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How to effectively manage a remote startup team

Recent research has shown that working from home may be more productive and beneficial than employers originally believed. One survey found that workers are less distracted, less likely to procrastinate and more likely to spend extra time working. Another survey from CoSo Cloud showed that 77 percent of workers surveyed were significantly more productive when working from home.

The fact that employees are able to perform so well at home is a great thing for businesses. However, one major drawback is how difficult it can be for founders to source and manage new talent. WFH also makes it far more difficult to build company culture, which is important for keeping up staff morale.  

During the pandemic, Valeria Kogan started a biotech business, Smartomica, which quickly grew to a team of 25 spread across multiple countries. On top of that, she was still remotely managing her agritech company, Fermata. Remotely building and managing two companies in parallel is extremely challenging, but she has discovered a few tricks to make the process simpler and more successful.

1. Stay in frequent contact with your teams

There’s a fine line between suffocating your team and supporting them. You don’t want to inundate them with constant meetings, emails and phone calls. However, you must make sure that your team has clear direction.

One way to strike this balance is by scheduling predictable daily calls. If your team works collaboratively, a single team call is sufficient. If they work more independently, set up a block of time each day to talk with everyone individually. This allows time for questions, concerns and general check-ins. Your employees will feel heard and supported, and you will be able to gauge how work is progressing.

Some companies also benefit from virtual “daily standups.” These are short, high-energy meetings that start off the workday by outlining what each team or individual is working on and allowing for information sharing. These meetings should be brief and hyper-focused on making sure everyone is on the same page about the projects on deck.  

Research shows that teams with effective communication can increase their productivity by 25 percent.

2. Create an efficient and streamlined digital workspace

For most businesses, the transition to working from home was rather sudden. Few companies had tools in place to make remote work a productive and simple task, and this left teams feeling untethered and confused.

A recent survey found that employees who had proper training and tools for their remote work setup rated themselves with a high performance score compared to those who hadn’t. This means that the right tools and training are essential for a team to perform well.

Working remotely has become much more commonplace now, but it’s still important for companies to ensure that they’re providing the most useful and suitable applications for their teams. A Gartner poll discovered that 54 percent of leaders point to poor digital infrastructure and workspace setup as the biggest barrier to effective remote work.

The need for an efficient workspace is especially vital for new recruits. Onboarding new hires can be time-consuming in the best of circumstances, so navigating remote onboarding is one of the most critical aspects of successful remote work.

Take time to create a comprehensive training space for new hires, and make sure they have all of the digital tools necessary to perform well. Remember that one-on-one access is essential in the earliest stages of hiring, so set them up with a direct connection to an experienced employee who can mentor them. Be sure to personally check in with them as well.

3. Establish a performance matrix within the organization

It might sound harsh, but it’s essential to sort your team into a performance matrix: high performers and low performers; high potential and low potential. This kind of objective data set will allow you to make better assessments of the state of the company.

A system like this helps you and your recruiter make more effective hiring audits, which is important when you’re dealing with remote onboarding. A performance matrix also allows you to track motivation dips and shore up any weaknesses with additional training.

Knowing where your employees fall in this hierarchy can even give you insight into their mental health. For example, if you notice certain employees putting in a lot of overtime or responding to work emails at odd hours, it might be a red flag that they are at risk of burnout. Buffer found that at least 18 percent of remote workers feel like they can’t “unplug” or be unavailable, so this is a serious consideration. Tracking work performance allows you to check in and offer guidance for a clearer work-life balance.

On the other hand, employees that seem to be performing less may need a bit more external motivation or guidance on how to structure their work time outside of the office. They may also need more tasks to do, so keeping up with this information allows you to give more personalized attention to your team.

4. Organize informal offline (or hybrid) events

It might be impossible to gather the entire team in a central, face-to-face location (especially if they’re spread across different countries), but organizing events that are fun, low-pressure and not work-related is perfect for helping a remote team come together and feel connected to your organization.

One company, Lessonly, follows a great mixture of online and offline teambuilding opportunities. They schedule voluntary weekly video conferences for all employees to join and chat, and they even occasionally fly in remote employees to connect with their in-house team! This kind of dedication to making workers feel like they matter is exactly how to make remote work successful.

Even if you can’t fly your entire team to a central location, you can still have creative, informal events regularly! For example, UX company Hotjar uses fun, informal virtual team-building events to foster personal connections between workers. They schedule activities like 30-minute “chatroulettes” that pair two coworkers for a casual chat and 60-minute gaming sessions where workers can log in and play popular multiplayer games together.

5. Be a strong role model

Remember that ultimately, you are the foundation of your company. You’re the face of the team, so you need to set a strong example. This means taking initiative on establishing healthy work-life boundaries, staying connected with your team and learning to effectively delegate remotely. 53 percent of business owners believe that a key component to growth is the ability to effectively delegate, so this is no small matter.

One excellent delegation technique is “the framework.” Since your job is to support and facilitate a healthy workload, using a framework like the one Hacker Paradise outlines ensures that you’re setting tasks appropriately (for yourself and your team).

The founder of talent recruitment platform Glints recommends taking a systematic approach to delegation. He says it’s important to delegate gradually and remember that there’s often an element of training involved to get the best results. At his company, he walks employees through new tasks and follows up regularly to ensure clear communication.

It’s also important to know which tasks to delegate and which to keep for yourself. Often, the small, routine tasks should be handed off. You should also delegate things that will help team members develop specific skills they’ll need later. However, founders should keep more complex and sensitive tasks such as performance and disciplinary reviews, morale problems and any confidential situations.

Key Takeaways

The Key takeaway is that remote work is here to stay, so successful founders should master how to effectively manage remote teams. These tricks can be instrumental to your success, but there’s still more to learn! - Valeria Kogan, CEO and co-founder of Fermata and Smartomica