Learn some great tips on how first-time remote team leads should manage workflow. We will also look at a few tools that can help equip you and your team for remote work.
At the time of this writing, there is a fast spread of a virus, COVID-19, which has been declared a global pandemic. Most companies have no choice but to now work from home, some of them for the very first time.
This post is for first-time remote team leads who want to learn to efficiently manage their team’s workflows and for everyone who is working from home currently.
With over three years’ experience working remotely in various distributed software content operation teams headquartered in London, Tel-Aviv, and Massachusetts, I am going to share with you a few guidelines to better manage your team as they work from home and some tools I have personally used.
Equip Your Team First
The very first thing is to ensure your team is well-equipped to work remotely. This means that essential tools that ensure work carries on smoothly should be available and accessible to your team members. These tools help manage communication, tasks, work time logs, collaboration and even meetings.
Initially you and team probably shared the same space or stayed so close to each other physically that communication was not much of an issue, because everybody could be reached in person. Now with the new work-from home setting, tools like Slack or other instant-messaging applications can be used to ensure a line of communication is kept open at all (work)times remotely. Departments can be created as channels and it can be setup just as if you all were physically present.
The next thing to worry about is how tasks are managed. Maybe you would normally use a white board, but now that you all are working from different locations there are tools that ensure you have boards and cards where you can effectively manage tasks, like Trello. It uses the Kanban style of list-making to make task management really easy to handle.
Work Time Management
For teams that clock in work time, there are also tools that help you achieve that while working from home. Dev teams can use Wakatime to track the the time they spend contributing to various projects, or use IDEs like VS Code.
Team members might need to work on a document together. This can be a spreadsheet, a document, or even a form. Google has free tools that you and your team can always use to collaborate, and developers can use GitHub or GitLab to work on projects together.
From time to time, you will need to actually meet with your team members in real-time and face-to-face. Technology has advanced to the point where this is now easily accessible with a few clicks on a video-conferencing application. Zoom is an amazing tool to get really great meetings and an easy-to-use platform for virtual stand-ups and all-hands.
A very crucial thing to note is that change takes time, and so after securing and providing tools for all your team members, remember to not expect everything up and running on day one. You have to solve for the fact that various applications have learning curves and unfamiliar processes. This also applies to all the work deliverables too. Do not expect as much efficiency as you get at the office when you first start off. If you have people on the team who are familiar with some of the tools, encourage them to help bring others up to speed.
Have a Flexible Work Schedule
This can mean a lot of things, but overall it means you should have a different work schedule from what has been the schedule at the office. For starters, you have to communicate with team members to get feedback. Sometimes all they need is reduction of work hours because they’ll be totally inefficient if you overwork them. A lot of people are making huge adjustments right now, including working with family members around (sometimes children!), and this can mean they sort of have to figure out how to work all over again. Sometimes it might be reduction of screen time. But whatever it is, make sure to listen to your team members.
Trust Your Team
Now that almost everyone is working from home, it is very important that you trust team members. Do not be intrusive, especially after assigning responsibilities. It is important that your team members feel you trust them. It will help them put in their best. Also trust can mean showing empathy. This is the time you will begin to see that some members of the team have kids or dependents who need attention. After adjusting your expectations, you have to trust that they will deliver if they tell you they will.
Encourage a Workstation Rule
If you know anyone who worked from home before this pandemic, you may have noticed that they have a separate workspace at home. This is very important, as it sets the mood for work, and separates interest from normal stay-at-home activities. So, you can try encouraging a workstation rule for all your team members. This can be as little as a table and chair in a corner of their room with good internet connection. Many startups already pay extra costs like for commutes monthly—this cost can now be channeled into procuring a workstation.
Fun Team Activities
Make sure to use this stay-at-home period to get closer to your team members. You can start by creating a meme or water cooler channel on the Slack group. Think of other ways to ensure that people are also having fun as they work because there are already a lot of things happening all around that can make people feel bad, sad or even depressed. Have fun check-in meetings with teams, show off your dogs or your kids and make it fun work!
There are many other things you can consider while trying to manage your team remotely for the first time, but I think these few pointers will open up your mind to think in a user-centred way, where the user is your employees or team members.
You can also look to the internet to remote-only tech startups like GitLab. GitLab is one of the largest all-remote companies I know about. They also do their bit by helping startups get fully remote by sharing playbooks and other resources. In this playbook, you will see some tried and tested tactics for building remote teams.
In this piece we reviewed a few suggestions on how first-time remote team leads should manage workflow. We also looked at a few tools that can help equip you and your team for remote work. If you have any more suggestions, kindly put them in the comments. Happy hacking and stay safe.