I won’t start off this blog talking about the “unprecedented” nature of the COVID pandemic. We were all there. We all know how horrible quarantine was. We all know that times have changed. And we all know that we live and work differently today.
While many agree that working from home is a blessing, business owners and leaders know that it isn’t always cupcakes and rainbows. There are real challenges related to remote work and even a hybrid work environment that can prevent a business from growing and scaling.
I originally delivered this topic, “How to Grow and Scale Your Business with Remote Teams” in a live presentation at the B2B Marketing trade show in Los Angeles, California, in April 2022. (You can watch the video here. If you prefer, you can also download the slides of that presentation here.)
In this article, we will review the challenges of managing a remote team, some solutions, and the two most important things you need to grow and scale your business as a remote team.
The Top 6 Challenges of Managing a Remote Team
Let’s first talk about the challenges. If you’re working with a remote team, then you likely experience one or more of the following challenges:
- Productivity disruptions
- Disjointed communication or frequent miscommunications
- Team members working in siloes
- Lack of visibility into work status
- Difficulty tracking work status
- Low team morale
As we dive deeper, what are the reasons behind these challenges in the first place? According to a report published by Gallup, staffing shortages and limited resources lead to over 40% of remote workers working OVER 50 hours per week, resulting in low team morale, fatigue, and burnout.
According to Wrike, the popular project management platform, 44% of remote workers reported a lack of the right infrastructure, platforms, and data that they need to be fully productive at work.
And as a result? 52% of teams have canceled projects or delayed work due to limited resources, according to Upwork. These “resources” are defined as talent resources, the right platforms and tools, and financial means to finish those projects.
Solutions for Managing a Remote Team
So, is growing and scaling a remote or hybrid team possible? Yes. Here are some solutions for addressing the top six challenges of managing a remote team that we mentioned above, and that will help you grow and scale.
1. Communication Technology
If you are already working with a remote team, then you likely already use some of these.
- Video conferencing (Zoom, Google Meet, MS Teams, Slack, etc.)
- Chat applications (Slack, Google Chat, MS Teams, WhatsApp, etc.)
- A shared portal (Wiki, Confluence) for sharing meeting notes, resources, training materials, and other relevant on-the-job information
- Calendar apps
To communicate with your team, you should NOT use the following:
- Personal Social Media messenger
Why? Say it with me—not. scalable.
Communication needs to be in a centralized platform visible to all for it to work and reduce the risks of misinterpretations, miscommunications, and team members working in silos.
2. Develop a Meeting Framework
Okay, quick show of hands… How many people have sat in a meeting or on a Zoom and thought, “this is a waste of time…”?
Yeah, pretty much everyone…
As your team grows, not only will you need more meetings, but your meetings will become larger. Therefore, efficiency is key for scalability.
The best way to do that is to build a meeting framework for every type of meeting you and your team have. What exactly is a meeting framework? A meeting framework includes the following:
- How to schedule meetings
- The purpose of the particular meeting
- How to prepare for the meeting
- What to include in the meeting agenda
- Meeting roles and responsibilities (such as facilitator and notetaker)
- The process and flow of the meeting
- What pitfalls to avoid (and how to avoid them)
- Post-meeting process
You can download a meeting framework template here.
Not only will a meeting framework help ensure meetings are consistent from week to week, but it can also help plan meetings, prepare for meetings, and, above all, stick to topics on the agenda and, in the time allotted, ensure meetings are productive. Remember, friendly chit-chat is okay, but avoid veering off track too much.
3. Track Work and Productivity
If you and your team don’t have one of these, you need to get one. Right now. The first rule of growth and scalability is to have ONE tool where all work activities and tasks live. The good news is there are a ton of tools to choose from, and many of them are extremely cost-effective. Some examples include:
But, having a tool out there and expecting the team to pick up and use it simply doesn’t work. For example, signing up for an Asana subscription and emailing the team saying, “Hey, we are all using Asana now” isn’t going to cut it. There needs to be a structure and a framework to support it, as well as clear workflows and processes for the team to follow. You also need to set expectations for using your tool, and communicate those expectations to team members. The easier you make it for your team to use your project or task management tool, the more quickly they will adopt it.
All of these elements are crucial for adoption and accountability. And accountability is the first rule of execution.
(Leaders, this goes for you, too. If you expect your team to use your task or project management system, then you need to as well. Remember, lead by example.)
4. Set and Communicate Goals
A project or task management tool is a great place to track all work activities—but how do team members know what to prioritize and how?
Leaders need to set and communicate goals and priorities—both at the team level and individual level.
By helping your teams to prioritize, not only are you preventing them from being stressed or overworked, thinking they have to do it all, you are also helping them to be massively productive—because they KNOW and understand the priorities.
Finally, have a way to track performance and progress. This ties back into the particular goal-setting model (which we could have a presentation alone on these various models), such as Four Disciplines of Execution (or 4DX), and that framework enables teams to set Wildly Important Goals, or WIGS. There’s also the RICE model.
The point is—it’s one thing to set goals and priorities, but having a way to track progress and performance will tell you whether or not your framework is working, and if your team is actually productive.
5. Don’t Dismiss the Importance of Team Building
Speaking of your team…
YES! Team building is still valuable, especially for remote teams. They are important for boosting morale, building trust, and establishing good working relationships, which is so important for morale, productivity, and loyalty.
But, NO, they don’t have to be corny or cliche. You can do things like plan in-person events (if possible, of course), team lunches, outings, retreats, holiday parties or summer barbecues. For strictly remote teams, have a Zoom party where everyone shares a quick presentation on a random topic. Or a Halloween party where everyone shares a ghost story. Be creative. Be innovative.
The point is, invest in your team, and they will invest in you.
6. Invest in Boosting Morale
All too often we finish one project only to rush on to the next. This leads to burnout. Take time to celebrate your team’s accomplishments. You can do this by developing a recognition and rewards system and having an “accomplishment log” to keep track of all your team’s successes. Rewards can be tangible and intangible, such as commissions or bonuses.
For example, at Jaguar, we offer PTO, monthly team lunches, and “Summer Fridays”.
Always take the time to recognize accomplishments and good performance. This not only boosts morale but allows your team to feel valued, which further motivates them. Team members want opportunities to grow, feel accomplished and appreciated, and a chance to apply their skills.
7. Use a Conflict Management Model
On the other hand, not every day is all unicorns and rainbows. Issues and conflicts will arise. However, rather than focus on what goes wrong, and play the “blame game” of who did what and point fingers, focus on WHY and HOW the problem happened. Be solutions-focused.
Keep in mind that conflict is okay. People are people—we ALL have different work styles and habits, personalities, and opinions. And when a group of people get together, conflict is inevitable. So rather than avoid it, embrace it. The best way to do this is with a conflict management model.
To build a conflict management model, you must first consider the three types of conflict views, and select the best one for your organization. The 3 types are traditional, contemporary, and interactionist.
Here is also one example of a conflict management model. Depending on the conflict view, certain actions will occur, which will spark certain leadership actions.
8. Adopt a Change Management Model
Change—everyone’s favorite topic. As human beings, we HATE change… right? It’s uncomfortable. There are uncertainties. There are “unknown unknowns” and all of that can be unsettling.
Although we might not like it, change is inevitable. And like conflict, we shouldn’t avoid change, we should embrace it. And we can do that effectively with a change management model.
Change is a process needed over time. If change in your organization is needed, then communicate the reason for the change and the VALUE behind it. This will help team members understand it and motivate them. Additionally, effective change management involves everyone in the organization.
Assess the capacity, commitment, and culture of the organization
Develop the overarching approach (what will our communication strategy look like?) How are we going to communicate change to the organization?
Define the change VISION. What is the expected outcome of the change? What is the desired impact of the change?
Communicate the SOURCE of the change, such as:
- Environmental/world (ahem. COVID)
Communicate the STATE of the change, such as:
- Current state – how things are done today
- Transition state – how to move from current to future
- Future state – how things will be done tomorrow
Change impacts three primary areas:
- People side of change – It should inspire, engage, and motivate
- Project side of change
- Organizational side of change
When embracing change, leaders should immediately ask themselves, what is the source of the change? Who does it impact? What are the risks?
Change Management Plan: The How
Now that you understand how to deal with change and why using a change management model is so important, how do you go about building one?
Here are the steps to follow:
Step 1. Define and outline the change activities. Ask yourself, what are the things we have to do to adopt or roll out the change?
Step 2. Execute and reinforce the plan. This step involves listing out the necessary, tactical steps to bring the plan to life. A good way to do this is to build these steps and plan into the project management or task management system you should be using.
Step 3. Monitor, measure, and control change implementation or delivery against the original plan. How is change being rolled out?
Step 4. Include continuous improvement activities. Continuous improvement is iterative. It’s about constantly asking yourself and your team, what can we do to do better? What do we need to improve?
Remember, as we saw with team-building, embracing change is CONTINUOUS.
The importance of team-building, morale, process design, how technology is used, decision-making, and so on—all stems from culture. You can have the most efficient processes, robust technology, and star players on your team, but without a solid, well-defined, and healthy culture, growing and scaling will be a challenge. Why?
- Employee turnover
- Low productivity
- Misaligned goals
- Poor leadership
Culture is the connectivity between people and their work—their purpose! A healthy culture enforces good communication—as we saw with conflict and change management models—and creates a culture that embraces collaboration, problem-solving, creativity, and innovation. Remember, culture starts and ends with leadership.
Growing and Scaling Your Business Comes Down to Two Things…
Okay. If there is ONE thing you take away from this entire article—it’s this: There are essentially TWO things you need to grow and scale your business: PEOPLE AND PROCESS.
Technology is obviously important for growing and scaling your team, but it’s not THE most important element. Rather it’s meant to provide us with the necessary tools to do our jobs.
Think of it like building a house. Sure, we might have all the materials—the wood, shingles, windows—all ready to go. We have tool boxes filled with hammers, nails, and drills—but if we don’t have people or a process for building the house, it’s not going to build itself!
TECHNOLOGY connects and enables the two.