8 Tips For Successful Distributed Team Management

Maintaining a work-life balance can be hard for people who deal with long commutes and extended hours at work. They're trying to stay productive during standard working hours, which aren't always the best hours for them. Remote work is becoming increasingly popular as an option, with many workers seeking out this perk specifically. A report by Flexjobs found that 74 percent of respondents believe that flexible working options, such as remote work, are the "new normal" for the modern business world. Upwork's Future Workplace Report has found that  69 percent of managers in younger generations, such as Millennials, have team members who work remotely. Managing distributed teams requires a much different approach from leading people that you see in-person every day. Here are eight tips to set yourself and your team up for success. 

Use a Solution that Provides Team Insights 

Many of the opportunities to learn more about your team are less readily available when you're working in a distributed team. It's important to leverage the right technology to create these opportunities in a digital medium so that you can get valuable insights into how everyone works together, and how that can improve. A cloverleaf is an essential tool in managing a distributed team. This platform helps you understand the personalities and strengths of the people you're managing from afar. You learn about their motivations, work styles, preferences, and other essential details, and there's one key feature that sets Cloverleaf apart from similar platforms. Everyone on the team receives insights to each other directly to their inbox. You're getting a virtual run-in at the coffee station right in your email. 

Use Communication Tools that Support Collaboration and Connection

The right communication tools are the lifeblood that makes remote work possible. Since you can't casually drop by someone's desk throughout the day, you need a way to support team discussions that feels natural and is easy to use. Many organizations with distributed teams turn to Slack or a similar chat platform for this purpose. Here are a few key features and characteristics that you should look for when selecting the communication tool that makes the most sense for your remote team: 

  • Multiple channels: When you try to have a single channel for everything going on in remote teams, it can quickly become cluttered and hard to follow. You're trying to improve communication rather than having a tool get in the way of it, so make sure that multi-channel configurations are available. At the very least, you'll want to have a work-related channel and an off-topic channel. The Off-topic chat provides your team with a way to connect with one another and grow their interpersonal relationships. It's a great way to blow off steam during difficult deadlines and insight into everyone's personalities. 

  • Text, voice, and video chat: Text isn't always the ideal medium for conveying ideas and information. Sometimes you can explain something faster through voice chat or need meetings set up in video chat. When you have all of these options in a single communications tool, you make it straightforward to use them. Compare that to having separate software for each type of chat, which can get complicated rather quickly. That kind of setup also discourages people from using the tools that they have available to them. 

  • One-on-one messaging: Private messaging is an important option for conversations that aren't appropriate for the group channel. Sometimes people have questions, comments, and concerns that are better addressed privately. 

  • Ad-hoc channels: You don't always need an official chat channel for a particular project or conversation, but it would be helpful to separate out that discussion from the rest of the chat. Being able to create channels on the fly makes it possible to have these spontaneous group conversations without being disruptive to the rest of the team's communication. 

  • GIF and emoji support: Text often fails to show the emotional tone of a person's message. It's easy to take things the wrong way or to assume a meaning that was not actually intended. Emojis and GIFs are ways to add the appropriate tone, and they're often a hallmark of the off-topic channel. Being able to have visual media available for online discussions can lead to more opportunities to show off personalities and connect. Make sure that you have a GIF and emoji usage policy in place so that they are used in ways that are not inappropriate in a work environment. 

  • Third-party plugins and integration: It's rare to find a communications platform that has everything you need out of the box. When it integrates with the third-party tools that you're already using, or it has support for plugins that are created for various use cases, you can customize your chat experience in an exact way the distributed team needs. 

  • Robust search tools:  Most, if not all, of your team communication, takes place through this type of platform. Make sure that the search tools are up to the task so that important messages are not lost in the shuffle. 

  • File upload support: If you're going to have a central location for most of your remote team business activities, then being able to upload files to this platform makes a lot of sense. 

Arrange for In-Person Time Through Team Retreats

Your team may be too far-flung to arrange for regularly scheduled in-person meetings to touch base with one another, but team retreats offer a valuable way to learn more about your people and to reward them for a job well done. Typically, these retreats are done on a yearly, bi-yearly, or quarterly basis, depending on the resources you have available. The sky is the limit on where these retreats can take place. You'll want to customize it to your team's preferences, so you don't end up spending a week together in a location that everyone hates. One of the best ways to figure out whether your team will be onboard for your idea is to offer a poll of several promising places. You can book the retreats based on that information. 

Set Up Asynchronous Solutions 

Handling workers in different time zones is one of the biggest challenges of managing a distributed team. In some cases, you may be dealing with workers from all over the globe. Ideally, you're able to set up some overlap in hours between everyone. However, even when that's possible, you'll still want to promote software that offers asynchronous responses. That allows workers to interact based on their ideal work hours, rather than trying to wake up in the middle of the night or take time during their least productive hours to work. Ultimately, with remote work, you want to give employees the opportunity to do their best work and accomplish their goals in their productive hours. 

Move Away From Email 

Email is not an efficient way of communicating most information in remote teams. It's easy for important data and files to get lost in someone's inbox, especially if their messages are automatically deleted when someone leaves the company. If a person is on vacation, they may have something important to a project deadline in their inbox with no way to reach them. What email is great for are insight emails, personalized training opportunities, human resources communication, and similar messages. 

Empower Remote Workers with the Right Resources  

Do your remote workers have everything they need at their workspace to do their best? Is the mission-critical software they use every day supportive of remote connections? Are they able to access organization data that is necessary for their duties? You want to set up your remote team for success, whether that means sending them a company laptop, reimbursing them for the cost of an internet speed upgrade, or deploying an app that better works with a remote workforce. 

Create Accountability Through Work Processes

Remote work involves a lot of trust between everyone involved. You don't have a way to stop by someone's remote work office to see what they're doing during their work hours; you only see the work that they've done and the discussions they have. Build accountability in the work processes of your remote team through video meetings, frequent project check-ins, progress reports, and other ways to ensure that your projects are staying on track and your team is remaining productive in an unconventional work environment. For people who are new to remote work, reach out and provide tips on how they can create a distraction-free space in their home, so they're better able to do their job. It does take adjustment time and discipline to get used to this type of freedom, so be patient with those newer to a distributed team environment. Set clear expectations so everyone is on the same page about the way they can spend their work hours, how flexible you can be with scheduling and other details that influence their success at remote work. 

Invest in Your Onboarding Efforts and Ongoing Training

It's a lot harder for a new hire to reach out and get immediate help in a remote team if they have questions about the company, policies, procedures, processes, and other areas. Your onboarding process and the training materials available to that worker should be comprehensive and cover everything they need to get off on the right foot. You may want to create a channel in your communications platform specifically for fielding these types of questions. If you have senior members of your remote team, see if someone is interested in mentoring the newcomer. This type of leadership opportunity is a great way for someone to show off their capabilities. 

Consider offering training materials in several formats. Not everyone learns the same way, so adding flexibility means that they can pick the method most suitable for their needs. Some companies have remote hires go on-site for the initial training, but that may not be a viable option depending on where the new hire is located. Take the time to have some one-on-one chats with the new person to learn more about them, their background in remote teams, and what they need to personally do their best work. 

Remote work is the way of the future, and preparing for this environment as a manager is one of the most important things you can do for your career. 

The Cloverleaf Team