How to manage a remote team? 7 Ultimate tips for CEOs & Founders

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As a remote CEO or founder, you probably have been overwhelmed by precautionary measures about how to manage a remote team ensuring the welfare of your employees. In addition, managing your distributed team may make you wonder about the following:

  • Is the team adapting quickly to remote work?
  • How to keep track of my remote team and their performance?
  • How to ensure my communication is smooth and the team is still motivated?

We dove into what other CEOs and founders are advising to ensure your team is productive, accountable and motivated. 

#1) Abnormal Work Situations: How To Manage A Remote Team?

Smiling Young Woman Chatting Online with a Laptop (1)

When people worked from home before the coronavirus outbreak, they could come and go as they pleased. Their kids were being taken care of or were at school. In addition, deciding what they wanted to do was a lot easier. But nowadays it’s different: they must stay at home. 

In 2015, Harvard Business Review found that people who worked remotely were less motivated than those who had traditional jobs. Since people are intrinsically motivated by different things, you can’t predict how staying at home will affect their motivation. 

On the other hand, this might be a remarkable time to develop trust and empower your employees at all levels in your company. As WordPress’s founder said in this recent interview:

“You can zoom out and use this situation as an opportunity to essentially build a framework for how myself, my colleagues and my company can be antifragile”.

Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress 

✔️So How Can You Meaningfully Engage Your Team?

✔️Avoid rigidity, engage your team in creative thinking 

Working with strict processes, rules, and procedures won’t be as effective as allowing people to come up with their best problem-solving ideas.

✔️Constant adaptation will be essential to managing your remote team

A mindset shift is necessary for such a time of crisis. For instance, you might need to rethink your team’s roles. You could redeploy employees to the task generating revenues. Ask them to exercise their sense of ownership and suggest where they can be the most helpful. 

2) Manage People With Purpose & Avoid The Netflix Paranoia

If your company had a traditional office before going remote, then your team was likely used to being visually micromanaged in some level. Even if managers weren’t actually checking task by task periodically, they knew and could see that people were at the office, mostly working. 

But as the remote routine came about, you have no visual control over their work whatsoever. 

That’s why believing in your team is a must to successfully manage them. This means trusting they are working as hard as they would from an office space. However, it might be incredibly hard for a few managers who enjoy closely observing or controlling people’s work. 

Consequently, a paranoia has arisen for a few leaders. They’ve started overthinking productivity metrics of employees. Simply put: questioning if people are distracted or wasting paid time watching Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc. I named this paranoia about employees’ productivity as Netflix Paranoia

Not without reason: research done by Netflix in 2017 showed that 37% of US workers admitted watching television shows or movies at work. If you think that back in 2017 remote work was far from being the new normal, then nowadays it’s even easier to imagine the same scenario taking place.

✔️So how can you overcome the fear your employees are distracted and won’t deliver? 

By turning your culture into one that empowers individuals to work with purpose, as Gabriel Engel, CEO of Rocket.Chat says:

People shouldn’t work hard because someone is watching. They should because they feel empowered and connected to their work. It’s our duty as CEOs to ensure people work purposefully. This shift of mindset guarantees dedicated employees and exterminates the necessity of micromanagement”. 

 Gabriel Engel, CEO of Rocket.Chat

And by purpose, it doesn’t necessarily have to be about KPIs or any sort of results-focused metric. People must acknowledge they are being evaluated by results, yes. But they need to see something else about their work. 

David and Wendy Ulrich wrote one of the most compelling books about this subject, called The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations That Win. To help you create a sense of purpose in your company, follow these tips inspired in Ulrich’s work:

✔️Communicate company’s objectives and values clearly

Usually, leaders are pretty good at sharing financial forecasts or budgeting. But declaring your cultural values clearly is as important to clarify how people can help you achieve them. 

✔️Shape the story of how people’s work connects with these values

Speak passionately about cases and stories of how your company makes a difference for good in society, people’s lives, and communities. Let people know their work is impacting someone out there. 

✔️Encourage people to engage positively in their work

Motivate employees to be responsible for finding their own “why” regarding their work. People are intrinsically motivated for distinct things: meaningful relationships with coworkers, rolling out new projects, achieving a certain career status, money, among others. There is no right or wrong answer because it is a personal sense of purpose. What matters here is ensuring people can connect their work with things that are meaningful for themselves.

#3) Turn Your Culture Into “People-first” Once And For All.

As someone in charge of people and operations, you likely know whether your company is people-oriented or if it’s only part of a framed culture statement decorating the wall. Let’s face the facts: putting employees first should be a real premise in your company.

In fact, many CEOs approached this topic when advising other entrepreneurs on how to overcome the pandemic’s challenges. Even Mark Cuban’s predictions about this crisis’s outcomes were substantially about people. According to him, the coronavirus will end up improving capitalism with companies putting employees first.

“I think capitalism is going to become a lot smarter and a lot more compassionate because of what we’re going through. […] It can’t just be about shareholders. In fact, you have to put employees ahead of shareholders.” 

Mark Cuban,  American entrepreneur & investor. 

If you have to choose one relevant takeaway from this moment, this should be investing your time in creating a people-oriented culture. Ultimately, a business is only as good as its employees. Thus, engaged employees will be the main asset to overcome challenging periods. Their sense of ownership can help you recognize opportunities that might work out to expand your business, rethink processes and take better decisions. 

#4) Not Everyone Can Be Effective When Working Working From Home

Firstly, let’s dive into how your team may be feeling now? One word, “LOST”. Maybe your company suddenly transitioned to a remote scenario and your HR barely guided them to make it smooth. Will they ever return to their office in the same way? No one knows.

Homeoffice requires a relevant amount of assistance to adapt. That’s why you should never assume that everyone can switch to remote working with little guidance

Here are a few tips that can help you guide distributed teams:

  • Demonstrate empathy and be positive when communicating with people.
  • Switch focus: instead of focusing on lost opportunities, say “Which opportunities can we take advantage of today?”
  • Get together with your HR team and build a communication plan. Make sure your employees are heard and feel empowered to ask for help if needed.
  • Make sure to communicate with managers and leaders in a clear and supportive way.
  • Don’t push them with phrases such as “Discipline is your best friend in this crisis”. 
  • This is not an everyday crisis; thus, they might need support from the leadership to perform at their best.

#5) Centralize Your Communication To Avoid Productivity Loss

Is your team speaking through Whatsapp, while sending emails and having videoconferences in Zoom or Skype? In order to ensure great performance, you may want to reduce these tools. 

Let’s face the facts: how easily can you keep track of long email threads? How fast can you make decisions if your communication is in silos? Being discussed in multiple channels? Gabriel Engel, CEO of Rocket.Chat reinforces this:

“Coronavirus is the black swan of 2020: it has changed the way we work, travel, and live. Managing teams is not different. You have to make sure your team collaborates in a single place to guarantee agile decision making and high productivity”.

Gabriel Engel, Founder & CEO of Rocket.Chat

Even before the coronavirus started affecting workplaces, Rocket.Chat used to have at least half of their team distributed worldwide. It was only possible because the company relied on its own platform to have videoconferences, private groups, direct messages,  discussions.

The formula to guarantee productivity for remote work teams, says Gabriel, is very simple. CEOs have to make sure their communication platform supports multiple locations, connected in real-time. Besides, of course, using only high-security tools that guarantee their data-privacy. 

#6) Transparency Is Key to Maintain Morale Up In Troubled Times 

As a CEO or founder, you won’t have time to have 1-1 meetings with everyone. That’s what your leaders are here for: get the entire team supported. So how can you guarantee that your team is truly connected to their managers? 

Firstly, instruct and ask to be informed about each manager’s plans regarding leading their own groups. Never take “I am too busy for that” for an answer. This is their role to motivate and assist their teams.

On the other hand, the company’s position is part of what you, as its main leader, should communicate. In such challenging times, transparency plays an essential role to keep morale up in your company. This is how you can use communication to get your team in the right direction:

  • Be clear about what the organization is going through
  • Share the challenges you are facing, but also your plans to overcome them
  • Try to give your team clear instructions about what they should focus on
  • Never forget to show them how their actions matter to the business

Always try to give your team the big picture; otherwise, they might imagine the worst case coming about and be anxious and fearing for their jobs. Ultimately, this might impact their productivity as well.

#7) You Don’t Need To Go Cloud To Manage Your Remote Team 

If you are in charge of a modern tech company, you probably had the infrastructure and policy in place to manage your team online even before the COVID-19 crisis began. However, for the vast majority of CEOs and founders, the situation is likely to be very different.

Smaller companies and organizations are limited to a few online tools and a small IT team. As a consequence, CEOs tend to believe they have to move their entire operation to the cloud. Although easily accessible, many cloud solutions don’t disclose how they actually function, which means taking the risk of:

  • Having your data routed out of the country, not following data privacy laws such as GDPR, HIPAA, and CCPA
  • Suffering cyber-attacks 

Take a look at Zoom’s recent example: while the outbreak of COVID-19 made it popular,  it also exposed serious privacy issues with the videoconference tool. 

Most of them are because of a simple detail: trust proprietary-code platforms, such as Skype or Zoom, are often vague about how they technically handle user privacy and how your data is secured (or often not secured).

What Is The Safest Way For A CEO Manage Data Remotely?

The safest way to manage data is by yourself. What we call self-managed platforms.

They work as usual, with only a difference: you will use your communication platform, for instance, installed in your very software. They will also provide you full control over your own configuration, which means only you and your team change its codebase, modify the details you need and customize the solution for your personal needs. Besides that, secure encryption options and transparency in the form of open-source code are remarkable benefits of using  self-managed platforms.

About the author

Rocket.Chat Team | Since 2015 disrupting inefficient communication with open-source technology

Lucia Fallavena | Content Marketing Strategist at Rocket.Chat

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