Checklist: how to maintain performance and morale while managing remote team?

Archer Blog - Remote team management checklist
The difficult times we are living in force us to rethink how we are working and interacting with colleagues. With remote work on the rise, a lot of people are learning how to manage employees working remotely. And it can be tricky if you’ve never done it before. We've gathered important tips and areas of focus for a remote team manager.

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When your team works in the office, the workflow is streamlined. But when you’ve got a remote team, you have to change your work style and approach to maintain a corporate culture, morale, and the efficiency of your team. We decided to share some thoughts, ideas, and tips about how you can begin working with your remote team and how you can manage virtual teams effectively.

The primary focus of this checklist is on Process Management, Communication Management, Software and Tools, and some challenges of virtual teams you have to overcome to make it work. 

What is exactly a remote team?

A virtual or remote team of people that work for common projects and goals via electronic communications and may live in different locations or can live in the same area but work virtually are known as a remote team. All the team members need to have the necessary tools, skills, and the ability to work independently.

How do you form a remote team?

  1. Identify the tasks of a project and make sure they can be done remotely. This is the starting point. Also, identify the aspects which may be challenging in a remote working environment.
  2. Identify the people you need to build this team. Make sure those people have all the necessary equipment and skills and are able to work independently without being micromanaged.
  3. Figure out the right tools that you need to use while running a project on a remote basis including communication tools, process management software, workflow management software, project tracking software, and other software needed.
  4. Attend online events, workshops, and conferences that will help you to get to know best practices for remote team management.
  5. Get the team going and continue learning along the way. And don’t forget to review your findings at the start of every new sprint.

What are the challenges of managing remote employees?

  • Monitoring and controlling remote employees

The first problem you face when switching from offline to online communication with a remote team is the problem of control. You cannot see what your employees are doing, and cannot be sure they are doing the right things, so you have to create an effective organizational structure for managing remote employees. The IT industry is one adopt new practices and procedures that make the work process more convenient faster than any other.

So embracing IT companies’ experience and best practices of agility will give your team a competitive advantage as it is very likely that after all lockdowns due to the current pandemic situation end, many companies will continue using at least a partially remote workforce.

  • Procedures to maintain working discipline

Another challenging part of working from home is good discipline. The core challenge is to separate your home from your office. Discipline is important both for employees and team managers. You have to develop new routines when working from home such as scheduling your tasks, organizing a new workspace, and creating a place to work that keeps you from being distracted.

You’d like to also preserve some of the routines you had while being in the office, like having morning coffee with your co-workers online with small talks to keep your team’s bonding strong and morale up.

Checklist to ensure your management sets your remote team up for success

Below are some tips that will help you manage remote teams effectively. Some important areas you have to consider are processes of managing and communicating as well as a list of software and tools needed. Make a checklist that will help you identify what is needed and eliminate possible remote working issues.

Process management in distributed teams

  • Offline vs. online process management: embracing the differences and leveraging the advantages

Nowadays we need to modify our work and use an asynchronous approach to team management meaning that the team is able to work in different hours with a few regular sync-ups when all of the members are available to share their current state of affairs.

Workers get a few additional free hours because they don’t have to get ready for the office and commute to it. But they lose important rituals, so it’s more difficult to dive into the flow of work. And of course, there are distractions at home that you need to find a way to cope with.

What can be helpful in team management? Good documentation and a good tracking system. You should set up all the team’s tasks and be able to check their status. The steps of management include planning, realization, and checking. It’s the same steps you use at the office, but in case of remote task management, you must be aware of whether the tasks will be done or won’t be done by the set deadline since you can’t physically check on their progress by checking in with someone at their workstation.

Another pitfall of remote work is the environment and availability of time, space, or even someone who can look after the kids. You have to find out what tasks fit this team member most and don’t assign them tasks that are difficult to perform given their current situation. Some people are more productive during the day and others at night so a flexible schedule can be a good solution.

  • Monitoring the team's progress: do’s and don’ts

Some micromanagement practices in an offline environment are simply direct questions. For remote workers, those are transformed in software that monitors time in each program, records keys pressed and takes screenshots every 30 seconds. This practice, however, would almost definitely only frustrate your team and decrease their performance.

So how do you keep track of what employees are doing without being too annoying? Describe tasks, ask for estimates, and watch for the timely completion of the task, not the ongoing process. Do the sync-ups on a regular basis and use appropriate tools to track the team’s progress on tasks or goals providing them with access to knowledge database facilitating their work rather than keeping track of their distractions or number of hours invested in work.

Trust your team and their skills, keep the focus on improving engagement and morale: instead of being bossy and micromanaging, try being supportive and understanding of the stress your people are going through. People are ready to go the extra mile without any additional push if they feel appreciated and trusted.

  • Performance: how to ensure meeting deadlines, quality control, and the team’s focus

There’s no difference between offline and online work. The best formula that works for many is to split the tasks into the smallest pieces of two to eight hours and control what’s done against the schedule. Don’t try to measure the percentage of readiness for the specific task. It’s all subjective and not real.

Flexible personal schedules, shorter sprints, and trust between the team members are the solutions to create effective work cycles and more active team members. It is absolutely necessary to have fixed hours for work, breaks, and household routines.

  • Risks of the team working remotely: how to find, evaluate and mitigate them

First of all, set up or focus on your team’s rituals. This will be the heart of your project. Make sure that everyone knows what to do during the day, and who to direct their questions to. Add some non-business topics into your meetings. People need to talk to someone else besides their family.

Check your Process Management
1Is your team working asynchronously?Y/N
2Does everybody know what to do?Y/N
3Did you set clear goals and expectations for your team: from manager to employee and from employee to manager?Y/N
4Did you give your team members tips and instructions on how to organize a remote workplace and schedule? Written? Oral? Is everyone on the same page?Y/N
5Do the tasks fit the employees they are assigned to?Y/N
6Is the team’s daily schedule consistent, and do they have all the necessary meeting times?Y/N
7Are the assigned activities performed regularly and consistently with the team’s schedule?Y/N

Communication in the remote teams

  • Daily, weekly and monthly communication routines that ensure smooth interaction in a remote team

This is something that all agile frameworks are about. Daily standup, weekly demo, and bi-weekly retrospective meetings are the bare minima. Do not forget to do one-on-one formal or informal meetings once in a while to make sure everything goes smoothly with the team.

If your team works with shorter sprints, it is reasonable to have two daily meetings – in the morning and at the end of the day - keeping them very short, 15-20 minutes at most, but very productive.

  • How to avoid miscommunication, and build the culture of self-motivation, accountability, and buddy care

This is relevant to work in general, whether remote or not. The best reference here is Management 3.0. Build an atmosphere of trust so everyone can offer or criticize ideas and won’t worry about reprisal. You need to set ground rules and follow them.

The manager is just a facilitator who empowers a team where everyone is on the same page.

Always have some off-work conversations, and don’t forget to ask if there are any problems – either related to the work process or the worker’s situation at home. The aspect of trust and reasonable expectations is very important for successful remote team management.

  • How to make sure everyone’s available as if they are sitting next to each other

Define common hours and schedule meetings in a calendar.

As a remote team manager, you have to be even more available for your team so as any team member can ask you a pop-up question, or work out details he/she needs to know to complete a certain task. Use instant messengers so that any member of your team can ask you a quick question, let your team members know you will answer their questions as soon as you can. And, yes, it is also an aspect of trust that people know you are there to help them and the team works as a single unit.

Be careful when using voice messages! Not everyone likes to disrupt the work process and concentrate on listening to someone’s voice. Messages that can be an email should be an email.

Some of these processes can be very useful when you get back to the office too.

Check your Communication Flows
1Is the team’s daily schedule consistent, and do they have all the necessary meetings scheduled?Y/N
2Are there established routines and rituals for communication with the entire team?Y/N
3Are the necessary meetings held on a regular basis?Y/N
4Are there enough one-on-one meetings to track the team’s work and motivation?Y/N
5Are there small talks during meetings that keep your team’s overall tone friendly?Y/N
6Are you quick to answer your employees' questions?Y/N
7Do you keep your team well informed about the status of tasks and the whole project?Y/N

Software for managing remote employees

  • Task tracking

These tools include free task management software and prepaid task management software. The most popular products are Jira (good for tasks description), Confluence (project description and knowledge database), Trello, Asana, Github, and Archer Software’s proprietory ERP: Producer. The choice will depend on your team’s needs and the scope of the project.

  • Work monitoring

You should focus on tasks, and not on how every member of the team does his piece of the work. Some companies use software to monitor WHAT and WHEN and FOR HOW LONG every team member is doing, but this again is the matter of trust. Decide what is more important to you – the result or the control.

If you need to structure your working hours, on the other hand, or increase your focus, try using techniques and tools like Pomodoro.

  • Communication

The market offers a wide variety of communication tools such as Skype, Slack, Zoom, Hangouts, Gotomeetings. Skype, Slack, and Google Hangouts are good for chatting and everyday communication. Skype, Google Hangouts, Blue Jeans, and Zoom are convenient for making both video and audio calls. It is very convenient to have different channels of communication for different topics and projects. You and your team members have to choose the one that fits your style of communication and has all the features you require.

But make sure that you limit the messengers you use to a reasonable number in order to keep your communication history in (more or less) one place and not to give additional stress to your team with tons of all-day buzzing from dozens of channels.

  • Performance assessment

You should use metrics-based work results. This really matters. As for performance assessments, we don’t recommend you use them based on the manner of task performance, motivation, or a strict working schedule. The main motivation is the effectiveness of teamwork and the result of the team’s work.

A good solution is to give a team member a specific task providing him/her with a sense of ownership. It helps to motivate the team members further and helps them keep track of what they are doing, and even boosts their morale.

Check your Software
1Do the team members have all the necessary software installed on their remote devices and computers? Do they have all the necessary access to required equipment (e.g.headphones, laptops, specific hardware, stable Internet connection)?Y/N
2Do the team members report in a timely fashion?Y/N
3Is the team’s daily schedule consistent, and do they have all the necessary meetings scheduled?Y/N
4Are you monitoring all necessary metrics?Y/N

We hope our tips will help you make your remote teams more efficient and successful. Do not hesitate to ask our team of professionals any questions about remote software development.

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