I have been managing remote employees and contractors for over a decade and it has become easier year over year thanks to advances in technology and fine tuning processes. Here are some tips and tools I use to make my relationships with a remote team successful.
It is important for every member of the team to feel involved in driving the business forward. If they feel disconnected, they’ll lack the energy to execute and communicate. There are several ways to foster team collaboration.
Slack – If you’re not familiar with Slack, it’s a community messaging tool for your organization. You can have individual or group conversations (both private or public), share files and even communicate over phone and video chat. It allows teammates to stay in contact a lot faster than traditional email. This results in faster decision making.
Video Conferencing – We use Zoom at Joy Labs, but I’ve also used Google Meet and BlueJeans in other orgs. Video conferencing is far better than traditional phone conferencing. No more awkward, “Hello? Who just joined?” moments when new teammates join a call. Adding in video gives a more personal connection to conversations; emotions are more visible and you can almost feel like you’re in the same room. On some calls I have with my team, we all change our backgrounds to be in a coffee shop so it feels like we’re closer together.
Project Management Tools and Document Sharing – Both are critical when working with a remote team. A good project management tool keeps everyone on the team in check and accountable. Tasks are scheduled and delegated, questions and comments can be documented and risks can be surfaced very easily. At Joy Labs we use Jira. I used to dislike Jira, but it’s come a long way in the past few years and now I can’t imagine work life without it. Prior to Jira, I used Teamwork and Trello.
Add Confluence to your Jira instance and you can really crank out collaborative work. Confluence is a software collaboration tool where you can share knowledge, strategies and best practices with your team. In addition to Confluence, we use GSuite to share and collaborate on assets outside of Confluence. However, we’re using GSuite less and less these days…
Holding open office hours for my team is something I started a few roles back when I managed a larger team and, if I’m honest with myself, it’s something I have neglected lately and need to pick back up. As a manager, it’s important your team has access to you. Scheduled meetings are great and being available ad-hoc is helpful, but also distracting unless it’s urgent. Open office hours are blocked time each week where I make myself available for anyone on the team, or the organization to connect with me and talk about whatever is on their mind. I usually schedule light work during these hours so I can easily stop what I am doing and engage in conversation. Some weeks no one will engage, while others the full time slot is back-to-back conversations. Try and block out a recurring 2-hour block once a week on the same day and see how it goes.
A weekly 1×1 is a great opportunity to connect with a remote employee on a more personal level. This is time to check-in and ensure the employee is happy, engaged and focused on driving the business forward. You can ask how things are going in their personal life and also allow them to surface things that might be bothering them; that may be another employee, a new company policy, etc. An effective 1×1 tool for managers is Fellow; it’s an alternative to Meeting Notes after Cisco discontinued it 👎
Additionally, a weekly 1×1 is a time to surface any issues with a project, task or quarterly objective and work toward a resolution. With some employees, I’ve also used this time to mentor and help work toward learning a new skill. If your company sets OKRs, you may encourage your team to set some personal OKRs each quarter too. For example, if someone’s objective is to get certified in product management, have him or her define some key results to reach that professional development goal and use your weekly 1×1 time to check-in on their progress. Looking for a good OKR tool? Try 7Geese.
It’s helpful to have a short daily standup with each member of your team to ensure priorities are set for the day and to surface any blockers that may hinder progress. This can be as simple as a 15-minute video call with the team and everyone shares what they plan to complete for the day. If you need more time, say with an engineering hire, then maybe schedule 15-minutes with each employee individually. I recently listened to a TwentyMinuteVC podcast featuring Dom Holland from Fast, where he said he meets with each member of his engineering team every morning to ensure priorities are aligned. I am of course paraphrasing that, but it’s a good strategy when building a saas startup.
There are many pros to occasionally meet face-to-face if your operating budget can support it. On a small scale, I try and take my team out to lunch or drinks at least once per quarter to reflect on the past few months and bond. If you’re team is more dispersed, a company offsite may be a better opportunity to connect face-to-face.
Our founders, Isaac and Mike, were instrumental in developing one of the best company cultures I have ever been part of when at SendGrid.
They continue to focus heavily on culture at Joy Labs. This past Fall we held our first all-company offsite out in California. It was a great opportunity for us to reflect on our progress, collaborate on a common goal, get to know one another, and align on our objectives for the rest of the year. Our team came from all over the world to be together and we accomplished a lot in just a few days.
Be Transparent and Build Trust
The best mentors and managers I’ve ever had were super transparent with me. They wouldn’t keep secrets and hold back information to try and “protect” me or my team. At the same time, they appreciated when I was transparent and held myself accountable when things didn’t go as planned. This built a mutual trust between us.
As a leader, I make it a point to be transparent with my team and hold each other accountable. A good book to read as a team is Radical Candor by Kim Scott. I read this in a book club with my marketing peers a few roles back and it helped us communicate better both on a team and individual level.
Hold Quarterly Reviews
My final tip for managing remote employees is to hold quarterly reviews with each member of your team. This is a time where you can both look back on the quarter and give feedback on what went well and what needs improvement. Each of you should conduct a review of your own performance and then for one another. This will give a well-rounded perspective. Two great tools for this are Small Improvements and 7Geese. Quarterly reviews allow your team to correct bad habits and champion habits that are driving goals.
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