The remote working revolution has been underway for some time now. In 2019, 42 percent of degree-educated workers said that they worked from home at least some of the time. It’s a win-win: employers reduce costs; employees don’t have to commute.
In the case of a natural disaster, however, managers may find themselves thrust into remote team management without the benefit of having time to prepare a plan. The 2020 COVID-19 crisis has put many leaders in exactly this situation.
Challenges of Leading a Remote Data Team
Since the early days of Xplenty, we've had distributed teams across the world. We know all about the myriad benefits of letting people operate in their own environment. And we also know about the challenges that can arise from working remotely.
Whether your team’s switch to remote working is voluntary or driven by circumstances, you’ll experience some teething troubles during the transition:
- Security. When people are accessing data from outside your internal network, it can introduce an element of risk.
- Access. People can't always gain access to the systems they need. There may also be some systems that don't allow any form of remote access.
- Productivity. Managers can't easily keep an eye on remote employees. People might not be on track to hit targets, or they could be prioritizing the wrong things.
- Collaboration. A lot of knowledge-sharing and brainstorming happens when teams are in the same physical room. Remote workers also don't have as many opportunities to ask managers for advice, or just bounce ideas off colleagues.
- Adaptation. Transitioning to remote work can be a challenge, especially if circumstances unexpectedly force you to adopt a new way of working.
- Inclusion. People who work from home can sometimes feel like they're not really part of the team. This can hurt productivity, and even lead to staff attrition.
The good news is that none of these problems are insurmountable, especially with the right managerial support. Here’s how to help your team succeed.
How to Lead a Remote Data Team
On day zero of your remote working regime, it is crucial that you focus on the technical aspects. Get everyone to check if:
- They can log into all key systems.
- They can access communication software, including email and instant messaging.
- Their device is secure and runs at an acceptable speed.
- Their internet connection is fast enough to support them (especially if you'll be using data-heavy tools like video conferencing).
It's better to discover any issues sooner rather than later, as this gives you time to work with your company's IT help desk to grant permissions, change settings and suggest solutions to other problems.
If it's urgent and the help desk can't solve your issue, you may need to get creative. For example, if some of your team are experiencing slow broadband at home, you can switch from video conferencing to audio-only calls or group IMs.
1. Review security processes
Cloud computing solves some of the security problems associated with remote working. Traffic is encrypted and most data is held server-side, which lowers that attack surface for potential hackers.
However, it doesn’t fix every problem. Your staff needs to be refreshed on your remote working security procedures, even if they’ve worked from home in the past.
Review details such as:
- Network security. Everyone should only use secure WiFi networks to access work systems.
- Software security. People should only access work systems with devices that have fully updated operating systems and cybersecurity tools.
- Appropriate usage. Employees shouldn’t use work machines for personal browsing or non-work related software. Ideally, everyone should have a dedicated work-only device.
- Physical security. Remote workers should be mindful of the dangers of leaving logged-in devices unattended.
Much of this is common sense. However, if you’ve made a sudden, company-wide switch to remote working, you shouldn’t take anything for granted.
2. Step up your automation
If you were planning to automate routine tasks, now’s the time to do it.
The main focus should be anything related to data transfers. You may have some routine processes that involve manually importing or exporting data, and these processes are relatively low-risk when they’re happening on-premise.
That changes when your team is working remotely. Even if they’re using a VPN or remote desktop to access your on-premise systems, you’re still introducing an additional element of risk. That risk could be eliminated by adopting an automated ETL tool like Xplenty that can handle these processes without human intervention.
Automation of common tasks also helps your team move towards a goal-focused working method. Let the computers take care of the busywork and allow your team to focus on what really matters.
3. Focus on goals, not productivity
People who suddenly switch to remote working may struggle to manage their work-life balance. Especially in an emergency, when children and family may be at home too.
Rather than try to work out a schedule that fits every individual’s needs, you might prefer to switch to a goal-oriented model. This means agreeing on certain things with each person:
- A daily to-do list
- Their weekly deliverables
- Any long-term projects, with set dates for milestones and status update meetings
- A schedule of availability for meetings, conference calls and 1:1 sessions
Once you’ve agreed what each person needs to deliver, you can let them attack their objectives in whatever way suits them. Some might like to start at 6 am and be done by lunch; others might switch to a nightshift. Let them plan their day as they see fit, as long as they fulfill the agreed goals.
4. Diversify communication channels
Should you do everything in Slack? Or keep a 10-way Zoom conference open all day?
The answer is: use whatever tools best suit your team’s needs. Give your team members plenty of options so that they can choose whatever works for them.
You’ll find an almost infinite number of apps and platforms out there to facilitate remote working. Some of our favorites here at Xplenty include:
- Zoom – online video conferencing
- Uberconference – voice-only conferencing
- Trello – Project management
- Slack – team chat and productivity
And don’t forget to use the phone. An old-fashioned call can help to break up the constant stream of electronic conversations.
5. Be open about the challenges of remote working
Remote working presents a challenge at the best of times. If your whole team has made the transition with little warning, it might be a real headache.
Employees are sure to encounter problems when they start working from home. They might face issues from patchy broadband service to unwell family members. They need to know that they can expect your support in the face of such obstacles.
Equally, your team needs to be flexible if things aren’t working out. Most employees will be happy to adapt their processes where required if you communicate the problem to them. Remember to ask for their feedback at all stages, and make sure they know you want to work with them to find better solutions.
6. Keep the team spirit going — for everyone
Communication platforms such as Slack can provide a place to converse about things, although you may want to create a distinct Chat channel to keep the work-related channels free. Try having a slack channel specifically for non-work related commentary or jokes. You can also use video conferencing to hold weekly team meetings where people can share information, express concerns, and generally reconnect.
Even with these measures, individual team members may end up feeling isolated. To avoid this, make time to check in on a 1:1 basis and ask people how they’re finding the new setup. Working from home is not ideal for everyone, and some people may require additional support.
Here at Xplenty, we know all about the benefits and challenges of working remotely. We have brilliant support and engineering teams around the world, working together without geography getting in the way. With good communication and the right tools, your team can hit their productivity goals. They might even surpass expectations.