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3 necessary adjustments to manage remote teams

3 necessary adjustments to manage remote teams

Jonathan Davies


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11 mins read

Tue, Mar 17, '20  

So you clicked on this article to understand how WFH (Working From Home) and WFA (Working From Anywhere) translates in real terms to your business.

There is no need to worry. Remote work is one of the most discussed topics at the moment, for obvious reasons. This poses a challenge to a lot of companies that have never tried remote working until now. And for it to actually work, it’s important to highlight a few things to work on and adapt to.

Remote working can - and likely will - become a positive addition to your business in the long run. Co-working spaces, digital nomads, and remote workers have steadily become a normalized part of the job market. And whether we like it or not, by 2025, around 70% of the workforce will spend at least five days a month working remotely. It’s a good time to learn more about it, even if you’re stuck at home instead of at your local barista. 

It’s not uncommon to trace the beginnings of remote working back to the recession of 2008. Companies often had to send employees home due to the high price of office-renting. But, that’s not actually where it all began...

Remote working traces back to well before the industrial revolution, when manual jobs like craftsmanship and agriculture were the norm. Work and life were one (sort of) self-sufficient whole. When the industrial revolution came knocking, large-scale production required employees to have designated workspaces. Work and everyday life started their long-time-coming breakup. Fast forward a few centuries, and the internet came along. David Bowie frightened some - and fired up others - by predicting the impact this technology would have on modern society.

Now, let’s get you ready to tackle some of the biggest question marks around remote working.

How management needs to adjust to remote teams

Remote workers can be stigmatized. Or at least, misunderstood.

The average manager is worried about the possibility of remote working turning into behind-the-back procrastination. Or that the multitasking created by the imminent blurring lines between work and personal life might be overwhelming. If you aren’t in an entirely work-dedicated space, it’s likely you won’t get anything done… right? Not exactly. 

Research has shown that employee productivity is enhanced when given freedom. Exempting your talent from micromanaging their every task will guarantee results. 

We are talking about an adjustment to the culture of your company. With remote working, this translates to continuous adaptation of your employees’ needs. Google researched what would make an ideal team, by examining the inner workings of their most productive teams. The main takeaway? Psychological safety. Every employee needs to feel heard and have a voice. Open the necessary communication channels for that to happen. Make sure that everyone in management avoids the oh so common “out of sight, out of mind”.

The soft skills remote teams need

The two things everyone in your team will need to develop: self-management and self-sufficiency.

Your talent shouldn’t be given liberty only to choose where to work, but also when to work. Give them the freedom to build their own system and enable a culture of constant feedback. A pretty straightforward example is a system by retired Navy Seal, Jocko Willink. Jocko emphasizes the necessity of owning every single one of your actions, words, and the consequences these will have. Extreme ownership allows employees to have a saying on how one’s work is executed. This creates a strong sense of responsibility. Trust them to get the job done, and make sure they can be straightforward with it if things are going sideways. There are countless more examples, ranging from Lean and Agile management up to structural company changes in the form of Holacracy. How far you far you go is up to you and your organization’s willingness to commit.

Further down the line, you will need to be able to measure the results. Create a continuously adapting set of criteria to understand the productivity of each employee and department. Why the continuous adaptation? Because the results at the beginning of any implementation are never the same down the line. Only through time will you gain a better understanding of what is being executed efficiently, and what needs to be refined. It will eventually become a systematic process, and make your employees more prone to be self-starters. It also implements an absolute necessity: the ability to adapt to constant change.

If you’re anxious about a general lack of focus, or about daily-life distractions, consider implementing training in mindfulness practices. Mindfulness has shown time and again to improve focus, productivity, and general well-being.


Keep communication going – especially for remote teams

Loneliness is the biggest concern of remote working. And in uncertain times, social interaction needs to be high up in the list of priorities. Distancing among employees not only means missing out on the usual small talk and Friday drinks, but also a strong reduction in productivity. For example, creatives are often incited to push each other further by working together.

Remote workers often cite failure of collaboration, due to bad communication, as a recurring problem. Employees working remotely can be overwhelmed with miscommunication. Luckily for us, there is one simple solution.

Sequencing interdependence is a fancy way of saying that one employee’s work is necessary for the next employee to do their job. Clarifying points of interdependence will keep employees motivated, and make it easier to follow specific measures. The result? A job well done.

This doesn’t mean you will need to track their every movement. 

Your employees will need to sense when to communicate and how. This way, they won’t feel like they’re just a cog in the wheel of corporate policy. Clear communication guidelines that empower, not limit, are a must here.

Make sure that no one feels ignored, and that everyone is kept in the loop. Feeling left out is more damaging to an employee than workplace harassment. Everyone needs to have a sense of purpose in the company. That’s where one of Internal Comms’ most important tasks comes in: creating alignment. That doesn’t just mean “everyone is on the same page”. It means that everyone can align the purpose of the business to their own purpose in life.

Last but not least: prepare remote meetings accordingly.

Get everything ready, from the right software to use, to conversation material and icebreakers. Give a list of your priorities for the day- or the week - and then move on to see which projects need to be discussed. An understanding of everyone’s challenges and priorities makes teamwork a lot easier. Another, often forgotten part: make sessions personal, even as a team. This will make your employees feel supported and heard, especially during challenging situations. You could always handpick when to do social meetings, and when to organize work-related ones. Spontaneity doesn’t hurt though. Don’t hesitate to call over a colleague to see how their pet is doing. No one minds seeing pets.


Make your remote-work policy inclusive

Remote work has now become a necessity, and our perception of it will continue to evolve because of it. Who knows, maybe in a year or two you’ll find yourself loving remote work at your company? Just make sure that your remote-work policy is as inclusive as possible. Avoid ostracism at all times – everyone has a voice.