How To Manage Remote Teams: 30 Quick Tips From 17 Years Practice

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I have been working remotely with small teams, individual freelancers and agencies globally since 2003.

This includes working with a diverse range of cultures and nationalities from India, the Philippines, Serbia, Bosnia, Italy and Argentina. So I have a good understanding of different cultures and the importance of getting the right cultural fit within teams.

I’ve built and managed small teams based in Manila over 3 years from 2015, and also procured, hired and managed the outsourcing of data entry work to Serbia starting in 2013.

These experiences have helped our current team get comfortable working within a distributed company model and diverse work culture. I have used this model successfully with both onshore, offshore and outsourced teams.

But it wasn’t all champagne and roses. We learned everything the hard way from scratch using good old trial and error. It’s been well worth the effort however.

Managing a person remotely can feel weird at first. Especially that nagging feeling of “what are they doing right now?” which is just human nature. Most managers get some comfort knowing they can physically pop over to see a staff member and check on their progress or lend a hand.

The new WFH movement has changed all that. Most people are now working remotely and will continue doing so for years if not indefinitely. Below are our best tips and experiences for managing well, even from a distance.

Management Tips

  1. Manage your staff based on outcomes and results not attendance.
  2. If you are worried about someone not being able to self-supervise or be productive remotely, you might have hired the wrong person.
  3. The key is giving staff the tools and structure to be autonomous, then setting outcomes to be achieved.
  4. Letting staff work autonomously is key: start with “this is what needs to be done today, this week, this month and quarter to reach the KPIs/OKRs and goals we have” and then letting people work towards their goals in their own way.
  5. Show them the why and end point (objective), and let them work out the how of getting it done. The “why” is more important than the “how” as staff will work that out themselves (often in better ways than you might have thought yourself).
  6. Set OKRs for each staff member: Objectives for the year/quarter, and Key Results (milestones). The “O” is the objective or goal for the time period. The “KR” are the milestones (key results) along the way.

Communication Tips: “Slack for conversation, Email for confirmation”

  1. Communication is key, and choosing the right channel for your comms so decide upfront with your team on the “how, when, where” of your daily communications and tasks.
  2. Use emails if the issue is not urgent (but consider this idea some companies use: outlaw email, focus on using Slack exclusively instead).
  3. Use Slack when instant responses are needed. We find this handy rule works well: “slack is for conversation, and email is for confirmation” (ie; use email to confirm any decisions/agreements in writing, use Slack to come to those decisions/agreements).
  4. Use the phone when you need to clarify or talk through an issue.
  5. Try this comms etiquette rule: if you get 3 slack messages in a row, back and forth, then get on a video call to sort it out.
  6. This “tasks rule” works really well: always check you’re providing staff “clear and complete instructions” on tasks. If your instructions to staff are unclear the task won’t be done properly, and if they are clear but incomplete, the task can’t be done properly (lack of info). So always make sure your instructions to staff are “clear and complete”. My favourite question after a task briefing is: “Any questions, comments, concerns?”.
  7. Communicate availability: people letting others know when they get their work done (ie; what times of the day/night they work best), and when they are available versus doing their deep work significantly boosts productivity.

Outcomes Not Hours: Avoiding Burnout

  1. We have found that logging hours is not very important, and that tracking outcomes/results is all that matters.
  2. Most people want to do the best work they can (ie; work they’re proud of) so get out of their way and let them do it.
  3. Remote worker burnout is a bigger issue than low productivity problems. Especially as many remote workers are often type A personalities who want to do a great job. So set clear boundaries around work times, eg; not working on weekends or past 6pm weekdays, and closing your laptop to take breaks instead of filling their keyboard with lunch crumbs.

Project Management: The RACI Model

  1. We use the RACI model for project management: it’s a straightforward tool used for identifying roles and responsibilities and avoiding confusion over those roles and responsibilities during a project.
  2. Some useful resources for RACI: Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) are https://www.valuebasedmanagement.net/methods_raci.html and https://www.cio.com/article/2395825/project-management-how-to-design-a-successful-raci-project-plan.html and https://www.projectsmart.co.uk/raci-matrix.php
  3. Build a training resource (your “hit by a bus” plan) by video recording all your repeatable tasks you complete in the business. This way if you get “hit by a bus” the business can continue operating without you.
  4. Schedule monthly 1-on-1’s that are non-technical and non-tactical. That means the meeting is all about how they are, and what they need. There’s no point focusing on performance and trying to get them doing great work if they don’t feel good in the first place. On the productivity pyramid it’s “people” at the top then the “work” second, so if they are not feeling great then everything following that won’t be great, ie; their work productivity will always be lower than what’s possible.
  5. Manage the project but try letting go and trusting your staff for what you hired them for and productivity levels typically rise.

Hiring The Right People

  1. Businesses are made of people, and people are either happy or unhappy (and we all want to be happy and do great work), if they are not happy their work and productivity will be poor.
  2. Culture: if you don’t play nice with the other kids it ruins the culture. Hence we check for cultural fit first before any technical competency checks.

Over many years we’ve found this interview process works best (and fast):

  1. Start with a culture check in your interview process (a 15 min call to do gut-check of them).
  2. Technical interview (checking tech skills). The competency you expect them to have.
  3. Key people interview (others who need to interview them, eg; managers, etc).
  4. Homework session (give them a task to take away and complete to see how they work and think).
  5. Cover off by using personality test tools like > https://www.insights.com/products/insights-discovery/

Using The Right Tools

  1. Asana for team task management (used by Bill Gates at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation).
  2. Zoom for client, management and team calls (Skype or Google Meet for 1:1: calls).
  3. Slack for instant messaging.
  4. The usual suspects: G-Suite for file storage, email and calendar tools, Evernote, Adobe Acrobat, MS Office, Snagit for screenshots, and Camtasia for video recording.

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