Self-evaluation and leading by example are just two of the many ways to manage your remote team, says Hubstaff Founder Dave Nevogt
Team management skills don’t come naturally to many people. They have to be earned through experience — in my case, 10 years and counting. I eventually founded Hubstaff to automate the process I developed. These are a few management methods I used to grow multiple virtual bootstrapped startups to more than US$1 million in annual revenue. I practise what I preach with my distributed team, but the same could be applied to a co-located team just as well.
Why focus on team management?
1. It’s hard to build a successful company all alone, and you definitely can’t grow one alone. Your team is essential to the overall growth and success of your business.
2. Once you have an awesome team in place, your business can generate passive income irrespective of you’re actively working or not.
3. We spend around US$30,000 a month for our team and bring in around US$60,000. This means 50 per cent of our revenue goes to our team, not including the founders. You need proper team management or that expense will go to waste.
The great thing about how we manage is that it’s good for both our team and our managers.
Our general management style
We focus on autonomy and freedom, some of the core beliefs of our company. We hate meetings which our time-tracking software lets us get away with.
Hubstaff allows us to quickly check up on our teams, see what they’ve been working on, for how long, and where they are with deliverables. It frees the entire team from time-consuming meetings and is beneficial for everyone — from managers to contractors.
We prepare everyone we hire for our process in onboarding, then we set them free to show us what they’ve got. Since no one bills for unproductive time, we get to focus on rewarding productivity and enhancing collaboration.
Other remote entrepreneurs might feel the need to check in more and actively manage their teams, but our employees love the freedom of being able to devote most of their time to getting work done.
9 step process to team management
1. Decide on and set up a project management system
A project management system will help you capture your ideas in one place, assign tasks efficiently and store all communication and discussions in a centrally accessible place.
Asynchronous communication is great when you have different time zones, sleeping schedules and optimal working times because you can view everything saved in one spot regardless of who is online or not.
2. Add and prioritise all tasks into your project management software
Invest time into uploading clear, concise tasks into your project management tool and assign priorities. I used Trello boards to create different channels for each umbrella topic, then in each board, a card is one actionable task.
3. Assign three to four projects or tasks to each member of your team
You typically don’t want to give team members more than four high-level tasks at a time to keep them from getting overwhelmed. Be reasonable with the timelines and keep them accountable, so they know the tasks that are on their plate.
4. Kill email
Emails are great ways to lose information in a long discussion. Kill them as a collaboration tool unless you want to forward an email or something simple like that. When someone emails me something about a task, I’ll ask them to add it to Trello so they get used to the process.
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5. Track time to assigned tasks
You gain more insight into what’s going on in a project when you track time, especially in a remote setting. You know when it’s time to hire another employee, whether your team is using its time well and which projects are within budget.
For example, without time tracking, I wouldn’t have realised one of my best developers was spending 60 per cent of his time on customer support.
Our programme integrates with Trello, so once a team member is assigned to a card in Trello it’ll show up in their timer. They just have to select the task then click start.
6. Set up sprints
Some of the people on my team have as many as 30 Trello cards (tasks) assigned to them, which is frankly way too many to manage effectively. It’s easy for minor or ongoing tasks to build up, so to combat this we create sprints.
I set up a sprint board to manage short-term, high-priority items. Sprints make it undisputedly clear what needs to get done and when.
7. Watch the sprint items unfold
These are high-priority and high-level tasks, so it’s important to monitor their completion. When my team tracks time into a card, I can go into the programme and see work unfold in real time.
As they get done, we move them into the delivered column so I know it’s time to review their work.
8. Follow up on unfinished sprints
The best contractors are going to get their things done on time with no excuses most of the time, but sometimes things remain unfinished. When something didn’t get done, it’s important to follow up.
I typically send an email to my team asking them for an update on Fridays.
9. Analyse where time is being spent
Each month I use the programme-generated reports to get a clear picture of where time is being spent. This is important for me as a manager, so I can improve the process and make sure there are no blocks in the machine.
I use these reports to understand where each individual spent their time and see which projects are consuming more time versus creating more profit.
This process eliminates the need for meetings and back-and-forth instructions. We document what needs to get done and do our work up front.
My team management process has helped me work more efficiently. I only spend about 20 minutes on Friday (sprint follow-ups) and 20 minutes on Monday setting up the upcoming sprints.
Throughout the week, all I have to do is discuss minor details with my team, answer questions and focus on the overarching strategy of my company. It’s my job to mark the path ahead of us.
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