The days of traditional 9-5 brick and mortar workforces have come and are nearly gone. Today, nearly 45% of today’s workforce in the United States works remotely and it’s likely that this percentage will continue to grow.
It’s no surprise that the remote work community has grown exponentially in recent years. Recent surveys suggest that employees who work remotely are generally happier, feel more valued, and feel they experience greater productivity during work hours. No wonder employees are fighting so hard for their right to score some work from home time.
The myriad of benefits that come with a remote workforce are seemingly endless, especially for startups looking for any opportunity to be cutting edge, forward thinking, mobile and agile. But, as with most things, it’s easier said than done. For remote teams to function positively and effectively, the right tools and methods need to be in place.
Here are 7 tips and tools you can use to successfully manage a remote workforce and bid a friendly farewell, hopefully, to office space and (worse yet) cubicles.
1. Use one communication tool for chatting and collaboration
With a remote team, asking questions or relaying critical information to your team isn’t as simple as walking over to the next office to speak with your manager. Sure, you can pick up the phone or send an email, but phone calls don’t leave a “paper trail” and critical emails can easily get lost in the noise of your inbox.
Remote teams would do well to choose an asynchronous messaging application, like Slack, to replace the in-office “chatting”. Slack allows you to chat directly with coworkers, create a private chat “group” with more than two participants, and even dedicate certain open channels dedicated to specific topics like “marketing”, or “sales”.
2. Share screens when possible
The visual component to meetings is often incredibly important to communicating clearly and effectively and that doesn’t go away when you’re working with remote teams. In fact, the need to use visuals almost increases when you’re working with teams scattered across the globe. Use a tool like Zoom to share your screen when you’re working through meetings.
3. Maintain a central calendar
Tool: Google Calendar
When your team is remote, it’s not so easy to see who’s available. Using a central calendar tool allows the entire company to know who’s in, who’s out, who’s busy, and who’s not. This is especially useful and important when your team operates across different time zones.
Avoid bogging down your teammate’s inboxes with silly scheduling emails that could have been avoided with a decent centralized calendar. For many businesses, Google calendar proves to be a reliable option that allows your team members to manage their own calendar while also having visibility into everyone else’s.
4. Use visual task/project management tools
Nix the sticky notes and whiteboards. Virtual offices require virtual tools to manage teams and specific projects. Consider using Trello to outline your departmental tasks or specific requirements for a project. The great thing about Trello is that it’s incredibly intuitive and simple to navigate.
You can create a Trello Board for just about anything. Manage your inbound marketing requests, for example, with a Trello board. Your team can submit marketing requests by creating a “card” on the board and the marketing team will take it from there. Or, you can manage your website’s backlog of blogs using the Kanban methodology.
Create a board with columns titled “backlog”, “in progress”, “first review”, “second review”, and “published”. As each team member works on writing a blog, they move the corresponding card through the various stages on the Trello board, allowing the entire team visibility into everyone’s progress. There’s literally no end to how you can use Trello.
5. Keep all documents in one place
Remote teams need virtual filing cabinets to easily locate company-wide documents. Rather than emailing around a bunch of documents, struggling through version control and wasting time sifting through old emails and archives, make things easier on your team by storing everything in one place.
Decide on a tool and stick with it. The last thing you want is for half of your team to use one tool while the other half uses another. Keep it simple. The less time employees spend searching for something of use to them, the more time they can focus on actually doing their job. DropBox or Google Drive are both great tools to manage your document storage and file sharing needs without breaking the bank.
6. Automate onboarding and HR related tasks
Even a hybrid or fully remote team won’t avoid the paperwork that comes with onboarding. There is, however, a way to make things simpler and entirely electronic. Use a secure, all in one cloud solution to manage payroll, HR, onboarding, benefits, paid time off scheduling, and other compliance related items. If you’re located in the United States, Zenefits is a great solution to utilize, and you won’t need to spend a dime on it either.
7. Make sure video meetings are a part of the regular work calendar
Face-to-face interaction is vital in developing a strong remote work dynamic. Not only does it help avoid the tendency for remote teams to work in siloes and vacuums, but it also nurtures the feeling of community between your team even when you’re thousands of miles apart.
Consider scheduling weekly, company-wide video calls with your team so everyone can get a chance to see one another and collaborate. Biweekly one-on-one video touch-points with any of your direct reports are also equally as important. Zoom, yet again, is a great, reliable tool for video conferencing, which is incredibly easy to use from your computer or your phone.
Concluding Thoughts – make sure you train!
21st-century technology is changing the way we do work and conduct business and, best yet, it’s allowing many businesses to say “bye-bye” to their traditional 9-5 brick and mortar way of doing things.
Yet, even with the best technology and tools put in place, most remote teams will only operate at full capacity when they’re properly trained to use those tools. It takes time, effort and diligence to ensure your remote teams function efficiently, and they’ll only be able to do so with the right support, training, and resources.
Be among the leading “places to work” by facilitating a strong remote work relationship with your employees! Train, communicate, and support your team – and, if you feel so inclined, feel free to do all that while working under the covers and in your PJ’s, from the comfort of your own home.