How to Ensure Maximum Productivity While Managing a Remote Team

Maximum productivity

Haven’t we all faced a situation where we have way too much on our to-do list and we are also simultaneously facing a time crunch? We have all been in such situations way too many times. 

As a team lead or a manager, you might have learned to work your way around such situations but the real task is not to be just productive yourself, but also be responsible for the productivity of the entire team.

This problem has now grown exponentially in today’s world, where remote working has become the new normal. The challenge to manage the productivity of the entire team during remote work and keeping the spirits of the team high is real. 

Over the web, you will find various articles and blog posts that talk/preach about the different ways to manage and ensure your remote team is productive, however, most of them talk about the same old methods. In this blog post, let’s go through the various innovative ways to ensure maximum productivity while managing a remote team. 

It’s high time you ditch textual communication and switch to videos

Videos take professional communication to an all-new level. If you are working towards enhancing your team’s productivity, using videos is your best bet. Wondering how? 

Any kind of information that needs to be repeatedly sent to different recipients, can be recorded via screen and webcam recording. These not just work more efficiently by creating a greater impact on the recipient but also reduce your team’s everyday work. You can record videos like FAQs (frequently asked questions), onboarding videos, tutorial videos, etc, and re-use them for different recipients. 

With remote work in full swing, Zoom fatigue is now a real problem that needs to be addressed. It also impacts the productivity of the team massively, since back-to-back meetings are not just exhausting but also leave very little time to complete the day’s work. 

A nice way to solve this problem is to adopt asynchronous communication. This method does not demand every member of the team to be present on the call during the meeting, instead, you and the recipient can send videos to each other for communication, which can be seen and answered at the recipient’s convenience. 

Visual content always has a greater impact on the recipient, when compared to any other form of communication. Hence, using videos to communicate ensures that you do not just create an impact on them but they also remember everything you have conveyed. 

Brainstorming sessions are extremely necessary to increase the productivity and efficiency of the team. Using videos to record these sessions allows you to revisit those ideas as and when required.

For sales professionals, the number of calls that they need to make in a day to land themselves a single meeting is practically insane. Creating video proposals for your potential clients ensures that your sales team uses their time more efficiently and prepares for further discussions rather than spending time just making cold calls.

Set clear goals and timelines

It is extremely easy for a team to go haywire when they are working remotely, it can get difficult to collaborate and keep a track of what each member of the team is doing. Hence, establishing clear goals and timelines is a smooth and efficient way of staying on track to reach the goals. 

While final goals and timelines for a team are generally set, it is the smaller milestones that generally need to be set. Team leads/managers can use screen recorder and webcam tools to record and send the tasks for the week/day to the team. These videos can then always be used as a point of reference, later on, to correct the course of action if the team has gone haywire. 

A great way to do this would be:

  • Create a video that specifically talks about the tasks for the week along with assigning them to the responsible individuals.
  • Share this video with the entire remote team at the beginning of the week. 
  • Refer back to the video at the end of the week. 

This way each member of the team is aware of the progress/ hindrance that any member is facing. 

Set clear agenda for each meeting

During remote work, the number of meetings scheduled is insane, so much so that ‘Zoom fatigue’ has become a real thing. To ensure that you have a productive meeting, you must set an agenda and circulate it around the team. 

An agenda of a meeting should include details like:

  • Date and time
  • The purpose of having this specific meeting
  • The order and the timelines in which the topics will be discussed 

Including an agenda for a meeting improves the productivity of your remote team, since:

  • It helps attendees decide if they want to be a part of the meeting or if they would want to use their time effectively for other priority tasks. 
  • It also helps the attendees prepare for the meeting, to ensure that the time being spent by the team is productive for everyone. 
  • It also provides a structure for the meeting, hence if someone diverts from the meeting, the entire team is aware that they are diverting and know they have to stick to the point. 
  • It also helps you instantly judge if the meeting was a success or not. If everything on the agenda was discussed and followed by a call-to-action (CTA) then, the meeting could be considered a success.

Implement the 2-hour solution

Roger Seip, Author of the famous book, Train Your Brain for Success, emphasizes a very efficient concept called the ‘2-hour solution’. This concept emphasizes the fact that spending a dedicated 2 hours per week to plan for the tasks of the next week significantly increases the productivity of the entire team. 

Following this solution, will help you reconnect with your eventual aim, understand what are the current speed breakers and the strategies that worked well. This helps the team to collectively gain perspective and plan the following week accordingly. 

The entire remote team has to eat the frog

The frog in this aspect is synonymous with the most important thing on your to-do list. This is the one task on your list that you can not skip, no matter how tough the day gets. 

This concept would be effective if every team lead/manager allocates a dedicated time slot for the entire remote team to only focus on that one task. During that time slot, there would be no meetings, calls, or messages that will be exchanged or entertained by the team. The sole focus of this time slot would only be to eat the frog. 

Use time tracking tools

There are various time tracking tools available to help team leads and managers efficiently manage a remote team. Since the team is not physically working together, most team leads/managers could use these tools to track the time each member is spending on specific tasks. 

Monitoring the number of hours your remote team members spend working on their assigned tasks is extremely important to make sure that every person in the team is working as productively as possible. These tools give you a clear understanding of the reason for lower productivity, why the team isn’t reaching the pre-decided goals, and what are the necessary changes that you will need to make in your team to increase the overall productivity of the team. 

For example, say you are handling a team of writers. You assign each team member a 1500 words long article, some might take one day to complete it and some might take two days. These time tracking tools provide you with insights that help you understand how each member is dividing their time in each stage of the writing process. Once you have these details, you can focus on the areas that need improvement with the writers 1-1 and increase productivity. 

However, one thing to keep in mind while using these tools is to draw a fair line between tracking your team’s work output and micromanaging them. While tracking the team’s output is great, micromanaging can lead to displaying lack of trust among the team. This increases the probability of having adverse negative effects on the team’s productivity and engagement levels. As per the Harvard Business Review, when employees feel that they are not trusted, they feel less engaged and productive at work. 

Hence, the moral of the story? While you must cut your team members some slack, they all must be aware that they are accountable for the work assigned to them. 

Reduce the number of tools used for team management

While the need for remote working tools is extremely important for the management of the productivity of your team, it is also important to understand when to draw the line and not use too many tools for the same task. 

For example, if your team is already using Slack for internal communication, you must ensure that all of them are using the same tool. If not, there can be a possibility that important information gets lost between apps. This loss of information increases the probability of the team not reaching their set goals, resulting in a lack of productivity of the team as a whole. 

The best way to avoid confusion is to pre-decide the tools that your team needs and talk about them during the onboarding sessions. 

The top 6 kinds of tools that every remote team must use are:

  • Team chat apps
  • Project management tools
  • Screen recording and sharing video tool
  • Time tracking tool
  • Video conferencing tool
  • Whiteboard and brainstorming tool

Team building activities for enhanced productivity

Remote team members, especially after the global health pandemic has hit the world, have way lesser chances of physical interaction with each other. This makes it difficult for them to build a rapport with each other. 

Eventually, the chances of this lack of socialization may result in a feeling of isolation and loneliness are extremely high, resulting in an obvious lack of productivity. Also as per a popular research article, team building activities have a huge positive impact on the team member’s emotional and mental wellbeing, resulting in enhanced productivity. It also builds a feeling of belonging and in turn refreshes everyone involved. There are various types of virtual games like:

  • Ice breaker games are great when people on the team are new to each other. It helps break the initial stiffness of a virtual meeting. 
  • Virtual puzzles are great when played in teams. The spirit to win makes these kinds of games fun.
  • Virtual crossword, if you are a marketing or a sales team then this game can be of great help to your team members. 
  • Virtual Pictionary, this game is a complete no-brainer. If you want your team to let go of inhibitions and completely let their hair down, these kinds of games do the trick.
  • Virtual karaoke can be a little tough if you have a shy team, however, the amount of fun it guarantees is absolutely on point. 

Team leads and managers can periodically organize games like these to build team spirit, break the monotony of work and increase the overall productivity of the team. 

Encourage 1-1 meetings

The probability that a remote team member is going through some problem and would not like to talk about it during a group virtual meeting always exists. The probability is high too. 

However, if you encourage your team members to come and discuss their professional problems with you in a completely confidential environment, the possibility of them opening up to you and sharing the trouble that is affecting their work is high. 

As a thumb rule, 1-1 meetings are generally known to strengthen relationships between team leads/managers and team members. These are major opportunities for you as a manager to develop coaching skills, build trust and have mentorship experience. It builds an environment for everyone to speak their mind and know that the manager is listening with the intent to solve their problems. 

The key to a successful 1-1 meeting is to give the allocated time a little structure with a proper agenda and thoughtful note-making. Irrespective of the maturity stage your Human Resource (HR) department is in, every team lead/manager must incorporate these two steps to leave the team members feeling heard-out, engaged, and with a feeling of wanting to be more productive. 

Start the meeting with the right mindset

Ensure that you start in with a mindset that the meeting is a discussion and not a one-way monologue. As a team lead/manager, your primary role is to direct, support, and listen to your team members. You must ensure that the discussion throughout the meeting is flexible to the extent that it can accommodate concerns that might not feature in the agenda. 

It would make a lot of sense to maintain a collaborative sheet that keeps a record of all the topics that have been discussed, but clear call-to-actions (CTAs) attached to each of them. This will also give a great reference/ starting point to subsequent 1-1 meetings. 

These should be set as recurring meetings and not a one-off meeting

For your 1-1 to be not just successful but effective, these meetings need to be followed up with recurring, periodic meetings. This is a great way for managers to show that they are invested in their team’s overall wellbeing and that they are ready to spend the time and effort to iron out the glitches in the team. 

In case, for some other reason, a specific 1-1 needs to be canceled, it would make greater sense to reschedule the meeting instead of canceling it. This sends a clear message to the entire team that these meetings are important to you and you will not miss them for anything else. When you, as a manager show this kind of responsibility towards work, it is also rubbed off on the team members. What follows is the productivity of the team as a whole. 

Pro tip: Make sure you and the team member maintain a collaborative workspace of the topics that you have discussed and intend to discuss in the upcoming meetings. This allows your team members to have the freedom to add the topics of discussion at their convenience. 

Do not underestimate the power of giving feedback

Effective and constructive feedback is essential to the success of not just an individual employee but also the success of the entire team as a whole. 

It pushes employees to improve and work on their drawbacks and as a consequence increase their productivity. The feedback-giving process absolutely must be included in every managerial strategy. If given consistently, effective feedback can drastically reduce employee mistakes, enhance performance and motivation to achieve their individual goals and the goals of the team as a whole. 

Even the results of the study carried out by OfficeVibe, emphasize the same fact. It states that 39% of employees feel disengaged at work since they feel that they are not appreciated for their strengths or good work. This leads to lower motivation and loss of productivity. Also, 4/10 employees feel that lack of feedback from their managers affects them negatively concerning them feeling less involved at work. 

Another study by Gallup, a popular advisor firm, stated that a whopping 70% of employees expressed that there is minimum interaction that they have with their bosses. This automatically leads to lower interest in work and eventual loss in productivity. 

Such scenarios have the potential to create havoc in the workplace, since employees who are not engaged at work have the potential of being a negative influence on other co-workers, thus ruining the morale of the entire team. To provide effective feedback, managers and team leads must follow the following two steps religiously:

Don’t beat around the bush

The hallmark of having an honest and real conversation is to be specific both while appreciating and criticizing. That is the real purpose of feedback. Your team members should leave the feedback session knowing exactly the things they are doing right and the things they need to improve. Don’t leave them guessing, because that will not lead to desired results. 

If necessary, you could take a small break to give your team members time to absorb the feedback and then continue the rest of the conversation. Avoiding a difficult conversation, just to avoid tension, will handicap the entire team’s success and productivity. However, one thing to keep in mind is that as a manager, you need to ensure that you are only restricting your feedback to work and nothing about your feedback is personal. 

Your feedback should be actionable

Every feedback that you give your team members should be followed by a course of action. To do this, you need to be sure that you are not just discussing problems but also discussing solutions for them. 

If you are talking about their strengths, then the next course of action could be to continue that work for it to reflect in all the upcoming work. If you are talking about a drawback, analyze the reason there is a drawback and then, come up with a detailed course of action to negate the drawback. 

To ensure that your feedback is actionable and well understood by all your team members, you must create a document where every feedback along with the concerned course of action is documented. This way, there is no scope of confusion on what are the tasks that need to be addressed. Also, during the next feedback session, this document will provide perspective on the drawbacks that were bought out and if they were addressed or not. 

Incentivising work improves productivity

As per a study carried out by the Incentive Research Foundation, incentivizing work improves the performance of the team by a whopping 44%. It has also been shown to have a positive impact on engaging team members, attracting better employees, and subsequently increasinging the overall productivity of the team. 

While every organization will have a different way to incentivize their team members, some of the ways that a team manager/ lead can do are:

  • A free meal at work
  • Flexible hours off a certain day (if that already isn’t a company policy)
  • Additional paid time off
  • Promotion 

Happy team members are bound to work harder. Work with your team and understand what they would like an incentive to be. If that is something you as a manager/team lead can accommodate, it is something you must implement. 

Collect as much data as you can

With teams working remotely, another major way to increase productivity is by documenting everything as much as you can. Right from, tasks assigned, who is responsible for them, feedback sessions, the eventual course of action, and the final results. The more you document, the more data you will have and the greater position you will be in to make the next important decision. 

Nowadays there are tons of tools that help in documenting the working of the team, the key to have the process successfully carried out is by ensuring that all of this information is stored in one single repository. If not, it will take no time for the information to be scattered, duplicated, or lost at different virtual locations. 

Also, you must ensure that only certain members of the team will have access to edit those documents. If not, in case some things go wrong, there will be no one accountable for the mishap. The members accountable can be appointed in rotation, to ensure that everyone feels equally responsible for this shared data of the team. 

And that’s a wrap!

The remote working culture is here to stay. The above-listed methods are some of the few tried and tested steps that team leads/managers can implement to ensure maximum productivity while managing a remote team. 

If managed well with the right strategy and technology in place, remote working can work as a blessing for organizations across the world. 

Every team will have a different strategy that works for them, just because certain tools and processes worked fine for a specific team, doesn’t mean it will work for your team as well. The key is to keep trying and testing what works the best for your team and also, constantly evaluating the accepted processes to keep up with changing times.

About the Author

Suchita is currently working with StoryXpress. Suchita has been helping B2B brands with content marketing for over three years. She loves penning down complex concepts in a way that doesn’t make readers scratch their heads.

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