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Team Productivity

9 Essential Tips for Managing a Remote Team

Nathan Gilmore
April 8, 2020
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This is part 2 of a 2 part post on how to go remote. You can read part 1 here.

Many of you have been suddenly thrown in a remote work situation over the past few weeks. While there are tons of resources to help you optimize your own productivity when working from home, not much has been written for managers trying to adjust to this change. And managing your team remotely definitely comes with different challenges.

At TeamGantt, we’ve been working remotely from the beginning, so we have some advice to give. But we wanted to see what other remote-first companies had to say too.

So we reached out to some of the top remote companies and scoured their content to gather their best advice for leaders and managers. While most of these tips come from software companies, a lot of it applies to any remote workforce.

We’ll start with a few of our own takeaways, then share what we learned from other leaders who manage teams remotely.  

Establish a shared communication etiquette

As a leader, you need to establish proper communication etiquette. Otherwise, people can end up spending most of their time on Slack responding to every message in real time. This saps output and productivity. It’s your job as a manager to tell your team what the expected response time is so people have room to focus on work.

Rally around a plan

It can be a challenge to keep everyone on the same page when working remotely. A great way to do this is to have a visual plan everyone can reference and update collectively. After all, modern project planning is first and foremost an amazing communication tool.

It may also be helpful to track progress against the plan. I suggest asking your team to update their progress on tasks every Friday so you can see if any work is running behind and address it first thing Monday morning. If everyone’s working from the same plan, your team will have fewer misunderstandings and communication issues.

Unplug when work is over

According to Buffer’s State of Remote Work survey, most remote workers say their biggest struggle is unplugging from work. Without the separation of home and office, it can be difficult to draw a line between where work ends and home life begins—and that can lead to burnout.

As the leader, you can really influence this behaviour by leading by example. When your team sees that you unplug every day at a certain time, it lets them know it’s OK for them to do the same

Measure productivity by output, not input

Source: Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic (WordPress), in Harvard Business Review

“It all starts with the way we think about work. In my experience, people in lots of companies are just going through the motions. If someone shows up in the morning dressed appropriately and isn’t drunk or asleep at his desk, we assume he’s working. If he’s making spreadsheets and to-do lists, we assume he’s working really hard. Unfortunately, none of this gets at what an employee actually creates during the day. It’s possible (and, sadly, not uncommon) for someone to sit at a desk for eight hours, moving papers and sending e-mail, without producing any results.

“At Automattic we focus on what you create, not whether you live up to some ideal of the ‘good employee.’ We measure work according to outputs. I don’t care what hours you work. I don’t care if you sleep late or if you pick up a child at school in the afternoon. I don’t care if you spend the afternoon on the golf course and then work from 2 to 5 AM. What do you actually produce?”

Try using asynchronous communication more

Source: Darren Murph, Head of Remote at GitLab

Asynchronous communication works best when there is company wide alignment on how and where to input communication. Leaders should carefully select their tools, aiming to direct communications to as few channels as possible. The easiest way to enter into an asynchronous mindset is to ask this question: ‘How would I deliver this message, present this work, or move this project forward right now if no one else on my team (or in my company) is awake?’”

Actively invest in your relationships with your team

Source: David Darmanin, CEO of Hotjar

“Many remote leaders are frustrated that they can’t convene a team into a room to discuss or give instructions, and they sometimes miss bumping into colleagues at the office. While this form of serendipity in a physical office is a great way of building relationships, it also has a downside: You may forget to invest in building relationships with the right people in your team.

“When you're remote you need to think differently about the importance of building relationships. At Hotjar, we encourage people to make a list of the people they should be interacting with most and to build out a plan of how much time they need with each person, and how often. Whether you’re listening to what's on their mind, telling them about your challenges, giving feedback, etc., it’s a good idea to put recurring meetings with each person in your calendar. It's also a good idea to have fun with it: plan a late call with a glass of wine, or play a virtual game.

“For a practical example, here’s a post from the Hotjar blog on how we give feedback and build strong relationships with one another: Employee Feedback: 5 Examples and Why It's SO Important.”

Hold virtual team-building hangouts often

Source: Zapier, Zapier’s Ultimate Guide to Remote Work

“Every Thursday morning or afternoon (rotating every week to accommodate people in different time zones), we get together for lightning talks, demos, and/or interviews. With over 200 people in seven major departments and even more smaller teams, it's hard to see everyone on a weekly basis. These hangouts are a chance to say ‘hi!’ to folks you may not normally see.

“These hangouts are also a good chance to learn something new. Each week, someone inside the team does a lightning talk or demo on something interesting. We've had folks share their latest project, new teammates share fun facts about themselves and their backgrounds, and leadership members conduct well-being workshops through these hangouts.

“Many teams do these weekly meetings as All-Hands Meetings. In a remote team that's across many time zones, this becomes an exclusionary event. As a result, this meeting becomes more about camaraderie and showing off the work of the company. We record these so folks who can't attend are able to catch up. But we're careful to avoid core strategic topics which typically are discussed in Slack, Async, or a Zoom call that can make sure to incorporate all the relevant teammates for that decision.”

Build routines

Source: David Darmanin, CEO of Hotjar

“Whether we work together in an office or are distributed across different countries, we all enjoy having shared rituals. Working as a distributed team doesn’t give you an excuse to avoid creating new rituals or traditions.

“At Hotjar we have a weekly ‘release update’ call where we celebrate that week's achievements and share upcoming plans. We sometimes organize a Wednesday ‘bonfire’ session too, where teams come together to discuss a topic, brainstorm, and collaborate. We use bonfire sessions to learn from each other, and we occasionally invite external guests.

“Here’s an example of a Hotjar bonfire: Working Remotely: Pros and Cons of Remote Work (from Hotjar).”

Encourage movement and exercise

Source: Breanden Beneschott, Cofounder of Toptal, Advanced Tactics for Highly Collaborative, Remote Teams

“Your health is as important as any of the tips above. Herman Miller talks about the ‘turtle’ position, and how easy it is to slip into bad typing posture. A recent, much-publicized TED Talk calls sitting the new smoking. When working in the comfort of your home, hotel room, or beach, it can be easy to settle in the same place for too long.

“Nevertheless, it’s certainly possible to stay on top of your exercise while working remotely. In fact, in a recent survey from ConnectSolutions, 32% of remote workers say they get more exercise now than they did in a traditional in-office work environment. To ensure this is the case, I recommend keeping a Thera-Band near your desk at all times. Olympic gymnasts use these for resistance training, and with 6” of rubber, you can do a full body workout anywhere. When you spend long hours on your computer, you need to get up and exercise often. So I suggest making a habit of grabbing it for a few moments every time you see it—whether you just walked in the door, just finished a call, or you’re just pausing for a moment in between emails or commits.

“How does this help with collaboration? Exercise has been repeatedly linked to everything from decreased stress and anxiety to increased happiness, creativity, and mental performance. And it doesn’t take a lot to make a noticeable difference. Even a little exercise makes you a better team member.”

Extra credit

These tips can help you get your team into a good work rhythm in their new setting. Here are a few more resources you can explore for further reading:

  1. The Marketer's Toolbox: The 60 Marketing Tools We Use at Buffer
  2. How We Manage Our Editorial Schedule Remotely
  3. Challenges to Managing Virtual Teams and How to Overcome Them
  4. Master Managing Distributed Teams
  5. Best Practices for Managing Remote Employees
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