With the rise of the gig economy and the increasing use of freelancers, SME leaders are increasingly finding themselves in the position of managing employees across different locations and time zones. This type of leadership requires a differently nuanced skill set to leading a team that you can see in front of you and, if not done effectively, can be real headache not only for you but for other members of your team and your customers.
Here are our top 10 tips to managing remote employees:
1. Hire The Right Team
You need ‘doers’ - people you can trust to just get on with the job, without you holding their hand. To a certain extent the onus is on you to, after a full briefing, take a step back and leave them to it. You also need to hire good communicators who recognise the importance of constantly keeping their colleagues in the loop.
2. Hire The Right Managers
If you decide to delegate the day to day management of your virtual team members then of course you need to ensure you’ve got the right line managers in place. They need to be comfortable with a more results-based style of performance management and giving their direct reports the space to approach tasks in their own way (without dictating to them how to do it). They will however be required to offer a lot of support and encouragement. So a positive outlook and approachable demeanour are hugely important. A flexible mindset is also key - managing effectively across different locations and time zones is not a 9-5 job and may involve some travel.
3. Onboard Carefully
Onboarding is even more important with remote workers as it can be even harder to make them feel like part of the team. As well as a lot of 1:1 support, make sure you have a raft of suitable introductory videos for them to digest. And these shouldn't just be on training, but also on the vision and culture of the business as well. Dedicated buddies and mentors are a crucial part of the onboarding process too.
4. Have Clearly Defined Ways Of Working
Well thought-out processes provide structure and direction for getting things done - wherever you are and whatever time it is. Project management software can be especially helpful here.
5. Make Document Sharing A Priority
One of the most important virtual team disciplines is how the team shares and edits information. If you have a team project management tool then this may also have a facility to share files. If not good old Google Docs is a great alternative.
6. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
You won’t be bumping into each other in the corridor so the emphasis is on the leader in particular to make an effort to stay in touch and keep channels of communication open. Constantly ensure your virtual team members know what they are supposed to be doing and how this fits into the bigger picture of the business as a whole. Reiterate your business objectives and vision throughout the year and remind them of the business’ culture and values on an annual basis at the least. It’s important to chose the right method of communication too. Instant messaging is great for quick team interactions, whilst video chat is the best option for team meetings to ensure non-verbal cues are communicated also. If members of your team work in different time zones, make sure that you have an overlapping period where everyone is working and organise your virtual meetings during these times. Remember that anything potentially sensitive requires a 1:1 phone call.
7. Create A Team Culture
Keep them up to date on what’s going on in other parts of the business - so they always feel in the loop. Try and involve everyone somehow in important events and projects and find ways to celebrate success together - even its just adding a little bonus to their pay packet or sending a voucher. Always mark birthdays and other special occasions with a card or gift.
8. Promote Individual Accountability
Whilst how virtual employees complete their tasks should be largely down to them, they must still be accountable for their contribution - and have it recognised. A message board where everyone posts what they’ve done that week is a good idea as are monthly one to ones.
9. Provide A Means For Virtual Team Members To Give Feedback Easily
Understandably, it may take some virtual team members longer to feel comfortable enough to give constructive feedback. Set up a feedback portal to ensure that any issues or frustrations are addressed and that no fresh ideas are missed.
10. Get Everyone Together Once In A While
Working on one’e own suits many people down to the ground. But to develop and reinforce a true team dynamic, individuals need to see each other face to face and get to know each other informally. Team away days needn’t cost the earth and are often the number one way to help improve team efficiency.
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