How to Increase the Productivity of Remote Teams

Original Article Posted at Red Beach Advisors
POSTED ON
May 24, 2020

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Productivity is key. Hiring remote employees gives you a clear benefit of finding the best candidates for your company. However, even the best aren’t immune to bouts of unproductivity. Not everyone will be equally efficient and fast in every new job they take.

So how can you help your remote team gain momentum, and become more productive as soon as possible?

In the following text, we’ll be looking over the biggest detriments to a remote team’s productivity, and offering advice on how to overcome them.

Remote team productivity challenges and solutions

To fully understand how nuanced it can be to manage a remote team, let alone make it more productive, we need to look at the challenges themselves. We’ll take a look at the difficulties of managing a remote team and how to solve them.

1.   Challenge: Real-life distractions

Not even the best remote workers are immune to distractions.

The most common ones are social media websites, YouTube, frequent phone calls, intruding family members, pets, and so on. It’s something we all struggle with. So, how can you help your team become their most optimized self in the face of constant sidetracking?

Suggestions:

  1. Ask your team about their most common distractions.

If they’re uncomfortable expressing opinions publicly, you can arrange 1:1 meetings. Make sure they know you’re asking this to come to a solution together, not to judge.

For example, more flexible work hours for some, or monitoring software or personal check-ins for others.

  1. Get a time tracker to objectively find out where you waste time.

An alternative would be to get an accurate picture of your team’s time management. When you set up tasks and goals for the week, ask them to log their time as they work. Use a time tracking software as an aid to automate and speed up the process. Come Friday, you can analyze the data collected by the software and identify the problem areas first. Then, you’ll know exactly where and on whom you need to focus.

2.   Challenge: Adapting to new situations/work

If your team is relatively new, chances are that each member will adapt to the workflow and workload at their own pace.

That is why you need to be very well informed about each job position. How much of the work can be done remotely? Where can the employee have issues and need a physical presence? How can you compensate for it? How much of their work involves video calls and meetings?

Suggestions:

Find out what each team member’s job entails. Take notes and make a profile for every position, so you don’t have to memorize it. When you get a new team member, simply refer back to the list as a reference point to find out if any of the responsibilities is a problem area.

The more you know in advance, the better prepared you will be when the productivity drop happens. You’ll be able to ask the right questions, and eliminate (or identify) this adaptation period as a factor much faster.  

3.   Challenge: Tech issues and software shortcomings

The most common tech challenges come down to the tools themselves. Check the following points:

  1. Software versions aren’t fully compatible. You have outdated versions of some and newer versions of other – which causes a slow down in the work process;
  2. Apps and tools are too robust or unfit for your employee’s workflow;
  3. The software can’t keep up with the business scaling.

Suggestions:

  1. Make sure that the apps are mutually inclusive.

You can see this best when you check every product or service’s integration page. For example, Slack has google drive and Trello integrations, which makes them work seamlessly together. Additionally, when one of the services updates, the others get to updating as well to ensure everything runs smoothly.

  1. Every remote company must have a solid IT strategy

Your IT strategy ranges from finding the best time tracker, through productivity tools, to the servers on which you store data. Every piece of the puzzle needs to fit well to optimize the workflow of your team. The fewer problems they run into on a daily/weekly basis, the greater the motivation to work. Start by making a list of essential apps for your company, and then look for the best-fitting ones in each category. Not every piece of software was made equal.

  1. Revise your software before every expansion

Whether it’s hiring more employees, getting more clients, bigger projects, etc. Odds are that certain tools you are using right now will be a wrong fit, as your team’s workflow will alter. Ideally, you want to do this every year, and even get the employees’ opinions on their satisfaction with the current software. The happier they are with it, the more efficient they will be.

4.   Challenge: Poor communication and misunderstandings

These two problems often come to light when the team is trying to solve a problem or work on a task together. Setting aside poor choices in chatting apps and collaborative platforms, productivity can drop due to people not being able to communicate properly. They don’t have enough information, don’t know how to bring their ideas across, or try to solve problems with overly long e-mail correspondences and instant messaging threads.

Suggestions:

  1. Keep all vital information available to everyone, anytime, in a single place.

The most popular choice seems to be the company Wiki pages about the product or service designed for the team. Like a knowledge database, they contain information about past and current projects, practices, common problems and their solutions, documents, client information and more. The reason?

If you need something, look it up in the wiki. It’s like a business’s internal Google browser.

Everyone is encouraged to pitch in and add in their two cents. A back-end developer found a solution to a week-long problem? Add it to the wiki if someone happens to have the same issue, or for the QA team to refer to when testing out the software.

This practice ensures you have a much smoother, quicker relay of information between team members.

  1. Solve issues with a call rather than by dozens of messages

One of the biggest areas for productivity improvement is in the right communication method when solving problems during production. Oftentimes, on platforms like Trello, for example, we can see dozens of people commenting on a draft, or a bug report, tagging each other, writing walls of text, and it all happens asynchronously. To make things worse, some people don’t see the messages until it is too late, missing the opportunity to chime in.

What you can do in these instances is endorse the use of specific chat threads, or organizing a (video) call. A half an hour call can solve things much quicker than going back and forth with comments all day long.

5.   Challenge: Unclear goals

When people know their immediate and longterm goals and have deadlines attached, odds are that they will be more motivated to work. We all need some kind of direction. So whatever stage you’re in with your projects, product, or development, everyone must know how their part plays into the big picture.

Suggestions:

  1. Transform project milestones into easily digestible goals

Don’t be afraid to communicate with your team about the best way to break down tasks. Simple, easy-to-understand goals are less threatening. It helps people check them off quicker, motivating them to push through. Seeing ten small tasks works much better than a generalized large one.  

Even though you may have done the work a hundred times over, it’s still good to make bite-sized chunks. Our brains are hardwired to be more productive when they see all the small steps leading to the resolution.

  • Set clear expectations

It’s important to establish that finishing goals on time isn’t the sole requirement. From the beginning, people should know if they need to report to you, how often, what kind of performance should they display each month, if they need to closely cooperate or help other team members and so on.

Productivity also stems from feeling like your efforts and skills are utilized fully. Be transparent about your expectations concerning the job position.

Be open to discussions if people are unsure what their job position entails.

6.   Lack of presence and progress monitoring

While going distributed undoubtedly lets you hire top people for the job, that doesn’t mean you can simply tell them what you want and stand back for days on end. One of the biggest productivity killers are absent CEOs. It makes the team feel like they do all the work, while their manager is interested only in results.

Suggestion:

Set time slots during which you’ll be checking in on your team leads and everyone else. Let your team know how and when they can reach you and set some ground rules – emails are to be used for one-day replies, chat messages for quicker correspondence, and phone calls in absolute necessities, for example. That way they will be prompted to analyze the situation and act accordingly.

As a side-note, be present and involved by giving feedback, but try not to be overbearing.

7.   Challenge: Fostering a sense of unity

Since telecommuters are not physically in the office, they can’t really be aware of the end goal and its daily progress. After all, they can miss out on the buzz and shared enthusiasm for the projects just because they don’t have coworkers around them to be reminded of it.

Suggestion:

Have a visual reminder of the production goals somewhere on your collaborative platform. There are plenty of websites that offer this, and it’s a small step towards celebrating important milestones together. Create the habit of mutual rapports, where employees don’t have to go to you for further instructions, but each other. Additionally, you should relinquish some of your power by stepping back, and letting your most trusted workers run certain meetings, set tasks, priorities, deadlines, etc.

Additional productivity tips

Here are some other tips that don’t concern your choice of apps or improving the work output. They rely more on ensuring your distributed teams are as comfortable and mentally and emotionally rested.

1.   Endorse proper unplugging after work

First and foremost, urge your telecommuters to work a reasonable amount of hours. According to Owl Lab’s 2019. report on remote work, a whopping 22% of remote workers said the biggest challenge is unplugging when the workday is over. Most will continue working late, simply because they forget to clock out.

While you can’t control how they spend their time outside of work (and shouldn’t), all you can do is remind them of the importance of leaving work on time.

2.   Support out-of-work, informal communication

There are plenty of tools and platforms that offer an intranet platform remote workers can use for informal communication. These are also great for HR and providing essential information employees can use to get to know one another.

Provide your team with a platform where they can upload images, videos, photos, and any kind of casual content that could bring them together.

3.   Let them be autonomous as much as possible

Needless to say, all employees want to be treated as professionals. There’s nothing like a sense of control and freedom to make independent decisions that drives them forward on any task. A lot of times telecommuters can be micromanaged to the point of giving up and becoming “drones”.

To push your telecommuters’ productivity levels, provide them with a bigger say in certain decisions. Let them run meetings concerning their own tasks, avoid checking in frequently (“hovering” over their shoulders). Establish a time when they will rapport to you, and keep to those times only, unless there is an emergency.

Final thoughts

There is a lot to be said about productivity in remote teams. However, when we discuss teams that are already doing well but just need that extra kick, it all comes down to nuances. It’s no longer just choosing the right software – it’s about learning their work habits and which software works for them. It’s knowing how to tiptoe the line between being an absent manager, and one that knows when to back down to let the employees be more autonomous.

Lastly, it’s about crafting a unified team without coming off as intrusive and overbearing. All of this takes a lot of skill, but with a lot of patience and trial and error, you can achieve peak performance.

Author Bio:

Nikola Radojcin has been a part of a remote team since 2014. When not taking care of his two dogs, he works at Clockify where he helps his colleagues utilize time in the best way possible.