How to Maintain Productive Remote Teams

Sunday, August 16, 2020

As many teams continue to work outside of the traditional office environment, maintaining productive teams is a top priority for most organisations. Competitive advantage is more dependent than ever before on the company’s ability to adapt to change quickly and smoothly, therefore businesses must ensure their teams are fully supported as they transition to working from home. While most companies are boasting no decrease in productivity as a result of the new working arrangements, maintaining efficient remote teams is not as simple as it may seem, even with the amazing technology we have at our disposal. To help guide you along, below we provide our top 7 tips for maintaining productive remote teams!

 

1. Have a Strong Company Culture

 

Employers must ensure their teams are fully invested in the organisational goals, strategies, values and overall mission. So much of company culture is implicit when working on-site, so transferring the same culture outside of the office walls is not a simple task. Nevertheless, it is very important that employees feel they are part of a larger whole rather than working in isolation, both in order to maximise their productivity and to support their mental health. Since loneliness is one of the most common complaints associated with working at home, building and maintaining a strong company culture outside of the office is therefore key to keeping employees engaged and will help instil a feeling of belonging. A strong company culture will not only keep employees motivated and productive, but also decrease the likelihood of them leaving the organisation. Therefore, team managers should find ways to engage employees in activities that require delving deeper into the company culture and getting to know the people they’re working with. Doing simple things like birthday shout-outs, virtual game-nights or running a book club will help create a stronger bond between team members during these challenging times. Consider asking employees for activity suggestions that match their interests in order to maximise their engagement.

 

2. Use Collaboration Tools

Having up to date collaboration tools is essential for running effective remote teams. Working together through email and having meetings via Zoom may not be enough for complex projects that require high organisation and frequent exchange of information.  There is a lot of choice on the market, however, so make sure you shop around for the best option for your organisation. Some examples of useful tools are provided below:

 

Communication:

  1. Slack– which allows employees to keep files and commentary stored in channels, make phone or video calls instantly, and conveniently collaborate with external partners and clients. Slack also offers companies a free trial of their solutions.
  2. WebEx– offers a wide range of solutions, including video conferencing, team collaboration, online event management and online training management. WebEx also offers a free version of their solutions, albeit with limited features.

     

    Project Management:

  1. Asana– a very popular tool for managing teams, which allows them to plan, track and manage their projects from start to finish. Team members can keep calendars and use ready-to-go templates for meeting agendas, team continuity, objective planning etc. Asana even provides special productivity solutions, with tools that are specifically designed to help teams manage their time better and deliver faster results. Asana also offers a free trial of their solutions.
  2. ProofHub– a tool that offers teams the ability to plan, collaborate, organise and deliver results through one platform. It includes features such as Grantt charts, discussions, projects templates, workload reports and activity logs. Proofhub also offers a free trial of its solutions.

     

    When deciding which tool to invest in, we recommend choosing one with multiple features, both to save money and  to save time, as employees won’t need to change from one system to another. Furthermore, look for user friendliness. Sometimes keeping it simple is the best way to go when it comes to technology, so consider whether the features on offer are actually necessary for your team. Finally, consult with the tool providers on security and privacy measures, especially if your teams are working on particularly sensitive projects that require a high level of confidentiality.

     

    3. Set Specific Goals

    Ensuring that employees have goals to work towards is always important, but this is particularly key for remote employees who should feel motivated by pressure to achieve. If employees don’t have deadlines to work towards and are not sufficiently challenged, they are more likely to be distracted and unfocused at home. Your staff should feel a sense of development and progression in order to remain engaged and to remain productive remotely. While micromanagement should be avoided, it’s nevertheless important to check in with teams and make sure they are on track towards achieving their goals. Furthermore, it is important to recognise hard work by measuring performance to ensure employees can see exactly how they are contributing, the value of their work, and the importance of their focused participation to the overall organisational strategy. This is also a great way to maintain healthy competition between teams and keep the overall performance standards high.

     

    4. Have Regular Structured Meetings

    It is advisable to have frequent meetings within the team, and between teams, when working remotely. As stated by leadership adviser and author,Niamh O’Keeffe, virtual meetings should be shorter and with a focus on efficiency. They should have a strict agenda and be properly structured to ensure employees don’t feel like their time is being wasted discussing matters that have already been covered or topics that are not relevant to their work. Furthermore, employees should be made aware of the meeting agenda in advance to ensure that they have enough time to prepare any queries or suggestions. This will keep meetings constructive and make the best use of everyone’s time. Keeping meetings short, well planned and to-the-point will not only be highly appreciated by staff, but will also maintain an emphasis on productivity.

     

    5. Over-communicate

    We’re sure you’re tired of hearing about the importance of communication, but really – a lot of time is wasted by teams every day due to inefficient communication - time that could be used productively. When working remotely, the aim should be to over-communicate. This involves providing each other with greater context, including specific details and confirming information. Employees should be encouraged to think carefully about the information in their emails and phone conversations to avoid confusion and lots of time-consuming back-and-forth messaging. It may be tempting for staff to rely on their own interpretations and assumptions about matters to avoid having to send yet another email or bother their colleagues with questions, but employees should be highly encouraged to reach out as often as necessary to prevent mistakes that could set the team back. It is also due to this need for over-communication that we recommend investing in software tools to prevent teams from becoming overwhelmed by the constant need to be available and to keep communication as efficient and organised as possible.

     

    6. Allow for Flexibility

    One of the major benefits of remote working is the availably of greater flexibility. Therefore, organisations should aim to provide their people with as much freedom to organise their work schedule as possible. The emphasis should be on results, not the number of hours spent in front of a computer and not whether the employee is working 9-5. Teams should be given the autonomy to organise their meetings and collaboration times when it suits them best, as long as they are delivering results. This flexibility is particularly important for employees with young children at home and for teams working across different time zones. Managers are encouraged to have an open mind when it comes to remote work and trust their team members to act responsibly, while also considering the importance of work-life balance for employees.

     

    7. Look After Employee Wellbeing

Finally, and most importantly, organisations must look after their people. Working remotely may be highly welcomed by some, but for others, this new normal is stressful and complex to manage. Social isolation and the difficulty for some to disconnect from their work at home may be taking a toll on your employees’ mental health. Nothing kills productivity and team morale more than burned out talent! Businesses must check in with their staff often and encourage not only a culture of over-communication within their respective teams, but also reassure them, time and time again, that they should not hesitate to reach out to HR or management with their concerns and that they will also be listened to and taken seriously. An effective support system will ensure employees feel valued and cared for, and will thus allow them to focus their energy on their work. Furthermore, team members should be encouraged to support one another and look out for each other, because that’s what team spirit is all about!

Although we are sure that the above advice will be beneficial to all organisations, we’d also like to point out that the best way to maintain productive teams is by simply asking their members: “What do you need from us in order to do your job? How can we support you?”  This is exactly how Steve Cahillane, Chairman and CEO of Kellogg’s, has successfully maintained the productivity of his remote teams during the pandemic. After all, no one knows what the team needs better than the people who are striving to make it productive every day! We hope that these tips will help you build and maintain motivated, resilient and productive remote teams.

Good luck!