12 Ways To Effectively Manage Your Remote Team
In today’s book business environment, teamwork and collaboration is more important than ever. We are often working with teams around the country and around the world. These days publishers, authors, agents, editors, PR, and marketing people are often in different locations. The new economy has opened options for creative schedules, work-at-home options, and working with freelancers from around the world. As a team leader, these opportunities present challenges as well as access to talents not located down the hall.
Last year I moved with my family to San Diego, California where I opened a second office for FSB Associates, my online marketing and publicity business for authors. With my primary team still in our East Coast office, I had to learn quickly how to effectively manage my own team remotely. It did not come easily to me, and it took six months to get my groove. Here are 12 things I discovered about managing my team remotely which have helped me work with large publishing teams as well:
- Hire doers and people you can trust. Not everyone can work remotely. Hire people who can. You want people who naturally hold themselves accountable and are self-driven. Find people who connect with your business on a deep level and view the work as a passion and not as a job. I am lucky to have a great team.
- Don’t use email to manage. It’s so easy to have misunderstandings with email. You could send an email quickly from a different time zone, and not realize your tone sounds abrupt. Or a team member on the receiving end can misinterpret an email. And no one is a fan of a cryptic email that they have to decipher. If you have an issue with a team member or a work challenge, call or video chat with that person and be direct. Managing via email is not helpful or productive. Without facial expressions or body language, words can be confusing. Miscommunication with remote staff can fester because you are not there to read cues.
- Keep your Skype open. At first I used to schedule video conferences, but I found them awkward and outside of the natural way we work. Now, I use Skype all day long, and not just for scheduled meetings. We hop on and off all day and it makes communication much more natural. Our team is always collaborating in real time, all day.
- Chit chat can be a good thing. Connection with your team shouldn’t be an afterthought or viewed as something to do when you have extra time. Connection empowers teams. When I call my staff on Monday morning or Friday afternoon, I don’t discuss work unless there is an urgent matter. We discuss weekend plans, families, and chit chat about movies, books, and TV. Casual conversations help build rapport and make me feel like I know where my team is at with their moods and in their lives. At first, I spoke to my team about work matters only, but I quickly realized that it’s way too easy to feel disconnected when you all work in different locations.
- Use technology. We use a proprietary web-based database to manage our projects and it makes collaboration a breeze. You may want to get an off-the-shelf solution, but it’s important to get everyone on the same page to avoid misunderstandings. We also collaborate and track projects using Google docs and Google sheets. We find these simple technology tools help immensely in managing multiple clients, projects, and deadlines.
- Schedule one-on-one time. We usually have group chats on Skype, but I make it a point to have a time with each staff member individually. It’s a different dynamic, and allows me to better manage them each individually.
- Be flexible. I have found that people are not more productive because they are chained to their desk. They are productive when they care. Everyone needs flexibility with their hours. Building in some flexibility by allowing for doctors’ appointments, traffic, and other small concessions, makes for a happier work place. Everyone at FSB works at home at least one day a week, some more than that. We have two core office days when everyone is together. The rest of the week is more flexible. I find that trust and respect build trust and respect.
- Understand time zones. I am on the West Coast, and my staff is on the East Coast, so I try to be respectful of their hours. I did not change their hours to suit my hours, although it’s not always easy. I try to be respectful of their lunch hours and understand that they are done for their day during my afternoon.
- Visit in person. Getting together with everyone at least twice a year is a priority for me. Nothing beats face-to-face time. During those visits, I schedule alone time with every person individually without a set time limit. We talk for as long as we talk. I also take them out so we can enjoy good food and good company. If you invest in your relationships with your team, you are also investing in your business.
- Be clear. Make expectations clear so people can work on their projects without needing constant approvals. Trust is earned, but it can’t be earned if the expectations are not clear.
- Be aware of your team members’ conditions. It may be sunny where you are, but keep an eye on the conditions of your staff. If a snowstorm is coming, send them home early. Sometimes it’s the small gestures that show you care that matter most.
- Celebrate. Even from a distance, celebrate the moments that make a life. At FSB Associates, employees get their birthdays off. It’s just nice not to have to work on your birthday. I used to take everyone out for birthdays, but once I moved away I had to find other ways to celebrate. We’ve had “parties” together via Skype and open presents with each other. I send gifts at anniversaries and birthdays. Just because you are physically not there to celebrate, doesn’t mean your attention is not important. In fact, it’s more important.
There is a lot of upside to working remotely for you and your team. You can be in a location of your own choosing. Your staff realizes quickly that you trust them completely and often thrive under those conditions. Control is decreased so creativity can be increased. And you can use less time to manage and more time to focus on growing your business when you have complete trust in your team.
Working remotely is a new norm and it can be just as effective -- if not more so -- than being cubicle close. Effectively managing a remote team just takes a little proactive planning, a positive outlook, and more than anything, authentic relationship building by genuinely caring about your team.
Fauzia Burke is the founder and president of FSB Associates, an online publicity and marketing firm specializing in creating awareness for books and authors. She’s the author of Online Marketing for Busy Authors (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, April 2016). Fauzia has promoted the books of authors such as Alan Alda, Arianna Huffington, Deepak Chopra, Melissa Francis, S. C. Gwynne, Mika Brzezinski, Charles Spencer and many more. A nationally recognized speaker and online branding expert, Fauzia writes for the Huffington Post, MariaShriver.com and MindBodyGreen. For online marketing, book publishing and social media advice, follow Fauzia on Twitter (@FauziaBurke) and Facebook (Fauzia S. Burke). For more information on the book, please visit: www.FauziaBurke.com.