HR Expertise
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Managing High-Performance Remote IT Teams

Working remotely used to be a perk reserved for freelancers and some of the most senior staff in a company. Along came a pandemic, and such reality, like many others over the past 24 odd months, was turned on its head. Now, in the times of Covid-19, remote work is the new reality for the majority of employees. 

Managing remote teams poses a series of challenges for the employer. Not so much from a technical perspective, since today's technological infrastructure is, for the most part, perfectly capable of supporting remote work. Rather, HR teams need to find ways to maintain and foster employee engagement, monitor performance, and retain the 'connection' between company and staff.

The IT team is one of the most crucial components of a company's structure. Because IT specialists usually work around the clock, the task of managing remote IT teams is one of the most difficult aspects.

This article discusses some of the common challenges that HR faces in managing IT teams remotely, and five tips that can help to address those challenges.

The challenges of managing remote IT teams

In the not-so-distant past, many people yearned to work from home. Now that the working paradigm has shifted towards that reality, some of those people aren't so sure anymore. Many have found that they thrive in the office environment, surrounded by peers. Their productivity is better, perhaps, as there are fewer distractions. But many other people have embraced the chance to do what they always wanted: to work from home, in their own terms. These people's productivity might have actually increased, since they're working comfortably from a familiar environment, and can take a coffee or walk break anytime they want.

Remote work has some inherent challenges:

  • Propensity, in some people, to feel socially isolated

Some staff members would rather be in the office, sharing the familiarity of the environment with their peers. Longest-serving employees in particular might feel that way.

  • Feelings of disconnection from the company and from the rest of staff

When working from a remote location, some staff might feel like they're losing their 'connection' with their employer and their peers.

  • Increased distractions

The postman, the refuse collector, the pets, the children, even noisy neighbors can become a distraction. Some staff might find this to be problematic.

  • Access to information

Even though the technical infrastructure might exist, some staff might find it difficult to find answers to their questions. Key employees might be difficult to reach due to the nature of their jobs, timezone differences, etc.

All these challenges might apply to some staff more than others, as every person is an individual. As stated above, some people have adapted to this new working normal better than others. Younger staff perhaps better than older employees, who might have been working from the same desk at the same building for years. The key for HR and the management team is to identify who among the staff might need closer support and attention.

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Five tips for better management of remote IT teams

The pandemic has been raging for close to two years now. No one really knows how much longer it might last, which means the current 'new normal' in the work environment might become permanent. Over the last while, HR departments and IT management teams have had to learn to manage fully remote teams. They have had to come up with ideas, strategies, and initiatives that ensure that not only the work is done, but the staff remains engaged and satisfied with the company and their work. 

Now every company has a different culture, and every team is made up of people from a diversity of backgrounds, so the strategies and initiatives that might work for some might be completely inadequate for others. It is down to the HR representatives and IT managers to know the staff and design a framework that works for them.

There are, however, five general tips that apply to most, if not all, remote teams:

Use technology to your advantage

It is 2022. Computing and electronics are advanced enough to enable smooth, almost seamless communication between remote locations. Today's video conferencing apps (Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, etc.) allow for fast and immediate interaction. IT managers more than anyone else are aware of the importance and relevance of these systems in today's work environment. Use this suite of applications to communicate with your team daily (more often, if necessary) and let the remote workers know that, while they might be working from a remote location, they're far from alone.

Establish daily check-ins, preferably more often than just once per day. This helps set a routine and can boost staff engagement. It's always better to err on the side of caution and check in two or three times, rather than let things go.

Clearly define expectations

An effective manager should have a clear strategy to communicate their expectations to the team. It is up to the IT manager to ensure that the remote team/s know exactly what's expected of them. 

The shift towards remote work has, in some cases, meant a shift in personal priorities and responsibilities. Some staff might have been tasked with doing stuff that they didn't do before, or vice versa. Either way, clearly defining expectations from the outset inspires a sense of confidence and security among remote staff.

Emphasize the outcomes, rather than on how to achieve them

Over-zealous managers might focus too much on the minutiae of procedural steps, or 'doing things by the numbers.' Some specific tasks might require such an approach, but generally speaking, such level of micro-management tends to lead to negative consequences. Specialist IT staff know their jobs, they know how to achieve an expected outcome, and the team's approach to the job might in some cases diverge from the manager's perceived 'right' pattern. The IT manager should care that the outcome is right, irrespective of what it took to get it done.

Ensure remote teams have the resources they need

When everyone is onsite, it's easy to make sure that everybody has what they need to do their jobs. Computer, stationery, access to the internet, and accessories (headphones, etc.) But when teams are scattered geographically, resourcing is not so straightforward.

It is the IT manager's responsibility to ensure that remote workers are adequately equipped. Appropriately specced laptops, security software, accessories, etc. Consider increasing the budget for IT equipment to compensate for any potential shortfalls.

Demonstrate flexibility and empathy

This is perhaps one of the traits that typifies a good manager. People have lives outside of work. They have relationships, dependents, pets, etc. And any of these elements can crossover into the work life at any time. A child might have an accident at school, a broken arm maybe, which might require an immediate trip to the emergency room. A power cut might prevent a staff member from working effectively for a few hours. Or there might be a bereavement in someone's family. Any of these events can happen to anyone at any time, and this is something that the IT manager must understand and be prepared to deal with. Flexibility is the key. If a remote worker has to take off for three hours in the middle of the day, that's ok. They can make up the time in some other ways. The crucial aspect is to be flexible and allow people to deal with life's events, and show empathy.

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