Managing a Remote Team

Managing a Remote Team
It all comes down to trust. If you hired people you don't trust then you hired the wrong individuals. You'd be surprised how much people can accomplish without having a babysitter. — Seth Corder, VC @ High Alpha

True story... one of the best indicators of a remote team's health is the level of trust that exists.

This trust goes both ways. In a healthy organization the team trusts that leadership has a plan, the ability to execute it and the agility to change directions when necessary. Part of how this trust is created is through clear and consistent communication.

Alternately, management must trust that when they aren't physically in-office with their team, the work is still getting done — it sounds simple, but this is one of the biggest sticking points when adopting remote work policies.

If I can't see them working, are they really working?

Trust, but verify.

As a manager, the feeling of trust (or mistrust) that permeates your team's collective consciousness is heavily influenced by you.

The best employees in the world cannot thrive when they don't have clear understanding of their objectives and deliverables. And, if they are micro-managed because lack of trust on the leadership's side, those high performers will quickly seek greener pastures.

The goal is to get to a place where you can trust, but verify. That is only possible when a proper structure is put in place that allows your team to:

  • Understand the objectives and deliverables
  • Know who is the responsible party (RP)
  • Show their work
  • Report on their progress

But first... a note on over-communication ☎️

Over-communicate with your team. Since you are used to working from an office where information flows organically, you need to adapt that to an online setting. Use tools like Slack or Tandem and set up different channels to stay up to date on different topics. Make sure to update relevant parties about all important matters.
Check-in with people regularly both regarding professional and private matters. Since you no longer see people in person, you cannot assume they are all coping well with the situation. It's important to offer 1:1 space where you can address that.
Be patient and understanding. People are no longer in a "controlled" office space and they might need to take care of other things during standard working time. Many are getting used to having their partner, other family members or children at home and might not have a designated home office. They are doing their best to cope with all of that, so allow them to get used to it. Some might not be able to respond to your message right away, so make sure to distinguish important and urgent from regular communication. - Alex Bouaziz, Co-founder and CEO @ Deel

Clear objectives and deliverables

A lot has been written on the importance of helping employees succeed through connecting them to the larger objectives.

Fully remote teams default to specific written objectives and deliverables, often following one of the popular formats such as OKRs, SMART or another goal-setting framework. But when you have spent most of your working life in an office, goals are often communicated verbally and teams tend to get into a habit of changing objectives or key results without documenting and communicating those changes across the company.

When working in a fully remote organization, this spells DISASTER. Instead help your newly remote team understand and achieve the company's objectives and their specific tasks by:

  • Make commitments to goals visible to the whole company
  • Mark progress and have a system that defines when a goal is behind, on track, or achieved
  • Create an environment where people feel safe to "raise their hand", ask for help and be open about any roadblocks
  • Invest in project management tools OR a project manager (see our section on hiring whilst remote)
  • Have a responsible party (RP) on each team who checks in and tracks progress towards the goal

Within anywhere between a few weeks to a quarter, you will be able to quickly identify who’s thriving, who is simply surviving (and thus needs more support) and who is not producing results (either they need more guidance or this is the wrong job/organization for them).

Assigning Tasks or Projects

For over a decade we've developed an assignment template that helps employees feel connected to the larger company goals by outlining the why behind even small projects and, in a glance, giving them all the necessary information.

RP: Responsible Party

Each task and project, large or small needs one person who is the ultimate responsible party (RP). We adapted this from Ray Dalio's epic tome Principles (which makes for excellent "shelter-in-place" reading).

  • For every project or task, there must be a single Responsible Party assigned (this is the figurative “neck to choke” if a ball gets drops)
  • Even with multiple stakeholders, there is only one RP
  • When an RP is assigned, the RP is responsible for providing a due date, following up, and pushing projects to execution
  • If there is a delay, roadblock, or unforeseen event, the RP will communicate that immediately with stakeholders (e.g., their manager, direct report, team members, etc)

To thrive in a fully remote environment, you MUST adapt this mentality. Once everyone gets on board you'll be amazed at how smoothly projects run and the stress of "who's doing what" will dissipate.

Show Your Work

One of the most difficult parts of fully remote work, especially in a team dynamic, is stress that comes about from team members worrying they aren't being "seen" working by managers. This is why it's important to create ways for your team to show their work.

A proper project management tool paired with a goal-setting framework often works (if kept up to date), we'll dig into all the options in our Remote Toolbox section but the high-level is below:

Asana is one of the most robust options for remote project management. However, it can be difficult and time-intensive to set up. If you’re looking to set your team up for remote work well into the future, that time spent will be well worth it. If you’re simply looking for an MVP to get through this crisis, Trello is simple to use and easy to set up. Think of it like a big bulletin board where your team can put up all the tasks and projects they’re working on and track the status of each.
No matter what software you choose, you’ll want to think strategically about how to set it up. Think through the departments in your company, their teams, the projects they’re working on, and the individual tasks that make up each project. The lowest level of project management involves small tasks. These are the individual tasks that make up larger projects. When all the tasks in a project are complete, the project is complete.
When setting up your project management software, all tasks should always be organized inside of a larger project and each task should be assigned to the person who is meant to complete it. Only assign tasks to ONE person! When multiple people are assigned to a task, everyone assumes someone else is going to do the work. Assigning tasks to one person—and one person only—makes it clear that they are expected to complete the work and will be held responsible for the outcome of the task.
All projects should then be organized by department. Be sure to assign a project manager who can keep track of the status of the project, coordinate with all the team members involved, plan out the necessary tasks, and be held accountable if things get off track to each project. This simple system will allow you and your managers to ensure that work is still getting done and all of your projects will not be affected by this crisis. It’s the best way to hold your employees accountable, even when you can’t physically check in with them. The key is to make sure everyone is updating their projects and tasks frequently, so that managers can view their progress and current status in real time. — Nick Sonnenberg, Founder @ GetLeverage.com

🐵DO

  • Set up a project management software
  • Clearly define goals
  • Set up a weekly or bi-weekly update structure from your team

🙈DON'T

  • Require employees to check-in via video several times during the day just to see 👀 that they're working!

Reporting Structure

Creating a way that your team can send in reports outlining the progress they've made, roadblocks they've hit and questions they have is vital in setting up your #WFH team for success.

Depending on the work you do, industry you're in and seniority of your team—you may choose to go with daily reports, weekly reports or bi-weekly reporting.

Building blocks of a good report

  • What you did
  • Roadblocks (who or what is blocking progress)
  • What you're planning to do next
  • Questions
  • Observations
  • Metrics (these should be created by each team and tie into the team or company's overarching goals)

Example:

Now that you've put in place a proper structure to help your team trust in leadership and each other, it's time to dig into how to create a sustainable culture while fully remote.

> Next Up: Culture Out-of-Office

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