Remote working is the future. At this point, it’s beyond argument: research suggests that 50% of the US workforce will soon be remote, and around three-quarters of global companies already offer flexible working options, with the majority stating that they’ve seen an increase in both their profits and productivity.
As remote working has become more common, its image has evolved, too. Where once people assumed remote work meant spending the day in your pyjamas, tapping idly at your laptop, now the idea of being shackled to your desk from 9–5 seems outdated. For companies themselves, there are many benefits to remote work: aside from boosting productivity, it reduces business costs, allows you to access a wider talent pool, increases employee retention, and helps you run a greener, more sustainable business.
But of course, remote working isn’t all fun and games! Like anything, there are pros and cons. How do you manage a person you’ve never met – let alone know how to measure their progress, build successful relationships, or enable frictionless collaboration? How can you tell when a team member is maxed out, or who has capacity? How do you ensure remote support employees are working to your priorities, and how do you encourage them without micromanaging? Let’s break it down.
The best remote team management tools
The rise of remote working has been met with a rise in tools and apps to help manage remote employee performance. In order to maximize remote employee efficiency and support your team, you need visibility over what they’re doing. The best offer exactly that without being intrusive or creepy. A few essential remote employee management tools include:
It’s one of the world’s most popular project management tools for good reason. Trello lets you organize and prioritize tasks and projects, and then track their progress from one clean space. It’s particularly useful for setting up remote team workflows, allocating tasks and uploading documents. Everyone has full visibility over team efforts.
The one app you need to see exactly where your remote employees spend all their time. Unlike traditional time tracking, Timely tracks everything employees work on automatically and uses AI to create time sheets for them. Each employee’s overtime, workload, activity and capacity can be followed from the global “People dashboard”, ensuring you always know what people are working on and if they need support. Handy for employee performance KPIs too.
The digital equivalent to talking face-to-face, Slack is essential for quick everyday communication and coordination. It’s the go-to tool for solving small blockers, sharing quick updates and staying in-the-loop. Just make sure it doesn’t become unruly and unproductive.
Great for one-to-ones with remote employees as well as company-wide monthly meetings, Zoom is an adaptable video communication tool that helps bridge the physical gap of remote work.
How to choose the right remote tools
When it comes to choosing your remote team management tools, you need to tread carefully; no one wants to feel as though they’re being spied on. While the apps mentioned above are all employee-led, many remote management tools carry unfortunate power biases that work against employees.
Often they use creepy tactics like screenshots and keystroke tracking to police. So make sure you choose an employee-led tracking tool that leads with trust – any tool you’re using should comprehensively explain how an employee’s data is handled. Remote team management simply won’t work if people don’t feel comfortable using your tools.
You also need to insure your management tools don’t create extra work for your team. They should be as lightweight as possible; being intuitive, easy-to-use and doing one job really well. Look out for those that use AI and automation to minimize duplication of effort.
Learning curves and feature loads matter; everyone should be able to get up-and-running quickly and be clear on how to use the tool. Look out for simple onboarding, clear UI, swift customer support and good learning resources. Tools that specialize in one area may give you more value than those promising to solve everything – you don’t want to end up paying for a load of functionality you don’t end up using.
Remote performance management best practice
With the right tools, managing remote teams isn’t especially difficult or different to managing people in-house. There are just a few fundamentals you need to keep in mind to keep your remote team happy, heard and supported.
1. Team visibility
If your remote workers are spread out all over the world, keeping track of who’s working on what can seem daunting – but, with the right tools, you can see what everyone’s working on without any hassle. The first requirement is solid team visibility – not so you can micromanage, but so you can understand progress, offer thoughtful support and keep everyone pulling in the same direction.
Remote teams need to feel comfortable with that level of visibility. You need to clearly communicate that performance management tools aren’t being used for some sinister reason; they help the whole team stay coordinated. Everyone needs to be able to quickly see which tasks are being done by whom, when they’ll likely be completed, and what a colleague is booked on next. Obviously, if you’re using tools which protect employee privacy and serve their interests, this shouldn’t be a hard sell.
2. Keeping a healthy workload
Visibility over your remote support team also helps you ensure all employees have a healthy workload. When you’re working remotely, you don’t have the same physical separation between work and home; you can’t just step out of the office and leave your job behind when you go. Because of that, it’s easy to feel stressed, tired or anxious – and burn out.
By seeing every employee’s workload, you can monitor burnout and balance the workload of your entire team, too. If one employee clearly has way too much on their plate, and another has space to help, you can quickly reallocate resources. It ensures everyone is working healthily within their weekly capacity – protecting people from the worst effects of “over engagement”.
3. Supporting remote worker autonomy
Trust is essential for successful remote working. Managers need to be sure that each remote member is self-disciplined – in control of their own productivity and comfortable working without any supervisors. But this trust goes both ways, and remote workers should also feel trusted to work in the ways they see best.
The right tools can actually encourage remote workers to take charge of their own productive performance. With a private space to analyze their activity, they can identify how they work best, understand what holds them back, and become mindful of how they get distracted. With these insights, employees can introduce effective change to master their own workflow – whether that means trying a new work structure, outsourcing low-value work to new tools, or addressing bloated processes.
Ultimately, you want to get to the point where remote colleagues work together seamlessly without needing a boss or manager to wade in. By trusting your remote team to work out the ways that suit them best, you’re allowing them to become masters of their own time – and in the world of remote work, that autonomy and sense of ownership goes a very long way.