It’s hard to dispute: office based and remote employees alike say remote work is a godsend to productivity. Distractions that are usually present in an office setting can be eliminated. The current statistics as stated by IDC, predict that the number of people opting to work remotely will reach 1.3 billion within the next 5 years. That is almost 37% of the total world population. This is a sign for companies and their leaders to invest in employees that are willing to work from home.

Now the question is: how does a manager incorporate remote employees into the company while still maintaining the level of personal rapport vital to the company’s success? Or how does one keep track and communicate with employees that have flexible working hours? These are only some questions to be considered when one handles remote employees. Not everyone can work in a remote environment. And not everyone can manage a remote environment. It takes practice, a definitive strategy, tools and applications, and a lot of patience.

Here are five tips that will help you manage a remote team:

Building a Virtual Team

Handling one or two remote employees might not be so difficult, but an entire team is a different story. Assembling a team of people who will most likely never meet face-to-face is not an easy task. You will be required to design a method to allow some social aspects within the remote team. You cannot ignore the fact that remote workplaces are way less social than an office based workspace. This means that it is your duty to hire people who will be okay with that. And the best remote workers will succeed in this kind of setting. Thus, it’s important to assemble a team who is capable of executing in a remote environment.

Work Flexibility

Most people opt for remote work because they prefer to work in a comfortable and familiar atmosphere without the common pressures that employees face in an office. This does not mean that your employee does not want to work. All they want is flexible working hours and the chance to work from the comfort of their home. So as a manager, it’s vital to allow a degree of flexibility. But then if there is no fixed schedule then it will be difficult to get your team to come online at the same time to conduct meetings and share information. It ultimately comes down to how much flexibility you can permit and how will you arrange a schedule that suits your team and you. I always advise people to look for people willing to work North-American hours; it makes everything easier. But companies like Automattic or Buffer have been super successful while giving their employees full freedom to make their own schedule. Ultimately, it comes down to hiring responsible, reliable people.

Communication lines

Do you have a clear communication approach to apply to your remote team? It’s obvious that interaction with your remote workers will default to be less than with your in-office workers. This means that every interaction you do have with the remote team is that much more significant. You need to provide a stable platform that allows the members of your team to communicate and share data. Using emails or Skype can work for only one or two people, but not when it involves many workers. You can afford to carry out daily check-ins via phone or email using a standard delivery template, but team meetings are better suited for video conferencing. When delivering important data or negative news, opt for face-to-face interaction. If the remote workers are located nearby, you can ask them to come down to the office once a week or as required. If you’re worried about a leak when dealing with sensitive data, it’s always better to set up private servers.

Project Management Systems

Project management systems should be your number one priority. They are critical for managing remote teams. Project management tools ensure that your remote workers get the job done, while you are able to track their progress, cost, communication, and performance. They provide a shared virtual space where files and information can be within reach of the whole team. You can organize data and discussions into files making it easier to find them later. Today, there are many amazing tools available, but not every platform might be the correct fit for your team. It’s always advisable to combine a set of tools to manage your remote workers and their projects.

Tracking Progress

Ah…so we finally come to this. This is where a manager’s investigative skills come to play. In spite of the flexibility offered, mediocre remote workers deliver quality work only for a couple of days and then either the quality of work would taper off or they perform the disappearance act. This is why as a boss; it becomes your responsibility to daily track the activities of each remote team member. You need to rationalize why you need a tracking application in your company. Is it to track the progress, productivity, increase billing, or another reason? Depending upon your answer, choose a suitable set of tools that meet your requirement.

Personally, I don’t enjoy tracking tools. It destroys any sense of trust between employer and employees, and trust, as you’ve figured by now if a fundamental element in the points above. I’m not judging – use them if you feel you have to. Me? I make sure I check in with everyone on a daily basis. We conduct a 15-minute daily meeting with the whole team, where everyone does a quick status report. That, combined with our always-trusty (and religiously updated) Trello board gives me a good pulse of the team’s productivity.

As a manager of a remote team, have you already made a note of the above-mentioned points?  If no, then now is the time to do your research. These pointers are from personal experience, and really, you learn best by doing. Jump into building your virtual team. And as you go along, ask questions of people that are already doing it. Network with other managers of virtual workers and see how they handle the situation.  And yes, constantly update your system with new applications and virtual mediums that are in trend, to help your employees stay connected. Experiment. Test. Grow. 🙂

About the Author: 

Sharon Koifman believes every company, from the biggest enterprise to the newly-launched garage startup, should have access to world’s top talent. That’s why he used over 10 years of experience in tech industry recruitment & HR to create DistantJob. His unique recruitment model allows DistantJob’s clients to get high-quality IT experts working remotely at a fraction of the usual cost – with no red tape and within two weeks.