Today, businesses have a world of talent within their reach. Remote-working is becoming more common, particularly in the United States. More than 3.6 million Americans work from home at least half the time now, as do millions of other professionals around the world.
In the past, sourcing the strongest candidates for a vacancy was limited to those local to your business, or to finding those willing to relocate. Now, entrepreneurs have the freedom to build the best team regardless of where they are based. According to a recent survey, when asked to rate their happiness from 1 to 10, remote workers claimed they were at an 8.10, contrasting with the 7.42 across all workers. Ninety one percent also said they felt they were more productive when working remotely.
As the workforce open to companies becomes more and more global, you may find the prospect of managing a team scattered across the planet somewhat daunting. Monitoring your workers’ activities, keeping them all on the same page, and providing valuable feedback is often a challenge when sharing an office. Surely, doing the same with a team separated by thousands of miles must be impossible?
Not so. There are specific ways you can prove yourself to be an effective manager of a remote workforce.
Make Productivity Your Priority
To maintain a happy, effective remote workforce, you may have to recalibrate your priorities. While it is easy to judge members of your in-house team based on the their punctuality and appearance, you have to remember that workers who always arrive on time and look immaculate are not guaranteed to be the most productive.
With that in mind, measure your remote team’s performance based on their productivity, ability to meet deadlines, and other tangible factors. Remote employees working on a per-project basis may not invest the same amount of hours as your in-house team, but this time may involve greater productivity.
Remote freelancers are also likely to be more motivated to provide the highest standard of work than employees guaranteed a monthly payment regardless of their output. Keep this in mind if you notice your freelancers are online at odd hours yet still produce outstanding results.
Embrace Technology to Improve Collaboration
At the start of your working relationship with remote teams, you should establish requirements for keeping in contact and managing work. Many online tools and platforms help to make this far easier.
Project-management software is designed to track progress and assign work to specific team-members or individuals. This is far easier than contacting each worker by email or phone to ask how they are progressing, or even having to wander around your office checking on workers’ screens.
With project-management platforms, you can share messages, upload files, and rearrange workflows with a minimum of fuss. You will be able to provide feedback and ensure everyone is on the same page.
Make Time for Regular Check-ins
Never expect your remote team to just know what they are supposed to work on without being told, or go for days without checking in.
Even if you can only spare a few minutes to provide feedback or to address any issues on a day to day basis, this is far better than one longer session at the end of a week. You may want to host group meetings with your remote work at least once a week, taking time to praise, offer advice, and take workers’ questions.
This will build a stronger bond between yourself and them, and make your team feel more valued. Just be sure to include everyone in your meetings, rather than one or two workers, to avoid wasting others’ valuable time.
Utilize Video as Often as You Can
When working together in an office, colleagues have the luxury of reading body language and picking up on visual clues. However, with text-based online communications, knowing what people really feel about certain things can be much more difficult – you only have their written word to go on.
While voice communications allow you to pick up on specific tones, video is as good as meeting your remote team in person, providing a personal discussion with all the interaction you need for an effective working relationship. Through video calls, you can identify disagreement in an expression or a lack of engagement in a gesture. Take the time to discuss potential issues and be open to alternatives.
Some of today’s most popular video chat platforms include Skype and Google Hangouts, used widely by various freelancers. However, platforms depending on regular connections can run into performance problems in countries with outdated internet infrastructures or weak signals can make worldwide video-communication much more difficult.
“Remote working is a fantastic solution for business across the globe today, but the best connection is critical,” said Tony Zhao, CEO of video chat company Agora.io. “You need to be able to chat with workers as and when you need to, regardless of the distance between you. In foreign countries where network connectivity may be lacking the quality you expect, the most common apps are highly unlikely to provide the performance you need.
“Of course, the more lagging and loss of signal you experience, the more frustrated yourself and your team will become. Constant bad experiences will lead to you blaming video and put you off using it altogether. As a result, you will then be contributing to ineffective management. Invest in the best, and the results will speak for themselves.”
Encourage More Trust Between Yourself and Colleagues
Trust is paramount in a good working relationship. While a great manager will be able to see if a member of their team is experiencing difficulties and offer help in a shared working environment, this is much more difficult in a remote set-up.
For companies focusing on their remote team’s productivity rather than the time they appear to be putting in, it is easier to recognize when something is amiss. Workers have to feel confident in their ability to ask for help, advice, or clarification as and when they need it. The more easily this happens, the more efficient your team will be.
Negotiate Inconvenient Scheduling-Conflicts
As you work with professionals across the globe, you will encounter scheduling difficulties due to time zones. You can imagine how hard it can be to arrange a video chat between yourself, based in LA, and a freelancer all the way in Wellington, New Zealand.
However, finding a compromise is vital. Finding a time that works best for you both may be difficult, but is well worth it to maintain a close, successful working relationship. It may be frustrating, but be open to staying up a little later (or rising a little earlier) every once in awhile to make that call.
Cultivate a Strong Company Culture
When your entire workforce is based in the same building, cultivating a unique company culture is fairly simple. Creating a sense of friendliness, collaboration, and openness among a team of remote workers is obviously harder.
You can work around this by keeping them in the loop, involving them in decisions and developments occurring on your end. Update them about changes within your business (even those that have no direct impact on them), ask for their ideas to improve their department and working arrangements, and ensure they feel connected to your brand’s identity.
If you can make your remote workers feel like a valuable part of your business and brand identity, they will show more loyalty. This will feed into stronger work and a willingness to push themselves.
By following the above tips, you can build an efficient, effective remote team enjoying the same sense of camaraderie as any in-house group. Embrace the latest technology and explore all of the options available to maximize its performance.
Have you thought about how employing freelancers and allowing your team to work from home can revolutionize your business?
This post was contributed by JT Ripton. Follow him on Twitter @JTRipton.