Updated: May 9
It was already becoming very common to have globally based teams working remotely together. In addition to this, a significant number of companies were starting to offer remote working as part of their flexible working options. After COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, we may find it will be commonplace to allow remote working and more team members to take advantage of it.
With teams not co-located some of the basic ways of working, communication and tools have to change. Additionally, the approach to managing and leading requires some thought and changes.
If approached correctly, remote working can be effective and efficient.
The first instinct as a manager could be that closer monitoring of teams is required, I would say not closer but different ways of monitoring.
Do not think because you can see them sitting at a desk in the office they are being any more productive. Actually, you may find team members are more productive when remote working, the usual office distractions are not there.
Here are some practical tips on you can manage and monitor remotely:
Team calls: the frequency of these calls will depend very much on the phase of the project, the activities of the team etc. At a minimum, I would suggest twice a week a call is added for the full team to join. Even if the calls are short, it’s a good chance for anyone to raise any points or for you as a manager to share some information. If possible, some of these should be with video (or at least initially).
One to One calls: (more relevant to team managers) A one to one call should be arranged to speak with individuals and check in on them. An opportunity for the team member to raise any issues or points.
Set up a team chat: most companies are now using some form of chat or collaboration tool. Create a chat group with the team members. It is a good way to quickly ask questions, share information or provide any updates. (It is key to moderate to ensure detailed and long discussions are not taking place within the chat). One critical point to keep in mind is, any important updates should be clearly indicated (use bold, italic, icons) and followed by email, sometimes messages can be lost if there is a regular chat.
Wrapping up sessions: at the end of a call, when opening up for questions ensure to give time for team members to unmute and comment.
Collaboration: Make sure all files, documents and required information is available in a shared location. Make use of the collaboration tools, which allow multiple people to work on one document at the same time (use this along with chat or group calls, is very effective).
Being available: Keep the status of chat/collaboration tool updated, so team members are aware when you are or not available. As a manager monitor your messages to keep on top of anything critical.
If you are working with a globally located teams, there are some additional considerations to keep in mind:
Time zones: consider the various time zones for the participants and try to find a time that is suitable for all. (More difficult if you are working with teams spanning from the Far East to USA).
Handover: at the end of a time zone working day, it is important to summarise or clearly state what needs to be followed up by the other members of the team. Or ensure all questions are raised. It is key this is managed effectively to avoid time lost to delays of clarification.
Language: even though everyone on the call will likely speak English, pay attention to the fact for many it could be their second language. Be patient and make sure to repeat any points if there is doubt on anything said. For English speakers make sure to speak a little slower (I was initially notorious for speaking fast and made sure to consciously slow down).
Many of the above points are also relevant for co-located teams, however, you will find when co-located some aspects of managing to happen naturally.
Managing remotely does not require a drastic change of behaviour only small adjustments and additions.
Fundamentally there is still value in face to face meetings and sessions, this, in my opinion, will not disappear.