The internet is changing the way we do business from one moment to the next. New ways of communicating, transferring payments, reaching customers and delivering products are making things far more convenient and efficient for consumers, and far more profitable for businesses.
And one of the things that the digital world has brought to businesses is the ability to use remote workers. No longer bound by geographic limitations, companies can tap into a global workforce, taking advantage of talented workers who often times demand less compensation than traditional in-office employees. All of this means it is far easier for you to assemble your dream team that will carry your company to success.
However, making remote teams work for your company requires more than just bringing people together over the internet. Your work relationship with these people will operate differently than with other employees, and it’s important you adapt your management style and interpersonal communication habits to match this new type of relationship so that you can maximize the benefits of using remote workers.
There are lots of different ways you can do this, but here are a few tips to help you manage remote teams so that they can work to make your business better.
ALLOW FLEXIBILITY, BUT BE FIRM
This is one of the biggest challenges when working with remote teams. Telecommuting employees or contractors thrive on the flexibility they get from being able to work whenever and wherever they want. However, you may be used to a “management by walking around” style, which features constant check-ins and status updates as you wander through the office talking to employees.
Be careful adapting this strategy to your remote teams. Remote workers tend to be more engaged than traditional employees, and this is due in large part to the freedom and flexibility they get from working remotely. Checking in with people too frequently can give off the sensation they are being micromanaged, and this will quickly create bitterness in the relationship.
The best thing you can do is communicate early exactly what it is you are expecting, and then let your employees come to you with any questions or concerns they may have. And they will do it. Remote employees also know the focus on their work is a bit sharper, and they will almost always check in when there is an issue preventing them from completing the work in the best possible way.
Having said this, deadlines will become essential when working with remote workers. They may have the freedom to choose when, where and how they work, but they do not have the freedom to decide when they will submit the work. Time is money in business, and if you have to spend a lot of it tracking down past due work, then you are wasting the opportunity remote teams present to your company. You can be flexible if they miss one or two deadlines, but don’t let it go much further than that, as this will only hurt you in the end.
FOSTER A TEAM SPIRIT
While the possibility exists for remote workers to be more engaged, there is a fine line to be walked to make this happen. If remote workers feel too disconnected or too removed from the company, than they can begin to disengage, causing the work to suffer.
One of the main reasons for this is the lack of physical contact they have with the rest of the company. We take for granted how much time spent at the water coolers and in the break room contributes towards morale. This doesn’t exist for remote workers and its presence can be badly missed.
Try to set up ways for people to stay in contact with each other and to build a team identity. Productivity tools such as Slack allow you to create different chat rooms. Consider creating one that allows for people to talk about non-work-related things so that they can get to know one another and break down the digital wall working remotely can put up.
Another thing you can do is to hold regular meetings. Check in once a week to see how people are doing and if they have any questions they would like to ask. Allow a little time at the beginning and the end to talk about other things besides work, like you might at a traditional meeting, as this once again helps to bring people together.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to offer your remote workers some perks. When you work in an office, how much do you appreciate bagel Fridays, or doughnut Monday? Celebrating someone’s birthday with a cake after lunch can be a great social five minutes for the team. And even though most remote workers will say they prefer their flexibility to being present at these events, they are still likely to feel left out. Consider offering things such as a coffee of the month subscription or gift cards to local restaurants as perks to help show remote workers they matter and that their work is valued by the company. They aren’t forgotten in their home office.
Remote teams can do wonders for your business. They allow you to make use of talent from all around the world, and they often cost far less than traditional workers while offering equal or greater productivity.
Effectively managing these teams will make your company more profitable and will demonstrate quality management practices, both things that will raise the value of your business should you decide to sell it sometime down the road. Take these tips for managing remote teams into account and you’ll soon find yourself basking in the many benefits these teams can offer to your company.
About the author: Jock is an entrepreneur who specialises in the buying/selling and appraisal of online businesses. He started out working for himself by building up sites he had purchased to be sold later for a profit. However, as he got more and more involved in this business, he found himself needing help. Remote teams became a huge part of his business life, and this is one of the reasons he advocates so strongly for their use. His work can be found featured in Forbes, CNBC, Entrepreneur and Business Insider.