The pandemic has introduced some monumental changes to the way we work. Managers and employees are adjusting to digital- first work and leaders are scrambling to introduce new systems and processes to make these workflow changes easier to manage. If you’re a team leader looking for a little bit of guidance about how to navigate the new normal for team collaboration, you’ve come to the right place. Read on for a few essential processes and programs you should consider to help your team succeed during this time of transition.

A few top concerns for managers of remote teams revolve around collaboration. Specifically, how to lead and nurture teams when face-to-face access to guidance and management is virtually non-existent. It used to be so easy to just pop into a conference  to have a quick brainstorm or white boarding session. These types of interactions are rejuvenating for teams, and help maintain a culture of inclusion and enthusiasm for open projects.  

While it’s a bit scary to be thrust into remote management without any planning or pretext, it’s also an interesting cultural moment to observe. We’re on the cusp of a major revolution in the way we view necessary workplace procedures: will we, as a society handle fully-remote work with ease and grace, or will we crash and burn, losing all oversight needed to properly manage high-functioning teams? If the former, and to be clear, we do hope you succeed in managing remote teams, this pandemic work period could be a look into what we can expect from future cultural norms in the workplace. Work-from-home days used to be the exception, but from this point forward they’ll be the rule.

With the understanding that remote work could very well be the future of your organization and your industry, here are a few things to try with your teams. Investing in the right systems and processes before your teams get caught in new routines will help ensure the success of your remote work experiment.

Understand that There will be Less Oversight

First and foremost, it’s important for you, as a manager, to understand that there will likely be less oversight on the day-to-day workflows than there once was. And that's ok. You hired these employees because you have confidence in their ability to work independently. Now is your employees’ change to show you that they’re up for the task. However, it’s also your responsibility to make sure your teams are well-equipped to succeed. The ideas below will help ensure better chances of success. 

Establish Organizational Standards

Maybe your organization works from an internal server, or maybe you work from the Google Drive. Chances are, there is already some level of organization to the way you share and access files across teams. Now is the time to make sure those systems are ship shape. Think about more than just solid organizational structures. Without the benefit of face-to-face explanation of where important project files live, it’s important that the organizational system is abundantly clear, and that all team members understand how to access the materials they need to succeed in their projects. Consider holding a team meeting to explain the “new normal” for file and project organization so everyone is on the same page and there are no questions about where to find the materials they need to succeed. Make sure all of your file naming structures are clear and communicated, so that every file your employees add to your organizational structure is easily searchable and findable. 

Find a Project Management System Built for Remote Correspondence

Many associations rely on time-trusted project management structures like gantt charts or weekly agendas. I’m not suggesting you abandon those techniques, but you should consider modernizing your approach. If you haven’t yet invested in a project management platform like Basecamp, Trello or Monday, now is the time to do so. When you’re deciding which platform is best for your team, consider the platforms’ functionality when it comes to remote correspondence. If your teams are working on many projects at once, it’s important to have the ability to organize separate streams of correspondence on a project by project basis. This way, critical project process conversations can’t get lost in a stream of email threads - everything will be together and organized within each project section in your project management portal. 

Assign Project Leaders

As a team leader, delegation is more important than ever. Assign project leaders for each live project. This will give your employees a greater sense of responsibility and ownership over the work, and it will help you to stay focused on the high-level management principles that will keep teams running smoothly. Have weekly or bi-weekly check-ins with these team leaders to get a pulse check on the status of open deliverables. Let them run these meetings so they have full ownership over their projects. 

Define Clear Meeting Guidelines

This one is so important. The old adage used to be: "don’t hold a meeting that could be an email.” Personally, I think this idea is less true when managing remote teams. Sometimes it’s easier to hop on a 10 minute video chat to talk something out rather than send multiple emails to convey a point. However, in order to make the most productive use of video chats, it’s important to establish clear guidelines. Here are a few we like:

  • Always have an agenda. This lets teams know what to expect to help them prepare for the conversation.
  • Define the expectations. Is it a video call? Or just a phone conversation? Should the employee be prepared to comment on any specific project deliverables? Make sure they know all these things before you hop on the call. 
  • Define clear start and end times, and stick to them. This will help employees plan their schedules and workflows. We leave 5 minutes at the end of every meeting to allow times for everyone to grab a drink or bathroom break between calls. 

Get into the Habit of Holding Frequent “Retros”

As a leader who sees employees face to face every day, it’s often easy to understand how the team is feeling. It’s easy to see who is stressed, who is thriving, and who needs a bigger challenge. When working remotely, these emotional subtleties are less clear. Get into the habit of hosting weekly or bi-weekly retros with your team members to get a sense of what’s going well and what can be improved. The format we like to follow is a simple 3-step stop-start-continue. Ask your teams what individually and collectively as a team they should start doing, stop doing, and continue doing. This framework is low stakes and low pressure. Plus, it’s open-ended enough to get the conversation flowing so that other important team building topics come to light. 

The most important thing to remember as a manager of remote teams is that patience and understanding must be at the center of all of your management intentions. This is an uncertain time for everyone, and your employees deserve a manager who is prepared to be a collaborative supporter during this strange transition.  No matter what processes you decide to implement, if you manage from a place of  empathy, your remote work experiment is sure to succeed.  

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