Every business owner wants to know where their employees are and that they’re being productive. This used to be accomplished by having everyone work together at a company office, factory, retail outlet, or other managed location. Those days are quickly vanishing as the use of remote talent and teams is expanding every year.
In 2005, 1.5 million people worked remotely, a number which increased to 3.9 million by 2017. This trend is accelerating as Flexjob predicts one-third of workers will work remotely in the next 10 years. Plus, remote work used to be the domain of part-timers, but even now, over 55% of telecommuters work full time.
Given this, being able to manage a remote team is a necessity. So, what are the key differences between remote and face-to-face teams? How should you approach managing them? Below, we’ll go over key tips and strategies below to increase your – and their! – productivity.
Pros & Cons of Remote Teams
Companies using remote teams can enjoy well-documented, substantial benefits:
- Reduced overhead
- Easy access to a larger, more diverse talent pool
- Increased productivity
At the same time, there are definite concerns to keep in mind:
- Weakened communication
- Decreased collaboration
- Lack of accountability
For example, it was due to worries about a lack of face-to-face collaboration opportunities which led to then-Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer ending the company’s telecommuting option in 2013. Only one week later, Best Buy ended its lauded Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) telecommuting program.
How to Manage a Team in the Field
Being able to effectively use remote workers and manage a team in the field is a necessary skill set. By employing the strategies below, you can have the benefits noted above while anticipating any issues which may also arise.
1. Recruit & Hire the Right People
A unique skillset and temperament is required to work remotely. GrooveHQ founder and CEO Alex Turnbull notes, “Most people don’t have the organization, focus, and motivation to be productive working remotely.”
In addition to these traits, there are other qualities to prioritize. Remote workers need to be:
- Able to prioritize
While the abilities above are desirable in all employees, their presence is necessary to an even greater degree in remote workers. Otherwise, you’ll be severely hampered from the outset when managing teams in the field.
2. Create an Online Knowledge Base
Advantages to having employees in the office include easy access to training materials and related business process documentation. In addition, these workers are exposed to the interpersonal dynamics of their team members, coworkers, and supervisors on a day-to-day basis. There is also the ongoing immersion in the company culture, vision, and values.
These benefits can be reduced or lost entirely when working remotely. That’s why research shows that creating a knowledge base is critical.
In the case of remote teams, this means that they will have training info, company procedures, product and service facts, and other human organizational information available with the click of a mouse or by accessing a smartphone app.
3. Communicate Effectively
Without the benefit of daily face-to-face interactions, effective communication strategies become even more important with remote teams. In particular, building rapport is critical both with and among team members. Until a team trusts and supports each other, you’ll only have a group of individuals working separately.
There is no one “right” way to do this. Instead, you must regularly employ a variety of communication strategies:
- Utilize both synchronous communication (such as Skype) and asynchronous communication (email).
- Make sure every message has a purpose.
- Respond quickly to messages.
- Have a live chat window open during the day.
- Create an online “watercooler” for off-topic conversations.
Finally, schedule a face-to-face meeting at least once a year. No matter how successfully people work together remotely, there’s nothing like being in the same room to build relationships, strategize, and collaborate on complex problems.
4. Evaluate & Analyze
Due to the isolation which can arise from working remotely, employees want and need more frequent evaluations to know exactly where their job performance stands. Of course, this also means that goals – both personal and company-wide – must be clearly articulated and agreed upon.
Direct communication and clarity is key: Nothing demoralizes an employee faster than a moving target for performance expectations.
In addition, when you have a new remote hire, immediately give them a small project to complete. Because you won’t have formal or informal interactions in the office, this trial project will generate answers to the following questions for an initial assessment:
- How well do they work unsupervised?
- What was the level of communication?
- How well were company systems and processes employed?
- What was the overall quality of work completed?
No employee – especially a new hire – should feel this information is being used punitively. Instead, helpfully identify those performance areas needing mitigation early on so they don’t become more serious issues later.
The Dispatch Software Solution
Businesses with well-developed field service operations have an established history of using remote teams. According to Salesforce.com, however, over 50% of these teams are still managed using manual processes. A robust dispatch software, like ServiceTitan, will allow these companies to leverage their existing strengths while also benefiting from the strategies above.
A dedicated short message system (SMS) will improve communications and promote collaboration. Enhanced analytics – such as the time to complete jobs by different technicians combined with resulting customer satisfaction scores – will best match employees to service calls.
These performance metrics will also increase the effectiveness of employee evaluations and help identify critical training needs.
Taking the First Step
Developing the skills and processes to manage a team in the field are not simple tasks. Even so, it’s a necessity as the use of remote workers and teams is steadily increasing.
Be proactive in addressing the evolving workplace, it will benefit your company and employees, and you’ll have the opportunity to stay ahead of the curve.