The ongoing pandemic has brought to light the fact that a remote workforce will be a defining factor for the future of work. While it seemed overwhelming when the transition began, many companies are now accepting remote work as the new normal. In fact, some are even contemplating a shift to virtual working even after the lockdown opens up. For instance, TCS plans to shift to a long-term work from home strategy with 75% of the workforce operating remotely by 2025. These new opportunities come with accompanying challenges of managing a remote team. Managers are facing major challenges in ensuring seamless communication and collaboration. Invariably, organizations today are stepping up their efforts to strategize their ways of working to make it more remote friendly.
Managing a Remote Team: Start with the Basics
Managing a remote team can be quite a challenge. However, if organizations, and particularly managers follow certain basic practices, the journey becomes easier.
- Set clear expectations, early on: Managing a remote team effectively starts with clear demarcation as well as communication of roles and responsibilities. Managers need to explicitly state deliverables and what they expect out of the employees. At the same time, KPIs or Key Performance Indicators, which can be captured and measured for a remote workforce must be agreed on and communicated. To ensure that everybody is on the same page is essential, because your employees will not be able to run to you every second like in the office.
- Provide the right resources: Working remotely requires employees to have a robust setup at home to ensure effective working. Managing a remote team, thus, requires managers to ensure that all employees have the right resources when working from home. This majorly covers all the hardware (computer/ laptop), software and broadband needs. Obviously, the resources to function effectively will change from company to company. Therefore, managers need to come up with an exhaustive list of resources and ensure that employees have access to them. It would also be a good idea to alter the terms of contract for employment, wherever suitable. For instance, the travel allowance can be changed to a broadband allowance.
- Leverage the top tools: Owing to major online platforms and tools, managing a remote team is increasingly becoming easier. Some of the major challenges of working virtually, including, communication, collaboration, productivity trackers, time management, brainstorming, etc., all have their solutions in these tools. Here are a few tools your team can leverage:
- Communication: Zoom
- Progress Tracking: Trello
- Collaboration: Slack
- Noise Cancellation: Krisp
- All in One Workspace: Notion
- Brainstorming: Miro
- Ensure role suitability: The efficacy of managing a remote team largely depends on the people you have onboard. Thus, it is very important to ensure role suitability. This means that hiring of human resources should be on the basis of what skills and competencies the role requires. The needs and expectations for each role must be mapped to the skill set of potential candidates before hiring. Today, organizations can leverage several HR tech tools to make this journey smoother. When the person is suitable for the role, working remotely becomes easy and effective.
- Build a culture of trust and ownership: Finally, it is very important to trust your team. More often than not, managers don’t have faith in their team and constantly nag them for their progress and deliverables. Invariably, a shift to a remote workforce requires a gradual change in the organizational culture. Once you start believing in your employees and trust them, they will start taking ownership of their work. And, once a culture of ownership and self motivation kicks in, managing a remote team becomes a breeze.
These five practices are the basics that every organization, contemplating a long-term remote work strategy, must consider. Once you get the basics in place, you may want to explore more advanced strategies and practices that involve greater investment and leadership buy-in.
What Not To Do
While the above practices are a fair starting point for any organization towards managing a remote team, there are a few things that they should avoid at all costs. Firstly, managers should avoid being ambiguous. Ambiguity leads to chaos, confusion and misinterpretation which is likely to dent remote work effectiveness. Secondly, managers should refrain from micromanaging. Expecting your employees to share an hourly update can be overwhelming. Customize your management practices based on the individual employee’s working style. Finally, do not kill communication channels. Since communication is the foundation stone of robust remote work, going virtual requires stepping up communication, rather than downsizing it.
To conclude, it won’t be an overstatement to say that remote work is the new normal. The sooner organizations accept this reality, the faster they will be able to reorient themselves to work virtually. To maximize the productivity and efficiency of the remote workforce, organizations need to build the right strategies and processes. At the same time, there needs to be a focus on building the capabilities of the workforce to bring them up the curve and prepare them to deliver the same productivity. Invariably, a two pronged approach to strategy and developing human competencies is the way to managing a remote workforce. Organizations that are quick to act on these insights are bound to fast track their organizational productivity and impact.