Remote teams, virtual teams, or work from home have become buzzwords these days especially during this pandemic of Covid-19. Even before, in this global economy, geographically dispersed remote teams were quite prevalent.

This could be attributed to the numerous benefits that working remotely offers to the employers as well as the employees.

For employers, having a remote team could mean lower investment in real estate, access to a larger talent pool, lower absenteeism, lower salaries, and saving on equipment amongst other benefits.

Whereas for employees, working remotely provides flexibility, increased savings, greater freedom, and an increased sense of wellness.

Employers can either have their teams in a different country or they could have their employees working from the comfort of their homes. Whichever they choose, having virtual teams comes with some inherent challenges.

Some of the challenges while working remotely:

  • Physical distance creates social distance, causing a feeling of isolation. Employees in different locations may not be familiar with each other, creating a feeling of hostility.
  • Different time zones make working together on a project cumbersome.
  • Language and cultural barriers make communication difficult.
  • Struggling to track employee performance.
  • Addressing the virtual teams jointly.
  • Conflict resolution from a distance.

Numerous companies have come up with quite innovative solutions to these problems and effectively manage remote teams. It still completely depends on how the managers implement these solutions to benefit their employees. 

We have always been placed well in terms of remote work even before the pandemic occurred. We make use of a lot of the G Suite services to integrate the work that our team members do.

Since most of these applications are easy to use, flow of work and communication do not get disrupted.

We use different tools for different tasks, for example, Bitbucket is used for code management and repositories, Pipedrive for sales CRM and open-source project management software like KanBoard.

We utilize Google hangouts extensively for all conversations that do not need to be documented. Google Drive is another tool that our team uses to share documents and access them from their desired location.

Regardless of the tools we use or will use in the future to manage the productivity of our employees, we do not believe in using the “number of hours spent on work” as a performance yardstick.

We do not encourage the use of time tracking tools and allow teams to complete tasks at their own pace within deadlines. That’s how we build trust with our employees and deliver innovative software solutions to businesses.

Let us have a look at some other tools that companies around the globe are using to enhance productivity and manage remote teams. For each type of challenge, there are numerous solutions and tools available.

1. Project Management Tools

Whether working remotely or from a co-located office space, every employee is a part of a team assigned to a specific project. While several departments work together to complete a single project, virtual teams may find it difficult to collaborate.

Project management tools like Basecamp, Trello, Jira, Instagantt, Airtable, and ProofHub provide a one-stop solution for managing such projects from one spot.

Right from Kanban boards, custom workflows, scheduling, task management, Gantt charts, managing documents and files to assigning work within the team, these project management applications make work much simpler.

2. Team Collaboration Tools

Working remotely means that almost all communication happens over mail. This can overwhelm one unless his or her skills in organizing are on point. Often important messages get buried under loads of messages.

The project management tools mentioned above can help you organize your work messages automatically. Along with them, using tools like Slack and Troop Messenger helps employees communicate easily by bringing all communication to one place.

While Zoom is quite known for video conferences and calls, some other applications like Nextiva, Whereby (formerly appear.in), Uberconference allow employees to text, video call, attend video conferences, and share screens.

Zappy is another solution that even allows you to record screens which may be required for several purposes.

3. Time Converter Tools

Scheduling becomes a problem when time zones of remote employees are different. Employees often receive replies to their messages the next day due to the time difference. This causes a lot of delays and a broken flow of work.

Tools like World Time Buddy, timezone.io, and 10 to 8 remedy this by mapping all the time zones employees are in. They also help you organize meetings at a time convenient for all.

4. Cloud Storage Tools

Often the same bit of data needs to be accessible by multiple team members. Sending it to and fro becomes tedious and painstaking.

To address this, employees can just upload the files to clouds like Dropbox, Google Drive and allow access to the respective members. Life becomes much simpler.

5. Note-Taking Apps

The best note-taking apps out there have always been Evernote and Microsoft One Note. Another application named MindMeister allows people to visualize, present, and share their thoughts in the form of mind maps via the cloud.

These can come handy during team meetings and also while working on a task.

6. To-Do-List Managers

While almost all of us use the Memo app and sticky notes to create to-do-lists, Todoist is the best task planner according to The Verge. While project management solutions also offer this feature, there are some more apps like TickTick and Google Tasks.

These apps let you organize your tasks, integrate them with your calendar, and also collaborate common tasks with teammates.

7. Remote Desktop Accessing Tools

In some organizations, before making the shift to remote work (suddenly due to the pandemic) work had to be done only on office computer systems due to which all the work stayed in the office.

Such offices needed to bring work home to employees. This has been facilitated by some software systems like Microsoft Remote Desktop Client, TeamViewer, Chrome remote desktop, and Apple Desktop.

Employees can securely access all their files, resources, and apps from a remote PC.

8. Security and Encryption Tools

Data is the most expensive asset for almost every organization. Having virtual teams means that all the data travels over the internet making it susceptible to breaches.

There are some common sense security practices that every organization must practise like installing antivirus applications or multi-factor authentication where users are verified using options like fingerprints or SMS code verification.

Opting for a VPN is also a good option to consider while sharing data over a public network. Apart from these, there are some other tools that could make managing the security of data much simpler.

1Password and LastPass are password managers that act as digital vaults to store sensitive information like passwords, software licenses, and other credentials.

BackBlaze is a low-cost cloud backup and storage service that lets you safely back up your work online. You can also compress your files using the powerful 7Zip application to safely send them over the internet.

You can sign and send your document securely to another team member using Adobe Sign.

9. Employee Motivation Tools

Employee morale may suffer even when the teams are virtual and people may not get credit for their work as well.

Some apps like WooBoard allow you to create custom employee recognition programs. Chimp or Champ is another app that collects employee responses anonymously to check the happiness meter and team’s feelings.

iDoneThis is an application that allows managers to see who is responsible for which piece of work.

10. Productivity Enhancement Tools

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Employers and managers need to ensure that their team is not overworked or is working healthily.

Take A Break, Please is an app that forces users to take a break after certain durations. As humorous as it sounds, there exists an app called Bartender to help employees organize their menu bar options to keep it tidy and organized.

As music also improves productivity, some apps allow users to play music in the background. While there is no common consensus on which is the best app out there, Spotify and Gaana are some common choices.

Disconnecting from work and so many apps is also one of the most important steps to ensure employees don’t burn out. Surprisingly, there is an app for that as well!

While some can disconnect just by turning off their laptops, some can make use of the app called Headspace which helps you practice mindfulness and meditation.

Apart from using these tools and applications, there are some common guidelines that employers need to follow on “How to manage remote teams?”

  • Be precise and set clear expectations for your employees.
  • Keep in touch on a periodic but regular basis.
  • Create a communication strategy.
  • Know the language and the culture of your remote employees.
  • Trust your team even though you need to have policies and regulations in place.
  • Recruit people who blend into your organization’s culture and values.
  • Connect employee goals with the organization.
  • Leverage technology.

No system works in isolation. No size fits all.

Managers need to carefully analyze their organization, its culture, objectives, employee needs and combine all of the tools and tips mentioned above to come up with a mix that suits them the best to manage remote teams, whether their team works from home or in a different country.