TL;DR: Managing remote teams takes a bit of finesse, but we’re here to give you some direction. These four steps will help you build a strong team with clear goals and results that exceed expectations.
You don’t have to look far to see that remote work has become the new normal. More companies are hiring remote team members to manage their business, or they’re giving their in-house teams the flexibility to work remotely a few days a week. As this trend has become more standard, new tools have emerged to help remote teams better manage projects, communication, workflows, and more.
Here’s the catch… it takes more than a few clever tools to make remote teams successful.
What does make a difference is using a process that incorporates these tools to help teams work more efficiently together and reach their goals. Technology can be useful, but on its own, a communications app doesn’t automatically create high-performance teams. You have to create a process around how teams use the app to set them up for success.
To get you started, here’s a four-step process that will help you set team goals and plan for success.
1. Define goals for team success
Goals are important because they allow you to focus your energy on specific tasks and projects that get your company from where you are today to where you want to be tomorrow. Clear goals are especially important for remote teams because they’re not in the same physical space and may not have the chance to frequently see or hear about how their work fits into big-picture goals. This creates a disconnect.
This is why goals for remote teams should be shared in a central place so they see exactly how their work contributes to the overall picture. Piktochart, a web-based infographic creation application, uses an Objectives and Key Results (OKR) system through Perdoo to give their remote teams a better sense of the company goals and how their efforts can fulfil them.
Goals and objectives for the company, teams, and individuals are entered into the system and monitored over time. This way each team member clearly sees how their key results—or performance indicators—contribute to the overall outcomes the company wants to achieve, like revenue growth, increased customer acquisition, and more.
As you set your team goals, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Are the goals, and the steps required to reach them, clear? If remote team members aren’t clear on their specific tasks and goals, valuable time can be wasted answering simple questions or sharing information. This is where tools are helpful. A communications platform like Teamwork Chat allows team members to instantly identify priorities and ask questions about specific items.
- Can the goals be measured? If you can’t track progress, it’s harder to achieve the outcomes and deadlines you’re reaching for. A tool like Teamwork Projects lets you accurately scope out a project, assign tasks and subtasks, and even pivot quickly when needed—all without letting details slip through the cracks.
- What’s a reasonable timeline to accomplish the goal? Deadlines are always shifting as project details are added or adjusted based on client feedback. While you can’t predict every last-minute changes, you can look at similar projects that you’ve completed and get a real sense of how long certain tasks will take. Even if a task is somewhat new to your team, you can usually break it down into segments that you’ve managed before. Remember to break out of wishful thinking and give yourself a cushion for problems or delays that naturally arise.
2. Use team insights along the way
Once you’ve set your goals, you need to give your team the opportunity to give their feedback. Keep in mind that with people working miles apart and in different time zones, communication doesn’t happen as naturally as it does with people working in the same office. Simply asking team members to share insights via email or group chat doesn’t provide enough structure or motivation for most team members to have productive conversations.
There needs to be consistent follow-up, clear instructions on how and where to leave feedback, and an emphasis on why their feedback is so important. Otherwise giving feedback falls to the bottom of your team’s to-do list, or discussions may be too sporadic to really generate great results.
Depending on the remote team—sales, marketing, customer support, development—you should try to stagger the timing of your check-in meetings so that you have space to understand and process the information you receive. Grouping meetings too close together can result in information overload for managers, making it harder to track and follow-up on what was said by each team and their needs. That said, remember that you’ll need to hear from some teams more often than others because their work requires more oversight.
For example, customer-facing teams like sales and customer support should have bi-weekly meetings to help them adjust plans to meet their goals as customer needs change. On the other hand, development teams can meet once a quarter since their work impacts customers differently. No matter how frequently your teams meet, make sure the feedback is recorded and implemented so that everyone can learn from the input provided.
3. Leave room for flexibility
Flexibility isn’t just about your remote team’s daily schedule or their work location. When it comes to team success, your plans have to be flexible, because no two weeks are the same in a growing business.
One week, you may have a situation that requires everyone’s attention before an important launch, and the next week, they can go back to their usual tasks. Or you may have a sudden influx of customer service requests that need more resources for a few days.
Flexibility can also look like:
- Hiring people across different time zones so someone is always on duty, but making sure a few hours of their workdays overlap so people can share essential information in real time.
- Asking team members to hold daily online standup meetings so that tricky issues can be addressed as soon as they arise and timelines can be adjusted.
- Encouraging team members do weekly planning so that they’re always looking ahead and not just reacting to issues. This way, teams can prepare to make changes in advance—like new deadlines or more resources—to make sure they meet their goals.
These examples of flexibility encourage collaboration and get teams talking, which are necessary for teams to meet the specific goals they’re working towards.
4. Document everything
As you work through the process of creating goals and finding ways to improve team performance, organized documentation is essential for team success. The more data you can collect on your efforts, from meetings to task timelines, the faster you can refine your processes and gain optimal efficiency.
For example, project teams need an in-depth debrief after each project wraps up to analyze what worked well, what didn’t, and what needs to change. If future projects become larger to accommodate customer needs or market pressures, project teams might need to debrief midway through each project to address anything that could take the project off track, like deadline changes, customer feedback, or new data insights.
Your documentation should make it clear when teams should meet to debrief and what they need to review. And you can include essential questions that provide clarity for the rest of the project. Are there any bottlenecks? Have issues been resolved? Are there other concerns? The documentation should make it clear how these check-ins should run so teams can meet their goals, no matter how small or large their project is.
Use a product like Google Drive to create and store your documentation and establish folders for each team to maintain. The benefit to cloud computing solutions is that anyone on the team, no matter where they are, can access the documents to make edits and see what changes have already been made.
Make sure you set up time to check your documentation regularly. Quite often, things shift rapidly, like team member responsibilities, ideal customer response time, or effective troubleshooting strategies. Scheduling a regular time to revise documentation helps everyone stay informed about these changes.
Team success takes time
Even if you have a stellar team that adapts to these steps quickly, the changes may still take some time to really be incorporated into your processes. Give yourself permission to make a gradual shift from “doing well as a team” to “succeeding as a team.” Commit to taking one step at a time and you’ll soon see a shift in how your remote team works together. Communication will flow easier, collaboration will happen more naturally, and as you reach the smaller goals, the larger ones will start falling into place.