The requirement of business leaders to manage remote teams has grown exponentially in the last few years due to the appealing nature of a remote workforce. For both the employer and the employee there are many benefits that can be derived from remote working, including flexible working locations that increase employee satisfaction and a wider geographical remit for the company. Remote working has been proven to save companies thousands in employee costs as it removes the need for a physical office space, requiring far less initial investment from the business.
In recent years, remote working has become increasingly popular with e-commerce and start-up businesses. These companies see the landscapes they work in rapidly evolving and as a result the direct benefits of not committing to a great deal of investment in a physical work space.
For all the benefits there are of remote working, it also presents several challenges to companies and the individuals responsible for managing within the business. Ensuring that people are working as productively as possible, that they are where they need to be, when they need to be there, and that they remain motivated are just some of the challenges that people who manage a remote workforce face. Below, we’ve highlighted some of the pros and cons of managing a remote workforce, offering our top tips on how to scale your workforce remotely.
The first step you need to focus on, if you’re to successfully manage a remote workforce, will be around your recruitment process for the team you hire. You need to ensure the people you hire have the right attributes to work successfully remotely so that you can achieve your business objectives. As you would look for certain characteristics and values within the people you hire for a role based in your office, you need to look for specific attributes that would make them suitable for an at-home role. Here are some of the key characteristics people who suit remote working will demonstrate.
You need doers
First and foremost, you need to hire people who are passionate about the role they’re moving into and keen to push themselves to do a great job for you and your company. You need people who can take on the requirements of their role, and understand how they fit into the company’s objectives. At interview ask questions about projects or tasks the person’s completed to understand; who set the task? How did they organise their time to complete the task? Look for key indicators about how the person motivated themselves to complete the task: did they rely on other people to support them through it, or were they successful in completing the project through their own planning and organisational prioritising? Understanding how the person has worked through a task will give you an insight into the level of support they will require. The more they need from other people, the less suited they are likely to be to a remote working role.
When you’re hiring ‘doers’ you need to ensure you’re giving people clear guidance and a strategic insight into what needs to be achieved, but you shouldn’t expect to have to give them tasks to get the job done. You need people who understand the role they play in the wider team and who use their initiative if they are to work successfully remotely.
You need effective communicators
A key element of a successful workforce is one that can effectively communicate. Sharing information, whether that be via email, phone, video calling or through specific collaboration software, is imperative when scaling your remote team. You need to hire people who understand when and how to communicate with the other members of your team, ensuring they are able to send the key messages to push the objectives forward. Helping your remote team to see themselves as a small part of a wider team can be challenging, as they may irregularly, if ever, meet their other colleagues. Utilising a virtual PA to support your communication with each team member means you can send out consistent messages to your whole team regardless of where they work. The more consistent your communication is with each person in your remote team, the more effective their communication with each other will be.
You need to trust and build trust
Another critical element of hiring the right people for your remote team is to hire people you can trust, and people who in turn will trust you. If you’re constantly wondering what the person you’ve hired is up to, whether they’ll meet the deadline you’ve set and so on, you will be distracted away from the other important responsibilities you have to complete. By hiring people you trust, you will be able to successfully manage your remote workforce, no matter how big it grows. You also need to ensure you demonstrate your trust to your team by not contacting them all day, instead asking for updates in a manner that shows you believe in their capabilities to fulfil their roles. Your team also need to be able to trust you to fulfil their requests, for example if they need more information to be able to complete a task, or more detail to understand the strategic implications of work they’ve been asked to complete. Trust is a two-way street and once it’s broken, you will struggle to achieve your growth objectives with a remote workforce.
You need individuals
Many people chose to work within companies, or sectors based on the social advantages on offer. Maybe your company has a 'work hard, play hard' culture, or offers regular socialising opportunities for staff; there is nothing wrong with people looking for a social side to the company they work for. However, when you’re hiring people for your remote team you need to ensure you’re hiring people who <i>don’t</i> need a social dimension to their job. Asking questions at interview about the things they most enjoyed about their employer and in their previous role is a good way to gain an insight into how important regular contact with their colleagues and the social aspects of a company are to the individual. You need people who aren’t looking to make work a part of their social scene or they will quickly become lonely and unhappy in a remote role.
Arranging your interviews, whether that be face to face, via Skype or video calling is a time-consuming task, especially if you’re trying to connect with remote workers across different time zones. Working with a virtual PA, you will have the peace of mind you’re moving forward the process of hiring your ideal remote team, without having to spend hours of your own time booking in interviews.
Tools to help
One of the most important investments you need to make when you’re managing a remote team is to invest in tools to help you coordinate your workforce. Your tools need to empower you and your team to effectively complete the tasks required of you and allow you to share information effectively. Working remotely means bringing your team together for a meeting is a rare occurrence, but by utilising some of the best collaboration tools on the market, you can increase communication throughout your remote team.
Some of the tools you can use to manage your remote team include:
Slack – This allows you to create an internal chat system so that your remote team can communicate with each other with ease. Using the # function to filter various topics or conversations means your employees can quickly access the information they need.
Lastpass Enterprise – Lastpass is a life saver in terms of information sharing in remote teams as it securely stores all log ins for the hundreds of systems, programmes or cloud drives your company uses. Rather than remote workers scrabbling around for the details they need to be able to access different programmes, Lastpass saves all of the information your remote workers could need, saving time for everyone involved.
Google Hangouts – Hangouts is also another great tool when you need to have a virtual meeting; you can pull together the specific members of the team you need to speak to and share ideas throughout via chat.
Coordinating your remote team so that they are all trained on how to use the collaborative tools is a responsibility you can outsource to your virtual PA. Your PA can send log ins, training documents and information out to each member of your remote team so that everyone has the details they need to utilise the tools to help them succeed in their role.
Keeping your team engaged and motivated is just as critical if they work remotely as if they work in the office with you. If you want to keep your remote workforce for a long time, you need to ensure they stay, grow, and develop with your company in the same way you would expect of members of staff who you see every day. Regular one-to-ones (fortnightly is often an appropriate timeframe) with your remote staff is a great way to help them feel an important part of your company and a valued employee. By attending regular meetings with your remote team, even if the meeting is coordinated over the phone, or by video, you will understand the challenges faced by your employees. This will give you the ability to address anything that could potentially challenge your staff to fulfil their roles. It will help you to create solutions to obstacles they’re facing to help the person continue to succeed in their role.
It’s also your opportunity to support your employees through their own career development and goals with regular, committed input. You will be able to discuss contract expectations and skill developments you expect from the individual. By checking in every few weeks you’ll be able to track the person’s progress whilst both enjoying the more flexible benefits offered by remote working. Use tools like Slack to answer any day-to-day queries your team members have, so that productivity doesn’t falter, and use your regular one-to-one meetings to discuss what it is the employee wants to achieve in the forthcoming weeks and months.
Encouraging your remote workers to understand that they aren’t expected to know everything and if they need help with something that it is readily available is a great way to ensure productivity continues to develop when scaling your remote team. You actually have an advantage of managing a team of remote workers that, rather than turn to you as the line manager, can throw their question out to their virtual team who may be able to resolve the issue, without you having to get involved.
Build a culture
Just as with you would with a team who physically work in the same office space, you need to ensure you build a culture with your remote team that is collaborative and has personality. Encouraging chat unrelated to work for the first 5 minutes of a Google Hangout session, or greeting everyone in your Slack group chat on a daily basis, can be a great way to ensure communication is open amongst your team, regardless of their locations.
Get to know your employees, their interests, family lives, and events they’re attending so that your relationship isn’t just based on work. This will help you to understand more about your employees' lives, so you are aware when are appropriate times to send them extra work, and when is not. Promoting the values of your business throughout your remote team will be key in empowering your team to produce work that will help the business grow in the strategic direction it’s meant to.
You also need to ensure you’re building a culture of accountability and recognition. Accountability in your remote team will ensure that tasks are undertaken with a desire by that individual to complete it to the best of their ability, and to ask for help if they’re struggling. Without being able to see each day what your employees are working on, you need to know they’re being accountable for the responsibility entrusted to them. Working remotely means it can be easy to let tasks slides, especially if information is lacking in order to complete the work. It can take a long time for you as the manager to recognise what issues have arisen as a result of the task being forgotten, by which point the consequences can be significant. Accountability often stems from a person who is proactive, who will think ahead to ensure a task can be completed and consider the information they will need in order to succeed.
Recognition also needs to be a key part of the culture you build in your remote team so that you ensure people are rewarded for their work. When your remote team feels their input is being acknowledged and recognised on a platform wider than just your meetings with them, they will feel more motivated to continue to create excellent work.
Onboarding and training
Hiring new people into your team requires a period of onboarding and training so that everyone is aware of company procedures and processes. As a remote manager, it’s imperative that you’re organised with the information your remote team will need to successfully fulfil the requirements of their job. You need to make an extra effort to be available for phone calls and ensure you’re responding to emails efficiently so that your remote workers are able to complete the task required of them in a time-effective manner.
This process can be managed by a remote PA, to help you coordinate new people joining your team efficiently. Especially if you are onboarding a number of people who have been hired to fulfil the same job role, you can brief the training process to your PA who will ensure all information is passed over effectively. This takes off a huge amount of pressure from you as you have the peace of mind that your new starters are being introduced to the business efficiently.
Remote PA Services
Working with a remote PA when you’re managing a remote team will feel as comfortable for you as managing your team. You will understand the requirements of working with employees that you don’t have regular contact with, so will be able to utilise the service of a PA to help you scale your remote team effectively. From coordinating your team to creating and mailing out official documentation and arranging meetings, there are so many ways a remote PA can help you to effectively manage a remote team.
Whether you need support with diary management, meeting bookings, travel arrangements including accommodation, or documentation processing – we offer a range of features to help take the pressure of your day to day. Working with a PA will give you the peace of mind you need to support your remote team effectively, allowing both you and your team to continue fulfilling their roles without being distracted by the administrative necessities of working with a growing company.
As your team grows you need a support system that can evolve with your evolving business needs. If you’re managing a remote team, you’ll want to continue enjoying the flexibility this offers – so collaborating with a remote PA is a great way to maximise the benefits of a virtual workforce. You can continue to offer an excellent, considerate employer brand to your employees – no matter how big your remote team grows – with peace of mind that each of your employees is receiving the same service from your business.
If you want more information about how SmartPA services can support you in managing your remote team, contact us or call us on 0845 872 2262.