How To Manage A Flexible Working Team
Those who hold managerial positions can receive a lot of criticism, and even derision. They’re framed as meddlesome busybodies who contribute little while expecting marvels from those they supervise — but it’s deeply unfair. Managers are essential, which is why every successful business features them. And in this remote working era, they’ve only become more vital.
After all, team coherence can stumble along under its own power when the team members are sharing a space, but separate them and it collapses. It’s also true that being a remote worker without clear guidance and oversight is immensely challenging, as you’re missing so much necessary context for your actions. Managers can keep everything together.
They can keep everything together, mind. They’re not guaranteed to. Managing any team is difficult, and managing a remote team of flexible workers is much trickier. You need to approach the task with an open mind and a strong determination to adapt. To help facilitate your growth, we’re going to set out some tips for managing a flexible working team. Let’s get to them.
Invest in relevant software systems (and offer training)
Remote workers rely on the internet. More specifically, they rely on online systems: for example, the classic reliance upon offline versions of Microsoft Office has given way to cloud-based systems like Office 365 and Google Docs, allowing organizations to secure their files and access them from anywhere. But that’s just the baseline. There’s so much more out there.
A cursory search will immediately highlight just how many business-centric software systems there are out there. There’s a loose category of productivity tools intended to address the problems and challenges that can slow online businesses down, and it’s there that you should focus your attention. By taking the time (and resources) to invest in some of the best productivity software for small business purposes (GetBusy has a list worth checking out), you can achieve some remarkable long-term improvements to the foundation of your working day.
Better communication and task-management through a centralized portal. Easier time-tracking facilities. Intuitive automation tools that can breeze through admin and free up time to put towards more creative tasks. Vitally, though, you mustn’t make the mistake of rolling out these tools and just expecting your employees to use them effectively.
Even the simplest tool has a learning curve, and it’s a fool’s errand to imagine that typical workers won’t resist new software. They’ll want to stick to what they know, and understandably so, which means you need to commit to training them. It may well make sense to pair the software-specific training with broader productivity training to achieve stronger results, so give that possibility some serious thought.
Whenever possible, let people choose how they work
Some people work better at night. They’re tired and frustrated when they wake up, listless through the morning and afternoon, but energized when the light starts to fade. If you have such people in your team (you may know them as night owls), you have two options for dealing with them: you can force them into working conventional schedules, or you can let them do what feels more natural to them.
Which do you think is more likely to bear fruit? It should be quite obvious that the latter makes all the sense in the world, yet it’s historically been common for employers to demand that their employees force themselves into working patterns that don’t fit them. This may have made some sense back when people shared offices, but it makes no sense now.
You can’t allow total freedom, of course. There will be specific deadlines to hit, and you’ll need people to work (and be available) at specific times of the day — but how often do you have impending deadlines that can’t be moved? Not very often, in all likelihood. So in all other circumstances, you should simply allow your workers to decide how they work. Focus on the results and worry less about the methods. That’s how you’ll succeed.
Request (and act upon) detailed employee feedback
Losing that in-office connection makes it so much harder to tell when your employees are feeling frustrated and dissatisfied — and while much progress has been made when it comes to reducing the stigma around mental health and worker satisfaction in general (the Harvard Business Review has a good piece on taking action in this area), most people are still reluctant to express the issues they face for fear of seeming less valuable.
If you simply allow your operation to move along without any guidance from your employees, you’ll probably see morale start to fall, and productivity fall along with it. So what are you supposed to do? Well, as hard as it is to appreciate given how much else you need to do, the onus is on you to seek feedback and make it clear that you’re going to act upon it.
This means reaching out to employees, being candid with them, and asking them flatly how they’re feeling and what you could change to improve their contentment. Do they need more generous deadlines? More pressure to inspire their best work? More money? Going remote hasn’t changed the fact that your employees are your biggest assets, so you must nurture them accordingly (no matter how far away they may be).