IT is probably the only industry that has internalized the idea of remote work as a measure of operational efficiency. The benefits of remote work are unquestionable. However, for a manager, a remote IT team is a bit of a double-edged sword. For starters, there are tough and challenging questions to answer:
- How do you manage a remote IT team effectively?
- How do you establish reliable and robust communication channels?
- How do you ensure your people are actually doing their work and not spending time elsewhere?
- How do you mentor your people?
- How do you keep them engaged and motivated?
By following some time-tested and proven effective rules of virtual and remote IT team management, you can take control. Here are some of those rules.
Build a structure rather than erase boundaries
The core idea of remote teams is centered on the flexibility to work from different locations, across time zones. However, instead of calling out for a complete “doesn’t matter” approach to structure, it’s actually a shout out to managers to take more control and implement mechanisms that help lend structure to the team. Invariably, remote teams falter because of:
- Fewer meetings
- Less engagement
- Less participation
- Less awareness of the broader picture
- Fewer number of team-building activities
In an environment where even the most critical IT support functions are being outsourced, your business can’t afford the risks of an inefficient remote IT team. The answer, almost always, is to bring more structure so that your business can reap the massive productivity and cost advantages of remote teams, without letting the teams suffer from productivity issues themselves.
Nurture a remote IT team culture that values transparency
The biggest problem that managers encounter with remote teams is centered on a sense of being disconnected from the core business. As a manager, it’s your responsibility to bring in the sense of connectedness. Here’s how you can do that:
- Organize weekly meetings, where you update your team about the latest happenings from a management standpoint.
- Personalize your communications; adopt video conferencing technologies to know each other face to face.
- Help your remote IT team understand how the work they’re doing connects with the company’s core vision and mission.
- Share customer feedback, crucial client collaboration information, and external events details with the team, to help them get a perspective on the bigger picture they’re a part of.
- Don’t wait for your team or ask them to reach out to you for answers; proactively check with them to see if they’re understanding, engaging with, and liking things.
- While onboarding new people, spend a lot of time connecting with them over video conferencing, helping them navigate through their workspace, and connecting them to colleagues.
Establish strong communication systems
When your IT teams are distributed across the globe, and working across time zones, you miss out on the face-to-face interaction. This makes communication slow and ineffective. The solution, however, is easily achievable, once you implement strong communication systems, and set the ground rules for quick, proactive, and effective communications.
Begin by bringing in tools that help make communication quicker and clearer. A robust and reliable video conferencing system is a stable starting point.
Next up, look for a multimedia-enabled instant messenger solution with capabilities for screen sharing and file sharing. For IT teams, screen sharing is a major time saver, as it helps people communicate in spite of not being well versed with the technical jargon of the systems they’re collaborating on.
Workflow automation, project management suites, and document sharing and collaboration applications also strengthen communication. Also, set ground rules that push the people into a zone where they find it mandatory to share information proactively, without being asked for it.
Should your teammates leave a message while being away for lunch? Should they send out communication when the work is taking them longer to complete than anticipated? These are the kind of questions that will help you build the right communication protocols, which contribute to speedy information exchange and timely remediation.
Seek and get visibility into what’s being done
The problem with remote IT team management, often, is that you barely have any clarity on what the individuals in the team do on a given day. In many multinational IT heavy organizations, it’s a standard practice for people to share their one-day or two-day plans of work with their supervisors.
These plans only have to be broad in scope, and hence don’t require the team members to go into deep-level specifics.
Even with broad level information on individual team member’s work plans, supervisors can:
- Help them prioritize work that can contribute to the IT team’s key performance indicators in a better manner.
- Connect teammates to the right people who can help them out.
- Give then vital advice to help them stay process-compliant, and leverage internal resources for success.
- Pitch in with course corrections, when needed.
- Know people who have some bandwidth to carry out urgent and unforeseen IT requests.
Hire people who have the traits for effective remote work
Several startups proactively look for people who have prior experience working as parts of remote teams. To be able to dispense with their work as IT consultants and support personnel with aplomb, people need certain skills. Focus and motivation are the pillars here. It takes time to nurture these skills in your existing teams, and it always helps to have people who bring their skills to the team right from day 1.
Apart from the skills mentioned above, look for people who have skills such as:
- Prioritizing work
- Good communication
- Ability to be collaborative
- Result oriented
The challenges of working with a remote team are well known. The problem is, the risks escalate quickly and become a major disrupter to productivity if the risks turn into everyday problems.
Instead, it’s much better to adopt a proactive approach to remote team management by building a well-structured team, implementing thoughtful communication protocols, and nurturing a culture of transparency and proactivity among team members.
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