Have you ever Googled “managing a remote team”? There are 260 million results with lots of different ideas and advice. Which is best?
The fact is that leading a remote team looks different for each company depending on their culture and remote work approach. For example, some companies are 100% remote, while others offer a variety of office and remote options. Some managers trust their teams completely, while others use tracking software to ensure people are working. Each situation calls for different approaches.
At MailerLite, we believe managing remote teams is less about strict procedures and all about setting up each individual for success. When individuals thrive, the team as a whole is stronger.
Over the years we’ve learned and adapted to overcome the many challenges of managing a remote team. We're happy to share them with you now!
If you’ve read other Mailerlite articles, you’ve likely come across our company values. We talk about them often and for good reason: they guide almost everything we do.
Managing any team, remote or traditional, starts with setting clear expectations. While each person might have individual responsibilities based on their role, the entire team needs a set of guidelines that help them stay on the same page.
By writing down our values and requiring everyone to agree to them when they are hired, we instantly have a baseline for managing. Everyone knows how to act and more importantly, they understand why we do the things we do.
Values help people make decisions without a manager. Values help our team prioritize their time and manage their own projects. And, values help managers know when to get involved or when to let the team member handle something.
Managing a remote team will be extremely challenging if you don’t have a set of guidelines or values that everyone understands and respects.
Leading a remote team is much harder when a team member isn’t a good fit. Maybe they don’t follow the company’s values, possess the right work ethic or are not as skilled as they let on. Whatever the reason, a weak link can negatively affect the entire team.
For that reason, we think it’s worth mentioning that hiring is a critical aspect of managing a remote team. How do you hire the right people, especially when you can’t meet them in person?
We’ve learned that typical hiring practices don’t work for remote-first teams. When you’re recruiting people from across the globe from different work experiences, you probably won’t recognize their schools or previous companies. A traditional CV and cover letter are useless.
Instead, figure out what traits are most important, and develop a way to let your candidate show you who they are.
At MailerLite, we value several characteristics like self-motivation, a positive attitude and being a team player. But when we analyzed all of our successful hires over the years, we found 1 common thread: they all had a genuine passion for MailerLite.
We're able to gauge a candidate's desire to work for us by giving them a unique way of applying, where they create a newsletter and complete an assignment. Test assignments differ for each position. For developers, it can even entail spending a week actually working with the development team.
This is a great way to find the best people because it allows them to share their “Why”, display their skills and express their personality in a natural way.
As of April 2020, MailerLite is a team of 77 people from 20+ different countries. This diversity is an amazing benefit for us, especially since our customers are global as well.
Our multicultural team gives us a broader view of the world and how we can solve different problems together. But this would not be possible if we weren’t intentional about creating an environment where everyone’s voices are heard and respected.
To manage an international team where people have different perspectives and attitudes toward work, the entire company must embrace these cultural differences and not try to make people fit into their way of working and thinking.
The challenge for managers is to develop an inclusive work environment. To create a space where everyone feels welcome, respected and heard. We welcome every new colleague by asking them to create a presentation all about them. This immediately gives us a sense of their culture, personality and interests. And, our company values inherently set the stage for everyone to be respected and welcomed. This makes it much easier to manage a global remote team.
Diverse perspectives, shared values: How to create an inclusive team
Learn how we create an environment where our diverse team can share their viewpoints and help each other see new solutions.
Remote work technology has exploded. Grandmas across the globe are Zooming! There are tools for everything from project management and communications to tracking employee goals and happiness.
While there are plenty of tools available, managing a remote team is easier when you use a smaller amount of tools and use them well. At the end of the day, you want to be productive and efficient without giving your team technology overload.
We’ve tried several tools over the years, and currently have 6 core apps that our team uses to communicate, manage projects and collaborate.
As a manager, it’s important to document the purpose of each tool and explain how people should use them. Your goal is for your entire team to adopt the tools so some of your repetitive managing tasks are handled by the tool.
For example, we use GitHub to manage our project sprints. Everyone knows their responsibilities and what’s in the pipeline. The manager doesn’t need to waste their time checking-in with people or running status meetings. The tool manages the process.
The same goes for communications and collaboration. The technologies facilitate interactions and keep records. Managers are freed up to focus on the bigger picture and help individuals when they see a potential challenge in the workflow.
Communication is a pillar for any type of team management, but for remote work with people across the globe, it takes on a whole new level of importance.
One might think that communication with a remote team spread across different time zones would be difficult. All the important discussions and decisions must take place online and be shared with the right people.
Have you heard the phrase: “Pics, or it didn’t happen?” At MailerLite we like to say: “Write it down or it doesn’t count.”
The most critical aspect of making communication work is that everyone must be willing to share the information online in written form. If you succeed, you’ll have a recorded history of how everything happened and why.
For example, our developers have a Slack channel where they document each bug and how it was fixed. Everything is explained in a ‘human’ (not overly technical) so that all team members can easily understand it.
We solve our time zone differences by communicating asynchronously. When someone writes a message, we don’t expect others to reply right away. This means no one has to check their messages non-stop, allowing them to work uninterrupted.
While remote work requires each team member to manage their own projects, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t create a structure and process that everyone follows.
At MailerLite, we developed an agile project management system that is simple and allows team members to feel empowered to take responsibility for themselves. While the process is designed to keep track of everyone’s work at a team level, we don’t tell people how they must accomplish their tasks.
The best way to get the most from each person is to give them a goal, allow them to freely work in their own style, show gratitude and make everyone feel cared for. We don’t subject our colleagues to productivity trackers or timers. For us, it’s much more important to focus on the end goal. Either we see results, or we don’t.
With that in mind, the best way to manage projects is to trust your team, give them the assignment and hold them accountable at the end. If you find yourself micromanaging, there is something bigger that must be addressed. Stay focused on results, not daily activity.
The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers.
Happy team members = happy customers. When team members feel good about their work and their work environment, the results will be better. Developers write cleaner code, managers are more engaged and support members give more effort to make customers happy.
In a large team, it’s challenging to keep track of everyone’s well-being. We use the review tool, 15Five, for check-ins. Each month, employees are asked questions, like what accomplishments they’re proud of, where they’re struggling and what can be improved. This is the place where our team leads listen and act when someone indicates they need a happy-hormone boost.
Another important part of supporting your people is to show appreciation. 15Five offers virtual high-fives that people can hand out to shine a light on other team members. For daily appreciation, we created Slack channel #kudos, where we give kudos to people that helped us or did a great job. Everyone can give a compliment to anyone.
We also provide our team leads with coaching so they can become better at motivating their people. Our support lead, Remis, is a great example. He started in support and grew into a managing role. Every chance he gets, he’ll spotlight his support champs—whether on Slack, in presentations or on social media. Our support team is our most-engaged team because the people in this team feel especially connected.
If you’ve read our remote article on creating an inclusive team, you’ll know that we hire people based on their values. Most of us are self-starters, so we naturally love to pick up new skills and absorb knowledge. Our team members are currently learning how to code, do handstands, speak Japanese, become master chefs and much more.
As a company, we develop team members in various ways. We document all MailerLite-related information on Notion so people can learn anything they want about the company without asking another person. New members receive a welcome email with a link to the Notion onboarding page.
Team leads are responsible for showing newbies around, or in our case, virtually introducing them to their colleagues on Slack. If anything is unclear, they can hop over to our #new_hires channel where older-new members support the new-new members by answering questions.
By teaming people with varying experiences, they can learn from each other. See it as cross-mentorship, except both team members offer different skills instead of 1 person having more knowledge in a particular area.
During workations we plan activities that broaden our minds. During our 2020 staycation, we learned how to meditate, identify new trends and craft great stories. We also organize our MailerFair, which is a company fair where teams host their own booth and talk about their projects, progress and accomplishments.
If people find an (online) course or conference related to their job (or a role they want to grow into), we happily support them (unless it's our writer Megan who wants to take a class in Australia, but lives in Europe).
Allowing people who are motivated to develop themselves will always benefit your business.
Strong team bonds are all about people connecting with each other on a more personal level. It’s much easier to talk to colleagues when you have things in common. But how do you find out? These conversations mostly take place outside the workplace.
Since we can’t physically host after-work drinks, we’ve created spaces for people to talk about what drives them off-work. For starters, our team created fun Slack channels about food, music, books and what to Netflix next. These channels arose from 1 person having an interest and flourished into a crowd of people discussing TV series and more.
We also have quarterly creative days, where people unplug, explore and share their findings with the team. Most people choose to visit a museum, which unintentionally turned our #creative_day channel into a virtual tour of art exhibitions worldwide.
And then there are our infamous workations. These get-togethers allow us to team-bond all week long. We all talk to people from different teams and get to know each other’s personalities. For example, from watching people’s Pecha Kucha presentations, we discovered that the majority of our team is obsessed with cats, sports, traveling, psychology and food.
Though we host our workations in either Lithuania or an exotic destination, you don’t have to fly out your entire team to have an amazing experience. This year we were stuck at home, so we organized our first-ever virtual workation and named it MailerLite Staycation 2020. With Zoom-hosted presentations, workshops, games and welcome drinks, we still managed to grow stronger as a team.
Managing a remote team is not that hard when you hire the right people for your team: people that you can trust 100%, people that value freedom and are eager to take responsibility. The key to success is communicating in advance what you expect from your team and giving them the freedom to get it done.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in April 2017 but has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
I'm Jonas, Content Manager at MailerLite. I’m not the 4th Jonas Brother, but I do write content (which is similar to being a teen heartthrob). After writing for a bunch of companies over the years, I discovered my professional passion—helping add some humanity to B2B marketing. Email is the perfect place to start!