Making sure that everyone knows what is expected of them is management 101. It’s taught in all those slick ‘even an idiot like you can be a manager’ books, and in every training course on the subject. And yet, a surprising number of projects go awry because expectations weren’t set effectively.
If you think of your project in building terms, then proper project management is the foundation. You are the one who is going to support the team through development to completion. In this analogy, expectations are the blueprints. They are the guide that will help your team to deliver what you need. On top of that foundation, you layer people who excel at what they do – people that you can contact us to get for you.
If it’s vital to set expectations for on-site teams, then it’s critical for distributed ones. Increased autonomy is one of the things that makes remote workers more productive. And independence is a great thing; it makes the developer feel great about their work, and it lets you relax in the knowledge that what needs to be done, is being done.
But, and it’s a big one (insert Beavis & Butthead sniggering here) you don’t want someone to go off plan autonomously. To continue our building analogy, you don’t want to turn up on-site one morning and find that Clive has decided every home needs a helipad.
Just on the off chance that you were snoozing through management 101, here are the fundamentals on expectations. They should:
- Be a framework, setting the direction of the project and providing clear boundaries for what should, and shouldn’t, be included (no helipads, Clive).
- Make it clear who should be doing what, and that those responsibilities match with job descriptions and pay grades.
- Set goals. SMART goals, or an alternative. Those goals can then be broken down into tasks, the bricks that will get our building to completion.
- Include feedback. Communication is vital to any team, but when you’re working remotely it’s more than that: it’s vital.
Regular readers will have heard us say, many times, that you don’t need any unique management skills to deal with digital nomads. It isn’t a question of needing to retrain to become a remote team manager. You just need to think a little differently about how you’re going to do the same things.
So, your expectations for a remote team need to be a little different. Here’s how:
- Communication underpins everything. If Clive had been in constant touch with his foreman, that helipad would never have got built. We advocate for daily contact with your team, to give them a chance to talk about what they’ve been doing and raise any problems. Regular contact helps prevent anyone going lone wolf, or as you may think of it from now on, “going Clive.”
- Set out when and how you want communication to happen between your team. Document the channels that should be used, for what. Don’t let essential messages sit unread in an email inbox when you have a messenger app or cellphone.
- Make sure that you keep your eye on the team dynamic. All human beings need to belong, but if your staff is working from home then creating a bond between team members is vital.
- We’ve talked about how you can do that before. The TL;DR version is to create a shared vision, and make sure that your staff knows each other’s strengths. Build trust between them, and with you, and all should go well.
- Be clear about when you expect concerning availability. Where you have a distributed team that works across continents, scheduling can become an issue.
- Are you going to expect remote staff to keep office hours, or let them work when they think they’re most productive? Are there specific meetings that you want everyone to attend, regardless of timezones?
- To keep things on track, you need to have accountability. Your team needs to know precisely what their responsibilities are, and how they need to report back on their progress (or lack of it).
- Fundamentally, this one is about communication. Here at DistantJob, we advocate using the Agile Remote Development Methodology. We think it helps to set clear expectations, and the daily stand up gives opportunities for holding everyone to account. To learn more about that, you can read our free eBook.
- Although this one might be at the top of your list as manager, productivity is the last on our list of tips. Why? Because if you do all the other stuff right, then you will have a productive team.
- Yes, there are some tools out there that claim they help you to manage your remote team’s productivity. Do we recommend any of them? No. Remote teams work best when they’re left to do their jobs, and micro-managing only destroys trust. We firmly advocate for measuring by results and trusting your staff to do what needs to be done to deliver them.
How to Set Expectations
You may have noticed that the list above includes both general expectations, and more specific ones that are task related. So, to make sure that everyone is on the same page with remote working, you need two things. The first is…
A Remote Work Policy
This is the document that covers the practicalities of working from home. When are staff expected to work, whose equipment will they use, what happens if they have a work-related accident or injury, are they allowed to work using an unsecured network like a coffee shop?
There are plenty of examples of these out there that you can use to inform your decisions when you set up your own. If you want to go highbrow, here’s the policy of England’s Crown Estate; and if it’s good enough for the Queen, surely it’s good enough for you? If you’d like something more modern, then here’s an example from Trello.
Your remote work policy should nail down all those practical questions like what expenses can an employee claim? It should also handle the thrill-a-minute ride that is Health & Safety.
Great Project Management
To effectively manage remote workers, you do the same thing that you do to manage on-site staff. The only difference is that you need to talk to them a lot more. And we do mean a lot more. You won’t bump into Clive at the water cooler, so you need to make sure you facetime him to remind him that helipads aren’t on the agenda, no matter how much he likes them.
Take the time to make sure that all tasks are clearly defined and check in regularly to answer any questions and see if any unexpected problems have cropped up. This isn’t just about you reaching out to your staff either, you need to build a culture of communication, based on trust, so when they hit a bump in the road, they know they can come to you. As I said earlier, the Agile Remote Development Methodology is our tool of choice to help you achieve this. There’s also a wealth of resources on communication and team-building, in back-issues of our blog.
Begin at the Beginning
The process of setting expectations should begin with recruitment. Here at DistantJob, we pre-screen all candidates to ensure that they aren’t just brilliant developers, but that they know how to excel when working remotely. If you’re looking to add a global superstar to your development team, then give us a call today. We’d love to help you.