Manage-remote-team
Startup & Entrepreneurship
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How to manage a remote team during the COVID-19 outbreak

Ray Slater Berry photo
Ray Slater Berry
17 March 2020

COVID-19 is sweeping the world and the way we work has changed to help battle it. We’re pushing ourselves to work in new and innovative ways and tech is at the core of that. The good news is with technology, remote work really isn’t that hard but managing your team might be.

If your team is going remote and you’re wondering how to manage the transition then you’ve come to the right place. This article will guide you through how to manage your remote team, from the tech you can use to the psychology and structure you can implement. Let’s get into it. 

Managing a remote team through COVID-19


Structure contact hours with your remote team

Contact hours are essential in managing the expectations of fellow colleagues within your remote team; they help to avoid unnecessary frustration. Be clear with your team the hours they need to be online and available. 

This doesn’t mean to say they need to be chained to their laptop during those hours. Just like in the office they’re free to move about and do their own thing, maybe, even more so being at home. 

What this does mean is that they are never far from their laptop and have notifications turned on on their phone. This ensures that if they have just popped out they can jump back online easily or respond to a question quickly. 

Contact hours are collaboration hours, it lets the team know that they’re able to get in touch with a colleague and can expect a quick reply, enabling them to get on with their work. It’s a time of support. 


Set deep-thought time

The above being said, we can’t be on call every moment of every day, or we’ll never get anything done ourselves. It’s important to set “deep-thought” time. This is the time you can really knuckle down into your projects, without interruptions. 

It’s important that you put your phone away during this time, snooze all notifications and make sure your emails are closed. Focus. Pepper your deep-thought time with 5-minute brain breaks in which you get up, stretch, move about and maybe make a coffee. Set goals for this time frame and make sure you hold yourself accountable if you don’t hit them. 

What’s more, communicate this with your entire remote team. It’s best if you all take the deep-thought time at the same time, although that’s not always possible with time-zones. 

If it’s not in the calendar it doesn’t exist

Your calendar is your best friend. If something isn’t in the calendar then it doesn’t exist. Schedule your day to the minute and ask your team to do the same. Make sure they block off hours that they need to be productive so that they, and you, don’t have meetings scheduled during hours you planned to get something done. 

This saves going back and forth trying to find times on schedules for people to meet. It also enables you to be more productive. 

If you or your team are planning on going to the gym (for example) during the working day then put it in your calendar, share calendars and label everything you’re doing. This gives you talking points for when you have a meeting.


Be considerate of timezones with you remote team

Be considerate of people’s timezones and offline hours. Tools can help you manage your remote team here. Consider getting an app, plug-in or even a screensaver that takes into account all of your team’s various timezones. 

Don’t let a team member miss out on a meeting because they’re on a different timezone, be considerate and inclusive of everyone. 


Make meetings that matter

The good things about remote work is we begin to see which of those meetings really could have just been an email. Make your meeting as productive as possible.

  1.  If you’re going to host a meeting, really take a moment to think if that meeting would be better condensed and delivered in another format. Perhaps it can be an email, perhaps it only needs to be a message or a poll on slack. 

  2. Consider the people you’re inviting to that meeting. Does the whole team need to be there? Is it an efficient use of their time? If not, then how will you cascade the information to the rest of the team after the meeting? 

  3. Set time in your meetings for coffee machine conversations. We can’t all be business all the time and it can be easy to lose the personal touch that you’re able to have in the office. Make sure you set time at the beginning or the end of your meetings just to catch-up. It doesn’t have to be long, just five minutes to remind each other you’re human.


Over-communicate

The way you’re going to get through Coronavirus induced remote work is by overcommunicating. Never presume that someone knows what you’re doing or understands where you’re coming from when you’re having a written conversation. 

If you’re hopping offline during your contact hours for a short amount of time, just let someone know. Five minutes can feel like a lifetime if you need an urgent piece of information. Manage expectations by over-communicating and your remote team will be more successful because of it. 

Set standards for a communication tool 

Firstly, get rid of email for an internal communication tool. It’s not productive and should really only be used for official, internal communication or for external comms. 

Secondly, if you’re using a communication tool like Slack then make sure you set some standards for the use of it. This will help your team work more efficiently, together. 

A few things you can put in place:

Use the Slack status feature 

 Always keep your status up-to-date, depending on where you are or what you’re doing.

Use the Slack snooze feature 

Don’t be afraid to use the snooze feature, just make sure you communicate with your team beforehand.

Understand Slack Channels Vs DM 

Make sure you set up appropriate channels for topics that constantly come up. For example, Facebook can have its own channel and here you’ll only discuss things to do with Facebook. 

Know when to use @Channel @Here 

Set rules and guidelines around these:

@Channel will notify everyone in the channel even if they aren’t currently online. 

@Here will notify everyone in the channel if they are online. 

Really, these should only be used at important times. 

Play with Slack Emojis 

Have fun with emoji responses. Slack doesn’t allow you to see if someone has read a message so make sure you initiate an emoji reply with your team. It works just as a blue tick does on WhatsApp and is a fun way of engaging with your remote team. 


Use video calls

It can sometimes be hard to know if you have your team’s fullest attention on voice calls. Always try to implement video calls where you can. Your team should be as presentable for the office as they are at home so they should have no excuse preventing them from a video call. 

This enables you, as a manager, to gauge their reactions, body language and gives you a focal point. Consider implementing a hands up policy on your video calls. It’s easy to get distracted by notifications when you’re having a meeting on your laptop so ensure that your team are giving their full attention by asking them to keep their hands up and off keyboards.

Zoom is a great video conferencing platform. The free version gives you 45 minutes every time, it enables you to share screens, there’s no limit to the number of people you can have on your call and there’s a nifty chat feature in there too. 


Support with home offices 

Where you can, support your team with home offices. This can either be with a home office stipend or sharing best tips and practices for how to set up a productive workspace at home. 

Our friends over at HalfHalf Travel have written some excellent pieces on working from home for the first time and setting up a home office, too. Check them out. 

Halfhalf travel remote work tips

@Halfhalftravel


Set check-ins and updates 

Check-ins are not micro-management. Just as you’d drift over to a teammates desk in the office and ask them how they’re getting on, check-ins are here to do exactly that. They just need to be organized and more constructive when it comes to remote work. 

Set time for check-ins, even if they’re just five minutes. It will help your whole team stay on target and will identify areas you, as a manager, can support. Encourage your team members to lead these check-ins, let them guide you through the word they have done so far and celebrate their successes. 

These check-ins will also allow you to set new goals and deadlines if needs be. It helps to manage expectations of everyone in the work-flow funnel. 


Wrapping up how to manage a remote team

I hope that you’re able to walk away from this guide feeling a little more confident in how you can manage your own remote team. We need to scrap the idea that working remotely is anything less than working from the office. Judge your team by the work they produce, not by how they do it. Go get it. 

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