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How to manage a remote team successfully pt 1: Communication

Working from home is a huge part of the global response to stop the spread of COVID-19. As a result, more people than ever before are setting up their home offices. Remote working presents its own set of challenges and the solution more times than not lies with managers.

But for many team leaders at the moment, the prospect of managing remote workers is something they haven’t had training for, or have had to deal with before. Throw in some global panic and economic uncertainty, and it’s harder, but more important than ever to show leadership, keep your people motivated, and remain productive. This three part mini-series will outline the three key ingredients to any manager’s arsenal as they manage remotely working teams. 

Understanding the issues

We all know working from home is different, but why exactly? Get ahead of potential problems developing by understanding and addressing their sources. According to Buffer’s State of Remote Work report, these are the major challenges with remote work in general:

Buffer remote work report

As a manager reviewing these, it should be clear where you can help. Communication, clear structure and expectation setting, and compassion. In this mini-series, we’ll address each of these areas, beginning with communication.

Communication

Communication with remote working teams

Communication is at the heart of successfully managing remote teams. Regular human interaction can be easy to take for granted, until you don’t have an office full of people to chat to, laugh with and be around every day. Isolation is a huge problem for remote workers, and can lead to deterioration in both mental and physical health.  Here’s how to stop that from happening to your team.

1. Daily team communication

Set up daily team communication. At SocialTalent, we have morning and end of day stand-ups with our teams via Zoom, where we discuss the goals of the team and individuals. These are 15-20 minutes long, and participants are asked to come prepared with their topics to talk about. This strict time structure keeps the content relevant. The “bookmarking” approach of saying what you’ll achieve at the start of the day and then reporting back in at the end of the day builds accountability and transparency. Culture is important here – we work hard to make sure that struggles, blockages and failures are talked about easily, so that we can, as a team, solve them.

During the day, each team regularly catches up and communicates on Slack, Google Hangouts and Zoom. This means isolation is stripped back as far as possible, with a focus on collaboration still in operation as much as it would be in the office.

Remote communication with your team might feel like a poor substitute for the in-office chats and banter. But trust us, it’s like riding a bicycle. The more you do it, the easier it’ll become. As a team leader, focus on taking the lead here – set up the calls. Keep them on track and encourage contributions from all your team members.  If a Slack conversation becomes extended, suggest a quick call. 

2. Use video conferencing when you can

Messaging services like Slack are great, but nothing is as effective as communicating tone and intention as video conferencing. This is hardly surprising when you consider that 93% of all communication is non-verbal – relying on tone, body language, facial expressions and voice. Check out some of these video conferencing tips for more guidance.

93% of communication is non-verbal

3. Individual communication should still be a priority for managers

Even with the best practices in place, it’s still easy for individuals to feel isolated. A team is only as good as its component people so it’s crucial to check-in on individuals. Remember, you no longer have all those quick moments in the office to build rapport and chat in the kitchen or over a coffee. Have more regular one to ones, and make them longer. We recommend a full hour once a week. Many managers have different approaches to how they conduct their one to ones – whether it’s largely pastoral or professional, structured or informal – but when with a remote team, we recommend adding structure and coming with questions ready. 

4. Be clear about when you’re available

 Be available – make sure that your team know how and when they can contact you. It’s easy in an office to see when someone is in a meeting or busy – but remotely, that isn’t so simple. Make sure your calendar is accurate and visible and that all team members know how they can contact you in an emergency.

Up next: Structure, expectations and processes

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