June 26, 2019

Ask IH: How do you manage a remote team?

Yang @yang

Hi IH,
Do you manage a remote team? If so, how does it differ from managing an in-person team? Do you use any tools to help with managing your remote team?
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.
Thanks in advance!

  1. 10

    I've been working remote and managing remote teams for quite a while. The best advice I can give is:

    1. If someone is remote, everyone is remote. If you have a mixed centralized/remote team, any in-person conversations/decisions in the centralized location creates an unfair power dynamic. This hard to avoid. Everyone calling in to meeting as if they're remote is a good start. Promoting conversations take place in a shared space (slack channel, video hangout, etc) will help your remote employees feel equally included as well.
    2. Remote employees (even veterans that seem fine) will go through periods of isolation. Fighting this should be a priority because it can breed a "screw it, they won't even notice if I slack on work" type attitude. I encourage 1:1's with random team members on a regular basis to help combat this. They can talk about their (sometimes completely unrelated) work, challenges, personal hobbies, etc.
    3. It's hard to beat occasional in-person interactions. If you can afford it, get everyone together once or twice a year. This is a morale and productivity booster that will pay dividends in helping retain your remote employees and ensure they do good work. Can't afford to get everyone together? Once a month hold a all-hands social video call where you share a coffee/beer/cake/whatever while talking "big picture" or about something not even work related.
    4. Share the swag/lunch. Getting everyone in the office t-shirts, backpacks, pens, or other swag? Don't forget your remotes. Going out to lunch? Encourage your remotes to go out as well and expense the meal.
    5. Remote == flexibility in schedule. Embrace that flexibility and encourage it, with sidebars. Encourage regular overlapping office hours with the rest of your team (if time zones allow). You won't know when someone's online/offline and that's okay. Encourage open communication on irregularities in schedule and availability. Reasonable expectations of communication help avoid disappointment.
    6. Take your remote's time zones into account when scheduling meetings or standups. If you're EST, and you have a remote who is PST (3 hours behind), don't schedule a 9am call. Likewise, consider lunch times and traditional EOD boundaries. Alternatively, try and move the call to something asynchronous.
    7. Allow them to air their dirty laundry. It's harder for a remote to vent about things that may be bothering them -- the opportunities just aren't there. Gripes are natural, and if you embrace them they can improve your company/product/team. Regular "retrospectives" are great for this.
    8. You're hiring remote because it allows you to access top talent at your given price point. You'll get what you pay for. Quantify that and adjust your expectations accordingly.
    9. Hanlon's razor: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity less criminal motives." This is doubly true with remotes because you'll likely just see the outcomes of actions instead of the why/how.
    10. Trust them. You'll have better success if you trust them to be adults who are making good/honest decisions. This trust will have to be earned. I find it helpful to set quantifiable objectives/expectations so that the remote knows what I expect from them and I know how well they're living up to my expectations.
    1. 1

      Thanks for the detailed response - super insightful!
      You mentioned a few tools for video conferencing, do you use any other tools? Particularly around managing and keeping track of what team members have accomplished?

    2. 1

      this is a very good list of suggestions. Excellent

  2. 3

    With remote teams managing is harder so having some kind of daily sync where people can discuss or raise blockers is helpful. In an office it is easier to chat when you see someone is not busy ( the watercooler ... ). With being remote it is harder to notice if someone is not doing so well.

    Hiring is key with remote. Some people just need the "peer pressure" of being in an office to work. Ideally you want to hire people who already were successful remotely but in the absence of that make sure you keep in touch with folks and give feedback when you see being remote might not be for them.

    Now there are plenty of tools to use for remote work and honestly people seem to use them regardless of being in office or remote. None of those tools will help if there is no proper "remote first" culture and some remote folks are isolated from the "in crowd" in the office.

    JIRA for tickets
    Confluence for wiki and calendar events (time off)
    Slack for communication
    Google docs for anything worked on collaboratively

    1. 1

      Completely agree on the "remote first" culture! With your team, how do you keep track of what everyone has accomplished? Just Slack?

      1. 1

        JIRA or trello - or any kind of ticketing system would do.
        As for day to day - this is more for a quick sync in the morning and meant more to share issues or progress among the team members

  3. 3

    Mainly we use Slack for communication, don't feel like we need much else. Google Calendar for listing time off (we don't count holiday days). Trello, Google docs, etc for general day to day managing of info and tasks.

    1. 1

      Interesting... if you don't mind me asking, how big is your team?

      1. 3

        Above comments are in relation to Ministry of Testing which is 10 permanent people. There are various others we work with, people we communicate on a regular basis (freelancers, writers, course creators, speakers, etc). That number of people varies between 10-100.

        1. 1

          Thank you! super helpful ☺️
          Just one more question - Are the 10 people working in different time zones? Do you feel like you've had to change your managing style/approach to accomodate remote working?

          1. 4

            The 10 are mostly same time zone, though many work odd hours. We hire people we trust, couldn't imagine having to micromanage people's hours, there are better things in life we should be doing. Plus, we've always been remote.

            It's also been a case of them having to adapt to me and my needs, so it's only fair to offer the flexibility and trust back at them.

  4. 2

    Yep, I'm pretty pro-remote-positive. It's different to managing in an office but the diversity of different management styles in an office is just as extreme as the differences between in-person and remote.

    We have a blended team, and we look at it as we're all remote, it's just some of us work in an office. There are certain processes that we've found work really well to encourage a good team dynamic. Here are a few:

    • If one person is remote, we're all remote for calls. If 5 people are in an office, but 1 person is somewhere else, we all have our laptops on so there are 6 heads on the call rather than 1 head and one room.
    • We do like having daily calls to stay connected, see each other's faces, and encourage a bit of human interaction
    • For us, 'truly asynchronous' isn't the same as fully remote, and meetings are useful to reenforce cultural connectedness (even though meetings should of course be minimised).
    • Slack, zoom, coda for policies, Trello.
    1. 1

      Thanks for answering - super helpful thoughts, greatly appreciated!
      Could you elaborate on what you think are the key distinctions between 'truly asynchronous' and fully remote are?
      Outside of Trello do you think there's room for a team management system that's designed especially for remote teams (and thus has a larger focus on engagement)?

  5. 1

    Another idea is: www.remo.co - just pop into a room and ask them!

    1. 1

      Wouldn't something like this be disruptive, unless it's prescheduled?

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