Remote Work
Tips and Tricks to Improve Remote Team Performance
Tips and Tricks to Improve Remote Team Performance

Tips and Tricks to Improve Remote Team Performance

The world of employment has changed drastically all over the world in the past year and a half. The COVID pandemic hit and thousands of businesses, whether they liked it or not, had to make concessions in order to keep afloat. One of the solutions most employers adopted was to move business operations to work from home systems.

Remote work has become one of the safest and most cost-effective ways to manage business operations in a pandemic. However, there are certain things about working from home that many employers as well as employees did not prepare for.

Time and task management

I have been working from home for years as a freelancer before the pandemic, so I had an advantage with my business’ operations’ team being moved to a remote work structure. In my years as a freelance website admin and content manager, I have learned that even though it may seem important to ensure hardware and software for remote employees, that’s not the most important aspect of keeping a virtual team productive in the long-term.

One of the key elements that triggered my understanding of remote working habits was mindful time management. After a couple of months of working from home and handling all business operations virtually for my websites, I noticed that my mood and motivation were going down the drain. I also noticed that because I had the comfort and convenience of working from home, I tended to omit prioritizing things and work based on the urgency factor. That, in turn, triggered working habits that turned out to be very unhealthy.

Since 100% of my work was online, and did not require me to have a fixed schedule, I tended to work all day. I was on edge and ready to run to my computer 24/7. Although that sounds okay at first, in the long-term, it creates uncertainty and anxiety, which in turn hinder performance and progress.

Workload seemed to be constantly increasing and I started having trouble prioritizing my tasks. So I got to thinking and realized that we  need to have a separation between our remote work and our safe space at home. We, as human beings, need to have a social life that is separate from work responsibilities and need to be able to disconnect from the online work environment from time to time.

While I was learning to improve my own time management skills and help my virtual team be more engaged and productive in their online work environment, I managed to develop a set of tips and tricks that I think everyone could make use of - whether they are working from home or managing a team remotely.

I broken it down into four key areas which I'll delve into with detail.

  1. Task Prioritization
  2. Tools and Software
  3. Team Building
  4. Weekly Calibration

4 Tips for Building High-Performance Remote Teams

1. Task Prioritization using Eisenhower Matrix

One of the challenges in working remotely is prioritizing tasks. We know the tasks that need to be completed, we know the deadlines, we are aware of tasks that may come in in the meantime and we also consider urgent and unexpected tasks when managing an online business. However, we also need to think about prioritizing those tasks appropriately so that we can work SMARTER, not harder. As such, I started using the Eisenhower matrix in order to make sure that I don’t end up frantically sorting and completing tasks with a tight deadline due to “urgency tasks”. 

The Eisenhower matrix is a very simple prioritization system that can be used by anyone, anywhere. But it is especially good as a tool for remote teams. You have 4 categories of tasks and responsibilities, as seen in the illustration below:

This will help visualize and analyze all the tasks that you need to do as a remote team leader, virtual team manager, online business founder, remote operations managers, etc. It will also help remote teams make sense of all the smaller and larger tasks that everyone has and prioritize together so that every deadline is met while everyone involved is being productive and efficient.

2. Task Management Tools and Software

This will help visualize and analyze all the tasks that you need to do as a remote team leader, virtual team manager, online business founder, remote operations managers, etc. It will also help remote teams make sense of all the smaller and larger tasks that everyone has and prioritize together so that every deadline is met while everyone involved is being productive and efficient.

With my remote operations team, we increased productivity with the help of Microsoft Teams at first. We added tasks as they came in, and assigned them to individuals that would be responsible. At the same time, there were occasional auxiliary tasks that needed to be completed on the remote team level and those were assigned to specific team members who had to decide and manage the task completion on their own. As such, collaboration and productivity, as well as remote team engagement have increased considerably. Moreover, team KPI were getting better and better after the introduction of this task management system.

There are, of course, several options in order to implement this productivity hack in your remote team environment. You can check out this post for a couple of sound alternatives to check out.

3. Team Building Games and Activities

One of the most important aspects of working in a remote environment is to be able to connect with your teammates, even from afar. This was a pretty daunting challenge for me and my remote team at first, because we did not know how to create meaningful connections between us. However, after noticing that the online workers were not engaging each other or brainstorming the ideas we needed efficiently, I decided that something had to be done.

Since we were working online in a pandemic, I started searching for ways in which we could organize team building activities online. Thankfully, there are a lot of resources out there when it comes to improving team spirit and collaboration through PLAY and disconnecting from work-related stress.

Virtual lunches were the first things we implemented together. The remote teams that we worked with scheduled weekly video conferences with different themes, mostly related to food and cooking at first. We would meet online and lead these virtual lunches with a laid back attitude, focusing on freedom of expression and getting to know each other. I’ve written about how we organized virtual team lunches for my remote teams.

We also started using apps within Slack in order to get rid of workplace boredom and burnout. Every day, we would choose a game and play it together. We used Bored, because it had multiple games available and it worked right within our Slack workspace. There weren’t too many commands to learn and the games were always fun and engaging. Moreover, there was something for all types of personalities: trivia, icebreakers, roasts, etc.

We also started organizing esports tournaments and competitions for the remote teams. We started out with chess and tic-tac-toe, then moved on more serious things such as CounterStrike tournaments, Path of Exile rampages, and fun games such as Drawful and Quiplash.

4. Weekly Calibration Meetings

All of the online employees had to be on the same page at all times in the line of work we were in. We had to be smart, efficient and timely in getting our content and products out. Although Slack and Teams were good for keeping track of everything that needed to be done, we needed to see and hear each other so that we could talk about the challenges we are facing and plan ahead so that we can overcome them easier the next time around.

As a result, we decided to hold weekly calibration meetings and invested a bit of time and money to make them actually useful to our remote teams. We used Zoom and Google Meet most of the times, although we managed to get a few meetings done through Microsoft Teams as well. The latter was the best option for our team because everyone could also share and view the tasks panels and point out exactly what kind of challenges they were facing.

One very important element of these calibration meetings was appreciation. It is imperative that remote team managers appreciate and acknowledge the strides their remote teams are making, shout out individuals that are contributing more and drive engagement. These meetings were not focused on who is doing what wrong, rather on who is doing what RIGHT and what challenges we are facing together.

You can go ahead and check out these video conferencing tools to get inspired and choose the one that is best for you. Make sure to organize each of these meetings around topics, subtopics and give your virtual attendants the time and space to prepare questions and ask during the conference, so that everyone is heard and understood. This will create cohesion, accountability, visibility for your remote workers and it will also drive team spirit and collaboration - all of these together increasing performance and productivity in the long run. BUT! It is very important to keep consistent and organize the meetings as you promised. Delegate if you can’t do them, NEVER cancel them.

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