Running and managing remote teams doesn’t have to be an impossible task. As an agency owner, you’ll probably work with a distributed team, with many users joining in from different time zones.
It’s often a bit difficult to manage everything, but not impossible. In this post-pandemic era, technologies have evolved to a point where it’s much easier to manage operations through a central platform, instead of having to reach your employees one by one.
Challenges in Managing Remote Teams
If you’re managing a remote team, chances are that you’ve faced some difficulty in managing employees from different parts of the globe. Here are some of the biggest challenges that agency owners face when managing remote teams:
- Lack of direct supervision: agency owners often worry that employees might not be working as hard as they’d like, or as efficiently as they can without one-on-one supervision. With remote teams, direct supervision is often difficult, which leads to issues.
- Problems with setting clear expectations: if you don’t define expectations and get everyone on the same page, you might find it difficult to motivate all employees.
- Low productivity levels: managing productivity levels is a serious challenge for agency owners. Employees in different settings don’t get that “office” feeling, so productivity is likely to vary.
- Hiring: arguably the biggest issue with remote teams is that hiring is often difficult. Arranging interviews, overcoming time differences, and really explaining the core culture of your agency does become a problem.
- Managing the flow of information: successful agencies have a single source of truth. If yours doesn’t, it’s a problem and could lead to serious communication gaps.
- Project management: if you aren’t using a comprehensive tool for managing projects and assigning tasks, things are bound to get difficult. This could translate into missed deadlines or poor quality of work.
These are just some of the many challenges that agency owners face when managing remote teams. While there’s obviously a lot more to it, you should know that many of these can be overcome, as long as you follow an established approach.
Many of the world’s leading companies and digital agencies are now functioning remotely, and there’s no reason why yours can’t either! In the following paragraphs, we are going to provide detailed advice on how to run and manage remote teams.
Setting Clear Expectations
Setting clear expectations is critically important. Many teams have had to pivot over the past few years, and many employees will have to shift their focus to work on tasks in very different ways or include tasks they wouldn’t previously have completed themselves. That is one of the main reasons why you need to make sure that you align expectations carefully with your employees.
This has a major impact on employee performance. It would be unwise to assume that every member of the team would know exactly where they should focus their energy.
Agencies often have to manage multiple clients, so it’s important that you establish deadlines, key deliverables, and let your employees know exactly what you expect of them. Employees should know what constitutes task completion.
For instance, if you have a content writer who’s asked to write a piece, it’s important that you define what ‘completed’ means. Does it mean that the writer must complete the piece as a draft, or does it mean that they must also publish it on the website?
Defining Roles and Clear Communication Channels
One of the most important tips that you need to do is to refine the channels of communication and make sure that you define roles properly. It’s virtually impossible for you to focus solely on fielding queries from your team members.
Defining roles and responsibilities for each member of the team is important. Make sure you create a centralized dashboard that indicates what each member is responsible for and then outline roles at the company.
This way, employees will know who to approach in case they hit a blocker. If you have a team-based structure, make sure you prepare a document that highlights each team member’s specializations.
For instance, if a member of the team needs help with images, they will know who the designer is, and can approach them directly. It helps cut down on needless back-and-forth and reduces time-to-completion for key milestones.
Daily Stand-Ups or Check-Ins
The key to managing remote teams effectively without pulling your hair out at every turn is to establish communication between all major stakeholders. In this case, that’s every member of the team.
Team members might not take it kindly if you randomly poke them asking about what they’re working on. It’s also difficult to keep track of what everyone’s doing, especially if you don’t have a system in place.
Instead, the best thing to do would be to establish a routine where you host daily stand-ups and check-outs. This means you sit down with every member of your team, at least once during the day, giving everyone a chance to share which tasks they have worked on during that day.
This is a great way to know what each person is working on, and when to expect key deliverables. This way, it’s not necessary that you hold a meeting to check in with your employees.
If you’re using a project management tool that offers team support, you can set up regular check-ins. Employees can fill out the work they’ve done, or the work they’re going to do.
You can then simply compare it with the actual work done to get a better understanding of overall team performance.
Be Accepting of Cultural Differences
When working in remote teams, it’s vitally important to be respectful and accepting of cultural differences. As an agency owner with a distributed team, you need to take appropriate steps to maintain morale.
This is only possible if you can accept cultural differences. There are going to be employees who might need a few days off to observe religious or cultural practices, for example.
Everyone in the team will bring something special to your agency, so it’s important that you learn how to manage and promote intercultural awareness. This is all the more important in remote jobs.
This means being careful when you communicate with your audience. For instance, using expressions or jargon might not always help you in getting the message across, since they often don’t translate well across different cultures.
Similarly, if you find yourself working with employees from a country that you know very little about, it might be a wise idea to do some research on your end. Find out appropriate time zones so you know when you can schedule or send emails.
It’s also important to know about any religious or public holidays that your employees may have to observe. Your employees will be quite appreciative of the effort, and you will notice an uptick in overall morale and productivity.
Remember, it’s not just about respecting intercultural differences between your employees. There will be times when you might slip up, which is why resolving conflicts is important. You will want to educate other employees, and as long as you exercise empathy, it won’t be an issue.
Automate Mundane, Repetitive Tasks
Managing remote teams means performing the same tasks every day, over and over again. It’s important that you automate mundane and repetitive tasks so that you can free up time to focus more on business-critical activities.
Otherwise, you will end up spending a considerable amount of your day simply chasing after your employees or asking for updates. Nobody wants that. There are a whole bunch of tasks that can be automated.
You want your agency to run like a well-oiled machine. For this, you want consistency. It’s important to create comprehensive documentation so that you can map out recurring tasks and get employees on board quickly.
Creating repeatable workflows and systems is important to avoid chaos. Document business processes and review workflows to see how you can automate them.
There is a good range of tools that you can use to automate repetitive tasks, such as getting updates from employees or forwarding proposals. For instance, you can use Zapier or Integromat to set up automated workflows, integrating apps to trigger automations, and Asana allows for work plans to be created, with clear progress checks and discussions integrated at every step.
Some of the tasks that you can automate include:
- Setting task flows so employees are assigned relevant tasks whenever they have free space
- Setting processes to ensure you and your team remain on track for deliverables
- Managing deadlines and notifying employees when some deadlines are near
- Notifying them when tasks are completed or those which are high-priority
- Asking them about their daily tasks
Establish a Coherent Team Structure
Team structures often tend to vary in remote agencies, depending mainly on the nature of the work and the size of the agency itself. In larger agencies, teams often work in silos, with people connecting with each other when the need arises.
In smaller agencies, a more open, team-based structure is followed, where employees connect with each other whenever they want to discuss something.
Ideally, you’d want to invest in communication tools such as Slack or Basecamp. Slack is by far the most popular choice, as it allows individuals to define their roles, and make communication easier.
Achieving organizational coherence is much easier said than done. It requires setting a shared vision and establishing a shared go-to-market strategy. Employees should be aware of what they have to do, and there should be logic and consistency in business processes.
Coherence means aligning key voices in your management so that they seem like one. This synchronized process of organization allows teams to establish a shared vision and promotes a team learning culture overall, which ultimately helps businesses grow.
This will also help new team members onboard quicker as they will already know what the agency stands for. When managers have a shared perspective of how the agency should carry out its vision, things automatically become easier.
You can create centralized documentation in Basecamp or another app like Notion. This way, any employee can automatically refer to the database instead of having to ask again and again.
Invest in Project Management Software
Collaborative tools enable remote teams and agencies to work together despite geographical limitations. Good tools address many of the issues prevalent in virtual workspaces:
- How will members access all the documents to complete their projects?
- How will they stay in touch in an unshared space?
- How will they keep track of project progress and client feedback?
- Checking assigned tasks and categorizing them by order of priority.
One of the best examples of this is Atarim. Atarim is a fantastic tool for remote collaboration. The application has a central dashboard that shows active client feedback, requests, websites, and projects.
It’s not just a project management tool, but rather an entire agency management platform that allows you to manage your team and your client-side communication very effectively.
This removes the need to go back and forth on third-party communications platforms. The dashboard also features a task center that allows remote managers to set a task’s priority. Managers can also turn a client request into a task and assign it to a particular task member.
That’s not all. Atarim greatly simplifies task management and collaboration, allowing clients to leave comments on specific elements of their website. Instead of having to jump on calls to identify particular elements, Atarim makes communication easy by letting clients leave visual feedback directly.
These tasks can then be assigned to relevant individuals in the team, allowing you to track each task’s status accordingly.
Through their Client Interface Plugin, clients can directly leave feedback without ever having to browse away from their website. Through Atarim, you can easily see the tasks, their urgency levels, and delivery dates, as well as the team member who is supposed to be working on them.
Be a Leader, Not a Boss
Bosses are those who are simply present to ensure that tasks are completed. Leaders, on the other hand, do much more. Whereas bosses issue commands, leaders influence their employees.
Leaders encourage their employees, understand their issues, and provide viable solutions. Good leaders play a pivotal role in the growth of an agency. If you have a dedicated team of managers and leaders in your agency, you’ll notice improved performance and morale across the board.
It all starts by getting to know your team better. Remember, whereas bosses consider themselves above the team, leaders are deeply entrenched, and consider them a part of the team. They are genuine, loyal individuals, and are always willing to go the extra mile to set an example for other members.
Set Cadence Meetings
Daily standups and checkouts are great, but you also have to make sure that you set cadence meetings on a regular basis. This could be either monthly or biweekly, or even at the end of each quarter.
Cadence meetings allow you to better understand how the team performed. At the start of the quarter, you can ask your team members to define their objectives and key results.
Then, you can set regular cadence meetings to determine overall progress. This makes it easy for you to see how team goals are coming together, and more importantly, how individuals are contributing towards this.
Again, you can automate this by sending an invite on Google Calendar or Zoom. If you’re using ClickUp or any other tool like Asana or Jira, you can find integrations for that conveniently.
Identify Blockers and Work With Employees To Overcome Them
This ties in with several points we made earlier, but it’s also equally important. If you see an employee slacking off, find out why that is. If you see any repeated blockers, it might be a wise idea to sit down with them and find a workable solution.
In most cases, all you need to do is to reach out to an employee, and they’ll be willing to open up to you. This will help reduce friction overall and ensure that work is completed on time.
A major issue that many agency owners face when running and managing remote teams is that they have this misconceived notion that no matter what happens, physical teams do perform better.
You need to let go of this prejudice because if the past couple of years has taught us anything, it is that remote working is the future. With the right tools at your disposal, you can easily reduce clutter and simplify management as a whole.