In today’s technologically advanced environment, webmasters and online business owners are tackling complex issues which are well outside the scope of traditional tasks of a single person: they brainstorm new marketing strategies, convince influencers, earn the trust of advanced global AIs (aka Google), try to make sense of machine learning, and more.

One of the most interesting challenges of the XXIst century projects is managing a remote team. But why is it necessarily a challenge? Well, remote work is much more than a “work from home mentality” — it’s an entire new work paradigm which is vastly different from the standard office environments: it requires the team to rethink their approach to work and personal life.

Nowadays, remote work is finally transcending its “just another buzzword” status: companies are starting to realize the potential of allowing their employees more freedom; this is echoed by a Global Workplace Analytics study which suggests that up to 50% of all employees are utilizing telecommute (in one form or the other) and up to 90% of the workforce would prefer at least some parts of the work week to work remotely.

While most professionals want it, much fewer employers are too eager to join the party.

Why? Managing a remote team involves a number of hurdles, including finding the right professionals, ensuring engagement, building effective communication, evaluating the output, and handing out compensation.

In this article, we’ll focus on some of the most prominent problems of managing a remote team — and discuss which tools can be used to address them.

Challenge #1: Finding the Right Remote Talent

Let’s start with a self-evident advantage that remote work offers: the ability to hire globally. Switching to remote work presents a huge benefit for the company’s recruitment strategy — all of a sudden, you gain access to any talent there is — and the pool of available candidates is just overwhelming.

It’s always great to have a wide choice of options, but for small and large companies alike, the recruiting process gets increasingly harder with every dozen of new applicants. Accepting a new team member is often up to the team to decide — so every remote team struggles with these questions:

  • Are the candidate’s hard skills sufficient? By this people tens to mean the learned skills that enable an individual to perform a certain task efficiently.
  • What about their soft skills? Do they possess the level of emotional intelligence you find satisfactory?
  • Will they be the right fit in terms of work ethic and other parameters that are hard to quantify or even put into words?
  • Can they communicate well in the team’s language of choice? Even the simple matter of understanding each other can make or break entire teams.

In essence, all of these questions boil down to this one: “How can you ensure that this particular hire is the right fit for the team?”

Although you will learn the answer to this question eventually, it’s preferable to learn it before the new team member storms in and, say, commits their changes to your repository’s master branch. Ouch…

A popular solution to this challenge is something called online hiring platforms — companies that create their own pools of pre-selected remote professionals (web developers or content creators, for example) and offer their services to you.

An alternative to hiring platforms are freelance marketplaces like Upwork and Freelancer. Their model is more loyal towards freelancers: on these platforms, — so every job project can gather dozens and even hundreds of candidates. Indeed, this wide range of choice allows the employer to fine-tune the hiring process, but there’s another catch: checking the candidate’s skills.

On freelance marketplace platforms, the worker’s profile is pretty much the only proof of their credibility: although ratings and reviews from their previous employers help to assess their skills, it’s ultimately up to the freelancer to present themselves.

This means that the company must repeat the painstaking process of technical interview for every candidate — this is why services offered at Upwork and Freelancer are lower in price.

Hiring platforms like Toptal, Soshace, WriterAccess, and Dribbble Talent do the hard work for you: they pre-vet the candidates using various professional tools such as live programming, technical assessment tests, or AI-based screening – and ultimately provide you with a shortlist of the best talent they’ve found. In essence, they address the questions we’ve listed above and ensure that the candidate matches all of them.

In the end, it all comes down to the team manager to make the right call.

Hiring platforms tend to be more expensive than the marketplaces, but for the more impactful tasks where quality is more important than quantity, experience shows that pre-vetted talent tends to perform much better.

Challenge #2: Staying Connected as a Team

Stock images of a “freelancer on a beach with a laptop” which you can easily find all over the Web fail to convey the feeling of disconnectedness from the rest of the team. Working from home, cafe, or a local library is a great experience — until the remote professional realizes that their colleagues are so far away.

Lacking face-to-face communication with their colleagues, remote workers often feel excluded, undervalued, and underappreciated — so how can we help team members feel more connected?

The goal is to show our remote colleagues that they’re an equal part of the team. This can be achieved via audio- and video-conferencing, team building activities, and improving the work environment (i.e. making it more friendly and equal).

Every worker wants to feel valued and appreciated — this feeling drives and engages us. To keep remote team members engaged, you need to prove that they’re an equal part of the team:

  • Organize fun remote activities: for many types of offline get-togethers, there is an equivalent which can be held online, from photo contests to book clubs.
  • Show your appreciation with little gifts: these gifts don’t have to be costly; instead, they can be useful and thoughtful.
  • Ensure equality with physically present peers: for example, avoid joining the meeting from the same room and using the same device.

So do keep your remote team members engaged! Although salary is an important factor, it doesn’t govern the actual interest in the job. Think about the professionals you personally know: does money keep them engaged, helping overcome the struggles and challenges — or is there something more to it?

Challenge #3: Building and Maintaining Effective Communication

Each remote team has a potential to be highly performant — after all, their team members have been carefully selected and connected. To manage a remote team effectively for longer periods of time, we need to harness the remote professionals’ power of focus. This has a lot to do with the process of building effective communication.

In-team communication is especially important for remote teams as they lack casual chit-chat that happens every now and then in an office or co-working space, helping to keep the atmosphere friendly and relaxed. So, how can a remote team achieve effective communication under these constraints?

Enter modern workplace communication apps.

Software like Slack and Twist provides the so-needed workflow environment for remote teams — and also offers features you didn’t know you needed. Its true power lies in its versatility: everyone understands “communication” differently and they covers every definition imaginable. Brainstorming ideas together? Easy. Collaborating on work docs and discussing the latest changes? Check. Chit-chat and fun? Got you covered!

Such SaaS software excels at dividing in-team communication into distinct topics; for example, in Slack it does so via the feature called “channels”.

Channels, as the name suggests, are designed to house separate topics, streamlining the discussion: e.g. a channel for project discussion, a channel for company updates, and so on.

Teams can also set up their own private channels to talk and collaborate on specific tasks, projects, and files.

The channel system, therefore, has shown to be an effective way of organizing communication within the company: that way, remote professionals stay in the loop, while simultaneously avoiding information overflow and self-govern their workflow instead.

Challenge #4: Collaborating Efficiently

Effective communication is good and all, but what we really need to achieve results is efficient collaboration, right?

The everyday workflow of any team (especially remote ones) involves constant back-and-forth of documents and files, frequent version changes, tweaks, comments, revisions, etc etc

The good news is: much of the headache caused by these routine tasks can be avoided thanks to smart and efficient collaboration — so which tools can help us do that?

Solution? Project management tools!

For example, Slack and Google’s G Suite can form a powerful duo: thanks to their deep mutual integration, it often feels like they’re the same software.

In Slack, team members can create, import, edit, and search through G Suite files (i.e. spreadsheets, docs, calendars, folder, and so on), all the while keeping their colleagues informed about every change.

Additionally, Slack can also integrate with other services like GitHub (for coding), Zoom (for conferencing), and Trello (for Kanban-ing).

Other popular software that plays well with communication tools we’ve mentioned in the previous section include:

  • Asana, famous for its focus on clutter-free project management boards and workload management toolkit.
  • Monday, with its cheerful and minimalist interface, dozens of integrations, as well as task automation routines that allow you to perform repeating actions based on specific inputs.
  • Wrike, renown for superior visualization tools, planning charts, and flexible customization options.

The number of choices and potential features to evaluate seems overwhelming – luckily, these companies realize it, too, and provide free trials for potential users to get acquainted with their toolkits.

It’s worth keeping in mind that once you clear the initial hurdles and stick to a single solution that works for your team, you will continue to reap the productivity benefits for years to come!

Who Said Remote Means Distant?

Faced with the multiple challenges of managing remote talent, it’s tempting to just give in to the temptation of restricting your search to your own city… After reading this line, can you feel how slightly silly this idea sounds when spelled out in words?

After all, it’s 2020, and you’ve got the access to (almost) the entire population of the planet at your fingertips. Why not use it to your advantage?

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What’s your experience with remote professionals? Have you hired any, or maybe you’re on the other side of the game? Share your thoughts in the comments section below, let’s discuss!

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