This is a great time to be a manager. There’s a wealth of advice on how to be effective in your role available on sites like these. And the rise of the internet means that we don’t need to hope the very best staff are working in our backyard anymore. Remote working means that you can choose from a global talent pool when you are looking to fill that vital role.
And while managing a remote team isn’t quite the same thing as working with your on-site colleagues, you don’t have to change your style much to make it work. In fact, just carry on being the amazing manager that you are and use these tools to deal with the common concerns of remote teams.
If there’s one thing that’s vital for remote teams, it’s good communication. Remote workers tend to be self-reliant and autonomous. And that’s great – they’re both brilliant qualities to have in your staff. But it’s easy for autonomy to turn into a lone wolf situation, and that doesn’t help anybody.
That’s why we always recommend remote team managers spend a lot of time thinking about communication. You’ll need multiple channels, and you’ll want a clear policy on which should be used for what, to avoid urgent messages going unread.
One to Ones
For those sensitive conversations that need to be private between two individuals, Skype is a great choice. It offers an instant messaging function alongside either voice or video call. Because sometimes, you need to see the look in another person’s eye even if they’re a continent away.
If you use the Agile Development Methodology and you’re wondering how to handle your daily stand-up, then tools like GoToMeeting and Zoom need to be on your list. Both offer similar functionality for handling video or voice conference calls but Zoom also has some additional features such as a developer specific package.
If time zone issues prevent you from talking in person, then you can consider using a chat app such as Slack, and combining it with a bot such as Geekbot to manage your stand-up while you sleep.
Virtual Water Cooler
Perhaps the number one concern about remote working (well, if we ignore that nonsense about people slacking off in their PJ’s) is that distributed teams miss out on the social side. Unlike the slacker scenario, this one has some basis in truth, because not feeling part of a team has a huge impact on individual well-being and team performance.
So, it’s important to give your team space for just chatting. Sharing jokes, or frustrations, or the results of their local sports team. And for that, we love Slack. The ability to have different channels means you can use one for work-related support and have another for shooting the breeze.
With staff in different time zones, setting up a meeting or just knowing if it’s a good time to fire off a message can take some management. While we usually advocate that staff keep your company’s office hours, no matter where in the world they are, we appreciate that isn’t going to work for everyone. So, if you need a simple tool to help you work out who can do what, then take a look at timeanddate.com.
When your staff is working remotely, it’s more important than ever to know who is doing what. Whereas in your office you might have a whiteboard that can be checked off as tasks are completed, with remote teams you’ll need a digital equivalent.
There are several solutions out there. At DistantJob we use Trello. It’s a virtual T-card system that allows us to assign tasks to specific staff and watch the job as it progresses through our work-flow. You can have separate ‘boards’ for different aspects of your project, and within each board are lists. We have a list for each step in the process, and staff move their card along when finished and can tag each other if they need a hand.
Another popular tool for distributing tasks around a team is Asana. It’s not quite as intuitive to use as Trello, but it has a wider range of features. With Asana, you can create a timeline, for example, and see a visual representation of where you’re going. Both options also come with a mobile app, so staff can stay in touch even if they’re away from their computer.
Keeping track of which version of a document or piece of code is the most recent can be a nightmare. With local copies on personal laptops, or working copies in the cloud, and that version that Bob sent you last night via Skype, it’s easy to lose track. That’s why version control software is a boon for remote team managers.
If you’re managing developers, then a tool like GitHub will help you keep your version control straight. It does much more than that if you want it to; there are as many ways to use GitHub as there are projects.
If you want to keep a tab on documents across a whole range of platforms, then M-Files is the answer. No, it’s not the new adventures of Mulder & Scully, it’s a document control tool that will keep you using the latest version no matter where it’s stored.
As we’ve said, feeling a part of something is important for virtual teams. So, in addition to all those work-related tools, it’s also great to use other tools to connect your people and let them share experiences. For example:
1. Spotify – let someone curate the team playlist and share it with everyone. Load up some motivational songs and get working. It’s comforting to know you’re not the only suffering from the same ear-worm.
2. Quake – or your choice of the online game. If you can’t all go for a beer after work, then why not log in and wreak some virtual havoc to help relieve stress and make memories.
3. Google Hangouts – if it’s someone’s birthday or a holiday worth celebrating (and what holiday isn’t) then set yourself up a Google Hangout and turn out for a virtual party.
Yes, for many managers having a remote team is a new experience and that can be challenging. But we promise you, we’ve seen many companies make the transition now and they all come out the other end more productive, no matter which tool they use. It isn’t about learning new skills; it’s just about finding a new way to do the same thing. Stay connected, and you’re on the right track.