The Tech Manager's Guide To Managing Remote Distributed Teams
Table of Contents

The Tech Manager's Guide To Managing Remote Distributed Teams

Some highlights:

  • Overcome work silos with clear communication avenues and cross department collaboration
  • Secure your remote workplace with clear, strong procedures and policies
  • Remote work saves money for both employers and employees
  • Businesses lose around $600 billion in in-person workplace distractions per year
  • 73% of Microsoft employees want flexible remote work options to stay

Remote work in the IT industry was popular long before the rest of the world started accepting the new definition of “a call”.  Work environments today have transformed in ways seemingly unimaginable not long ago. The push from teams globally to continue this remote-first world continues, even if some might think differently.    

Here at ITMAGINATION, we ourselves are committed to a remote-first work environment. Although we’ve had the possibility to work remotely for many years, the privilege of going remote-first was born out of necessity like countless other companies around the world two years ago.  

In our company’s history, most of us worked in offices scattered around Poland and only a few took the option of remote work. So as many others were learning to thrive in the new normal, so were we.  

We are constantly surveying our team's thoughts and adapting our processes to meet their needs. There have been ups and downs for everyone, but what important lessons have we learned from these past couple of years and which ones can help tech managers manage their remote teams?    

The Popular Perks

The most notable change for most employees in a remote-first environment is the ability to manage their time. Although companies typically have set work hours; remote work also provides more flexibility for employees in completing their tasks. This has allowed employees to work when they feel more productive and adjust their schedules to their own rhythms.  

Time on daily commutes and money can be saved on childcare or dog walking. Personal relationships with family, friends, and colleagues have the potential to be improved with the extra amount of free time. This has also increased our ability to handle emergency errands and given us the possibility of attending various functions we never could before.

The freedom to gain control over your time and can take care of matters important for your physical, social, and physical health is immeasurable.

While we don't agree with forcing employees back into the office, many tech managers have to deal with getting their team back to in-person work.

How Can Tech Managers Make The Back To The Office Transition Easier For Their Teams?

In most cases, these perks are a product of the situation, but tech managers can be an advocate for their team by pushing for new benefit programs within the company.

  • Allow employees to maintain flexibility in their schedules
  • Companies can help with childcare costs, subsidies, or creating daycare programs.  
  • Create benefits to offset the costs of food or commuting with voucher programs, office catering, and ticket purchases.

When Worlds Collide

If you've spent any time working from home, you are all too familiar with an unsuccessful attempt to be a Masterchef during your lunch break. What was supposed to take 20 minutes turned into a 2-hour ordeal, and you are still hungry because you forgot to turn the stove off. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.  

Working from your home office means that all the distractions you can imagine will undoubtedly happen. This is a trade-off for the freedom to wear the same clothes you slept in becoming your meeting attire. Oh, and if you have children, good luck to you.

Not everyone has the resources to have a private home office with the luxuries of a door that locks. Most of us common folk make do with the space we have. Sometimes, our workstation doubles as the dinner table, and our ergonomic chair is our couch.

The work environment from home can also vary from employee to employee. When you mix home life with work life, the worlds collide, and that can cause all kinds of complications trying to maintain uninterrupted work. For some, balancing these issues can be simple and preferred, while others are constantly trying to survive the day without having a mental breakdown.

How Can Managers and Companies Support Their Team With These Challenges?

  • Companies can provide a home-office stipend.
  • Provide support and training for employees' wellness at home.
  • Offer co-payment for internet connection and other essential work-related services.
  • Be flexible with communication expectations.

Do Remote Workers Feel Isolated?

If you have a family, loved one, or children in your home office, isolation is probably only partially a problem. For others, going back to the office might be a vacation.  

Others, like today's young workers, face a separate set of challenges from remote work. Since they're younger, they tend to be single and live alone, leading them to feel isolated. As a result, many young workers are feeling stressed and overwhelmed with their daily tasks.  

In addition to this, many Gen Z workers have the feeling they are missing out on situations that could help them advance their careers. They're not having in-person meetings that help them build a relationship with their boss or possibly chosen for projects that could help them improve their portfolio.

With remote work, there are several pitfalls alongside the rose pedalled hallways. Companies offering employees options to interact with their colleagues in person can give a sense of support and empowerment to their teams while creating an environment for idea creation. A remote-first system still provides these chance encounters by maintaining functioning offices, albeit in a much different form.

How Can Managers Help Employees Handle Loneliness And Isolation?

As a team manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that the team has plenty of opportunities for social engagement. These can be company-sponsored events or simply getting the team together for after-work outings. The important thing is that these events are pre-planned and initiated by you or the company so that everyone has a chance to get to know each other on a personal level.

Here are some examples to help you get started:

  • Schedule regular (weekly or bi-weekly) team meetings separate from sprint meetings to ensure everyone gets face time with one another.
  • Organize informal meetings at least once every two weeks where the team can get together to talk about non-work-related topics.
  • Set up virtual lunches or work parties. There are many platforms like Gather (we are not affiliated with Gather) which offer meeting spaces that make these interactions fun and engaging.
  • Plan an in-face meetup once, twice, or a few times a year.

Cost-Savings For Both Employers & Employees

Businesses lose around $600 billion in workplace distractions per year. This is according to a study by Global Workplace Analytics. Offices have a built-in social system that does not always gel with a distraction-free environment. Hallway and impromptu meetings are beneficial for brainstorming and creativity, but all too often discussions turn towards subjects irrelevant to our jobs.  

On average in the U.S., one workstation costs $18,000 per year. With the cost of real estate, energy, security, work equipment, and countless other items, many of these costs have been reduced drastically with a remote work environment.

For the employee, cost and time savings are significant. The sticker shock workers are now facing as they return to offices has sparked a renewed discussion about  the hidden costs of having a job.

What Can Managers Propose To Senior Management To Use Cost Savings For?

How Remote-First Increases Talent Pool

Typically, job searches were limited to your office location and the industries that dominated the area. Talent interested in working for a company first had to seal a job offer, negotiate a relocation package, pack up their entire life in their moving truck, and embark on an adventure.

Remote work has changed this dynamic completely. A survey conducted by Microsoft found that 73% of their employees want flexible remote work options to stay. These numbers don’t differ much from our own internal poll here at ITMAGINATION.

Changes in the work environment also mean companies can now search for talent anywhere they wish. The only limiting factors that come into play are the quality of the candidate, how they could fit into the company culture, and if desired business needs can be met.

This flexibility means companies have a better chance of finding the best person for the job, regardless of their location. In addition, remote work can be an advantage for attracting and retaining top talent. Talented and experienced workers are increasingly likely to choose jobs that offer this form of flexibility.

How Can Tech Managers Recruit The Best Candidates For A Remote-first Team?

  • Define the ideal candidate by identifying your core requirements.
  • Use the right source to accept candidates by posting on job boards that are popular for remote workers.
  • Build a talent pipeline. Use references or create a partner program.  
  • Define your company culture and values for potential employees.
  • Streamline the interview process for both you and the candidate.

The Silo Effect With Remote Work

In an office environment, employees are usually grouped based on their department or function. Doing so can lead to what is known as "work silos," where each group is focused on their own goals and objectives while having little interaction with other departments.

This can be a problem in any organization. Still, it can be compounded in a remote work environment, where team members may be spread out across different time zones and cities where they may not have the opportunity to interact face-to-face regularly.

Under these circumstances, employees don’t interact as much with each other. Chance meetings, knowledge sharing moments, and cross-department discussions are important for creativity and innovation within a company.  

How Can Tech Managers Overcome Working In Silos?

Researchers from Microsoft and The University of California Berkeley Haas Business School sorted through anonymized data from Microsoft workers. The study “The effects of remote work on collaboration among information workers”, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour collected data from meetings, direct messaging, emails, calls, and monitored working hours. The data showed that workers spent 25% less time collaborating across groups and spent less time with new “connections”, people they had not cooperated with previously.

With communication at the prominent forefront, what other ways can managers break down silos?

  • Splitting teams up between departments helps build cohesion.
  • Eliminate the need to maintain multiple systems for different teams.
  • Enable employees to work on different projects simultaneously.
  • Define shared accountabilities between teams.
  • And yes, create an open environment where communication is key.

What Are The Security Risks Of Working Remotely?

Security concerns are probably the most significant problem a company faces with remote work. Employees typically don't have the same home network protection, VPNs, or devices with encrypted access to files. Many of the protocols within an office environment are difficult to control outside of one. Due to this, the list of horrors for the security team grows, especially in cases where security is paramount, like in the financial sector.

Something as simple as a Wi-Fi-enabled printer could cause havoc on an unsuspecting employee. Risks even involve simply printing at home, where sensitive documents could be lying around to be seen by visitors unknown to the company or documents ending up in the trash because employees are lacking a simple item such as a paper shredder.

A remote-first workplace for many employees is a blessing. Ensuring you have the tools, procedures, and education in place for your employees is paramount to maintaining a secure environment.

What Can Tech Managers Do To Maintain Security Within Their Team

  • Provide workshops for securing data at home and on the go.
  • Implement systems using hardware multi-factor authentication.
  • Prepare a detailed policy on how to handle sensitive company information.
  • Implement Data Loss Prevention (DLP) solutions for encryption of media and data transmission.
  • Top of the line hardware and servicing.

We Will Continue To Adapt

As businesses continue to grow and the workforce becomes more dispersed, the remote-first workplace is becoming an increasingly popular option. While there are many benefits to this way of working, it's not without its challenges for tech managers.

Moving forward as a company and as our world keeps throwing new challenges our way, adapting and improving is the best path forward. Many of the points we wrote above are from our own experience at ITMAGINATION, where we will continue to maintain our team-first spirit and continue to check in with ours periodically. As their needs shift, so will we.

Looking to join a remote-first company for your next career move? Join us!

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