Working remotely used to be a future-state idea. Well, the future is now, and good work no longer needs to take place inside an office. As the small business owner of a virtual project management consultancy firm, I’ve been managing remote teams for 11 years, and probably managed over 40 remote employees.

There are so many benefits to managing remote teams. You are no longer tied to a particular city because of work. And, you can have your pick at the best talent across the country (or even the world)! One of the biggest benefits of managing remote teams is that it cuts overhead and increases productivity. Data shows the average real estate savings with the full-time remote worker is $10,000 per employee per year and CoSo Cloud reports 77% of remote workers are more productive. Working remotely also creates happier employees. Full-time remote workers say they’re happy in their job – 22% more than people who never work remotely.

But managing remote teams also brings unique challenges.

  • How do you communicate effectively?
  • What are ways to build and maintain virtual culture?
  • How do you trust your employees when you physically can’t see them?

When the structure of the office walls is gone, it’s even more important to create a virtual structure for how you want your remote employees to get work done.

Whether you have always been virtual or are deciding if want to ditch your office location, it’s important to have a plan in place for managing remote teams. I’ve pulled together my favorite advice for successfully managing remote teams.

Have a dedicated place for communication that’s not email 

Clear and easy communication is crucial. As is having a dedicated place for that communication. Communicating only through email can be formal and doesn’t lend itself well to quick “drive-by” updates or questions. I enthusiastically recommend the tool Slack. It is an instant messaging tool where teammates can communicate one-on-one or in larger channels about tasks, questions, priorities, etc. It helps get you out of your phone and email and therefore can make communication amongst team members much more efficient. It’s available as a web, computer, and mobile app and it avoids employees texting and calling each other’s personal devices. With Slack, you can reach an employee individually – including calls – or start group chats or topic-specific channels.

You can also easily share files within the tool, create reminders, and set yourself to do not disturb. Check out some of my favorite Slack tips here.

Get calendar structure immediately

Encourage your team to share their calendars with the team and to block off the hours that they are not working to focus on personal obligations. I encourage my remote team to utilize their calendars to block personal time such as “make coffee and eat breakfast”, “yoga class” and “kid’s soccer game.” Respect these blocks as you would respect your daily routine if you were commuting into the office. It’s important to avoid never leaving your desk and building up to burn-out. This is key for creating boundaries at home and helps your employees feel protected. Remind your team that while working from home is be the most honest version of yourself. It’s ok to communicate when you need breaks or have an errand to run, so no one thinks you gave up for the day.

Remember to build a company culture 

It’s easy for remote employees to feel isolated, or lose a sense of company culture. Culture is built by participation. So, create opportunities for your employees to engage. Slack can help boost morale and encourage team-bonding. Every morning my team has an ice-breaker conversation through our #general Slack channel. My virtual assistant posts a question each morning like, “where would you teleport to right now?” or “how do you like your steak prepared?” It creates fun side conversations around that topic and allows the remote team to better get to know each other. During the more stressful times of the COVID-19 pandemic, we even created a #10-Postives channel for us to share some of the more encouraging moments of each day.

I have found that by team members having a better sense of one another’s personalities, they have also begun to ask for help and expertise from each other more often. This teamwork creates more efficient work across the board. It also helps create a morning routine for your remote employees that takes the place of meeting at the office coffee maker.

I also host quarterly Zoom Happy Hours to talk about things such as our Project Management philosophy and our DISC profiles. I’ve even heard of other virtual companies scheduling yearly remote meet-ups in a different city and fun things like sending surprise gifts or lunch to your employees.

Make sure you have a way to track productivity 

I do this several ways. The first way is that I have a #dailyhuddle channel in Slack where my team must answer three simple questions every morning.

  1. What did you accomplish yesterday?
  2. What are you planning to accomplish today?
  3. What do you need help with?
The daily huddle helps me make sure that team members are working on the highest priorities and not running into any blockers. And, that they understand their daily schedule. It also allows team members to ask for help across the board, and I have noticed that I’ve started delegating more, by having a basic idea of what they are working on that day.
The second way is to have a project management tool that will increase and track productivity. We use Teamwork. Teamwork is a project management tool that helps significantly in managing day-to-day projects while being remote. Teamwork allows individuals to comment on tasks to request feedback from other teammates and/or the client. You can also send messages to your client via Teamwork for each project, which eliminates email communications. Personally, it gives me a ton of peace of mind that I know the right work is getting done.

Embrace the “work from anywhere” mindset 

Working “from home” doesn’t necessarily have to be “from home.” I truly believe the future of remote work is “work from anywhere.” The 2020 pandemic accelerated this. If you are a small business owner who has gone virtual, chances are you also like the flexibility it brings. Your employees do too. So, throw all rules out the window about employees needing to work from their home address at a desk.

If one of your employees wants to be a digital nomad, let them go be a digital nomad. All you need these days to get work done is a laptop, a power cord, and some wifi. I encourage you to embrace the fact that you are lucky you GET to work anywhere in the world, as oppose to HAVE to work.

Focus on “flexibility” rather than traditional rules

And finally, as a leader, you also have to relax your “punch the time clock” mindset. You need to rethink the value your team members bring and measure them on their outputs, not on their hours. Whether Kelsey was online at 8 am or not is usually irrelevant. (Of course, there are some jobs where timeliness is incredibly important, so you have to use your judgment.) Whether Kelsey satisfied your top client by providing quality deliverables on time and within budget is what matters most. Be a little flexible and start to let the desired outcome be the guide of whether or not your team member is doing her job well.

If you need help taking your small business virtual or implementing some of these tools, please reach out.

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