How to Work with Remote Teams Effectively
Although remote work has taken off in the last decade, it’s not a common organizational structure in the nonprofit world. Yet there is a lot of benefits to be had from working from home that nonprofits can take advantage of – from increased employee retention to development opportunities in different geographical areas.
At Keela, we are all about work flexibility and we wanted to share what we’ve learned so far.
Of course, as a nonprofit tech company, we have naturally turned to technology for most of our solutions, but we’ve also discovered new ways to keep morale high.
Whatever your remote policy is, you want to keep your team happy and make sure they keep producing high-quality work.
We have a few tips that will help you open up communication lines across town, states, and even borders.
Remote work is here to stay
9 Best Practices for a Successful Remote Work Setup
1. Set goals
One of the most important aspects of managing a scattered workforce is to have clear goals. This isn’t so much a tip as it is a state of mind. When your workforce is decentralized, it becomes even more important that everyone has a clear understanding of your organization’s mission, programmatic goals, and personal objectives.
For a nonprofit, the risk of mission-drift can increase when different people are working in different places with different priorities or independent agendas.
As a manager or leader, it’s your job to constantly bring your team back to the purpose of their work and to the purpose of the organization. If someone is working independently it can be easy to forget the big picture – what everyone is working towards together.
By having your goals and objectives easily accessible and centering your team’s progress on these goals, you are less likely to encounter grey areas of programming.
On a smaller level, you can even set weekly goals for team members that are working independently. Having these short term goals give you a clear followup point. If someone is not meeting those goals, then it’s time to step in and figure out what they need to succeed.
2. Keep a schedule
This is especially important to establish if you are onboarding a new remote team member. Make communication a priority from the start with all team members. It’s important that they feel part of the team and understand the daily experiences of other team members.
Schedule one-on-one phone calls, team Skype calls, in-person meetings, daily check-ins. Schedule what you need to schedule and do not miss them.
Rescheduling with your local staff is not ideal, but they see you every day and can catch pieces of your time to run through new ideas, problems or victories even without a formal meeting. A remote team member has often kept all these pieces of information for the scheduled time. Skipping this meeting can create roadblocks in their work and make them feel disconnected from the larger team.
This means things like video conferencing can go a long way in building remote team capacity. But always remember, don’t just call for the sake of calling and don’t set video conferences for the sake of video conferences. It’s important to give a direction and purpose to your communications.
3. Learn to break the schedule
Being open and comfortable with communication outside of the scheduled time can go a long way.
The Harvard Business Review highlights the importance of initiating impromptu interactions with your remote team. You are literally trying to replicate the “water-cooler moments.” While seems a bit awkward at first, a little effort goes a long way.
Here at Keela we have a “#Random” group chat that all our team members are in, which works to mimic those water-cooler moments. Reactions to the election, personal victories, a great sports game, bad dates. Everything is on the table. It’s a great way to build trust among the team and better learn about each other’s personalities, senses of humor and passions.
4. Stay consistent in staff treatment
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of favoring the staff that are directly in front of you. You go through your days with them. You watch their failures and successes and they see yours. They see you when you’re confident; and when you’re vulnerable.
The trust built by looking someone in the eye and understanding their emotions at a particular time cannot and will never be replaced. However, it is important to make sure, as a leader, that you are maintaining consistency in employee treatment regardless of where they work.
Did you take your local team out for a treat last Friday because of a big win? Do you regularly sit and have coffee with your local team members?
All these little interactions build strong relationships. They show your team how much they are valued. While it isn’t possible to replicate these over distance, you can make sure your team in South Africa, for example, is eating a cake to celebrate a new project the same day your team at home is.
It’s those small efforts to ensure equality that can help build positive culture amongst the team as a whole.
5. Keep communication lines open
No matter how your team chooses to communicate, it’s important that communication lines remain open. That your team feels confident to come to you with their opinions.
Make sure you hear out their proposed solutions to any problems, no matter how big or small.
Keep the communication line open and consistent. Know how your team prefers to communicate. For example, a study shows that 77% of remote teams prefer communication by email (44%) and phone (43%). However, 23% noted that long email chains were also one of their greatest problems in communication. Identify what isn’t working, and address it.
Someday your remote team may be the only ones that know how to effectively fix a problem based on the strong networks they have built in their location. You want them to know that you trust and respect their opinions moving into these situations.
6. Prioritize professional development
There are aspects of professional development that happen simply by being with a team, seeing how different people handle different situations, and stepping in to support each other when needed. When separated, everyone has a clear outline of their specific role and are more likely to stick concretely to it in order to bring job success.
This is why it’s so important to prioritize professional development in a remote team setting. Yes, it’s more difficult to send team members to conferences because they are potentially all across the globe, but you need to find the tools that work for your team.
7. Hire the right people
If you are trusting an employee to work either from home or from an office away from their manager, it is so important to make sure your hiring practices are tight.
You need individuals that are self-motivated, have strong communication skills, and are confident to honestly share their opinions, concerns, and ideas. You want individuals that are motivated by results and deadlines.
When hiring remote workers you’re looking for someone who is:
- Ability to prioritize
- Great written communicator
- And someone who has strong problem-solving abilities
8. Respect one another
Depending on how your organization is structured, there may be different styles of work. You may be in different time zones. Some may start work at 7 AM, while others don’t begin until 11 AM.
Have a clear guideline of your employees’ schedules and don’t send an onslaught of emails, text messages and make phone calls in times when they are not in working hours. It is up to you as the leader to ensure that boundaries are set and that people’s personal lives are not compromised.
There are many studies out there that show increased work hours beyond a reasonable workday do not actually increase output. Erin Reid, a professor from Boston University, revealed in a study that managers could not tell the difference between employees who actually put in 80 hours a week and those who pretended to.
There are also studies that reveal overworking can lead to stress and subsequent health problems.
You will no doubt have happier employees that produce a higher caliber of work if you ensure that their work-life balance is appropriate – which is harder when you are not there to see when they close their computer, or when they leave the office.
9. Leverage Technology
And finally, our favorite way to improve remote team management: technology.
You need the right tools to make sure everyone is on track and to keep communication lines open.
Implementing a messaging system is the bare necessity to manage a remote team. There are plenty of software offering chat functionalities and video conferencing, among them Slack, Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangout.
Better yet, there are great project management tools to keep everyone on track. There are several ways to upload and share files easily to make sure everyone has access to the same materials — from wherever they are working. With technology, you can know exactly what tasks your team is working on, how they’re progressing and what struggles they’re facing – all with a click of a button.
How does Keela help with remote teams?
Keela is a central location where individuals can work and stay on the same page.
With Keela you can:
- Stay up to date on donor information
- Manage your tasks and create space for internal team communication
- Collaborate on email marketing
- Set up follow-ups with important contacts
Whatever you do, know you have all the tools you need to positively manage teams across borders. You just need to find the tricks that work best for the group of unique individuals that make up your team and then you can succeed.
If you would like to know how Keela can help you streamline your work and facilitate communications with your remote team, book a demo now and chat with a nonprofit expert.