meetings short and structured

The remote work shift changed people’s understanding of meetings and conference calls. When people worked at the office, they had a “We are already here, might as well have a meeting” attitude. In a remote environment, employees are more acutely aware of the time they spend in meetings and are likelier to mind staring at the screen for several hours straight.

That’s why remote team leaders should be strict about overtiming and plan meetings efficiently. The way to go about this is straightforward: have a clear meeting agenda with an approximate amount of time you plan on dedicating to each point. Set aside some time for questions and discussions to make sure everyone has enough breathing space to process information or voice their concerns.

Best trust and management practices for remote teams

Building trust when working remotely is another challenge managers find hard to deal with. When everyone is working from home, there’s no way to know if people are clocking their hours, not picking up a side gig, or getting distracted by house chores.

Managers’ desire to take trust management seriously is understandable but it’s important to find a middle ground that would make your peers uncomfortable.

Avoid micromanagement

When you lead a remote team, it’s tempting to keep endlessly bugging your team with “just checking in” messages. As a rule, most employees understand that it’s a manager’s way to check on them and interpret this as a lack of trust.

Putting trust in your team’s ability to self-manage is not easy at first but rewarding in the long run, as it encourages employees to take responsibility for their tasks and ideas, experiment, and grow in the workplace.

Stay involved

While some managers take micromanagement too far, others end up on the opposite end of the spectrum having calls so rarely that teammates feel neglected and concerns pile up until it’s too late.

When managing remote teams, leaders should strive to find a middle ground between full surveillance and I-don’t-care-attitude. In our experience, having 10-minute daily calls with the team is enough to share updates and address everyone’s concerns.

Reimagine performance tracking

Remote work makes monitoring working time next to impossible which means team managers should look for different strategies.

Our team uses monthly KPIs and performance reviews as a way to check alignment and keep managers and employees on the same page.

Best practices for setting up a remote organizational structure

Standard remote work limits managers’ organizational visibility, giving them a fragmented view of single employees and teams rather than the full picture.

When the field of view becomes this narrow, management strategies call for adjustments as well.

Divide your team into smaller, easier-to-manage units

Since monolithic teams are harder to manage remotely, it’s better to break your team into smaller functional units. This way, team leaders improve the flow of meetings, facilitate reporting, and save their teams a lot of time.

Focus on here-and-now goals

Since tracking remote teams should be performance- rather than time-driven, team leaders should assign teams actionable tasks that can be clearly tied to the project’s progress.

Have a definition and clear set of responsibilities for every role

Where office teams can allow for more fluidity when it comes to job roles, remote teams should be more precise in setting the limits and defining responsibilities for each role. Establishing a governance structure will also help keep the team in order.

It’s easy to see how running a remote team can be a management challenge. It requires team leaders to put more time and focus into processes that would be natural at an office — spontaneous communication, building trust, and creating clear-cut workflows.

To add fluidity and spontaneity to remote workflows, team leaders use virtual office platforms like oVice. These spaces give companies a way to see all teams and departments in a single virtual environment. Also, a virtual office is a place where teammates can interact freely — be it an audio call or a one-click video conference.

Find out how oVice facilitates remote management for over 20,000 companies worldwide. To see a virtual office in action, visit our tour space.

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