working remotely

Remote teams have been growing in number. In the U.S., the percentage of remote workers has increased from 9% in 1995 to 37% in 2015. This new business model has a lot of incredible benefits: being able to cull talent from around the world regardless of location, financial savings (no office building, etc.), and the convenience of everyone working their own hours rather than being crunched into the 9-5 workday.

While many remote workers report increased job satisfaction, what about those responsible for coordinating such teams?

Managing a remote team requires a unique set of skills. Many management principles apply to remote teams such as motivating your staff, providing feedback, and prioritizing communication. The difference is that in remote work, the importance of these factors is amplified.

Managers won’t be able to gauge an employee’s needs or their progress from face-to-face contact. Instead, their communication strategies will become the crucial touch points that can cause their business to boom or bust.

Here are some tips on how to keep things running smoothly when your team members are spread to the four corners.

Become an expert communicator

How are your communication skills? Do you know how to:

Motivate. You’re not only giving your staff instructions. You also need to encourage them to produce excellent work. Refine your communication so that employees feel inspired to meet deadlines and go above and beyond – this can make a huge difference in the results.

Be empathetic. Your business may be virtual, but your staff members live in the real world. At work, they would get days off for being ill or a death in the family. Open the door for your employees to come to you and express things that might be hindering their ability to work.

Be clear. Make sure that when you give your staff instructions, you eliminate the possibility of misinterpretation. You may consider asking your team to send you outlines explaining what they’re going to do to make sure everyone’s on the same page.

Be consistent. Being consistent in your tone creates a sense of trust in your employees. Being consistent in your frequency of communication also creates a certain rhythm that helps maintain open communication channels and accountability.

Use the right tools

From creating company culture to finding the best way to relay urgent information, you’ll need a hefty toolbox to succeed in your remote business:

Meeting apps. Most remote teams rarely, if ever, get the chance to meet face to face. Therefore, a meeting app that allows you to talk with your employees at the same time is a crucial element in forming bonds and creating office culture.

Len Markidan, Head of Marketing at Groove, recommends having daily huddles. “These huddles help us stay aligned and accountable to each other for making progress each day and the culture benefits are massive; actually talking to each other every day…really does help you build deeper relationships with everyone on your team.”

Text messaging. SMS can be a lifesaver when dealing with remote teams. When there’s an urgent situation that demands an immediate response, text messaging is the best tool when you consider that 90% of texts are read within 3 minutes and texts have a 98% open rate.

Besides that, staff members want to enable text communication with their employers, with 70% expressing a desire to communicate with superiors via SMS.

Email. Use it wisely. Emails are the most common source of misinterpretation. Chat messages are usually too short to allow for much confusion. And chat platforms allow you to chat in real-time and include face-to-face or voice conversations that allow for more elaborate exchanges that eliminate confusion.

Hubstaff recommends using email for “short, neutral exchanges of information.” That being said, email is still a great way to communicate when implemented correctly. Staff members can read and reply at their leisure and emails fit within the remote culture of creating your own schedule.

Emails can also be used more often once you’ve established a solid working relationship with a staff member. But to start off, that relationship should be nurtured with other forms of communication that involve voice and chat.

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Do progress checks

Sometimes there is a great distance between when you request a service from a staff member and when that service is delivered. Checking in with your team can ensure that things are going smoothly and that the work will be delivered on time.

Some remote employees may not be inclined to reach out if they need help, so offering it up front can help head off problems before they get out of control.

Give feedback

Are you unsatisfied with an employee’s work? Or is someone consistently committing the same error? Or are they producing great work that supersedes your expectations? Let them know. Employees like to have direction to know if they need to improve in a particular area and also where they’re doing well.

You should give feedback for every completed project to create a reference for whether or not expectations are being met. When offering criticism, be as specific as possible. What exactly needs to be improved? Offer advice and guidance on how to bring performance up to your standards.

Managing a remote team can be challenging, but by prioritizing communication, nurturing relationships with voice and chat platforms, and employing tools to help you communicate effectively, you can be a remote business success story.

About the author: Tracy Blanchard is the experienced freelance writer and business blogger. In her writing, she covers topics like business communication, productivity, and customer relationships.

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About the Author Rachel Dotson

Michigander turned Angeleno. Teach For America alum turned startup marketer. I spend my days at SaneBox, saving the world from email woes one interruption at a time.