Distributed teams are great, but they do take a little more effort to manage effectively.
I am a big advocate for distributed teams. There are many benefits, such as productivity, happiness, flexibility, and cost savings. It is not all upside though, the remote setup has downsides and comes with challenges. You don’t have the water-cooler and lunch breaks to understand the company’s pulse and keep people motivated, so it takes a little more effort to manage effectively. Usually, employees who work offsite are fairly self-sufficient and capable of working autonomously. You won’t need to – and shouldn’t – monitor their every move to guarantee deadline and productivity goals are met. However, employees who work in a remote environment still require motivation to feel a part of the team, know what is going on with the company, and understand their contribution. Here are a few things to consider when managing distributed teams:
1. Make sure distributed teams feels valued
Not being in the office is not the same as being unimportant. Ask remote employees for their opinions on different issues. Include them in interoffice changes. Also, give the same employees credit for their input. Never let remote employees feel disenfranchised or isolated because of where they work. Most employees will respond favorably when they know you consider them an important part of the team.
2. Trust distributed teams to deliver
The temptation to micromanage may increase with the amount of distance between you and your employees. Granular management is not an effective way to motivate your remote employees. Instead of encouraging a positive working environment, you may create animosity and destroy trust. Assign projects and deadlines while trusting that your employees will get the job done. Unless they prove otherwise, be confident that you have employed the right people. They are most likely to repay your trust by producing excellent work on time, every time.
3. Set clear objectives and goals
This applies to any employee, not just distributed teams. However, the side effects of not doing this can be magnified with distributed teams. Without being able to easily clarify something in the hallway or by observing your peers, this can leave an employee feeling extra confused and unmotivated. Make sure everyone knows their responsibilities, their deliverables, what criteria their measurement criteria, and what defines success for their role.
4. Emphasize the value people bring
When you communicate how work from remote employees adds to the company’s successes, they know that they are valued. Generally, employees in the office can see what they are producing and how it is important. On the other hand, remote employees can see what they are doing, but might not see the complete picture. Tell employees that their daily tasks help the company achieve its business goals.
5. Recognize employees regularly
Whether you send an email announcement or hold weekly conference calls, be sure to recognize an employee each week. This provides continuous recognition and reminders of goals for which all employees should strive. Work with your HR department to develop programs that praise exemplary work with specific performance examples.
6. Promote fairly based on performance – not face time
Speaking of performance, make sure this – instead of location – is the barometer for promotion considerations. Whether real or imagined, some employees working in a remote environment may feel they are below onsite employees in the pecking order. Clearly communicate that advancement decisions are based on performance. Furthermore, giving remote employees a trusted, authoritative position is a visible reminder of how much they are valued within the company.
7. Use technology, but don’t overlook human contact
Technology is a good tool for bridging the geographic divide. Effective collaboration and seamless communication become the hallmark of how your department operates remotely. Built-in editing features allow employees in different time zones to see changes, suggestions and notes on joint projects. With communication tools for teleconferencing and instant messaging, the only thing that separates you is time and space. While getting the most out of technology advances, it is vital not to lose sight of the humans that make it all possible. Remote working environments have shattered the traditional concept of the workplace. For many people, not having to go into an office is enough motivation. Still, your obligation to motivate remote employees is essential to how well – or poorly – they perform.
8. Make sure distributed teams knows each other
It gets lonely for an employee if they only know and interact with their direct supervisor. Make sure people feel like they are part of a bigger team and have social interaction beyond discussing a deliverable.
9. Make sure to get together in-person sometimes
Face time can go a long way in building relationships and supporting future remote collaboration. It is not always easy, but try to get together as much as budget permits. It may only be once or twice a year, but it will be time and money well spent.
10. Have fun
It is easy to get caught up in getting work done and neglect the humanity on the other side of the computers. Make sure to take time to joke with each other, send gifs, and have fun.
I hope this helps you manage your distributed teams better. For more on the subject, you can follow me on Instagram or sign up for my free weekly digest about ways to travel the world, build a successful business or career, and make a difference at the same time:
Managing distributed teams