The workplace is changing. The water cooler where you shared the latest celebrity gossip and ranted about unfavorable weather? That’s a Slack channel now. The meeting room where you gathered your team to brainstorm strategy on the office whiteboard? Now just a video chat while sharing your screen.
The internet has enabled workers from around the globe to come together and be productive in ways that simply weren’t feasible 20 years ago. In fact, 70% of white-collar professionals work remote at least once a week now. But despite the upsides of having remote teams, managing them and maintaining the same level of collaboration as you see with a traditional office can be a job in and of itself.
Thankfully, we at GenM understand remote workers. Not only have we seen how successful businesses manage their remote marketing apprentices, but we also have firsthand experience with nearly one-third of our team working fully remote, and the rest taking flexible remote days throughout the week. Whether it’s a remote team, freelancer, or GenM marketing apprentice, we’ve gathered the best advice to help you get the most out of your remote team.
Respect office hours
When working from home, it’s easy for the lines to blur between work time and relaxation time. In the digital age we currently live in, it’s easy for any working professional today to feel a pull to always be connected and ready to be productive when the need arises. For remote workers, this erosion of the boundaries between when you should be working vs. when you should be taking time for yourself becomes even more prevalent due to the fact that your entire relationship with your job is digital. In fact, remote workers have reported that their number one struggle with being a remote worker is the inability to unplug after work.
If you want your remote team to be happy and productive during work hours, then you have to give them time for themselves outside of those hours. Be clear with what hours your team is expected to work between and be mindful about respecting those hours and not messaging them or tasking them with projects during their free time.
There’s no way around it. Communicating online is often cold and emotionless. No matter how much time you spend finding the perfect emoji or reaction gif to convey how you’re feeling, the sentiment can often get lost when compared to face-to-face interactions.
Even though your team might not be able to meet up with you in person, that doesn’t mean you still can’t have face-to-face interactions. Communicating as much as possible through video chats can help you properly convey tone, build relationships with your team, and help you read their emotions better. Find a video calling tool that works best for you and make it part of your culture to utilize that tool whenever possible. Even if it’s for a quick check-in for clarification on a certain task, video calling will help you communicate more effectively and more efficiently than through text. Just be sure to send a quick summary of the meeting after the fact so that your team can reference it if need be.
Give them room to breathe
Arguably, the biggest perk for remote workers is the flexibility it provides. As tempting as it is to micro-manage your remote team to ensure they are on the right track, you don’t want to stifle this benefit for them and make them feel like they are constantly being monitored. Give your remote workers time to do what they are there for — work. If you’ve done your due diligence in the hiring process then you employed them for a reason. Give your remote team enough space to do what they do best. Yes, checking in is important and it’s understandable that urgent matters sometimes come up and need to be addressed urgently, but for day-to-day productivity, give them some room to breathe.
Focus on goals
Of course, we all want our team to work hard and get the job done, and when you’re not working in close proximity to the team you’re managing it’s easy to be anxious about their activity. At the end of the day, does it really matter if they were online and working at every moment of their working hours if the job gets done and gets done well? Don’t focus on productivity, focus on results. Set clear goals for your team and, rather than checking in to make sure they are working towards those goals, just make sure they are hitting those goals. Outline clearly what the expected outcomes are, define clear KPIs, and only when team members start missing those goals should you be on their case about their work habits.
Don’t overlook onboarding
Believe it or not, it’s still possible to foster a particular culture when your team is primarily remote. Of course, in a traditional office environment, the onboarding process and adoption of a particular culture is a bit more of a natural process. When you’re dealing with a remote team, it’s important that you have a clear onboarding process that you can optimize over time. You want your team members to be clear about the processes and expectations for your company and you want to ensure that they are complying.
Spend the time to build a thorough onboarding package that you can give to all new hires. Set out clear expectations for the first month, three months, and beyond, and hold new hires accountable to these expectations. What works for some people might not work for others, so try to build materials that suit all learning styles and check in periodically to see how new hires are adopting these practices and meeting your expectations.
Invest in the right tools
Staying organized is a big challenge for a lot of remote teams. With everyone working in different locations and, often, at different times, keeping everyone on the same page can be difficult. Thankfully, there are a number of tools online that you can use to manage your team. Pick the right tools that fit your needs and make sure that your whole team is using them. They might cost a little bit of money but the returns can be well worth it in terms of keeping your team organized and connected.
For project management and keeping track of weekly goals, you might want to use something like Trello. For video calling, Zoom could work for you. For managing files, you might go with Google Drive. Take time to research what tools you may need and test them out before getting your whole team oriented with them.
You might hate office small talk, but it’s a great way to build relationships and trust amongst your team. Because you’re not working in the same space together, taking the time to build relationships may be more of a proactive effort rather than a passive one. When hopping on a call with a team member, ask them how their weekend was, chat about that horrible Netflix movie you watched the other night, ask them what life in their city is like. Making the effort to get to know your team on an informal basis can get them to trust that you are there for them and help them feel more accountable when their actions will make a positive impact on someone they know and care about.
If it works logistically and you have the money to spend, try to get the team together physically at least once a year. Be it a conference that you all meet up at, a team-building retreat, or a group vacation, getting your team to meet in person can go a long way towards making them feel like an actual team.
At GenM, we got our team together for a company-wide retreat last winter. We spent the week together relaxing (and working) alongside a business coach, personal chefs, and members of our remote team. The retreat brought the team closer together and taught us new strategies for working and collaborating with each other that we still use to this day.
With freelancers and marketing apprentices, in particular, it’s easy to see them and their work as a means to an end. Don’t get trapped into forgetting that these people are just that — people. Give credit where credit is due. Acknowledge wins. If someone is going above and beyond, give them some praise in a public Slack channel. You will find that doing so will not only boost morale but encourage team members to strive towards these wins.