How to manage a remote team
As remote working becomes increasingly common, Nuance's Alistair Robbie identifies the benefits of a remote team and tips to avoid potential pitfalls
Today, a revolution is taking place in the way that business teams come together and collaborate, and that revolution is driven by the concept of remote working.
There are many benefits to operating a remote team, but there are also a number of potential pitfalls to consider. To help make sure that you start your remote operations with your eyes open as a manager, and your best feet collectively forward, here we’re going to examine both.
The benefits of a remote team
Let’s quickly explore some of the benefits of managing a remote team:
Large global pool of workers – With a remote team you’re no longer restricted to picking your staff from within an hour’s commuting radius.
Flexibility – For both you and your employees, remote working provides the flexibility to work virtually wherever and whenever suits best.
Lower overheads – Not having to rent office space or reimburse employees for travelling to meetings can have a substantial impact on your bottom-line.
Avoiding the commute – Not having to commute can mean that team members start the day a little fresher and without the stress of driving or travelling aboard a packed train to work.
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Increased productivity – Working from home can deliver a better work-life balance, resulting in greater happiness and productivity.
Eco-friendly – Today, all businesses and individuals need to be aware of their carbon footprint. Remote teams are a great way to bring this down, as the associated carbon emissions are reduced to only the small amount of power required to run a laptop.
The pitfalls of remote team management and how to avoid them
No workplace revolution offers a perfect solution, and there will always be problems and difficulties that need to be ironed out to ensure effective functioning.
But if you take the time to tackle these issues and implement appropriate solutions, the benefits will soon begin to far outweigh any teething problems. Here are some common issues experienced by managers as they evolve their remote teams…
Lack of company culture
The issue: Walk into the head office of any large organisation and you’ll find a distinct and recognisable corporate culture, with engrained norms and values. If your team is entirely remote and rarely comes together face to face, it can be hard to build that kind of business culture.
This lack of cohesion can lead to a diluted sense of team spirit which, if left unchallenged, can result in declining productivity.
The solution: Tools like HipChat, Skype and Slack will enable your team to talk as often as needed through both video chat and instant messaging. As a manager though, you also need to take the lead role in fostering a business culture that your team can connect with.
Ben Peterson from Inc. recommends that at the beginning of the day, managers, “take a minute to consider your company’s core values, and then pick one to focus on for the entire day.” You can then compose a short email, instant message or video which encourages team members to consider how they can embody that value throughout their working day.
Lack of routine
The issue: Without someone ‘looking over their shoulder’, some staff can find it difficult to establish a routine, and productivity can suffer as a result.
The solution: Working remotely is a skill, and takes self-discipline. Hiring those who have successfully worked remotely in the past can be a good start.
As a manager you can help to build routine into your team’s day by implementing a regular schedule, maintaining usual 9-5 working hours, and arranging regular catch-ups. You and your team may find it useful to schedule appointments and regular daily routines and tasks using tools such as Google Calendar or Outlook.
The issue: A successful business depends on consistent and reliable workflows which are integrated into the business daily processes. Teams which are given too much flexibility in the way they work can lack this methodical way of working, and productivity can again suffer as a result.
The solution: Proper business process management must be implemented even in the virtual workplace, and there are a number of virtual tools which will help you to ensure that everyone’s on the same page. Trello will enable you to create instantly accessible ‘cards’ which detail the tasks that need to be undertaken and the methods for doing so, while Basecamp is a handy tool for managing to-do lists, project schedules, files and other necessary aspects of project management.
The issue: Effective communication is at the heart of any successful business. When each team member is located in different places, this communication is at risk of becoming sparse and of a lesser quality. This can be a particular problem if everyone needs to be involved in client conversations.
The solution: There’s no need for anyone to miss out on vital client emails, as colleagues can be easily CC’d in to these. The digital age has provided many different tools for maintaining communications between people over long distances, including Skype, which can help to keep communication at high level through face to face digital calls.
The issue: Team members will inevitably need access to many different documents, software and databases. Providing quick access to these is the first hurdle for any remote team.
The solution: The cloud has made it possible for all staff to access documents as needed from any location. There are many different solutions available, from fully hosted desktop systems to shared drives. Nuance’s Power PDF Advanced offers cloud computing capabilities which will enable you to share PDF documents securely, and supports Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote and Microsoft OneDrive. Power PDF uses 128- and 256-bit AES encryption to keep shared documents secure online and users can make use of its password-based access features to ensure sensitive information does not fall into the wrong hands.
Document management/ collaboration
The issue: In addition to access to documents, much of the time your team members will need to edit and collaborate on them. The challenge in facilitating this collaboration is to ensure that all documents are managed securely and edited in a logical sequence by multiple users.
The solution: A robust document management system will allow staff to collaborate effortlessly, and ensure that version control is adhered to at all times. Power PDF allows users to merge multiple PDF files into one document which can then to be edited remotely by multiple users via the cloud. Once all the PDF files are in one place, Power PDF’s document assembly functions allow users to insert, extract, crop and move the different pages within the document. In order to create a professional PDF portfolio, allowing for easy and secure editing, with document review and mark-up tools.
As companies are becoming more global the demand for remote teams will increase. There will undoubtedly be various challenges to adjust to this relatively new style of work, but with the right tools the productivity gains can be substantial.
Not only would this way of working improve flexibility and reduce costs, it may help create a happier workforce which in turn can bring significant returns for the business.