If you are not in the same room with the team you manage, how do you know if they are productive and on task every day? The micromanager in you wants them to check in before every decision they make, but you know that is a waste of everyone’s time. So what do you do? In my personal experience it is best to empower a team to feel confident about the decisions they make on their own so the can stay productive and on task.

Here are 5 tips on how you can lead your remote team to success  

1. Get to know individuals’ work and personality.

Getting to know someone you rarely see in person takes quite a bit of effort. I suggest initiating fun, casual conversation with folks. You can learn more about someone in 15 minutes of play than you can in an entire week of work. So make sure to consciously initiate playful, non-work related conversations.  A great way to do this is by being vulnerable and opening up yourself. Tell someone a personal story and chances are they will open up too.

It is important to know how individuals’ brains work when solving work related problems too. This will take time. I suggest studying how they tackle problems that arise on a project. Ask them if there were any challenges that came up and find out how they overcame them. This will help you identify how their mind works and how you need to define tasks for them in the future.

Once you know individuals’ work and personality types you will have a much easier time communicating what you want and defining tasks that are in line with their particular skill set.

2. Set up systems that support synchronous and asynchronous communication.

Definitions:

  • Synchronous communication – Exchanging information in real time.
    • Examples: Phone calls, instant messenger and to a lesser extent, email.
  • Asynchronous communication – Exchanging information not in real time.
    • Examples: Sharing something in google drive, adding a note to a CRM or reading a Facebook update

Tapping someone on the shoulder in an office for a quick question is crucial for course correcting, avoiding bottlenecks, and increasing collaboration. When you are not in an office how is this done? There are plenty of communication tools out there to help you like email, instant messenger, video conferencing, and project management tools like Basecamp or Trello. However, it is not the tools you use, but how you use them that make the difference.

Set up a culture where people know when it is appropriate to use a tool. For instance, you can set expectations in the following way.

  • If you need a quick answer to something, send an instant message.
  • If you need to discuss a question or idea, send an instant message to set up a video call.
  • If something is an FYI or not urgent but you would like a response, send an email.
  • If you want to show your progress on a collaborative project, update that project in your project management tool.

Setting these expectations will get everyone communicating and collaborating the same way.

3. Leverage the power of if/then statements.

Scoping out a project with a remote team requires very specific instructions. Why? Because if something is not clear and someone needs clarification, it can take much longer to get that an answer and bottlenecks start to stack up. Not a great way to speed a project along.

This ties back with learning how people think and tackle problems. If you can learn to anticipate roadblocks that people might face during a project, include if/then statements in the scope of work. For instance, let’s say you instruct a designer to duplicate a landing page design, but with different copy.  What happens if the copy is too long and does not fit the design? Let the designer know in the scope of work that IF they run into this problem, THEN either shrink the copy font to fit or adjust the design to fit the copy. Whichever looks better.

You then avoid a situation where they get stuck on the fact that something does not fit the original scope and they need your guidance to get them past it.  Viola! You just helped empower them to make a decision on their own, saved time, and you both feel good about it.

4. Build a culture of questions

Having a firm understanding of the direction of a project comes from solid management, but often times managers are unsure of exactly where to go. So how do you avoid having people feel insecure about the direction of their work? Encourage them to ask questions. Creating an environment where people feel safe asking the simplest of questions and you will save countless hours of pointless work headed in the wrong direction.

If someone feels they are unsure of where to go next, tell them to ask.

5. Check in daily  

This one simple act ties all of these tips together. Checking in daily, regardless of the tool you use, will help keep everyone working in the same direction. It allows for people to get to know each other personally, ask any questions they might have, course correct the direction of any projects, and build team cohesion. This does not have to be structured or formal. In fact, it is probably better if it isn’t. Just make sure there is some sort of communication between you and your team every day.

I hope these tips have been helpful and I would love to know some other remote team hacks you have for keeping people and projects humming along smoothly.