Seven Tips for Remote Team Management

Do you work from home, or manage a team that primarily works from home? While avoiding office politics and a rush-hour commute is a dream for almost anyone, managing a remote team can be a challenge. It is important that your team feels like a team, even though its members may never see each other, and that your staff members have ways to communicate and accomplish projects as easily as if they were working in the same space. Here are seven tips for remote team management to help you manage your team more effectively, and to help make working from home more easy.

Emphasize that everyone is on a team.

When your remote team is comprised of freelance contractors or salaried employees, it is important to establish a culture that emphasizes everyone is still part of a team. Breeding team culture doesn’t translate to requiring each contractor or employee to read motivational books in lieu of a corporate retreat to a rope course (or worse: both). However, your team members should be encouraged to collaborate and contribute to each other’s work for the benefit of the team. In an office environment, employees often have side conversations or send each other off-topic pictures and YouTube videos, as well as coordinate lunches and gatherings to cultivate a culture that develops companionship. Consider utilizing some of the tools mentioned below, such as video chat and chatrooms, to replicate this same type of environment, albeit virtually.

Additionally, consider hosting a yearly (if not semi-annually) all-hands gathering to allow the team to meet, chat, and socialize face-to-face. This is especially critical if everyone on your remote team is new, which can psychologically help solidify the concept of a team, though everyone will usually be working remotely. You may also want to celebrate birthdays and other common celebrations often conducted in office environments (e.g., secret Santa exchanges, such as the one LockerGnome conducted via Elfster this year) to emphasize that you may all work from home, but you are still a team.

7 Tips for Remote Team ManagementEstablish clear goals and ground rules.

If you have a remote team, it is likely that your team is small with unique responsibilities for each person. Be sure that each remote team member understands their individual goals and responsibilities so as not to duplicate efforts of other team members they likely can’t see or hear, which can waste time and your budget. Using project management tools like Basecamp can ensure that everyone knows what needs to be done, and who is working on each task.

Additionally, if there are rules to be set — such as being available between certain hours of the day or on certain days of the week — be clear about these ground rules and to whom they apply. Many people who work remotely often use this as a luxury to escape the 9 to 5 grind, which may mean unique sleeping habits or a preference to work during early mornings or late evenings. If you prefer your remote team to be available during specific times, be sure to clarify these rules to prevent unrest and an unhappy team.

Communicate effectively.

A remote team means that your contractors or staff will be working alone, unable to peer over a cubicle wall to ask a question or knock on your door should a problem arise. This also means the typical Monday morning staff meeting doesn’t happen — unless, of course, you utilize tools such as Skype, GoToMeeting, or even Google+ hangouts to virtually replicate the concept of meetings. Scheduling virtual meetings on a daily basis using one of these tools (we’re fans of of using Citrix’s GoToMeeting every morning at 10 am) is useful for remote teams to ensure everyone is staying on task, as well as to discuss problems and long-term goals and projects. Be sure to use the best method of communication for your type of team; you may need to share screens, or may not need audio at all. Several conference platforms exist, and you can choose the best for your budget. Be sure, however, to choose the most effective method of communication that fits your remote team’s needs.

Communicate frequently.

Once you have decided on the best methods of communication, be sure to allow your team to communicate frequently. Tools like Basecamp’s Campfire and Google Chat’s Partychat are great ways for remote teams to collaborate on projects and discuss concerns throughout the day, just as if they were sitting in an office together. If these tools prove distracting for your team, discuss other ways to ensure your team members are communicating frequently enough with each other to prevent mistakes, unnecessary progress on cancelled projects, or to announce breaking news and emergencies. If you choose the most effective means of communicating for your team, you will be able to communicate frequently with your remote team — and you should.

Compromise time zone differences.

The luxury of working as a remote team member usually means that you can work from almost anywhere in the world, during any time of the day. This, however, means that your remote team must usually compromise and work as if they are on a single time zone, especially if you collaborate and hold daily virtual conferences. Some members of your virtual team may find it easier to compromise and work as if they lived in the same time zone as the majority of the virtual team to prevent longer working days than necessary. Your entire team may also find it beneficial to work as if everyone lived in a specific time zone, such as on the east coast if the majority of your clients are based in that region. Keep in mind that this type of adjustment will limit your team’s personal flexibility and lifestyle, as each will be required to be available during specific hours.

Use the right tools to manage projects.

In many offices, teams manage projects using whiteboards, easels, and good ol’ fashioned pen and paper. Remote teams work virtually, requiring projects to be managed with virtual applications to keep track of clients, tasks, projects, and documents. Your team may have a comprehensive list of clients and need a CRM such as Salesforce, or you may constantly be transferring files and need a file transfer app like Dropbox. If your organization is task oriented, you may want to utilize a service like Producteev to manage tasks, while something like Basecamp may fit better into an organization that needs to manage ongoing projects. (Basecamp also offers a built-in CRM and a chatroom, which is great for small teams that need a comprehensive way to communicate about both projects and tasks.) These tools mentioned are usually just the right size for small remote teams, but there are dozens of other project management tools available that can benefit your specific type of business. While you may need to investigate what fits your company, be sure your remote team is using some type of project management tool. Even using email with a few color-coded labels can suffice in the short term until you find the app that fits your business best.

Respect individual lifestyles and schedules.

If you have developed a team that works primarily away from an office, you have likely granted its members the freedom to define not only where they work, but the hours they work. Many remote team members may have children, pets, or other responsibilities that may pull them away from their home office (or the coffee shop) during “normal” working hours. While some members of a remote team may enjoy setting a rigid schedule, others (like yours truly) enjoy the absence of a schedule, taking breaks throughout to run errands, hit the gym, or even write late at night instead of during the day. It is important to trust your remote members to do their jobs as agreed upon and define their own work and life style until they demonstrate a lack of responsibility. Many managers in the 9-5 corporate environment seem to enjoy micromanaging their employees’ schedules, as these employees are typically required to be at their cubicle during these hours. As you manage your remote team, try to avoid micromanaging your remote team members’ lifestyles until it begins to impact their performance, the team, and of course, your business.

Do you work from home? What tips or tools help your team be the most effective and successful? Share your thoughts in the comments.

CC image of red stapler via Cliph.

Article Written by

  • Nottie Mathers

    Hey Chris! My everyday laptop is a four-year old Dell Vostro 1000 (AMD TK-53 with 2 GB RAM). According to Task Manager (Windows 7), my processor usage is 10% (gross) higher when watching H.264-encoded video than the same video (same resolution, slightly HIGHER bitrate) encoded in VP8. [By "gross" I mean that in the parts of the H.264 file that require, say, 50% of my processing power, the same passages of the VP8-encoded version require only 40% of the cores' capacity.]

    Since the VP8 video is encoded at a higher bitrate (1900 kbps video, 2121 kbps overall; file size 58.6 MiB) than the AVC video (1719 kbps video, 1851 kbps overall; file size 51.1 MiB), I took another look using Process Explorer–but I get the same 10% delta. I saw Brandon Wirtz explain that VP8 specifies no B-frames, so the larger file size makes sense–does that mean that VP8 allows me to exchange a little hard drive space and avoid having to upgrade my processor?

    The Bits/(Pixel*Frame) value for the mp4 file is 0.075, while the WebM value is 0.082. Is H.264 simply better at marshalling the resources at its disposal–or is VP8 that much easier to decode? MediaInfo doesn’t return any profile information on the WebM file, but the AVC video is encoded at Base Media/Version 2–whatever that means. 
    The videos are subjectively of equal quality (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ABIpHXiOdM, downloaded using Google Chrome and Easy Youtube Video Downloader extension) although I have no basis to assume that the uploader (Autocar.co.uk) or YouTube would go to any pains to ensure equitability (yes, I am aware that On2 and YouTube share the same owner).
     
    Another assumption that might deserve a second look is that audio decoding doesn’t contribute much to the load a video clip imposes on a processor.  Both audio tracks are VBR with a nominal bit rate of 1280 Kbps and a sampling rate of 44.1 KHz; the stream size of the AAC track is 3.53 MiB, while the size of the Vorbis track is 3.54 MiB. [The maximum bitrate for the AAC stream is 183 Kbps; no corresponding data for the Vorbis track.]

    I know the comparisons have been made in a hundred different ways–but WebM is still new enough that what’s out there is all data and no conclusions. I like it that VP8 looks the same as H.264 to my eyes–and it seems to be easier on my aging processor. 
    Do you know where I can find a 1080p BluRay rip in VP8? That would be a real test–it takes a lot of fiddling just to get 720p H.264 video to play smoothly on my unit.

  • Nottie Mathers

    Hey Chris! My everyday laptop is a four-year old Dell Vostro 1000 (AMD TK-53 with 2 GB RAM). According to Task Manager (Windows 7), my processor usage is 10% (gross) higher when watching H.264-encoded video than the same video (same resolution, slightly HIGHER bitrate) encoded in VP8. [By "gross" I mean that in the parts of the H.264 file that require, say, 50% of my processing power, the same passages of the VP8-encoded version require only 40% of the cores' capacity.]

    Since the VP8 video is encoded at a higher bitrate (1900 kbps video, 2121 kbps overall; file size 58.6 MiB) than the AVC video (1719 kbps video, 1851 kbps overall; file size 51.1 MiB), I took another look using Process Explorer–but I get the same 10% delta. I saw Brandon Wirtz explain that VP8 specifies no B-frames, so the larger file size makes sense–does that mean that VP8 allows me to exchange a little hard drive space and avoid having to upgrade my processor?

    The Bits/(Pixel*Frame) value for the mp4 file is 0.075, while the WebM value is 0.082. Is H.264 simply better at marshalling the resources at its disposal–or is VP8 that much easier to decode? MediaInfo doesn’t return any profile information on the WebM file, but the AVC video is encoded at Base Media/Version 2–whatever that means. 
    The videos are subjectively of equal quality (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ABIpHXiOdM, downloaded using Google Chrome and Easy Youtube Video Downloader extension) although I have no basis to assume that the uploader (Autocar.co.uk) or YouTube would go to any pains to ensure equitability (yes, I am aware that On2 and YouTube share the same owner).
     
    Another assumption that might deserve a second look is that audio decoding doesn’t contribute much to the load a video clip imposes on a processor.  Both audio tracks are VBR with a nominal bit rate of 1280 Kbps and a sampling rate of 44.1 KHz; the stream size of the AAC track is 3.53 MiB, while the size of the Vorbis track is 3.54 MiB. [The maximum bitrate for the AAC stream is 183 Kbps; no corresponding data for the Vorbis track.]

    I know the comparisons have been made in a hundred different ways–but WebM is still new enough that what’s out there is all data and no conclusions. I like it that VP8 looks the same as H.264 to my eyes–and it seems to be easier on my aging processor. 
    Do you know where I can find a 1080p BluRay rip in VP8? That would be a real test–it takes a lot of fiddling just to get 720p H.264 video to play smoothly on my unit.

  • http://twitter.com/arbecchristian Christian Arbec

    Thanks Kelly for writing this. It will really help.

    • http://www.kelly-clay.com Kelly Clay

      You’re welcome! 

  • http://twitter.com/arbecchristian Christian Arbec

    Thanks Kelly for writing this. It will really help.

  • Camden Stensland

    Hey Kelly. I am really glad that you posted an article about this. One of the hardest things to work with is when part of your team ( or a person) is on vacation, sick, at home for whatever reason. This article mentions things that I’m definitely going to look at implementing in the near future. For the better of me, and my employees. Thanks a bunch, and happy holidays.

  • Ken Ross41

    Hi Kelly, thanks for sharing your insight about managing remote teams. It happened that I also manage remote teams and I would say that in order to manage remote teams effectively you will going to need that right online tools and resources that you can get. It’s just depends on what you needed most to manage remote teams. Skype is a tool that is very useful for a cheap price. Did you know that communication is the key to remote teams? With effective communication you will know how they work on their tasks and its progress. Another tool that I also use is Google Docs which helps me easy access and share documents, presentation, spreadsheet, and etc. to remote teams. With the use of non invasive tool that constantly monitors remote team. I can take a glimpse on how the remote team use their computer at work and assure that they are working properly. With this tool it can help you improve collaboration, project management and team communication.