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Here’s What I Learnt Managing a Fully Distributed Team in 4 Different Countries

I manage a fully distributed team from Sydney. My team members are, quite literally, on the other side of the world. Here’s what I learnt after 2 years of managing a team in 4 different countries. 

Employee orientation is very important for remote workers

When onboarding a new remote employee, it’s important to outline expectations and also ease them into the role slowly. In addition to providing them with background on the company and role, it’s useful to also provide a single point of contact that they can reach out to anytime during the week.

Introduce the employee to the team, especially those in the same time zones. Starting a new job can often be overwhelming and being alone without colleagues to turn to can be daunting. Set aside half an hour at the end of each day for a week to check in with them, answer any questions they may have and help them adjust to their new role. Have a simple list of questions to ask them to find out more about them. 

When we flew the team down to our office in London

Video communication is more efficient in solving problems

Our team has different communication platforms but what I find has been the best way to solve issues quickly is the use of video calls. A video call simulates what it would be like to talk to the individual face to face. I didn’t realise how important non-verbal cues could be till we started using video conferencing! 

I am now able to recognize when my team members think something is a good idea or when they’re overwhelmed even before they verbalize it, just by reading their facial expressions. This gives me the opportunity to check in with them and address any concerns they may have.

Video calls are also more immediate and instead of sending emails back and forth (which can take an awful long time – been there, done that!), a video call can quickly resolve any issue in a short span of time. We’ve found the best tool for video conferencing is Zoom, we’ve successfully had a meeting with 20 different people using the software! We use it for presentations and meetings. 

One on one meetings help in fostering a relationship

When working with remote workers, conversations tend to almost always revolve around work. Nobody wants to be the person to distract the team during meetings by bringing up a random topic and so I often miss out on the opportunity to have organic water cooler conversations with my team. I realized that I didn’t know much about them; their likes, dislikes, goals and who they were as individuals.

So once a month, I have a one-on-one meeting with each team member where we talk about things outside of work. We get to know each other better which provides them the opportunity to open up to me about any challenges they are facing or what they enjoy doing. It’s an open, honest conversation that allows us to build a closer relationship and lets them know that I’m here to help them achieve their goals.

First time meeting everyone in person

Ask for feedback and give credit where it’s due

Remote workers can sometimes be underappreciated. Given that we can’t see them in the office working long hours, it’s easy to overlook just how much time and effort they’re putting in. I am always conscious of acknowledging the hard work that my team mates put in. We have a dedicated channel on Slack to post weekly shoutouts and recognize employees who’ve performed exceptionally well. This not only helps boost the morale of remote employees but it also makes them known to the wider company.

We also regularly run internal surveys to gather feedback from everyone in the company. We recently asked everyone in the company what they’d like to spend their Health & Wellness allowance on. Gathering the feedback guided our decision to expand the scope of the allowance providing everyone the opportunity to pursue interests outside the traditional gym and insurance benefits.

It’s important that remote workers feel like their feedback is influencing change and that they’re being listened to. This will encourage them to voice out their opinions more and play a more active part in pivotal discussions. In fact, some of the best changes have been influenced by some of our remote workers who’ve provided us with valuable insight.

Avoid dominating group meetings, encourage others to take the lead

When we first started, I found myself leading the group meetings. I usually provided them with an overview and would delegate tasks. I became the person who would relay messages and issues across. I realized that I was enabling them to rely on me to talk on their behalf to everyone else in the team.

I started to encourage them to speak to each other directly and saw that meetings became more of a discussion where different people would take the lead every time. My role slowly evolved into that of a facilitator which also helped ease my workload. I no longer had to even be involved in some of the meetings as my team members could rely on each other. They would also initiate ideas and provide suggestions on how things could be improved which was valuable to the company. 

All in all, it’s been interesting to see how far our team has evolved and grown. I reckon it’s only a matter of time before I’m managing a fully distributed team with colleagues from many more countries. 

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