If you work in an office environment, the thought of having your team work remotely might be worrisome. Thoughts of people sleeping late and sitting in front of the TV all day instead of working might come to mind. But studies have shown that remote workers are not only as productive, but they’re often more productive when working from home.
If you find yourself in an unexpected crisis, you may not have a choice about working remotely. Let’s look at how you can set up an effective remote team in such a situation.
Communication is Critical if You Want to Build an Effective Remote Team
One of the biggest challenges of working remotely is being disconnected from the rest of your team. When you’re all working in the same office, it’s easy to walk over to someone else’s desk to ask them a question or pull everyone together for a quick stand-up meeting.
With a remote team, communication has to be more deliberate. You need tools in place to allow everyone to communicate effectively and expectations of how to handle this communication need to be spelled out.
There are a few simple tips that can help you avoid misunderstandings in your team communications.
1. Be Clear
You need to be clear in your communications and should take extra steps to be sure there are no gray areas that could lead to misunderstandings. Body language plays a large part in face-to-face communication but you’ll lose that factor in much of your remote discussion.
2. Provide Several Communication Channels
Your remote team should have several options for communicating. For example, you could use email, telephone, and a messaging system like Slack or Microsoft Teams. Each has its pros and cons, which we’ll get into more detail about shortly, so people can use whichever channel makes the most sense for a given situation.
3. Schedule Meetings
If you’re working remotely because of some kind of crisis, there’s a good chance that your team won’t all be able to work a “normal” schedule. Child care, health considerations, and other factors could contribute to an unusual work routine.
Even when that’s the case, you should have a scheduled meeting time that everyone is expected to attend. You can hold these meetings via teleconference, video conference, or simple text chat but getting everyone together for a virtual meeting will help them stay connected.
4. Implement an Agile Methodology
Agile Methodology comes from the software development world but you can apply it to any type of business. It’s a big topic but what it boils down to is breaking projects into smaller chunks, spreading the work across your team and giving people more autonomy to make decisions.
An Agile team is mostly self-organizing. You need to trust that they know what needs to get done and give them the authority to make decisions to get there. Regular communication gives them a chance to provide feedback and course-correct where necessary.
5. Trust, Empathize, and check-in
Leadership isn’t given as part of a title or position in a company. True leadership comes from following the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Remote leadership is no different and it’s not common for team members to feel disconnected, judged, and alienated. This doesn’t have to be the case.
Leaders who hire professionals to do a job should trust those individuals to deliver. Drop computer activity monitoring in favor of check-ins. Daily 15 minute, or weekly 1 on 1’s will create the opportunity for building trust. Remember to get trust, you have to give it. Also, don’t make every conversation about work. Strong teams are built on trust and empathy no matter the location.
Tools for Working with a Team Remotely
It’s never been easier to work remotely. Even as recently as a decade ago, technology was not as efficient, cost-effective, or even available in some cases. Tools that would have cost thousands of dollars and required specialized equipment to set up are available to anyone with a computer and reliable internet connection.
Often, these tools are free to use so you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get everyone set up. Many of the tools that have a cost associated with them offer trial periods so if you’re working remotely during a crisis but don’t expect it to last too long, you may not have to spend a dime.
Let’s look at some of the best tools for each of the following areas of managing your team:
- Time management
- Screen recording
- Collaboration and meeting
- Document and file sharing
- Remote phone support
Whether you need all of them will depend on the type of business you’re in but some of them apply to any remote team.
If you bill by the hour or want to track your team’s time for internal purposes, you’ll need a time management tool of some sort. These tools let your team log the time they spend on particular projects or working for particular clients so you can consolidate those details even if they’re working at inconsistent times.
You may also want to track the time they’re active if they’re working shorter hours due to a crisis of some kind.
We’re going to look at 3 time tracking tools:
Clockify is built for use with a team. It lets you track your hours using a timer or log time in a timesheet manually. It supports project categorization and you can mark time as billable or non-billable.
As the team lead, you can invite whoever you wish to the team, set their hourly rates, and track what each of your team members is working on. Clockify offers solid reporting options with customizable reports and export to common formats like CSV and Excel.
Click here to read more about Clockify
Harvest lets you track your team’s time but adds some extra features such as expense tracking and invoicing. You can use a timer to track time as you work or manually add the time afterward. You can assign the time to specific projects, clients, or tasks.
The invoicing function makes it easy to bill your clients for the work your team is doing. As the admin for the account, you have access to the details for everyone on your team and can run various reports to track the work getting done. You can see how much they’re working as well as when they’re working if that’s important for you to know.
Harvest offers mobile apps as well so if your team does outbound sales or any other onsite work with clients, they can track their time with their phone or tablet.
Click here to read more about Harvest
Toggl supports one-click timers as well as manual time entry. You can assign time to clients, projects, and tasks or any combination of the three that suit your needs. It offers tracking reminders and calendar integration to make it easy to remember to track your time.
The advanced features of the paid plan give you more detailed reporting as well as a team dashboard where you can track each of the members of your team. This plan also lets you automate processes like emailing team members who aren’t tracking their time to remind them to update their records.
Click here to read more about Toggl
Screen recording tools are useful for several things, including:
- Help desk applications
- Delayed collaboration
They let you record a process on your screen for someone else to play back at a later time. This gives you more time flexibility since you don’t have to both be online at the same time.
We’re going to look at 3 screen recording tools:
Loom is a cross-platform tool that supports macOS, Windows, Chrome OS, and iOS. It lets you record your entire screen or a specific app with or without a webcam.
You can edit the video with Loom’s easy-to-use editing features and then share it through its web-based sharing. Viewers can respond through the site and you can control who has access to a given screencast.
Loom offers free and paid plans. The free plan lets you record an unlimited number of videos in standard quality and offers limited editing features. Upgrading to a paid plan adds high-def recording and more advanced editing capabilities.
Click here to read more about Loom
Adobe Captivate is a tool intended to build eLearning courses. It builds on Adobe’s graphic creation and editing foundation from apps like Photoshop and Illustrator to provide the most polished result of any of the apps listed here.
It supports screen and webcam recording as well but if you want the ability to put together a more structured training package, Captivate is the best solution. That also adds complexity to the process though. If you want something to create quick and easy screencasts, one of the other two options would be a better choice.
Click here to read more about Captivate
Screencast-o-Matic is a cross-platform tool that works on Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, and Chrome OS. It lets you capture your screen as well as a webcam so you can demonstrate an application, walk someone through a process, or anything else that’s visible on your screen.
It includes an editor that lets you tweak your screencast after it’s recorded to edit out any mistakes or unnecessary sections.
Click here to read more about Screencast-o-Matic
Communication tools for meetings, collaborating with other team members, and potentially for providing phone support to customers are the backbone of working with a remote team. These tools work as instant messaging tools for text communication, virtual meeting tools for teleconferencing and videoconferencing, and some offer extra features like file sharing.
We’re going to look at several options in this category:
- Google Hangouts
- Microsoft Teams
You may already be familiar with Skype. It’s a widely-used instant messaging and conferencing app from Microsoft. It’s one of the few computer-based tools that let you connect with regular phones, both landline and mobile.
You can also get a Skype phone number that people can call from a regular phone to connect to you through the app. This is a good solution if you need to provide customer support as well as stay in touch with your remote team.
It offers audio and HD video calling, both one-to-one and for groups, so you can use it to communicate between team members.
Click here to read more about Skype
Slack is one of the most widely-used team communication tools. It lets you communicate directly with other members of your team as well as set up channels for specific projects, clients, or any other topic you choose.
You can add clients to certain channels to provide customer support and you can limit access to channels to only those team members who need it. If certain team members are working on certain projects, they can be given access as necessary.
Slack offers face-to-face video conferencing as well as screen-sharing within the app. You can also share documents within Slack or connect it to external document storage like Dropbox and Google Drive.
Click here to read more about Slack
Zoom is the most feature-rich tool on this list. It offers one-to-one and group calling for meetings, training, or other video conferencing needs. It also supports webinar delivery for sales presentations and other customer communication. The webinar feature provides a chat room for questions and document sharing for virtual handouts.
Zoom Phone is a cloud phone system with features like intelligent call routing, voicemail, and call recording. If your customers contact you by phone, this feature will give you a fully-operational phone system that can operate without installing any special equipment locally.
Click here to read more about Zoom
4. Google Hangouts
Google Hangouts offers similar features to Skype – it’s Google’s response to Microsoft in this market. It supports text, voice, and video conferencing and can call out to landline and mobile phones. It doesn’t offer phone numbers that others can call into, however.
Hangouts targets the consumer market more than business but it will work fine if your needs are relatively simple.
Click here to read more about Google Hangouts
5. Microsoft Teams
Microsoft Teams offers similar features to Slack. It supports text, voice, and video chat for one-to-one or group communications and it lets you separate your communications into channels for different projects, clients, or topics. You can share documents through Teams as well.
The Microsoft Phone System feature in Teams offers enterprise-level cloud calling so you can offer customer-facing numbers for sales or support. Teams supports Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android as well as many types of IP phone system hardware.
Click here to read more about Microsoft Teams
Document and File Sharing
When you’re working remotely, you may not have access to central network storage the same way you would when you’re in an office environment. Sharing documents between team members can be challenging if you don’t want to risk sending sensitive information by email.
And as a bit of background, keep in mind that email is not encrypted in most cases. If something you send by email gets intercepted or forwarded to someone outside your team by mistake, nothing would stop the recipient from reading it. This is another reason to use one of the messaging tools in the previous section – everything that goes through them gets encrypted.
With document sharing tools, you can limit access to only the people who need it. Some of them also offer collaboration features so more than one team member can work on the file at the same time. These tools also act as a secure online backup so if someone on your team loses a file, there is a backup copy safely stored in the cloud.
We’re going to look at the following document and file sharing tools:
- Google Drive
Dropbox lets you store your team content in a central location whether it’s from Google Docs, MS Office, or other applications. It acts like any other folder on your computer but everything stored there syncs to the Dropbox cloud.
Dropbox integrates with many of the other tools we’ve covered here such as Slack and Zoom so you can access your documents and other files from within those applications. The more advanced Dropbox plans add more sophisticated administrative, audit, and security features.
Click here to read more about Dropbox for Teams
Box.com offers similar file storage and collaboration features to Dropbox but they have an even stronger focus on security and compliance. If you work in an industry with regulatory requirements, such as HIPAA in the healthcare industry, Box.com may be the better choice.
Box’s Relay feature lets you set up automated workflows for repeated tasks, such as an approval process for certain types of documents. This can save your team time for things that several people need to touch during a particular process.
Click here to read more about Box.com
3. Google Drive
Google Drive offers similar storage and collaboration features to the previous two tools but leverages Google’s expertise with search and managing large volumes of data to give you more powerful organization options.
You can create “workspaces” based on the files you work with most often and the Explore feature in Google Docs uses AI to help speed up your document creation. Google’s machine learning (ML) technology learns as you work so it gets better and better at predicting your needs.
Click here to read more about Google Drive
4. Microsoft OneDrive
Microsoft OneDrive once again offers similar storage and collaboration features to the previous tools. It’s tied more closely to the Office 365 service and apps so if you’re a Microsoft-based shop, this may be the best solution for you.
It supports all major operating systems, not just Windows, so you can access your documents from macOS, iOS, and Android as well.
Click here to read more about Microsoft OneDrive
As you can see, the online storage tools all offer similar basic functionality. Your decision will likely be based partly on what other tools you use. If you use Google for your email, office suite, and other applications, Google Drive is likely a good choice. Likewise, if you’re more Microsoft-focused.
It may also depend on what your team and customer already use. If most of your remote team is already using Dropbox, having them switch to another service may be more hassle than sticking with what they’re already familiar with.
Remote Phone Support
Creating accessibility for your remote team via phone is not as complicated or expensive as many people believe. Have you called Amazon, Sprint, or any other major company recently? Odds are their support representatives are not working in a shared workspace, many are answering your call from their home office computer.
Improvements in internet bandwidth combined with enhanced stability of VOIP (voice over IP) connections have led to a trustworthy call on internet speeds of 10MBS or more. Additionally, the ability to connect these services to your mobile devices allows team members to provide support and accessibility from virtually anywhere they have a signal or connection.
Here are 3 phone services worth looking into for a distributed workforce phone system.
- Zoom Phone
Grasshopper is built for small businesses that need robust capability without breaking the bank. The core service offers phone and sms messaging. It lets you create one to five lines with unlimited extensions, does call routing, conference calls (up to 10) and call reporting.
This service is great for smaller teams who need to set up and deploy a phone service quickly without the need for additional hardware. All you need to get going is an email and a computer with a microphone and speakers.
Checkout how Grasshopper can solve your remote phone needs.
Ring Central is another option for a VOIP phone service. Touting their “All-in-one” solution for both small business and enterprise the Ring Central services offers phone, messaging, meetings, and video conferencing.
The RingCentral mobile app allows your employees to use desk phones, laptops, tablets, and smartphones as functioning mobile offices. They will have 24/7 access to the company phone system and all the communication and collaboration tools needed to work from anywhere they have internet access.
Click here to read more about RingCentral.
3. Zoom Phone
Zoom, the billion-dollar communication and meetings company, is often overlooked as an option for remote phones. The Zoom Phone service offers HD phone service, interoperability between desktop and physical device, and seamless switching into video conferencing.
The Zoom service provides phone dashboard, phone recording, live listening, and more for organizations looking to drive quality through their remote teams.
Click here to read more about Zoom Phone.
*The options for remote phones are not limited to these three. Companies like Google, Microsoft, and others also have options. You can use Skype or Google Voice as good remote phone solutions as well.
Putting All the Pieces Together
Knowing what tools to use when building an effective remote team is only half the battle. Setting them up and implementing them is the bigger challenge.
If you’re looking for expert help to get your team up and running, the Hamer Marketing Group can help. We’ve worked in a corporate marketing role and have transitioned into working with companies in all parts of the world so we understand the unique needs of remote teams.
Get in touch with us today to find out how we can help you leverage these tools to get your remote team up and running in as little time as possible.
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