Managing a tech team can be a complicated task. When a previously in-office team suddenly becomes distributed, it can complicate matters a lot more. Tech leaders guiding their teams through and after a shift to working remotely need to learn on their feet—fast.
Fortunately, many of the members of Forbes Technology Council have long-term experience in managing distributed teams. Below, 16 of them offer their experience and expertise for tech leaders learning the ropes of the remote workplace.
1. Bring human interaction online.
Our company has always been global, and we’ve been very focused on remote team building. The key is to keep it personal. We are all motivated by human interaction, and successful remote teams bring more human interaction online. Do this by requiring meeting attendees to enable cameras and set an example for active meeting participation. Also, build in time for culture no matter how busy things get! – Einat Metzer, Emedgene
2. Lean more heavily on established tools.
Many are not equipped for this change and don’t have the necessary tools to heighten productivity. Rather than introduce a new work collaboration hub that may cause confusion, I think it’s best to build on the momentum of a tool you’ve already been using. We’ve increased the number of calls we have, intensified our use of Slack and switched on our cameras during Zoom calls to feel more connected. – Harinder Takhar, Paytm Labs
3. Talk to each other.
You have to communicate regularly—not just by email, but by phone and video. As leaders, we always have this need to control things. And right now, as we all face this pandemic, the feeling of control may seem elusive. Regain some of that feeling of control by staying connected with your team daily and encouraging them to avoid knee-jerk decision-making. Keep calm, and talk to each other. – Gail Peace, Ludi, Inc.
4. Keep video conferences open while you work.
For teams that are accustomed to working next to each other and collaborating in real time as they work, I’d recommend hosting a video meeting that everyone can have up and running while they work. This would allow open discussions for whatever is needed. – Russell P Reeder, Infrascale
5. Clarify communication with custom emojis.
Written communication is easily misconstrued, and sarcasm doesn’t always translate in writing or across cultures, so clearly communicating is huge. When meeting face-to-face isn’t an option, emojis can help set the tone for written communication. Creating custom emojis specific to your company culture is another great way to help convey thoughts while also unifying you as an organization. – Keith Valory, PLEX
6. Trust your gut to stay ahead of the curve.
I like to confer with my leadership team across the U.S. so I can see the situation from different angles—geography, family structures, local mandates and more. I also rely on my investors and venture capital community to share how other leaders manage their organizations. My advice is to huddle up with trusted colleagues, listen to your employees and make decisions to stay ahead of the curve. Trust your gut. – Cameron Weeks, Edify Labs
7. Share and store knowledge.
Whether you are meeting one-on-one or with a group, there should be nonephemeral ways of capturing knowledge so that others may learn. It could be notes stored in Google Docs, issues in Asana, recordings in Google Drive or code in GitHub. A culture that encourages team members to help others learn by sharing matters more than the tools you use to share this knowledge. – Paul Duvall, Mphasis Stelligent
8. Introduce rituals and document processes.
Things can get disorganized quickly, so it’s key to set up routines—such as daily standups—to help team members establish effective remote-working habits and boost productivity. It’s also important to have a regularly updated internal process document—a “self-service” manual your team can use to ask questions and share solutions, even if they can’t physically be in the same room. – Fred de Gombert, Akeneo
9. Support flexible work schedules.
Within reason, give remote employees the ability to design their own day. Depending on the job this may not always be possible, but managers who make an honest effort to be flexible will often see teams respond more positively and productively. This flexibility may be even more critical during the COVID-19 crisis when working remotely may be more complicated and stressful than usual. – Rita Selvaggi, ActivTrak
10. Embrace asynchronous work.
Just as transitioning to a fully work-from-home environment can be challenging, managing remote teams can feel disconcerting. Stay connected by supporting and protecting your teams so they have the balance and focus to create great things. Embrace asynchronous work in these uncertain times; empathy and mental health are exceptionally important to retaining and elevating great talent. – Sid Sijbrandij, GitLab Inc.
11. Keep the lines of communication open.
Your team will look to you for guidance. What and how you communicate matter, even if it’s via Zoom, conference calls or other channels. Remain calm and be transparent, and keep the lines of communication open (and constant) via Slack or email. Make sure your employees know you are prioritizing them and they will prioritize the business. – Hari Ravichandran, Aura™
12. Ask clarifying questions.
A lot is lost when you can’t be in the same room together. Don’t assume people are on the same page after a brief video call. Everyone needs to assume that you’re not on the same page and take the time to ask clarifying questions. Many times I think I have given a clear answer, but then found out later I didn’t even answer the question. There can be a question behind the question. – Steff Kelsey, Blues Wireless
13. Empower your team.
Treat Monday like it’s the most important day of the week—schedule recurring key meetings to ensure the team is aligned. I also strive to be available and communicate frequently and candidly with my senior leadership to ensure clarity on priorities and goals, enabling them to have meaningful conversations with their teams. Empowering teams unites us across geographies and boosts employee engagement. – Brian Stafford, Diligent Corporation
14. Actively seek feedback from team members.
It is important to lead with empathy during this period. We should actively seek feedback from our competent team members. Members of my IT team work in four different countries, primarily in the Caribbean and the U.S. Collecting and sharing creative ideas for improving emotional and physical well-being, service-level agreements, and service excellence were thought-provoking. Our teams crave clarity and appreciate empathy. – Londell Albury, Adtalem Global Education
15. Avoid multitasking during meetings.
When teams are on calls or video conferencing, rather than in the same room, it’s tempting to multitask. However it’s clear when someone is distracted or typing away, and it can come across as disrespectful. If you are a manager or leader, make it clear that people in meetings should not be checking email or doing other things. Live that yourself. Block separate time for email, IM or text messaging. – Chris Barbin, GGV
16. Lean in and be helpful.
Now is not the time for unsolicited pitches. As a business that conducts remote technical interviews, it would be easy to dial up our sales campaigning. But instead, we’re focused on being helpful partners and human-centered leaders. The first question I ask—whether I’m speaking with an employee, client, prospect or investor—is “How are you doing?” It gets to the root of what is most important. – Mohit Bhende, Karat