Managing remote teams

A big deal or just business as usual?

Over the last 40 odd years I’ve gained lots of experience of running local and remote teams, often by finding out by what didn’t work first, then learning how to fix it.

One of my best discoveries, and yes I learned this the hard way, was that the principles of managing a local team can work just as well with a remote team.

I also learned that the last thing you should ask about is the technologies that you will be using.


Before we start

This post is aimed at small businesses that don’t have IT staff that are being forced by Covid-19 restrictions to try remote working just to stay in business.

The focus is is on document based business processes like emails and document sharing. It may be taking and dispatching mail orders or ensuring that customers can get in touch using their preferred means.

So, let’s get started

I suspect the answer to my opening question depends on how you approach managing teams

Those who like to be front and centre of the action, being involved in everything and making all the decisions, will probably find managing remote teams painful.

Those who see themselves as the conductor of the orchestra, making sure that the right things happen at the right time in the right way will probably find it pretty much business as usual

My painful introduction to management, loosely “here is you laptop, here is your login, see you later”, eventually lead me to three principles:

  1. Treat your people with respect but set clear expectations
  2. Recognise good performance but challenge poor performance
  3. Give your people room to grow and develop

When setting up and running remote teams I would add the following three ideas:

Idea 1 – Consider your people and processes

People: Remember that what ever management style people need when working locally they will still need when working remotely. Give lots of though to how you might achieve this because you need your team on board at at time when they are likely to be uncertain about their future.

New starters and the less confident or capable will need more support than the more confident and capable team members. Just don’t forget to recognise those do a good job for you every day without any fuss.

Processes: If you have a team with an existing structure, think how effective it will be with remote working. How well it cope with your workflow and may now be a good time to make changes?

At this point it’s tempting to think about technology and what it can or can’t do. In my experience it’s far better to work out what you want to do first, then which of your requirements each technology can deliver and at what price.

Three key ideas for remote working – 2

Idea 2 – Remember your responsibilities

H&S: A manager has the same H&S obligations with a remote team as with an office based team. This particularity means things like is their working environment fit for purpose and DSE compliant?

And taking their word for it probable won’t do.

However, with loads of free video calling solutions about, it’s arguably as easy to do an inspection remotely as it is in an office, and most will allow you to make a recording of the inspection as evidence.

GDPR & Data Security: The bad news – what ever data security issues you has with a local team have just become worse.

This is not a GDPR tutorial but in essence it requires an organisation to only collect personal information with the informed consent of the individual, and what ever information you collect must be held securely.

With remote teams you are potentially sharing sensitive information outside your company IT infrastructure.

If you are supplying the devices, be they PCs/laptops or Tablets, you have a dergee of control on who can use it and what software can be installed.

However, if you are asking your people to use their own devices, you have to be sure that they are properly secured.

And by “secured” I mean physical and procedural security as well as cyber security to ensure that only authorised people have access to your information.

Physical security means things locking company devices away when not in use while procedural security means things like changing passwords regularly.

You do change passwords regularly, don’t you…..

You will know better than me what physical and procedural measures you use with local teams, so you need figure how to adapt these for remote working.

Ideas 3 – KISS and the 80/20

Life in general, and remote technologies particularly, are capable of getting complicated all by themselves. They do not need our help.

Hence KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

Alongside KISS, I have the 80/20 rule. This, sometimes known as the Pareto Principle, says that you get 80% of effects come from 20% of causes.

Originally based on sales teams, this rule was found to apply in many situations and is behind the idea of looking for quick wins.

Lets have a look at some examples.

80/20 for video-conferencing.

First rule: do you actually need it? You can achieve a lot with telephone calls. That said, I think it is a good way in interacting with your people and running team meetings.

If you are using Office 365 (O365) you get MS teams thrown in. Have a go and see how you get on.

Otherwise, start with something simple like Skype or Zoom. These work well for me. And don’t rush to pay for a subscription until you find something the free version can’t do. Then either subscribe of change to a different product.

And not everybody will need a paid subscription. For 1-2-1 conversations any of the free versions will do, while those running team meeting may need the paid version.

80/20 for sharing emails and files

If you need to share documents, and have O365 subscriptions, you have Hosted Exchange email, which takes all the pain out that side, and One Drive for sharing files. And it’s all in the price.

If you’re not on O365 its probably worth signing up for a hosted exchange service. Think: individual and team emails,and shared calendars and contacts all in one package.

For non-O365 organisation, I am happy to recommend Drop Box for file sharing. personally I use Drop Box plus, which for less than GBP 100 a year I get 2TB of storage.

I can sync this to either of my big chunky desktop replacement laptop and my lightweight travel laptop, ensuring that I always have the latest version of my files on each device.

As a bonus, there are Android and IOS apps which mean I can access my files using my iPad (neat) or my mobile (not so neat unless you have better eyesight than me).

If you have a central file server, one subscription for this will enable your team to access all your documents over the net. Even better, you can create areas that specific client can access, and set limits on what they can do.

It must be simple, even I could do it through the Drop Box web site.

If your people are on slow internet connections they have the option of downloading documents to their laptops/PCs and just synchronising the changes.

The best bit for both One Drive and Drop Box: Losing a device no longer means losing you data because it’s automatically backed up to the One Drive or Drop Box servers. Just get a replacement device, install One Drive or Dropbox, and watch your files magically re-appear.

OK, you’ve still got the security issues of the device being misused, but you have got everything encrypted and password protected, haven’t you?

The 80/20 for hard drive encryption

Encryption is to stop somebody accessing the HD on a lost or stolen laptop by booting it from a USB stick. It the drive is encrypted all they will see is meaningless gobbledegook.

Mind you, there are those who reckon my writing is like that anyway…..

If you are on Windows 10 Professional, the easy choice is Bitlocker. It’s easily enabled through the control panel for each device. I know, because I tried it and it worked.

To summarise

Managing a remote team is about understanding and working with your people. What ever management style they needed in the office they will need when working from home.

Think about your business processes and how best you can share information. the key rule is KISS. Life does not need your help to complicated……

Remember your responsibilities, both H&S and GDPR. The law makes no distinction between local and remote teams.

Work with the 80/20 rule: what quick wins can I get with what I’ve currently got before rushing out to buy new equipment or services.

Hosted services like Office 365 and Dropbox can take most of the pain out of information sharing


I hope that you have enjoyed reading this post. If you have thoughts on what I have written so far please leave a comment.

If you’d like to chat about any issues you’re having setting up or running a remote team, give me a call or drop me an email

Thanks again

Bob Windmill

M: 07554 994599


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