Tips for Managing a Creative & Collaborative Remote WorkforceJul 19, 2023
If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that many jobs can be conducted remotely, and there are benefits for businesses and workers alike. For example, businesses that employ a remote workforce can save on the overhead of an office, while employees avoid lengthy commutes and gain opportunities for a better work-life balance.
That said, there are also some drawbacks inherent to this system. Employees that gather at a centralized office enjoy easy access to coworkers and opportunities for in-person communication and collaboration. Remote workers often struggle to connect and communicate effectively with team members.
Some measures of organization may also be lacking in remote work situations, leaving employees feeling out of their depth or overwhelmed. Then, there are issues associated with virtual meetings, from faulty connections to invasive background noise to conversations that veer off-topic and cause meetings to run over.
If you own and operate an interior design business that employs a team of creative professionals remotely, you may struggle to get your footing, keep everyone on track, and elevate employee morale. While there are tools that can help, the first goal for any remote manager should be understanding how to lead in this unique role.
Here are a few key tips for managing a remote workforce effectively.
Effectively Managing Employees Requires Communication
Leading interior designers are adept at communicating their desires, delegating tasks, and following up with their team to ensure every project progresses smoothly. How can you communicate more effectively in general?
You can start by following the five Cs of communication. You should always try to be clear and concise, provide correct and complete information, and maintain a level of compassion.
Don’t forget that communication goes two ways. You naturally want to make sure that employees grasp the information you provide, but it’s also important to listen, answer questions, and understand your team so you can help them to do their best.
When it comes to communicating with a remote workforce, specifically, it’s easy for certain things to fall by the wayside. For this reason, you should start with a focus on setting expectations, and this is a function that’s ongoing, not a one-and-done proposition.
You need to encourage discussions and feedback, not only between yourself and your employees but among team members who may need to collaborate. Recognition is also an important part of maintaining a productive and fulfilling team environment, as is creating opportunities for connection.
Although communication is paramount to both individual and group success, you don’t want to overdo it with persistent and taxing meetings that cut into work time, so it’s important to carefully schedule virtual sessions. How can you use targeted communication strategies to better manage your remote team?
Communicating in person allows you to convey a wealth of information, not only through verbal conversation but cues like body language and facial expressions. When you primarily communicate through virtual means like email, text, phone calls, and even video chats, some nuances can be lost along the way.
For this reason, it’s incredibly important to focus on clear and concise communication when managing employees remotely, and this is especially true when it comes to setting expectations.
A good place to start is by creating comprehensive onboarding materials, including manuals detailing policies and procedures, as well as important guidelines for project submissions, client presentations, interactions with other employees, etc.
You must be transparent and proactive about letting your team know your expectations, not only for projects overall but also for group and individual contributions. Outline requirements for work hours, standards for productivity, and deadlines.
Don’t forget to set rules for communication among team members, including time frames for replying to requests, for example.
Encourage Discussions and Feedback
Communication is a two-way street. If effective communication is high on your list of priorities when it comes to managing a remote workforce, you need to make sure that you’re not only delivering information but getting it back.
You might want to start with an open-door policy, which means that employees are always welcome to approach you with questions and concerns. You need to make yourself available for this purpose or at least create reasonable time frames to have important discussions when employees request it.
One great option is to schedule regular one-on-one meetings with each team member, say weekly or every couple of weeks, for a check-in.
These meetings don’t have to be long — you could set aside half an hour for the task — but they will give you a chance to gauge how each team member is doing and feeling and allow them the opportunity to ask questions about work or discuss any issues they’re struggling with.
This also allows you to offer regular feedback so employees can course correct if needed and gain confidence in their position.
You should also encourage your team to communicate with each other in order to fuel greater understanding, support, and collaboration.
Stress tolerance for diverse viewpoints and ideas, explore all contributions to ensure employees feel heard and valued, and create a zero-tolerance policy for verbal abuse, shouting, and other non-productive and harmful communication styles.
Employee morale can be tricky to manage in any work setting, but it’s particularly challenging with remote workers. There’s more to employee satisfaction than just a paycheck, and learning how to lead includes taking steps to provide the recognition employees deserve when they go above and beyond or knock a project out of the park.
If you have a weekly or monthly round-up meeting to recap recent work and discuss upcoming projects, you might want to offer a proverbial tip of the hat to team members who exceeded expectations or simply did a great job.
You could add an element of gamification by choosing an employee of the week or month and rewarding them with a small gift card or even just a round of applause from the team.
Annual bonuses are a nice way to reward your team for group effort and accomplishment, but many employees take great personal satisfaction from having their contributions publicly recognized. This is a reward that costs you nothing and does wonders for morale, particularly when team socializing is limited to virtual interactions.
Create Opportunities for Personal Connection
One issue many designers face when learning how to lead a remote workforce is figuring out how to help their team make personal connections that facilitate more effective collaboration. You need to make time for team building if you want to increase employee engagement.
Try setting up a mandatory weekly group check-in or coffee chat, say to kick off Friday morning. Encourage employees to discuss not only their professional struggles and successes for the week but aspects of their personal lives they feel comfortable sharing.
You might plan virtual team-building exercises like games. Consider an at-home scavenger hunt where each person must find objects in their home (like office supplies, pets, high school yearbooks, funny hats, etc.) and display them for the group, with a prize for the person with the most items.
Or choose something more creative like a Pictionary-style drawing/guessing game – free versions like Drawize and Drawasaurus abound and can be incredibly fun and silly. If your remote employees are all local to your area, you might even plan in-person meet-ups periodically.
Don’t Go Overboard with Meetings
In this era of Zoom connectivity, video fatigue is all too real. When your team is bogged down with virtual meetings, it can impact their workflow and ability to complete assigned tasks. Video calls can start to feel repetitive, and when they go off track and run long, it can cause anxiety and frustration.
An overabundance of meetings can also make employees feel like they’re being micromanaged. You need to be aware of what your team is doing and their progress on assigned tasks, but that doesn’t mean you require hourly check-ins or non-stop communication.
Presumably, you chose team members based on qualifications like education, experience, and skillset, so you need to give them the time and space to do the job you hired them for. Leading interior designers know how to delegate and choose people they trust to get the job done.
To cut down on meetings, request email updates and discuss only when necessary, such as at regularly scheduled check-ins. When a group meeting is necessary, always have a clear agenda and timeline to ensure efficiency, and set meeting rules like the camera on/off, muting when not speaking, etc.
You could also schedule certain windows of time during the week when meetings can occur so as not to unduly interfere with workflow.
Use the Right Software
If you want to join the ranks of leading interior designers, you must work smarter, not harder, and finding the right software solutions is at the top of the list. What should you look for in software designed for managing employees remotely?
Organizational and Collaborative Tools
There are almost endless software solutions to consider, so you’ll want to focus primarily on those that facilitate communication, collaboration, and overall organization.
You are probably already aware of video conferencing options like Zoom, but it’s not a bad idea to choose a platform like Slack or Teams that offer a chat feature and allow for more concise and immediate communications between individuals and groups.
Project management software is also an important tool for managing employees, particularly in remote work situations. Options like Trello, Asana, and Basecamp may suit your purposes, and many offer options for customization based on your particular needs.
Sometimes, the best advice for how to lead starts with following, as in following what your team is doing.
To some degree, you’ll have to rely on team member updates, but this is made easier with software that not only allows you to set tasks and deadlines but see the progress each employee is making on assignments and how a given project is progressing overall.
Offer Training Opportunities
Some professionals are perfectly comfortable in their current position, playing to their knowledge and strengths. Others will leap at the opportunity to continue learning and fleshing out their skillset.
Competing with leading interior designers means elevating your team, not only with praise but also opportunities to improve and advance in their own careers and within your organization. This could take the form of creative pursuits, technical training, business courses, and more.
To lead by example, you can even participate in continuing education that improves your business.
With educational articles, tips and tutorials, and options for courses that help your business grow and thrive, Behind the Design is the community resource that aims to elevate leaders in the interior design industry. Join our community today to get started.
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