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4 Essential Tools for Managing a Distributed Team

My business has a team of 10. Three people live in the Philippines, one in Ukraine, etc etc etc. And then there’s me - I relocate every 2-6 weeks.

4 Essential Tools for Managing a Distributed Team

That is the beauty of distributed teams. However, there are some downsides to this business structure as well. There’s a certain energy that is absent when you’re not physically in the same space as your teammates. 

There is no ‘water cooler’ bonding or chit chat. You can’t poke your head into someone else’s office and bounce ideas around. 

Personally, I believe the gains outweigh the losses. And there are some tools that can maximize the gains and minimize the losses. 

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Tool #1: 1-1s

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If you’re serious about managing a remote team, there is one thing you must do to ensure success for everyone - one-on-one meetings with your team. 

This is the most effective and most important (but also most often resisted) tool for optimizing remote team management. 
4 Essential Tools for Managing a Distributed Team

If you are only going to do ONE THING to better manage and support your team, one-on-ones need to be at the top of your list. 

You will not only get a better understanding of what’s going on in  your business, you’ll also build stronger relationships with your key team members, which will result in stronger work ethic, more camaraderie, and higher loyalty.

Personally, I resisted doing one-on-ones for a long time. I thought it wouldn’t be time efficient and I didn’t want to put in the effort.

4 Essential Tools for Managing a Distributed Team

But within one week of starting them, I noticed a huge positive shift in my business.

I understood my business’s challenges better, which meant I could brainstorm more efficiently to solve them. 

For the first time, I saw new opportunities that I would have totally missed or ignored before. And my team felt heard and seen, which encouraged them to work harder. 

There are a few different ways to structure one-on-ones. 

The main goal is to ensure that you have time to connect one-on-one with your team.
4 Essential Tools for Managing a Distributed Team

Depending on how you structure your days/weeks, you can either set a time each week for these conversations or do them more off the cuff when you have time. 

You can have a list of fixed questions or open it up for free flowing conversation. The 80/20 here is just having the time to connect one-on-one with your team. 

Some key questions I like to ask are:

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If you have resistance to this, I completely understand. I felt the same way. But after doing them and realizing their immense benefit to the business, I committed to them. 

Also, the main goal here is to give everyone on your team individual attention from management. Depending on the structure of your business, you don’t necessarily have to be the one personally doing each call. You can assign some of the calls to your GM/manager. 

Schedule your first one-on-one this week with your team! It is a small addition that will have a huge impact. 

Your employees will have more accountability, motivation, and investment in the business, which will pour over into all of the work they do. 

While you’re adding meetings to your calendar, it’s important to add one more: weekly team meetings.

Tool #2: Weekly Meetings 

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Weekly meetings are the next essential tool to deploy if you’re committed to  effectively managing your remote team. 

Because scheduling whole team meetings with a remote team can be tricky due to different time zones, it’s important to make effective use of the time when everyone is together. Use it to solve actual problems in the business that may require multiple people’s input.

Getting everyone on a call at the same time is also good for team bonding and fostering a feeling of community for your remote team. 

4 Essential Tools for Managing a Distributed Team

Make sure you have an agenda for your meeting so as to be efficient with your and everyone’s time. Your agenda can include high level updates but should focus around issues in the business that would benefit from group discussion and decision-making. 

If you are unsure of the benefits of adding weekly meetings, I understand. Try it for a quarter and see if the benefits are worth it for you. 

Go ahead and schedule a team meeting! 

As the boss you can set it at a time that best suits you. Of course, it’s important to keep time zones of the team in mind. But I can almost guarantee that you can find a time that works for everyone. 

Tool #3: Weekly Updates

4 Essential Tools for Managing a Distributed Team

Since it’s time-efficient to use your weekly meetings to problem solve with your team, I suggest you add another element to your calendar to share high level updates so you can be sure that everyone is in the loop and on the same page.

I’ve found the best way to do this is through a weekly update. 

I first was given the idea by Craig Ballentyne at Sovereign Academy. He told me how he sends a weekly update email to his team. This inspired me to send a weekly update to my team, and I’ve been doing it every week for the last 4 years.  

4 Essential Tools for Managing a Distributed Team

I like to do my weekly updates as a video recording and break it down by sections. 

The sections for my weekly update include a brief introduction in which I share my thoughts on a business principle or core value, high level updates from different departments, a shout out to a team member, an update on myself personally and an open-ended question for the team. 

This encourages engagement within the company and contributes to a stronger ‘team’ mentality. 

You can model your structure after mine or create your own. 

The weekly updates can be really effective for keeping your team on the same page in spite of not physically being in the same place.

Experiment to find a format that works for you! 

The weekly updates are most effective when used in tandem with the weekly team meetings. I think it's most effective to use the weekly updates for the high level updates and then the weekly meetings to discuss and resolve issues. 

Tool #4: Key Results Area (KRAs)

4 Essential Tools for Managing a Distributed Team

Good management really comes down to two things: setting expectations and following up. 

KRAs are a valuable tool to set clear expectations and provide structure within your team. 

Each new hire should have their own KRA. This is a document that you will create together with them and confirm during their onboarding. 

The KRA will include the key expectations for their role. 

This clarity is important for both you and the new team member so you can effectively measure their success in the role and provide a structure for feedback.

4 Essential Tools for Managing a Distributed Team

When the expectations are clearly defined through the KRA, it will be easy to address any challenges or digressions.

If someone isn’t meeting expectations, the KRA is a useful tool to have because there is no ambiguity around expectations, which makes it easy to see if the team member is meeting the needs for their role. 

You can check out this KRA guide from EmpxTrack to model after, but they don’t need to follow any structure. 

The most important aspect of a KRA is to outline and agree on the key expectations for the role. You can format the document however is easiest for you. 

Now go and set your first KRA with your most important team member. The clearer you are about your expectations, the more effectively you will be able to manage. 

There you have it. Having a distributed team doesn’t need to mean having distributed goals. Implement these 4 tools in your remote business and see your team output and retention rise. 

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