Whether your managerial workday begins with a team-wide meeting or a series of one-on-one chats, many managers feel being in person makes their jobs easier. When you’re trying to delegate tasks, motivate team members, and oversee progress toward a common objective, being able to pull someone aside for a quick chat can make a huge difference.

In the absence of having face-time with the team, many managers worry that work will suffer and productivity will drop. Unfortunately, some available research about remote work supports those concerns. For example, a recent study by Harvard Business Review surveyed 20,000 workers and discovered those who worked from home were less motivated than those who did not.

However, the research isn’t settled. For every study that returned a negative result, you can find another study that showed an equally positive result. For example, Professor Nicholas Bloom of Stanford University found that employees who switched to remote work saw a 13% increase in productivity, which equates to a gain of more than 5 working hours per week. Clearly, there are both opportunities and pitfalls for remote work. Company culture and managerial style both have a huge impact on the success or failure of remote-work initiatives.

So, how do you help your team experience the productivity gains, without suffering the motivational losses? The key is a combination of effective technology, team culture, and careful planning. Below, you’ll find tips to help your team switch to remote work as smoothly as possible.

Schedule weekly video meetings to maintain connection and motivation

The isolation of remote work is the biggest challenge for many employees. In fact, the same Stanford study mentioned above disclosed that about half of the participants chose to return to at least some in-person office time after the study was over. To counteract this, you can host at least one weekly group video meeting for your team, and work in one-on-one meetings on an as needed basis. This lets you check in with your team, brainstorm together, and just see each other’s faces.

One tip for bridging the remote work gap is to turn on your camera during these meetings and ask your team to do the same. By seeing each others faces, people will get more emotional context for the things that are being said, which increases bonding and minimizes the chances of hurt feelings or misunderstanding. Not everyone feels comfortable on camera and some people may be accustomed to working in their pajamas. However, we find that showing your face really does make a difference in helping your team feel heard and boosting collaboration and clear communication.

Note that if you don’t want to spend time on a formal daily meeting, you can also put in place a daily stand up chat message. A daily stand up is where your team members share their project status and update you on their tasks for the day. Because it’s meant to be short and to the point, you’re able to send a chat and receive everyone’s update quickly. This is a great way to see what your employees are working on and provide visibility for managers, while making sure things are done as efficiently as possible.

Use a robust project management system

Setting up a project management system that works for you and your team is crucial to organizing and streamlining remote projects. Having a single interface that contains up-to-date information about every task and project your team is working on is the best way to keep everyone on the same page.

When selecting a project management system, you’ll want to consider what industry you’re in and how your team gets work done. For example, small teams with a lot of shared projects and a diversified set of skills might find Agile methodology to be a good fit. On the other hand, specialized teams that work on projects with defined stages and sequenced dependencies might find that the Waterfall method works better. Whatever style your team employs, look for a tool with the flexibility to accommodate your work practices. Popular choices include Zoho Projects, Asana, and Basecamp.

No matter what practices you use, it’s important to figure out a way to visualize the work your team needs to complete. Two popular ways of doing this are kanban boards and Gantt charts. Another big benefit to using a project management tool is having access to reports. Advanced analytics can help you identify bottlenecks and figure out who your most productive team members are. Without the ability to physically oversee your team, reporting can help you to monitor work output and fix problems before they arise.

Use real-time chat tools to enhance collaboration and communication

Email is useful when you want to send large chunks of information from one person to another, but it falls short when it comes to the complexity of remote project management. This is because sending an email is more like writing a letter than having an organic conversation. Sending multiple short emails back and forth as you and your team hash out a tricky detail can be extremely hard to follow. All that chatter can also distract from other important communication that arrives in your inbox, including things that may require urgent action, but instead get lost in the shuffle.

Real-time chat, on the other hand, can approximate the kinds of informal, rapid-fire conversations that drive so much in-person collaboration. By using a more casual communication channel, you’ll keep your email inbox clear, plus your team will get their questions answered much quicker. Popular tools for realtime team chat include Cliq, Slack, and Hipchat.

Additionally, you may want to set up “chatting etiquette” norms for your team. Consider having a dedicated chat group for friendly non-work related conversations. This lets your team continue to get their water-cooler chats in, while cutting down on distraction notifications in your work-centric channels. The main point is to establish a clear way for you and your team to communicate so that you can stay connected and most importantly keep collaboration flowing.

Map out clear expectations and set work boundaries

Working from home doesn’t automatically create structure. Because of that, so it’s important to provide that structure for your team and yourself. While many of us wind up working more hours on some days and fewer on others, the first step in setting expectations for working remotely is setting work hours. Whether that’s a strict 9 to 5 or a longer but more flexible workday, is up to you. The point is to map out what you’re looking for from your remote workers. Think about:

  • When you want people to log on in the morning
  • How quickly you expect them to respond to messages
  • What the team protocol is for deviating from your agreed upon schedule

Don’t be controlling, but it is helpful to articulate the parameters within which you’d like your team to operate. This can help prevent problems down the road.

Not only does this help you enforce a full workday for your whole team, but it’s also as an opportunity to encourage employees to maintain better work-life balance. If you tell everyone that they don’t need to be reachable past 7PM, then they won’t be anxious to reply if you send over a message at 10PM. By establishing a clear schedule upfront, your team can schedule their days more confidently and you can hold them accountable as needed.

Focus on what works for your team

While we could list off another ten strategies to help you manage your team remotely, the truth is that focusing on what works for you and your team is most important. Experiment with new management techniques or different project management systems, and get feedback on what’s working and whats not from your employees. Stay open and receptive when trying out new management styles. Without the trust and familiarity that comes along with working together in an office, you’ll need to work a little harder to ensure those lines of communication stay open.

If you stay organized, encourage accountability, and implement the right tools, you can achieve all your work goals and be just as productive as you were in the office. So get to work and find what fits for you and your team. Once you discover that perfect balance of communication and organization you’ll see how effective your team can be, no matter where they’re located.

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