Virtual teams are becoming more and more common across the globe — from virtual assistants at small businesses to teams within big companies such as IBM to digital start-ups with fully remote teams. The benefits are clear. According to Global Workplace Analytics, remote teams increase employee productivity, satisfaction levels, and can save a company more than $10,000 annually. That’s not including the benefit of tapping into a global talent pool.
As it becomes more common for companies to utilize remote workers, these businesses are discovering an influx of unique and new challenges related to managing virtual teams. As with any business, there are definitely hurdles to overcome.
Benefits of Hiring a Remote Team
Access to the best employees
Top talent doesn’t always just come knocking on your door. Significant effort is always required to build a world-class team. Of course, you have to carefully consider candidates during the hiring process. This often involves creating a team member persona, or in the case of a remote hire, a “remote persona” (just like you create buyer personas for your customers).
You should look for people who meet your criteria in the following areas:
- Company values
- Work/life balance
- Decision-making skills, etc.
One of the benefits of hiring remotely is that it gives you more options than limiting yourself to local employees. If you choose to broaden your horizons and decide to hire remote workers, you will be able to find excellent team members anywhere in the world. The A-players that you hire around the globe will surely help your company grow.
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Employees with flexible hours are happier
The fact is, employees who are allowed to set flexible schedules are happier than those who have to live under the rule of the clock. They tend to have fewer family conflicts than their colleagues who work at the office.
Moreover, employees who work from home say managing balance between work and family is much easier for them. Not surprisingly, the happier your employees are, the more productive you can expect them to be, which leads to faster company growth and good company moral.
Low employee turnover
According to 2017 research, 32% of people would quit their job as they are not allowed to work remotely. Many companies take this fact into account as losing an employee and hiring a new one involves significant expenses. As a result, smart companies embrace the remote work policy to keep their employees’ turnover rate low.
Having a team of remote workers allows you to lower your overhead by cutting office expenses. Recent calculations show that companies would save more than $500 billion a year on office rent, utilities and turnover if they chose remote work schedule. Instead of spending money on maintaining your office, you will be able to invest it in your business.
Challenges of managing a remote team and how to overcome them
If you want to foresee and fix one issue from this list, choose communication. It’s the cause of almost every other management issue. Managers provide direction at every step of a project or business initiative, so they need to be extremely good at communicating the strategy and understanding what’s happening within a team. Communication is the key to success for most teams. It’s critical to gather input from all members and to know what each person is working on.
When teams work remotely, it isn’t always easy to foster open communication. Traditional email marketing often seems like a formal tool that doesn’t enable quick conversations. Efficient, effective communication is the cornerstone of any functioning group, and it is especially crucial for remote teams. Coordinating virtual team members can be challenging, and communication can be a big stumbling block for many companies trying to successfully navigate remote hires.
- Make use of communication-based technological tools. Instant messaging, chat, and other two-way communication channels make sharing problems and potential solutions easier than ever.
- Keep these channels open, and consistently monitor them throughout the day. If an employee has a problem, idea, or thought that needs to be shared, you should be as responsive and available to a remote employee as you would to any on-site worker.
- Use project management software such as Hubstaff Tasks. Having one central tool for organizing projects and tasks ensures that everyone who needs to be in the loop stays that way. You can assign tasks to team members, add comments, outline the project steps in a checklist, and more.
- Generally, it’s a good idea to try and clarify as much as possible about the role: what’s expected, which KPIs to measure, resources that are available and so on. It’s very important to clarify these things with your virtual employees, as they have no other medium to find out such details.
- Finally, a more practical yet potentially time-consuming suggestion is to check for understanding after each meeting. Before you end, make sure everyone knows what their next steps are, then check if these matches and if the interpretations are aligned. This is very important in remote teams where you’re relying on emails, chat, and calls. Usually, you’re managing all of them combined. Important details can easily get overseen, skipped or misinterpreted.
Working with a remote team offers the potential for increased productivity, but managers must also overcome some virtual-related inefficiencies. For example, one of the most difficult challenges is managing workers across several time zones.
First, there are tools you can use online to help make scheduling a call, video conference, or meeting with remote teams easier. From a simple online poll that lists selected dates and times that team members can choose to calendaring apps and a variety of websites and free hosts that assess participant availability, there are ways that make the process of scheduling a meeting less stressful. It also helps if team members’ schedules are flexible, since some time zones don’t line up well with traditional working hours.
- Whenever all employees are meeting (via phone, teleconference, or video conference), find a time that falls within everyone’s workday. This might mean first thing for some and end of the day for others.
- If the time difference really makes coordinating schedules impossible, get creative. For example, record meetings for employees who can’t attend live. This way, they can view and/or hear what happened.
- Collect feedback regarding meetings via e-mail. This gives everyone the opportunity to chime in; even those who couldn’t attend while it was actually happening.
- Use email to document big and important announcements such as process changes, company directives, and other important announcements that don’t require a meeting, but are nonetheless important.
- Use scheduling software that allows you to schedule shifts for each team member and get alerts if they haven’t started tracking time during that window. You’ll also get email alerts if a shift is abandoned or missed altogether, ensuring that teams are working when they say they will and avoiding downtime for your business.
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Tracking work and productivity
Do you know how much work your remote team accomplishes and at what rate? For many managers, the answer to these questions is unclear. It’s hard to know if someone is being underutilized or is not pulling their own weight without an understanding of their productivity. For this reason, remote managers need to establish ways to track productivity for all employees. This can include setting up metrics for how much work is expected to be completed each day. This might look like:
- Creating and maintaining a company blog.
- Scheduling 20 social media posts per hour.
- Making 150 cold calls per shift.
The KPI metrics you choose to evaluate the productivity of remote employees should also be the same criteria used for in-office employees. This ensures that there are clear expectations in place, regardless of how and where your team works.
- For customer-facing team members in remote agencies, have a system in place to ensure open channels of communication between you, the customer, and the employee. If a customer doesn’t feel a remote employee is meeting expectations or hitting necessary benchmarks, you, as the manager, need to know this as soon as possible.
- When you manage remote workers, you have a lot less insight into how work is getting done. Employees must know what’s expected of them at all times, including if you’re concerned about hours logged or if you’re simply interested in the end product (regardless of time spent).
- Even remote teams can implement some rules about how work is done. Some virtual companies insist on employees working from an office or offer to pay for a coworking space if the employee chooses to work from one. This works well to provide a distraction-free work environment.
- To avoid problems, it’s helpful to have a quantitative way to evaluate a remote worker’s contributions. This way, if you’re in any way unhappy with the work, you can explain exactly why. This will make it clearer for the worker, and it helps get that employee up to speed about expectations as quickly as possible.
- Utilize employee productivity software to get the best sense of what your remote team is up to during the workday. Depending on the system you use, this platform could even provide intermittent screenshots to show you exactly which projects are being worked on, and what the status is. This tool provides invaluable data to you, and it encourages remote employees to stay active and engaged in company priorities.
Building trust is difficult for remote managers and team members. Managers worry that workers aren’t completing work, while workers have a range of concerns, including whether they’ll be paid on time. Being transparent can help to build trust for all parties. You can help build trust by being transparent about: Working hours, Project expectations, Pay rate, Payment timelines, and Status updates on projects
In terms of expectations, be honest about the workload you expect to have for your contractors. Many B2B marketing companies tell freelancers they can expect the amount of work to increase substantially over the coming months, even when this isn’t the case. These kinds of statements might be well intentioned, but it may lead some freelancers to believe they’ve been strung along. They may even have negotiated for a lower rate because of the volume and then feel duped when it doesn’t pan out.
- Employees need feedback often in order to correct problems early on and become satisfied, top performers in their role. Be sure that all managers are giving frequent feedback to address any issues, blockers or challenges people are facing. This will help the managers to develop trust with the team members and give them the flexibility needed to make virtual teams work.
- Put a premium on video conferences. Seeing each other’s faces is the next best thing to meeting in person.
- Trust your employees, but also utilize time-tracking software. It keeps everyone accountable and can help team members feel confident in the hours they put in.
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So how can SaaS leaders and companies effectively support and manage employees who aren’t in an office? There is the REMOTE formula to help. Resources, Engagement, Motivation, Objectives, Trust and Expectations are what you need to remember when working with, or developing a team remotely.
- Resources: Get the right tools. There’s an abundance of online collaboration resources which, in some cases, are specifically designed to ease the struggles of remote working.
- Engagement: Engage with your remote workers on a daily basis as you would do if they were based in an office. You must eradicate all feelings of isolation. Communication is key and setting out clear goals and outcomes is important to achieving success.
- Motivation: This is exactly the same as in an office environment. You don’t want your team soft pedalling and giving just a small percentage of their full potential. Motivating your team to achieve tasks they may have never done before will better utilize their just discovered skillset, improve productivity and maximize effort.
- Objectives: SaaS team leaders should focus on setting direction via goals, not activity. Try not to be overly concerned with details, and when goal achievement confidence is low, know when and how to jump in and find a way to support the area that’s a challenge.
- Trust: This is a biggie. You must trust your remote workforce. It starts with whether you’re a high trust company or a low trust company. A high trust organization would have their fair share of multipliers. The company shows empathy, collaboration and recognizes their employees as people who are achieving great things. A low trust organization tends to express toxic cultures and would have diminishers amongst the teams. Most of the time formality takes over friendliness.
- Expectations: By introducing a remote working culture you’re leaving your employee more control of their working structure. Expectations of them and the work they produce for the company needs to be made extremely clear.
The debate of remote working is one that will continue to develop. The purpose of this long post is to aid SaaS companies when making a decision to grow and scale, but a work from home culture is not for every organization. Despite the fact that creating and managing a remote team is not easy, it’s definitely worth trying if you have the tools to be successful. So, let's create your remote team now. Please tell us your views in the comments section below.
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