Love it or hate it, brick-and-mortar corporate hives are on the way out. This is especially true in tech. In July, Twitter, Meta, and Amazon have all announced they’re scaling back their office space or even closing locations altogether. Instead, they’re moving to hybrid or fully remote team models. Part of that shift comes as companies face cost pressure and increasing pushback from employees who found they rather liked not having to commute or pretend to get along under the same roof. Despite the pantsless video call memes, remote work should not be a free-for-all, however. Work still has to get done.
Several initial studies point to better productivity for remote workers. Better retention and employee satisfaction are among the many reasons companies are doubling down on remote and hybrid work. Other studies suggest that employees, especially new hires, miss out on some of the acculturation that comes from onboarding in an office among your peers. As more companies shift to remote models, managing onboarding and ensuring people have a clear sense of company culture is vital.
Managing remote teams requires strong organizational culture and boundary-setting, especially when working across time zones or cultures. Here’s some of what guides our own management practice. Like many software agencies, we’ve been working remotely with clients and with members of our own teams since before the pandemic. Software development lends itself well to hybrid work since all it really requires is a stable internet connection to work together on projects. However, we’ve learned a lot in the past few years and are constantly improving our process. From the right tools to keep you connected to some good practices to keep a remote team cohesive, here are some of our top tips for managing remote teams.
Before any of your employees can work remotely, they’re going to need tools to help them stay connected. At the bare minimum, this means some quality hardware to communicate through. Make sure your teams have good cameras and microphones. Seeing and hearing your team is vital to good communication and team cohesion.
Many companies shifting to remote work have begun helping remote workers settle into their home offices. This can take the form of extra pay or a bonus to set up an office at home or an equipment exchange where anyone can check out a piece of equipment like standing desks, chairs, or a high-quality mic.
In any remote meeting, we ask that cameras are on so we can see everyone’s faces. This is basic video call etiquette and ensures meetings go smoothly. You want your meetings to be as in-person as possible, so it’s difficult to connect to a team if cameras are switched off or the video quality is poor.
We also make sure everyone on the team has a presentable background, especially for client meetings. We’ll either blur out the background or have team members set up a quiet place to hold a video chat. We also create a background with our company logo for people to use if they prefer.
High-quality audio equipment is also important. Nothing will kill morale in a meeting than not being able to hear your teammates over background noise or through the tinny default computer mic. Some headphones have electronic noise canceling software built in. These are great options if you’re working in a noisy home.
One of the main criticisms of remote work is that there are more unnecessary meetings or that the quality of meetings is much worse. Part of having the right hardware is ensuring you’re not wasting your team’s time. Getting buy-in from your team and removing blockers that would make it harder to work together is one of our main tips for managing remote teams.
If having a good camera and a mic is the bare minimum for hardware, some basic messaging software is also crucial. Like many organizations, we use Slack daily to stay in touch and communicate with each other. One of the main advantages is that it allows you to set a status and block off your working hours and whether you’re available to respond or not.
A lot of software development requires distraction-free deep work. And so much of the messaging communication comes asynchronously. Having a messenger, whether it’s Slack or Teams, or other popular option, helps streamline a remote working day.
It also helps keep a record of what was agreed previously and can serve as reminders for tasks. Being clear about how and when team members need to be available is part of using messaging software. Setting realistic goals is part of managing a remote team.
In addition to messaging apps, there are several other remote working aids that we use.
To keep track of who’s in the office, who’s working remotely, and who’s away on holiday, we use FreeQuest, our custom leave management app. It’s an easy-to-use dashboard that helps our hybrid team work seamlessly.
Another tool that stands out is the noise-canceling app Krisp.ai. It does a great job of filtering out background noise, echoes, and voices and can stand in if you don’t have a great mic or if you work around kids or in other noisy settings. The app works similarly to ENC headphones and uses artificial intelligence to block out noises coming from the background. Its free version is available for up to an hour a day.
Keeping a tight calendar and encouraging your reports to do the same is another key to successful remote team management. Setting aside time to focus on tasks and when to be open to meetings. Of course, setting meetings, inviting the right people, and making sure the meeting is totally necessary are part of managing a team too. Either way, using an online calendar effectively is a necessary part of remote work.
Communication and clear expectations
Along with the right tools, effective remote work also requires some deliberate planning and expectation-setting. It’s vital as a team leader and as an effective communicator to set the ground rules for how you want the team to work together.
Part of getting effective feedback is creating an environment where you’re open to feedback and where your reports feel comfortable giving it. Video calls and Slack can feel impersonal for some conversations, but making sure your camera is on, and all your distractions are set aside goes a long way to make sure your team members feel heard.
Setting aside time for weekly one-on-ones is a great way to take the individual pulses of your team to ensure they’re not overwhelmed or struggling with blockers you can’t see over a remote connection. It gives your team a chance to flag anything and for you to communicate that you value the work that they’re doing. In an in-person office environment, you may be able to notice problems and address them before they fester, but if the team is remote, it can get worse and emerge much later.
In addition to the one-on-one meetings, you should also consider having a weekly team meeting to align and remove any blockers or simply to talk as a group to go over projects. At Applandeo, we have Thursday Sync meetings where everyone shares something exciting from their current project. It works well for us, and people find it builds team cohesion.
Of course, be sure your meetings have clear goals and firm time limits. Remote team productivity can suffer from many unnecessary meetings if members feel like a meeting is taking away from a productive workday. Get buy-in, adjust your schedules or simply remove meetings that don’t bring anything constructive to the team.
In the agile methodology, the retrospective is one way to set aside time to go over what was done, what’s left to do, and what can be done better in the next sprint. These are great times to listen to the team and hear their suggestions for how they can work better. If meetings are taking too much attention from daily tasks, nix them. If some team members feel left out or alienated, schedule in time to meet.
Just how responsive you and your team need to be should be clearly defined and communicated in writing and onboarding meetings. Setting a status on your messenger for when you’re working and available is a must. Make sure your team knows if you’re going to be late or if you won’t make it to calls.
Blocking out your day in your calendar is also a great way to streamline any scheduling and workflow. An important part of effective remote work is to over-communicate. Since you’re not in the same building as your peers, you’ll have to be overly clear about your schedule, how you want to be contacted and how responsive you want the team to be. Making this clear early and often is essential to ensuring a remote team leads to efficient and fulfilling work.
Just because the team is remote does not mean they can’t meet in person from time to time. One alternative model is hybrid work, where your team works from home most of the time but comes in for important meetings or days when everyone needs to align on tasks. This can be very beneficial for creative teams or other situations where more spontaneity is required to complete the task.
Scheduling office time where everyone needs to be in is a great way to have a mostly remote team that gets together when they need to. If your team is distributed geographically, devote a budget to bring people together for important events.
Not all events have to be strictly work-related, of course. Team building trips and parties are a great way to build a sense of community. It’s good for on-site workers to get out and do non-work things together. So it’s also perfect for people who may have never met each other in person to meet outside of work.
Remote work is here to stay. How your policies and leadership adapt is up to your individual, organizational culture and unique team dynamics. But managing a remote team is an increasingly important skill. Over-communication, clear communication guidelines, and practices that build team cohesion are vital to managing remote workers well.
Making sure everyone on a team feels heard and you actively commit to improving your work are some of our key advice. Tools that facilitate team communication are important too, but the fundamentals of team leadership are the same if you’re meeting in one building or across time zones.