4 Years of Managing Remote Teams – What I’ve Learned

4 Years of Managing Remote Teams – What I’ve Learned (the hard way)

You’ve found yourself as the manager of a fully remote team. Thanks to modern technology you’ve got it easy, all sorted – the team just gets on with work the way they always have. But wait, remote working isn’t just tasks, chat and video apps!

Fluid has been a remote first company for the last 4 years (across 4 time zones and countries!). We’ve learnt the hard way how difficult remote can be. Every team works differently so I expect you’ll find your own ‘right’ but here are important things I’ve learned that really helped my team and I ‘work a better day’ remotely.

It All Starts With Communication

When you work in close proximity to each other you communicate all day, body language, small verbal queues, quick questions, headphones on. It’s a paradigm we are all familiar with. When you add the tyranny of distance, how do you achieve the same? Well you can’t. But you can adapt to ensure that the communication you do have is done at the right time on the right level.

It starts from the top, how the team leader operates sets the example (or the culture) for everyone else. You’ve got a task tool like Jira or Trello, chat tools like Slack, Teams, WhatsApp and all-in-one solutions like Fluid – then you set the team off to work. Great Job! You’re remote teamworking! …. or are you? Without clearly explaining how the tools need to be used your team is second guessing it – do I need to check every beep and message? “Will people get upset if I am offline?” “Can I chat to my teammate about the sport?” “Go! Sports ;-)?” “Will my boss be reading all my messages? Can I make jokes?”

communication is about establishing a clear understanding about how to work, when, how & where - not just with that

As a team leader it’s your job to define how the team works – and lead by example. Be the first to post a message about heading out for lunch, or setting up a 15 min video call to check in. The team will appreciate the clarity.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room – monitoring. Does your team feel tracked or respected and trusted? This for me is the most difficult thing about being a remote worker – the contribution equivalence. Being able to show your contribution and respect the contribution of others is incredibly difficult when all we see is an email or a ServiceNow ticket. The dehumanising effect of software eventually pollutes your perception… and the voices in your head say, “They don’t understand it”, “Nobody sees how hard I’m working”, “Those other people never do anything”, “Why does my team not finish anything on time”.

As a team how do we overcome this? By establishing clear expectations and being transparent as a worker and a leader. It’s ok to go to the gym at lunch. Be transparent about it. Leave a status update or message the team – people will respect and in turn value personal time. Equally ensure you have an agreed way of communicating what you’re working on, what’s in the pipeline and what’s shifted because of today’s crisis? At Fluid we use a daily stand up (agile), but maybe your team only needs to meet three times a week – find out what works for you and communicate the expectations.

transparency is a way of working, not a monitoring system it flows both ways

Make sure you’ve got something (a task on Kanban board, a ticket, an action item on excel spreadsheet) to show what you’re up too, this means other people are able to review who’s doing what without interrupting. Accountability for work and delivery doesn’t go away when you work from home! It just means everyone being clear and transparent is all the more important.

Lastly don’t forget to invest in yourself, Burn-Out is real and remote work exacerbates the risk factors. Having the team working 12-14 hr days just to show that they aren’t sitting around in their pyjamas all day will lead to sick days and low morale. Suddenly blending work life and home life makes the distinction between work and play really difficult – especially when you add kids and global pandemics into the equation.

“Do I answer that ping at 7:30pm?” “Am I working?” “Will my boss think I am not contributing?” “Can I eat my lunch without answering team messages”

How does your team ‘arrive at the office’ and ‘get home’ – it’s different for everyone. I encourage you to discuss and help your team establish this. In the office there are key physical moments that allow everyone to turn off. These are taken for granted when working remotely. It’s important to stay healthy. Look after your mental wellbeing as well as your Kanban board.

Our team makes use of Fluid to keep our work transparent and on-track, through meetings, teamwork, task boards and projects, but working a better day is less about the tools and more about how you use them.

If you want to talk about remote working drop me a message on LinkedIn, I’d love to talk.


Dan Justin is the Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder of Fluid.Work