Look, it’s no secret that managing a remote team is the future for many digital agencies.
43 percent of employees telecommute at least part-time today.
And that number doesn’t look to be decreasing anytime soon…
…75 percent of millennials want more opportunities for virtual work.
In fact, workplace flexibility was one of the top 3 most important job factors for millennials in Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Survey.
And considering millennials will make up half the global workforce by 2020, it’s pretty clear that virtual teams are here to stay.
But, if you’re part of the 56 percent of companies that already offer some sort of flexible work arrangement, here’s the truth:
You might be a great leader, but managing a remote team comes with its own set of unique challenges.
Agencies operating with a remote workforce need to:
- Create an effective communication stream that keeps everyone in the loop on project development
- Build consistent workflows that cut down on project roadblocks and ensure your agency doesn’t miss important deadlines
- Develop a culture that sustains despite the lack of in-person face time
And as I’m sure you know, that kind of leadership requires some specific strategies (and tools) to help make it happen.
So let’s start from the top. What can your agency do to improve remote team communication?
Here’s a stat that will make you squirm:
30 percent of teams cite “poor communication” as the biggest cause of project failure.
Seems impossible considering how many different communication methods exist today, right?
But here’s the thing:
“Poor communication” doesn’t necessarily mean “no communication.”
You might be using the latest and greatest communication tools, but if there are inefficiencies in the way your team communicates, it can crush the effectiveness of your remote team.
So, here’s what you need to do:
Centralize project communication onto one platform.
I’ll admit, this might sound crazy at first, but hear me out:
No more email.
At least not for any internal communication regarding client projects.
Because emails have a tendency to get lost, discarded, or to exclude key project stakeholders.
Here’s an example:
If you’re a developer, it might seem harmless enough to shoot the designer a quick email asking for clarification on a certain project detail.
But maybe your question (and the designer’s answer) is something that another member of the team would benefit from knowing, too.
And when that back-and-forth communication happens in an email silo rather than a team collaboration tool, you’re creating a communication inefficiency that could lead to big problems.
So, that’s why bringing all project communication onto one platform makes so much sense for a remote team:
Project collaboration tools create a transparent log of every team conversation about a particular project.
And of course, that means:
- More accountability. You know who said what, and when they said it. That means better tracking of team performance and opportunities to find gaps in your current workflow.
- Easier reference for you and the team. Have a question for a colleague in Bangkok but it’s the middle of the night there? Do a quick search through the team chat to find out if they answered the question before for someone else on the team.
- Universal access to important files. Every draft, every spreadsheet, every revision…all stored in one central place for easy access to the entire team.
Just take a quick peek at how team collaboration looks in Zapty:
But, that’s not the only way a good collaboration tool helps you effectively manage remote workers.
I’m sure you’ll agree with me on this:
Remote teams need consistent workflows to maximize efficiency and cut down on costly project delays.
You know it, I know it.
You can hire the best, most-talented people, but without a set strategy for executing projects, you’ll inevitably find some snags in your process that slow down production.
“In an agency, the ultimate goal — beyond creating kick-ass work — is sticking with a consistent project workflow. Adhering to internal processes can be what makes or breaks a project’s success, especially when a wrench is thrown into the system.”
And that’s especially true with a remote team that can’t just walk into your office and ask for clarification on a critical process detail.
Time zone differences can mean a 12+ hour wait for an answer to a simple process question.
And a well-documented and actionable workflow solves the problem almost entirely.
So, here’s the next tip:
Build templates for the most common processes at your agency.
This is one we’ve actually been experimenting here with our own team at Zapty.
Because we operate largely as a remote team split between San Francisco and Bangalore, India, we’ve built process templates for some of our recurring projects.
Here’s what our editorial calendar process template looks like:
A recent post on the blog shared a few great templates from three marketing experts covering simple, effective workflows for social media marketing, trade show planning, and SEO keyword research.
In short, a template makes it easy to train new people on our process, work with contractors, and easily track the progress of important projects toward their deadlines.
That not only means increased efficiency and effectiveness – it also means a happier team.
And a happy team is a huge win for a manager looking to effectively manage remote workers.
Just ask any remote employee and they’ll tell you:
As great as it is to have the flexibility to work from anywhere, telecommuting can be…lonely.
A 2015 report from Eurofound showed 63 percent of remote workers cited “isolation” as the biggest downfall to working from home.
And that’s a big problem for agencies who rely on virtual employees to stay productive and collaborate from locations spread across the globe.
So, what can you do to make remote teams feel more inclusive?
Never pass up the opportunity for face-to-face interactions.
If you’re able to bring the team all together once or twice a year, that’s great.
But, what I’m really talking about here is the day-to-day interactions with your team.
It’s easy to get in the habit of sending a private chat that just says “got a minute?”
But if you’re really looking for a simple, easy-to-implement strategy for better relationships among remote teams, try and organize as many virtual face-to-face meet-ups as possible.
Zapty integrates with Google Hangouts, making it easy to quickly transition from a chat window to a live, face-to-face conversation.
But there are a number of other free tools out there that also do a great job of connecting remote teams through video chat.
David Tate over at Authentic.co does a great job of explaining the value of video chat for remote teams:
“Video conferencing allows a personal feel and increases accountability. Establishing trusting relationships with your coworkers – inside jokes, empathy, understanding of who they are as people – is easier when they are more than a voice and an email address. You can’t tell if anyone has grinned at your corny joke or gotten excited about your project pitch with just audio, but video communicates these other dimensions almost as well as being in person.”
You need to add any conversations that happen between team members outside your designated collaboration tool into the feed.
That way, you don’t leave the rest of the team in the dark about any critical information that you shared.
And one last thing…
As more businesses shift toward offering flexible work arrangements, I’m sure you’ll constantly find new strategies for effectively managing a remote team.
But, the most important lesson is this:
Lead by example.
The way you communicate, establish processes, and promote the company culture sets the stage for how the rest of your team will do the same.
Remote teams may be working independently from around the world, but they still need a leader like you to guide them along the way.