5 mistakes to avoid when managing remote teams

Here’s what you won’t be doing: sipping mojitos in Copacabana while your business rakes in cash on the back of cheap internet labor.

But here’s what you could be doing: building incredible stuff with less overhead, fewer costs, less red tape. You could be working with some of the brightest people in the world. Not limited to the best you would find in your immediate surroundings. You would spend more time wondering where to invest in a product. Spend less on how to pay the rent and how to optimize the commute.

The remote economy is a reality. People can work from home in tandem with others, and achieve better results, faster.

But the game isn’t the same as it is in the traditional office. With the new opportunities, come new ways of looking at things, new ways of doing things, and new pitfalls. Here are the top five mistakes I’ve come across in over a decade of managing remote teams – and how to avoid them!

Mistake #1 – when you’re not stalking your remote team, you’re holding their hand

I get it. You have your neuroses like everyone else. You wonder if work is being done and if it’s being done well. Yes, if you were doing it, you’d do it in another way.

I mean, you trust your team, sure! But you, you have the benefit of experience.

Here’s the thing: there’s only one of you. One of the reasons you have a team is because you can’t be everywhere, all the time, doing everything. And you earn experience every day you’re on the job, so that excuse doesn’t cut it. You’ll always be the most experienced person in the company.

best pratices in managing remote teams

That’s why you should offer feedback and coaching at opportune times. Not nag people to death over the smallest details, several times a day. That will make them focus on updating their CV rather than following your advice.

Mistake #2 – you proudly wear a “4-hour work week” t-shirt and let your team fend for themselves

Jesus! You went all out after reading the previous section, didn’t you? Drop that mojito for a second and offer your team some of the following:

  • Goals & direction: on a weekly basis, make it clear what you expect the team to achieve, and what is each team member’s role in the plan.
  • Accountability: have everyone place and update tasks on a hassle-free project management system.  This shouldn’t take more than ten to fifteen minutes of their day.
  • Daily meetup: Set a daily call when everyone’s schedules intersect, for a 15-minute video hangout. Here, everyone states what they achieved since the last meeting, and what they expect to accomplish before the next.

communication issues when managing remote team

Mistake #3: you act as if they are internet robots

It’s easy to get into the groove of thinking about your team as if it was a work-producing internet machine. Especially if they deliver on-time and per spec. It’s a challenge to maintain the human connection when you don’t bump into people daily.

At best, this lack of interaction deprives you of your remote team’s full potential. People may do good work, but they will not contribute to their ideas, or take the initiative as often. At worst, you will be looking at a decline in productivity, as people burn out. Remote workers aren’t always introverts. Even those who are, enjoy the occasional bit of human interaction.

Daily meetings as described above help stave off isolation somewhat. But always take the chance to have a one-on-one call with your employee whenever you can.

business relationships in remote teams

Talk to them about what’s up. Start with praise. Genuine praise, for something they did or, are doing well. Note their contributions. If possible and appropriate, transition into some personal talk. Get to know them.

One-on-one video meetings are also a great place to offer feedback – and get feedback too, for that matter!

Mistake #4 – you rely on a single point of communication

I love email. I do! It’s super non-intrusive, I can get to it at my own pace, and it’s easy to search from anywhere. The problem? In our hyper-connected age, it can feel a bit like snail-mail. And once you go over three participants in a conversation, the thread gets cluttered.

Even in the digital age, communication channels break down all the time. People forget (or don’t want) to record video conference meetings. Emails get buried under other emails. You misremember the exact terms of the conversation in Slack, so it’s hard to find it.

communication in remote teams

Any communication of importance, then, should happen twice – on the main channel, and on a “backup” channel. In DistantJob’s case, we recap our daily meetings on the appropriate Slack channel. We translate tasks and decisions from our weekly retrospectives into Trello cards. Our team forward significant communications to several people who can act on them. We build redundancy into our systems on purpose. You should, too.

Mistake #5 – you hire as you do for a local team

A good local employee may not translate into a great remote employee, and vice-versa. Sure, technical skills should always be sought after. But remote work asks for a wholly different slew of self-management capabilities.

Let’s say you avoid all the pitfalls above and act as a stellar remote leader. Your employees still need an above-average capacity to self-motivate and self-manage. The focus is a must – as much as office distractions abound, working from home comes with its own set of challenges.

hire remotely

There are several good ways to identify excellent remote workers. The interview process is critical. The basic process is to ask them to describe the average work day. Look for people who follow a structured schedule, and set up blocks of time when they sit down and work. Some good things to look for:

  • A work-dedicated space in their home (office, corner desk, etc.).
  • Specific apps and tools they use to keep organized.
  • Awareness of time-zone differences and how they’ll deal with them.
  • Participating in community-driven online projects. Good examples: wikis, online gaming guilds/clans, collaborative art projects, etc.
  • No problem getting on a webcam and communicate with fluency.

Get out there and make mistakes

It’s easy to read about managing a remote team. These mistakes look quite obvious now that you’ve read about them, right? Well, I guarantee you’ll make them, anyway.

And that’s fine. We’re still exploring what it means to work together, over the internet. With forewarning – and some of the tips above – you’ll make them a little bit less often. With practice, you’ll overcome them a little bit easier.

The remote economy is here to stay. It doesn’t make sense to go back to the old ways. Get on board with remote work, and help your team – and yourself – work in a smarter, better, more fulfilling way.

About the author:

Luis Magalhães is Director of Marketing and editor-in-chief at DistantJob. He writes about how to build and manage remote teams, and the benefits of hiring remote workers. He‘s been managing editorial teams remotely for the past 15 years, and training teammates to do so for nearly as long. Get in touch with him via Luis@distantjob.com or by tweeting @distantjob

The content published on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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