6 ways to use automation to manage a remote team

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May 7, 2020

how to manage a remote team

Embracing remote work is a powerful way to future-proof your business and offer what an increasing number of jobseekers are searching for.

67% of business leaders think that remote work and flexibility can improve productivity by at least a fifth, while companies that encourage remote work in the US have a 25% lower employee turnover than those that don’t.

However, that's not to say that remote work isn't without its challenges – especially for managers. This is something that automation can step in and help solve.

 

The main challenges of managing remote employees:

  • Tracking: Keeping a clear oversight of how your direct reports are performing on their goals, as well as what project they're thriving on and struggling with, can be harder when you're remote.
  • Collaboration: With a distributed team, you can fall into the trap of existing in silos instead of working collaboratively.
  • Leadership: To lead a remote team, you can't just walk around the office and check in with your colleagues. It requires a more conscious effort to set up remote meetings, chat with everyone individually, and bring everyone together as a team.
  • Morale: It requires different strategies to build trust and rapport as a remote team compared to working in the same space. If you don't build strong bonds and really get to know each other, you run the risk of a lack of transparency and cooperation.

Effectively managing a remote team requires clear and transparent processes to sustain the four pillars of tracking, collaboration, leadership and morale.

One of the best ways to achieve these benchmarks of a successful remote team is with automation.

By automating more of your workflows, you can help your team to stay productive, collaborative and on schedule.

The benefits of automation also help to build a happy team – we all want to focus on the work we do best, create an impact in our roles, and belong to a team we care about.

Here are some of the best ways to use automation to manage a remote team, with some strategies we use in our own team at PieSync thrown in for good measure.


1. Automate project management with Trello

On the surface, Trello is a deceptively simple project management tool. Many teams don't realize quite how much you can do with Butler, Trello's built-in automation tool.

Butler enables you to:

  • Create buttons on your cards that trigger certain actions when clicked
  • Set rules to trigger commands that will perform specific actions when a certain condition is met
  • Schedule commands for tasks that need to be done regularly

These automations open up many opportunities for managing your team remotely.

For example, you could automatically add a button to each new blog post card on Trello that assigns the right marketers and deadlines once clicked:

Trello automated project management

When the blog post reaches the "Editing" stage of your board you can then automatically assign an editor to the task and add a due date X days in the future.

After setting up automated project management, you can breathe easy knowing that your team is kept on track while focusing on your other management tasks.

2. Create reminders for deadlines and overdue work

As a manager, you don't want to spend hours of your day chasing up your team on overdue work. And yet... it's easy for that to happen.

Instead, let automation take the slack of following up with team members when a task is past its deadline.

With Trello's Butler, you can set rules that if a task is overdue, the assigned team member receives a notification. You could customize this text to ask if there's anything they need to finalize the task.

Project management tools like Asana also offer handy automation features to chase up your team based on custom rules you set.

3. Schedule recurring remote meetings in bulk

Just like any in-office team, meetings are how your remote team collaborates and checks in with each other – they just happen via cloud apps like Zoom or Google Hangouts.

To make your job as the manager of a remote team easier, create recurring meetings with video meeting links attached. You can also add information to the meeting link to ensure that attendees know what to expect of the meeting, especially if they're a newcomer.

4. Look out for your team and welcome new joiners

There's more to Slack than just a handy way to easily communicate with colleagues. To make the most of the tool, you can set up automations that quickly make managing a team and projects more straightforward.

Slack's Workflow Builder is included in all Standard, Plus and Enterprise Grid subscriptions and has some powerful use cases. You can use it to...

  • Quickly collect information from team members
  • Standardize recurring project updates
  • Welcome members to channels

Here's a sample Slack workflow to encourage your team to stay healthy while working from home:

Slack automated workflow for working from home

Another great use of Slack workflows is to automatically onboard new members to the channel:

Slack automated workflow for onboarding

Here are some more Slack workflow automations we love:

5. Remind your team to prep for a meeting

Alongside boosting rapport and encourage collaboration, Slack reminders are also a fantastic way to keep your team productive.

At PieSync we rely on Slack reminders to help us prep for recurring meetings and share our notes ahead of time. These are automatically posted in key channels a few hours before the meeting takes place, with the relevant people notified and a link to the meeting doc included:

Slack automate meeting prep reminders

 

Extra tip: Need to add manual reminders to Slack? Type /remind in the message field to set a reminder for yourself, someone else or a channel.

6. Ask your team to recap their week

For the vast majority of remote teams, it's usually totally unfounded to wonder if your colleagues are actually working when they're not in the office.

Remote productivity is higher for many teams than if they're in an office. Also, if your team can get the work done in less time, is it really an issue if they sit at their laptop for fewer hours?

(If you do need tips on staying productive while working remotely, here's our best advice!)

A better question to ask is what your team has been working on and how that aligns with individual and team goals.

This is not only valuable for managers to get a full view of their team's progress, it's also useful for accountability: we could all do with regularly asking ourselves what we've achieved in the last week and what our plan is for the next one.

At PieSync, we have an automated Slack reminder every Monday for the Marketing team to post a recap of their last week and what their plan is for the next:

Slack automate team progress updates


We've said this before, but automation isn't about replacing people's jobs. It's about enabling people to have the time and energy to focus on their best work while repetitive tasks are automatically taken care of.

How can you use automation to enable more focus, rapport and impact in your team?

About Lucy Fuggle

Lucy Fuggle writes for PieSync, the two-way contact sync tool for hundreds of apps. She also works with her clients to make their brand matter with a content-rich marketing strategy.