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Tips to manage remote startup teams

Remote teams have higher production rates and remote work is more satisfying for employees. They are associated with healthy competition between their members and higher performance rates. Remote work also can link the workforce across the country or countries — and that offers opportunities for creating diverse teams, who then create products and services which are representative of their regions. According to Entrepreneur, Automattic, GitHub, and Mozilla have been successful due to "going remote."

The work from home (WFH) option is vital in the pandemic. This article lists some ideas on how to manage remote teams in a startup.

Importance of communication

Communication is the main thing for the dispersed teams to synchronize; your superpower.

According to the Valuetainment Business channel, managing a remote team means being able to reach employees instantly and fix any problem as efficiently as an offline team would solve. While personal contact requires certain conditions, online workplaces allow simulating the offline environment and may even offer extra advantages. Nowadays, there are lots of tools for communication: texts, video chats, messengers, phone calls, Intranet, and other options. Google Hangouts or Slack allow creating multiple channels of instant peer-to-peer connection as well as group communication by dividing topics into streams (separate chats).

The frequency of communication routines varies depending on your scheduled meetings, while team members can contact each other at any time, too. This is especially important when dealing with urgent issues. Paul Pellman, CEO of Kazoo, a software company from Texas, states that employees should be asked how they wish to be reached during their workflow. This is crucial for personal boundaries and efficient operations: "work" and "life" time should be properly separated. Pellman recommends "trusting the process" and encourages remote employees to talk frequently, to check on each other's work.

It's also important to avoid ‘urgent’ requests and assignments: they distract people and disrupt their focus. Of course, there's no way to completely avoid having to deal with sudden issues; it's possible to mitigate them, though. Develop a system of priorities that will inform your employees' working hours, so they wouldn't overtime after handling a "red" issue.

Today’s digital world provides plenty of tools for efficient remote communication and management — for instance, ProofHub. Using it, employees report on their progress and manage their time. Managers track their performance and can see if there are gaps that need addressing or wins that need acknowledgment.

Knowledge and information exchange is another important part of remote communication. Make sure to use an internal solution or one of the cloud services like Dropbox or Google Drives to store documentation, guidelines, code archives, and so on. Delivering ready information pieces is part of the remote communication process in a business.

Altogether, the mentioned tools allow combining formality and comfort as well as the efficiency of remote collaboration. When everything is well-organized, a project manager can just focus on the company's needs, workflows, and milestones as well as KPIs and progress tracking.

Scheduling and control

Software development companies and startups that employ developers are intimately familiar with the cost of distraction. The nature of the programming process makes it hard for your engineers to refocus back into the flow. In the office, employees are, on average, distracted every 20 minutes. While the WFH settings can be positive for the focus (if a person lives alone or owns noise-canceling earphones), micromanaging is still a thing to let go of. Micromanagement also often infantilizes employees and makes them think you don't trust them. That's harder to confront or dispute in remote settings, because written communication is, let's say, less insightful and fulfilling for a lot of people. So: control of the urge to control is a good thing to have.

However, while micromanagement breaks the team's trust and focus, scheduling and regular check-ins are essential. Check-ins should ideally be a recurrent meeting via Zoom, Skype, or any virtual communication software. If you're planning to work within different time zones, schedule check-ins in the 2-3 hours overlap or recommend teams to write meeting notes. These meetings shouldn't be too long: just enough for a progress report and quick chat, so employees would stay engaged and in touch with their colleagues.

Expectations management

Expectations management is something peculiar to any type of team - on-premise or remote, although it's especially essential in the WFH setting as it's more dependant on clarity in communication. When hiring your remote team members, pay attention to self-organization skills, reliability, independence, self-motivation, and honesty. You should set up realistic, explicit goals and observe the progress by using the tracking tools. Avoid making hints about your expectation in favor of clearly stating them.

As with any other team, a remote startup requires burnout prevention and management strategies. So, stress measuring and efficiency overviews are important. Leading remote team leaders equally advise measuring worker happiness apart from results. Thus, sending out surveys and other questionnaires may bring some organizational problems to light and determine your startup's health. Performance and job satisfaction correlate, and the latter heavily depends on the work environment, so pay attention to it.

Challenges of the remote teams and how to overcome them

Here are a couple of the most common challenges of the remote teams that on-premise companies hardly ever face and the information on how to overcome them:

Lack of personal interaction. Office-based team members have a chance to stumble upon each other in coffee shops near the office building, catch up during a lunch break, and discuss work tasks if they wish to. This adds up to clarity and a deeper understanding of the processes since the peers have a chance to discuss things, to know each other better. Team spirit also suffers from the lack of personal interactions.

How to resolve it? Request your workers to outline everything they didn't understand/everything that requires more details during the workday, even the minor ones. Encourage asking questions. Proactively connect with people who don't ask ones. Don't tolerate silencing and brushing issues off.

The manager is the one who can start building informal communication between the team members - share some details about the company foundation, a few jokes, and informal videos when the workday is over. Something personal may start building trust in you as the manager and as a person. When you start sharing, others would continue, mutual history will start forming and this will help in the time of crises. United, friendly teams fight issues and help each other more efficiently.

Miscommunications. Remote workers communicate in writing more often than office-based ones. And the written text does not always translate the main pitch of the author’s message. The recipient sometimes does not even notice this or does not know what additional questions could clarify things. This may lead to serious miscommunications that bring hours of additional work. Clear writing is a form of art and not everyone can grasp it.

How to resolve this issue? First of all, there should be direct instructions on how written messages and project documentation should be built. Try formulating everything including even formatting. For all messages that outline important steps, video instructions need to be applied additionally. If a person is not able to write clearly, they most probably can talk through things better.

Conclusion

To make the remote team collaborative and efficient, the founder needs to make arrangements for building the process that implies clear and regular communication.

Managing a business remotely is a complicated yet rewarding activity: on remote, people generally perform better, have fewer distractions, and are happier.

As a final word, about the WFH during the pandemic. Remote work in lockdown isn't the same remote work as in, like, different, healthier time. Everyone is stressed, even if they don't realize it, and the stress damages performance. Extrakindness and attention to your employees' styles of work and communication would help you help them deal with this stress.


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