Establishing micro-management and balance between being a boss and a mentor are the critical practices in managing remote employees. As the pandemic forced most companies to transfer their employees in a remote mode, engaging remote employees became a considerable challenge. At the same time, those companies that had remote teams or even offshore development teams distributed globally before COVID-19 invasion, have barely noticed the difference between before and after lockdown. Let’s take a look at what makes a good manager in dealing with distributed teams.   

Below is just a sample how April’20 looked like in our company, Mobilunity, full of events and activities for all employees, who remained remote:

Why Remote Format Is the New Normal

The official announcement about quarantine has ambushed all of us. However, companies that had at least 40% of their teams working remotely, were absolutely sure – it won’t be much of a problem. Did you know that HubStuff, the company that developed a time tracking platform, has over 8,000 remote teams working from around the globe? Employees claim they don’t miss commuting to work while employers are satisfied with no expenses involved in the maintenance of huge office space. The companies that managed to maintain the productivity and overall satisfaction of only in-house teams, started to lose control. Due to a lack of knowledge, they implement harsh measures of control and neglect the personal aspect of managing their employees working remotely. We will expose the driving measures of managing remote teams which will come in handy during the lockdown and may also be applicable if one day you decide that hiring remote employees is your way to grow. 

Personality Over Bossiness 

An endless stream of tasks, requirements, time tracking and other daily routines might undermine developers’ level of productivity and engagement. Both in-house and remote employees might be subjected to vulnerable turns during their professional growth. Working under control or exhaustive pressure has its consequences, but for some people, lockdown appeared to be a real challenge as we have been isolated from coffee breaks, small talks in the kitchen, dinner time with friends. With this in mind, a good manager is not only the one who doesn’t cut the salary, but it is also the one who remains supportive and understanding in good and tough times. It is important to let people know that we are all boiling in the same pot, so bring them together – organize online coffee breaks to share feelings, memories from the weekend, find out what they do after working hours, engage in joint morning exercise and so on. 

Our solution: at Mobilunity, our Staff Services introduced a new tradition of “Fitness Tuesdays”, when every week one of our employees runs a 20-minute fitness session online.  

One of Fitness Thursdays at Mobilunity

Communicate With Your Team

Dozens of articles and research have been released that prove communication is key to everything: whether personal relationships or employee-employer interaction. The remote development team, especially under the Agile model, needs constant and clear interaction with the client. One party (client) will be able to maintain good quality and exceptional relationships, another party (developer) wants to be heard and supported. Use Slack, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Trello, and TeamViewer to organize not only the meetings to discuss work-related aspects but also to chat with your team. 

Our solution: when the lockdown just started we understood that some employees will feel the absence of casual conversations near the cooler or over the cup of coffee, so our Staff Services launched a special chat room “Mobilunity Smoking Room”, which is always available. So all team members may always take a break, join online chat and engage in casual conversion with the teammates.

Eliza, Lead Account Manager, talking to her remote team

Share the Reality of Lockdown in Your Country

Reveal interest in what your team is going through. Sharing feelings allows all employees to stay safe together and reduce the social isolation pressure that has been put. Week after week, your employees may get tired and morally exhausted from the constant flow of negativity on the web, news, social media platforms. Therefore, be there for them. 

Our solution: we understood that support is needed not only for our employees, but also for our clients and partners working worldwide. Our CEO, Cyril Samovskiy, launched a special initiative on LinkedIn to get members involved into the translation of a common these days phrase “stay safe” to various languages to stay united with one spirit for the better future.

Post on LinkedIn of Cyril Samovskiy, Mobilunity CEO

Talk Positive

We’ve probably heard the claims around that “the world will never be the same after COVID-19”, and indeed it’s true. However, don’t get your employees into a panic – build short-term company’s goals publicly, talk about employee’s achievements during the quarantine, initiate the flashmobs to encourage many other companies to join you. All in all, give your remote teams a breath of fresh air that was needed for so long. 

Our solution: at Mobilunity, we have a closed internal group on Facebook, where all employees may freely communicate on a diverse set of topics (usually not even work-related) and just share jokes and cool moments. During the lockdown we additionally launched a new initiative each week: #MobilunityMusicChallenge, which encourages employees to post videos of them signing, playing any musical instruments or dancing, anything, which will be relevant to music; #GuessTheKidChallenge, which prompts to map kid’s photo with fresh photos of employees; #TravelStoriesChallenge, where you may share a funny or just interesting story from your previous travels. All such challenges in social media helped us to improve the common mood of employees.
Summary of one of the challenges on Mobilunity corporate Facebook page

Do Not Neglect Task Tracking 

Besides being a supportive and understanding boss, tasks still need to be completed timely and properly. The times of the world’s lockdown, corporations are losing clients due to decreasing demand in their products and services. However, entrepreneurs are doing their best to maintain the business on flow, optimize costs, and find new niches of business models. Unfortunately, not all employees are well-disciplined and can face a loss of productivity working remotely. With this in mind, it is crucial as never to have a well-established task tracking system to make sure all business processes are running smoothly.

Our solution: while dedicated teams at Mobilunity are usually quite flexible and use the project tracking software recommended by the client, all internal employees use Redmine for efficient task management and daily time tracking. While we had a rule of reflecting all work activities in Redmine even before this year, tracking time while being remote didn’t become a problem.

Be Flexible  

Be transparent with your employees and provide them with constant feedback to assure them that everything is going the right way and you do your best to save all team members. Since many people are afraid of losing the job these days, it is important for them to know that their work is still needed. Of course, due to the isolation some positions may temporarily be not needed, but you can try giving those people a new scope of work that doesn’t require an extensive skill set. A good practice here would be dividing the work into weekly or daily plans, and when the task has been completed, provide detailed feedback so that the person can learn quickly. 

Our solution: at Mobilunity, managing offshore development teams hasn’t changed: we didn’t cancel any weekly meetings or daily stand-ups and even introduced some new to give better transparency over the projects. While meetings indeed were moved from live gatherings to video conversations, that didn’t affect their quality.

Isolation Should Not Affect Your Corporate Culture

Amplifying corporate culture for remote teams gives them a feeling of inclusiveness and engagement. Namely, celebrate birthdays, initiate online competitions with prizes (use local pizza delivery, for instance), organize Zoom lunch or virtual coffee breaks. It would be also useful to reach out to some employees to know that they are safe, not lonely, or depressed. Such simple things help maintaining overall positive mood and make everyone feel united.

Our solution: we keep engaging employees into new challenges in the corporate Facebook group, regularly run virtual coffee breaks and some teams even decided to change their approach to sending Birthday greetings by sending video congratulations.

Special quarantine video prepared by Mobilunity employees

To Sum Up

COVID-19 is probably one of the biggest events in history that have united nations in the whole world. Every country is now scrambling to maintain small businesses, help homeless people, and find ways to fight the virus or, at least, prevent its spread. For companies that have never dealt with remote teams, this quarantine brought new challenges: how to control all of them and preserve their productiveness. The key to maintaining employees’ productivity and dedication lies in establishing proper and constant communication, which is especially important during the lockdown. However, communication during these harsh times should be taken with more attention and diligence: supporting employees, making them feel equal, encouraging them. At the same time, the process of controlling the quality of their work is essential for the business to keep up with the strategy and gain the goals. These are uneasy times, but it’s also a great opportunity to show our support to each other and bring the best in us.