5 Timeless Principles for Effectively Managing Distributed Teams

Yet another manual for telecommuting? Undoubtedly, we can proceed with the second one. It is widely acknowledged that the dissemination of these instruction manuals has led to a rise in the amount of people working remotely since the Coronavirus pandemic caused disruption in the professional world. Nonetheless, we can confidently assure that you will obtain something novel and beneficial from this article.

At Works, we have been purposely employing remote teams since the company was established, so we have had ample opportunity to gain a deep understanding of how to execute tasks from afar. This experience has given us a great deal of confidence in our ability to manage and deliver successful remote-working operations.

Without a doubt, we have made a number of mistakes and attempted a variety of strategies which have not been successful. Nevertheless, due to the extensive research we have conducted, we are in a position of great authority to provide advice which is genuinely useful. We are concentrating on providing guidance to remote team leaders, whether they are just starting out or have had experience in this field and are looking to make changes.

So, without further ado, let’s get into these five tried-and-true strategies that will serve you well throughout and after the epidemic.

1. Establish and adhere to a set of “available” working hours

As individuals start to embark on their remote working journey, it is not uncommon for them to feel a range of emotions. For many, the transition from home to the office can be liberating, particularly as there is no need to change out of their pyjamas! Additionally, the lack of direct supervision can give people the impression that they can behave as they please. However, this newfound freedom can also make them feel uncomfortable when it comes to completing familiar tasks which seemed effortless in the workplace.

Working from home can drastically change how your day looks, from how you communicate with colleagues (for example, do you need to speak on the phone, send a message, email or connect via video?) to what you eat for lunch. However, it is only possible to make these changes effective if you take control and commit to them. We have found that setting specific availability hours and sticking to them makes a huge difference.

Given the lack of set hours for those working remotely, there is a risk of their shift extending late into the night or for far more hours than initially scheduled. This is particularly true within the field of computer programming. To ensure everyone understands the expectations, it is beneficial to clearly outline when people may send emails or make phone calls. By doing this, it is possible to communicate that participation is required within a certain timeframe, while absences outside of this will be accepted without any consequences.

2. Put Meeting Cameras to Use

Despite its simplicity, many people do not take advantage of the opportunity to use their cameras during phone calls. It is possible that this may be due to the fear of rejection or an aversion to the idea of engaging in face-to-face communication. However, this is the preferred method of communication, especially in times such as these, when physical contact is not advisable. Therefore, it is highly recommended that people use their camera during phone calls.

Given the importance of being able to read body language and facial expressions during meetings and calls, it is recommended that, as a standard practice, all participants should enable their camera. Not only could seeing the people on the other side of the call make a difference in the conversation, but it also helps to ensure that your message is conveyed more effectively. Although much of the conversation may be spent looking at our own devices, being able to see the reactions of our team can be invaluable.

A logical consequence of this concept is that all participants in a meeting should possess a device capable of capturing video (e.g. a smartphone or laptop). Even if some of the attendees are working from the same physical location, it is recommended that separate cameras be acquired. This will ensure that, should the situation arise where everyone is attending remotely, it is possible to identify who is speaking and to understand the content of their contributions.

3. Don’t be shy about include others in your calls.

On a regular work day, it is common to initiate a conversation with a colleague. Shortly after, you and your coworker may be discussing an issue in the office that requires a second opinion. Without hesitation, you approach their desk and politely inquire whether they would be interested in joining you to debate the issue. This is a natural and expected behaviour.

Despite this, it is often disregarded by those taking part in remote work, either due to the perceived effort of including one extra person in calls and meetings, or because it simply slips their mind. This is a common occurrence, even when working under normal circumstances. However, it is essential that this should not happen to you.

By encouraging your team to pause the meeting when necessary to allow remote workers to join in, and setting the example yourself, you can ensure that the same standard procedure is followed even when you are not present. This is only possible if everyone is using the same communications software and hardware, so it is essential to ensure that this is the case beforehand. This will make it easier to bring new people into the discussion on short notice.

4. The length of meetings will increase, so plan accordingly.

At Works, we understand the frustrations of attending lengthy meetings that do not result in any productivity. We strive to ensure that our meetings are as effective and efficient as possible, even when working remotely. We believe that the key to achieving this is to ensure that the conversations are focused and well-structured, allowing participants to voice their opinions and reach a conclusion within an appropriate timeframe.

It is not uncommon for individuals to use meetings as an opportunity to engage in casual conversation about topics unrelated to the agenda. Whilst this may be more likely to occur during periods of isolation such as quarantine, it is a normal part of everyday life. Therefore, there is no need to be concerned if online meetings become sidetracked by the same types of distractions that would disrupt face-to-face meetings.

It is essential that you recognise the need to maintain regular contact with your remote team members. Scheduling regular meetings with them will be beneficial as it will provide an opportunity for you to be informed about their progress as well as to show them that you are considerate and genuinely interested in their thoughts and ideas. These meetings may take longer than usual, as not only will you discuss matters relating to their work, but also engage in some much-needed social conversation.

5. Attempt, Fail, and Retry

It may not be immediately obvious how to maintain good communication and collaboration amongst colleagues when working remotely. It is important to remain open-minded and be willing to experiment with new approaches. For instance, you could try different methods of communication, such as video conferencing, or arrange online competitions or games to boost morale. Additionally, it is worth considering whether there is a correlation between your individual productivity and the time of day you start work.

It is important to remember that it is alright to make mistakes when attempting to vary your remote working approaches. It is fine to make changes and start again if needs be. When doing this, it is essential to listen to the opinions of your team and take them into consideration. In doing so, you may find that they have ideas which could potentially improve the quality of work that is done remotely, whether it be in terms of productivity, morale or something else. It is important to make sure that your team members feel that their voices are being heard.

As a manager, it is important to remember that you are in a position of power and can create the desired change. Your remote workers will look to you for direction, so it is important to keep the virtual door open to them and be available to provide assistance when needed. If you are not accustomed to managing people from a distance, the transition to remote work may seem unfamiliar initially; however, with the right attitude and approach, you can make it a success.

There Are No Guaranteed Methods of Success

It is important that we make it clear that while the suggestions we have presented have been highly successful for us here at Works, this does not necessarily mean that they will be successful for you. We are confident that they will be, however, please bear in mind that you are not obligated to enforce these guidelines with your own staff.

Working away from the office environment can present its own individual set of challenges, which may be particularly daunting for those that are used to the structure of an office environment. It is important to be aware that even if somebody provides you with some advice, it is important to consider it, but you should feel free to adapt it to suit your own circumstances if you feel it necessary. This advice could potentially increase your productivity (as it did for us), but it is important to ensure that it feels natural to you before you implement it.

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