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Managing a Remote Team: A Start Up Guide

By Preethi Jathanna

Senior Writer for HR and Remote Work

Managing a Remote Team: A Start Up Guide

Going remote can be a game-changer for your startup. After all, you're a part of the 'new normal' that leverages talent from all across the world. However, managing a remote team can be challenging, especially if you're doing it for the first time. And that's why we've compiled an easy-to-understand guide on managing distributed teams for startups!

Do you want to learn the secret to managing a remote team for your startup? These seven tips are here to help you in hiring and leading remote teams successfully from anywhere in the world. Read on!

1. Hiring Your Remote Team

The foundation of any organization is its workforce. Put simply, the real challenge lies in hiring people who define the dynamics of your business in the right way.

1.1. Determining your Requirements

First things first, you need to define the profiles you're looking for. Depending on the role, your company culture and specific business requirements, create a go-to checklist of what your ideal candidate looks like. Some parameters to consider are

  • communication skills
  • proactiveness
  • technical and non-technical skills,
  • language skills,
  • culture compatibility,
  • location of the candidate, and
  • if the candidate has worked remotely before. 

You can create two different lists — one with all the ‘must-haves’ skills and the other with all the ‘good-to-have’ skills. By doing this, you are creating a clear outline of your ideal candidate and prioritizing your requirements.

1.2. Sourcing the Candidates

Next, it's time to figure out where you're going to find these candidates. There are plenty of sites where you can recruit candidates, including famous ones like LinkedIn and Upwork.  However, if you want to access the top candidates in your industry, you should look into specialised, industry-specific hiring platforms. For instance, you can look into platforms such as Behance and Dribble for graphic designers, Mediabistro for marketing professions, and marketplaces like TECLA to hire and manage virtual teams.

1.3. The Interview Process

Because you're a remote startup, communication is often asynchronous, which makes it all the more important to use a recruiting software — a tool that has all the information about candidates, interview schedules, and pipelines. Some standard tools that you can use include TalentWall and RecruiterBox.

Once you've made a list of the top potential candidates, schedule a video conferencing interview to get to know them a little better. This is also an opportunity for you to pay special attention to their communication skills. Effective communication is critical when managing a remote team, so look for the little things. Did the candidate forget to follow up on your email? Are they flexible with the difference in time zones?  Are they able to convey their thoughts clearly?  These are all very important and relevant questions.

After the video interviews, devise a test for the strongest applicants with some moderately difficult activities that the candidate will have to do on a daily basis. For engineers, it might be coding a new feature, while for a marketing manager, it may be setting up a new campaign — whatever you need to get a sense of their capabilities and expertise. You can even ask for references or a portfolio if need be. The right candidate will always bring something new to the table.

And finally, if the candidates have successfully passed all the rounds, it's time to seal the deal and make the offer. And voila! You have your remote team — the backbone of your organization.

2. Creating Your Virtual Office

Now that you have your A-team in place, it's time to set up some working processes. As a startup, the simplest way to do this is by creating your virtual office space with the best tools at your disposal.

2.1. The Evaluation Stage

However, before you go ahead and purchase a hundred different tools, take a step back, and evaluate the specific needs of your business. Do you need a tool for remote project management? What about time management and deadlines? There are tons of tools out there, but make sure that you're only picking out those that YOU really need. And because you're working with a distributed workforce, the applications you choose should be able to work seamlessly in a remote workspace as well. 

2.2. The Testing Stage

Also, before you share the tools with your virtual team, test it out for yourself. Does it integrate into your workflows well? Is it customizable according to your specific business requirements? Do you have to train your employees on how to use it? Only when you're convinced with the software or tool, should you share it with your remote team. Any software or application is only as capable as the workflow behind it, so make sure that you have clearly defined processes and protocols to avoid confusion.

In addition to your new virtual office space, implement instant messaging software such as Slack or Google Hangouts to encourage your new employees to communicate and collaborate on a daily basis.

Another category of tools that can prove to be invaluable when managing a remote team is task tracking. Because you practically can't reach out to every single team member on a day-to-day basis to find out what they're working on, a task tracking system does it for you.  Some famous task tracking systems that are used by startups, as well as established businesses, are Trello, Basecamp, and Asana.

These tools come with different Kanban and task boards and are entirely customizable to your business needs. Other tools that are a must when managing a remote team include online meeting apps such as Zoom and cloud-based file-sharing systems such as Google Drive or DropBox.

That being said, don't force your team to use the tools in a certain way because it works for you. Doing so will only affect their productivity for the worse. Instead, use this as a learning opportunity as you grow your team. As your employees work together, you'll figure out which tools work best and how. Once that has been established, you can then standardize them across the whole team.

3. Onboarding and Managing Remote Employees

Hiring your remote staff is one of the many challenges of managing remote employees. Establishing a standard onboarding process is a close second. And that's because when managing a remote team, you don't get to physically meet a new hire or take them out for a drink to welcome them to the team. All you really have is a video call and a plethora of instant messaging apps at your disposal. So, how can you build an effective onboarding process that transcends geographical limitations using the tools you have?

For starters, you can introduce a video edition of 'Meet the team'.  Nobody really checks the "meet our newest team member" email in their overflowing inbox. If you want your virtual team to actually care, set up a video meeting where they can meet the newest hire live and in stereo. Introduce them to the team and even encourage them to share a few words about themselves. You can even integrate this section into your one on one meetings if you please. The key here is to ensure that your new employee feels welcomed.

Once they've met the team, introduce them to your virtual office space — the different tools, why you use them, the processes, and workflows. In a startup , the most efficient way to unlock the potential of a new hire is to assign them a 'buddy' or a mentor. The mentor should be someone who has been with the company from the start (it can even be you!). If you’ve already been working with your team for a few months now, you can pick a trusted employee to be the mentor too.

The point of a mentor is not to micromanage but to help the newest employee connect with the rest of your virtual team. By checking on them with a quick message on Slack, explaining the culture of the organisation, or even letting them in on an inside joke, the 'buddy' helps the new hire to navigate through the daunting first few weeks of their new job.

And the added benefit? The mentor you pick will thrive with responsibility and master the art of managing a remote team too. And that's definitely something you want to have as your business grows.

4. Motivating Your Remote Workforce

motivate and support

According to the State of Remote Report - 2019, roughly 8% of the respondents said that their biggest struggle with remote working was staying motivated. Though you don't get to meet your employees or hold interesting conversations in person, you can still find ways to motivate your remote team.

For instance, one of the biggest advantages that you have as a startup is that every single employee is a significant part of the company and has a massive impact on the overall success of your business. By simply recognising that and communicating it to your team, you're automatically motivating them to do better!

Another simple but impactful way to motivate your remote team is to just care about them. It might sound obvious, but the reality is that most companies are oblivious to the needs of their workforce. Now, we aren't talking about providing free lunches, unlimited holidays, or allowances. We're talking about fundamentals. Ask yourself the following questions — "Do you, as someone who is managing a remote team, make time to speak to your employees about topics that are not work-related?" or "Does your team trust you and feel like you have their back?" or even "Can your employees approach you freely and without any hesitation?". The answers to these questions are crucial because people don't quit jobs; they quit bosses. By caring about your team, you're actually motivating them to be a better asset to your business.

5. Encourage Trust, Transparency & Communication

Along the same lines of the last tip, if you want your distributed team to remain productive and consistently deliver, the secret ingredients that you're looking for are trust, transparency, and communication. In fact, a study by TinyPulse showed that internal transparency and employee productivity are closely related to each other. Unfortunately, only 42% of employees know their organization's mission, vision, and values — a staggeringly low number.

So how can you, as a newly established business, gain the trust of your remote team? For starters, manage expectations by communicating with your team your business strategy, who the decision-makers are, the vision you have for the business, and the financial stability of your startup. Though this may seem like oversharing, your employees will appreciate your blatant honesty.

Apart from that, find opportunities to establish social connections. Suggest a "virtual happy hour" for your remote team members to bond, or even create a Slack channel where your employees can talk about their interests, hobbies, or even about that great book that they read over the weekend. By building these personal relationships, your team will create powerful connections, which, in turn, will positively impact their day-to-day collaboration and boost their productivity.

Practice a virtual open-door policy where your employees can reach out to you at any point in time, even if it's for a quick chat that isn't work-related. The important thing is that it should be voluntary and non-specific. Recipes, a new Netflix show, a funny story — they all matter.

6. Measure Results

In a remote setup, because you can't stop by your employees' desks to see what they're working on, results are measured only through tangible outcomes. So as you build your remote team, it's essential to set some trackable metrics. These metrics can vary from business to business. For instance, some companies may want to measure client satisfaction, while others define quantitative parameters, such as the number of projects completed or features built. The key is to track whatever metrics influence the growth of your startup. You can hold monthly or bi-monthly virtual meetings with your team to monitor these parameters and their contribution to your business.

That being said, don't forget to celebrate the wins — both big and small. Though this may seem like an obvious suggestion, it is often overlooked when working in a virtual office space. After all, you can't simply stop by to congratulate an employee or bring in treats when your team successfully completes a project. Thus, take the conscious step of not skimping out on celebrations in the virtual office. You can send personalised messages to your employees when they've done an excellent job, or even give public shout-outs, so the rest of the team knows about it too. If you want to go the extra mile, you can also send your team 'digital treats' in the form of a digital animated card, an online shopping gift card, or a voucher to a service.

A little recognition and acknowledgement can go a long way!

7. Don’t Be Scared To Reevaluate

As a startup stepping into a whole new world, it is essential to keep in mind that everything will not always go as planned. You may need to revisit processes, make adjustments or even  reevaluate your entire strategy. But it's completely normal.

What's important is that you keep powering through, and take every obstacle that you face as a challenge. Communicate with your remote team on the problems that they may be facing. After all, their mental well-being is just as important. If you're out of the loop on the team's dynamics, your startup culture will eventually suffer. Instead, schedule regular one-on-ones with your employees and find out what their experience working for you has been like. Are they facing any problems? Do they think that a process isn't working for them? Are they suggesting a new marketing strategy?  Be open to constructive criticism and reevaluate when needed.  Your employees are then more likely to come to you when something isn’t right.

8. The Lesson to Be Learned

As your business grows and you have more members on your remote team, consider remote management best practices. A team that focuses on understanding your employees, motivating them, tracking their progress, and resolving issues to ensure that maximum collaboration prevails.

As a startup, building and managing a remote team can be both challenging and gratifying. By following the above tips for managing a remote team, you can bring together talented people from all across the globe. 

9. FAQs

9.1. How do you manage remote teams effectively?

You need to set clear expectations and use the right tools to manage remote teams.

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