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Remote teams often host a treasure trove of talent you couldn’t find in your own backyard. Whether you’re looking for a niche skill set or hoping to attract a flexible jack-of-all-trades, remote work can be a godsend for small business owners.
And we can’t overlook efficiency, either: 91% of employees say they feel more productive when working from home. It’s not their imagination: Stanford University’s Nicholas Bloom worked with James Liang and his team at Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency, to study work-from-home productivity. Over the two-year study, the weekly productivity boost was equivalent to a full day of work for telecommuters, and employee attrition dropped by 50 percent among the work-from-home set.
However, it’s up to you as a leader to ensure your remote team is as effective as possible. They won’t magically be efficient, confident, and capable, particularly if they’ve never worked in your home office before. You have to provide them the tools and perspectives to make the most of their environment. Here are five ways to help your remote team function successfully:
1. Fully explain problems when asking for solutions.
The best solutions are created when the big picture is known and understood by those assigned to solve the problem. However, all too often, managers merely brief their remote teams on the problem that needs solving. For their team members, this is like trying to solve a math problem without all of the information. The solution they arrive at may not resemble the question being asked at all.
By filling your remote employees in on the full business problem you’re trying to solve, you’re much more likely to get a solution you’d be happy to implement. To do that, outline the critical details, including regulations to be followed — having this in writing can be helpful for all employees, regardless of location. Briefly share the solutions that have already been pursued and the roadblocks the company has run into thus far. These nuggets of information can get innovative solutions percolating.
2. Set small goals over large tasks.
By setting smaller goals (achievable in no more than two days), you’ll increase your visibility among your remote team. Rather than assign a large project and subsequently being left out of the loop, you’ll be able to check your employees’ progress with each small milestone they hit. This also allows you to catch potential problems throughout the process so you don’t have to double-back and fix the end result.
The best way to set smaller goals is to work backward from the overarching project goals. If your team needs to assemble a prototype by October, what needs to happen before then? Documenting the steps and then breaking them down into their individual components, you can set smaller goals for each individual or department, enabling faster work without distractions. (You’ll also shrink the scope of collaboration.)
3. Use clear communications.
Speaking of collaboration, communication is the key to success in any working relationship, but especially when it comes to remote workers. When it comes to communicating with remote employees, the best method is to use multiple channels of communication — but each needs to have a default “best use” setting. Video chats, emails, phone calls, Slack: All of these can help to open (and keep open) lines of communication, therefore creating a successful working relationship.
On my team, we use Slack as our go-to for quick questions. This is especially helpful when we need input from multiple people but don’t want to pull all of them away for a 30-minute meeting. Time is money, after all, and a 5-minute Slack conversation can usually get the answers we need. Email is required for anything we want documented for future reference, and we gravitate toward video chats or phone calls for a) lengthier discussions or b) more casual conversations, where we want the other person’s personality to come through.
4. Plan ahead to de-escalate problems.
Set up a clear way for your remote teams to flag and report problems. Make sure it’s easy for them to communicate the severity of the problem, how long it will take to fix, the resources needed to solve it, and how critical solving it is to the project’s completion. Additionally, be sure to have a Plan B in place in case current resources can’t solve the problem.
One big complaint from remote workers is that their managers fail to listen to them when there are problems, leading to a disappointing finished product for both the worker and the manager — as well as a negative work environment. Remember that maintaining positive work relationships can be harder for people who are physically separated, and reporting problems when you aren’t having a face-to-face conversation can feel awkward. Soften this for remote workers and circumvent these potential problems by planning ahead so your workers know how to communicate a problem and how you’ll approach it.
5. Only hire the best.
The biggest thing you can do to make your remote team as effective as possible? It occurs before your workers even begin a project: Hire the best people. This is crucial, whether your company builds websites or provides financial counseling. This doesn’t just impact your team’s expertise level, but it also impacts your aforementioned efficiency: The most talented software developers, for example, are 800% more productive than average workers.
While referrals, job boards, and word-of-mouth marketing are good (and affordable) options for small business owners, you may need to lean on recruiters or job-matching platforms for assistance, particularly for niche roles. To get the biggest bang for your buck and the strongest candidates possible, find a company that vets its workers, remaining selective about who it onboards. Turing, for example, places remote software engineers with companies. After going through a series of interviews and tests, as well as a background check, only the top 1% of engineers are accepted.
Developing a remote team can be one of the best decisions you make for your growing company, but “out of sight” employees still need your attention and help. By anticipating problems, determining two-way workflows, and remaining attentive to remote workers’ needs, you can ensure that their productivity and insights directly impact your bottom line.
June 13, 2019 at 05:11AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs