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Tips to Manage a Remote Team

Remote work has been, and continues to be, on the rise. Nearly 43% of Americans report working remotely at least some of the time. There are many reasons for this: improved telecommunications, improved productivity, increased happiness, increased value, a lighter environmental footprint, and an increase in overall profitability (to name a few).   

We won’t go into too much detail on the why here, because this is about the how. We know more and more people want to work remotely, so the question is how to manage these teams to make the most out of the benefits of remote work while avoiding some of the risks.

Not surprisingly, a lot of these tips simply follow best practices of running effective engineering teams. We’ve just applied the same concepts to working outside of the office, and with special attention focused on what gets overlooked by not being in the same room:

  • Vision and Motivation
  • Clear Expectations and Process
  • Team Culture

Vision and Motivation

All-star teams are made up people who are individually motivated to drive toward a common vision. At the highest level, everyone must know why they are doing what they’re doing.

  1. Have your team come up with either an overall mission statement or project-specific mission statement that everyone can buy into.
  2. Video conference once a week with each member of your team. Familiarize yourself with what motivates each person individually.

Some common motivators may include:

  • The vision: some people really just buy in and that’s all they need.
  • The code: Github as heaven.
  • The challenge: figuring out difficult problems is all they want to do all day.
  • The prestige: people want props when props are due. No shame in that!
  • The team: being part of something bigger than themselves.
  • The career: where do they want to be in 5 years?
  • The money: pure and simple.
  • Lead by example. If you aren’t dedicated, why should they be?

Clear Expectations and Process

Once you have a team of employees individually motivated toward a common goal, you need to enable and empower the team to achieve it. How do you do this?

  • Set clear expectations. When employees have clear expectations, they are more effectively able to self-manage. They know what success looks like and if they’ve missed targets.
  • Find the process “sweet spot.” This is a matter of communicating with your team. Hold regular monthly or bi-weekly team video conferences. Come up with the right process together that meets the needs of the project while staying unburdensome to your team. Perhaps most importantly, always be reviewing the processes with your team, and be willing to adjust and improve based on feedback.

There are a few recurring events that every leader should consider setting up in their teams:

  • Daily status update via chat: A message (on a platform like Slack) from every employee every morning. Very quick notes of what they worked on yesterday, what they will do today, what risks they see, and if they are blocked by anything. This is a really low effort way to identify risks and roadblocks early on.
  • Have a weekly “coffee”: A 30-minute video conference with each team member to check in on their motivation and their understanding/performance against expectations. Create development plans for growth or just talk about whatever is on their minds.
  • Monthly or bi-weekly team meetings: The team needs a forum in which they can interact with each other, give shout-outs, and understand the state of the business and various projects.
  • Focused work time: one or more long blocks of time per week that your teams are protected from any meeting or distractions besides focused work.

Team Culture

The biggest loss when a team is remote is the loss of comradery and bonding that can really only be created by being in the same room day in and day out. Unfortunately, having a great team culture is also one of the best ways to get the most out of a group.

That being said, there are ways to bolster team unity even when some or all employees are working from afar:

  • Make sure every member of the team knows the names and some information about everyone else. Make sure new members are properly introduced to the rest of the team.
  • Mentorships or partnerships can greatly increase the sense of community and help solve problems. If you have multiple projects, create pairs out of one person from each project and encourage them to discuss their issues/wins with each other.
  • Hold team meetings that are centered around culture, fun, and vision-building. If you do demos, shoutouts, or rewards of any kind it should be done with the whole team available to participate.
  • Create a “random” channel in your Slack. Some of the funniest culture-driving conversations come directly through this so-called “unimportant” channel.

Following these helpful tidbits will allow your remote team to thrive even beyond what can be expected of in-house staff. They will be happier and work better, which allows you — as their fearless leader — to enjoy the pride of having an all-star all-remote team.