Best Tools to Manage Your Team

Team management was never easy, but the recent remote work overhaul has made things even tougher. Leaders need to keep tabs on schedules, workflow, and a cascade of different tasks from a distance, without missing a beat or falling into the trap of micromanagement.

While some managers try to make do with bare-bones tools and endless email threads, they won't make it far in the world of remote work, especially when their responsibilities become more time-sensitive and complex. 

Here's a look at what CEOs and business leaders are saying about the tools that have made their lives in the work-from-home era and some tips to get the most from these new solutions. 

Central Hub for Projects

From product designs and development to event management and administrative work, projects are the lifeblood of a business, and they can be tricky to manage in a remote work scenario. Things can get complicated quickly, even with just a few people on a single assignment. 

The more personnel involved, the more a project management suite is necessary to maintain an even keel. Ideally, team leaders will find software that suits the needs of the staff and keeps everyone on the same page.  

“We like to use ProofHub for project management and organization,” said John Berry, CEO of Berry Law. “It's been great using it during remote work. We've been able to collaborate and work alongside one another from home, which has been really crucial to keeping our business afloat during this time.”

Not every PM software is built to serve every industry and workflow style. Some are more suited for content marketing or graphic design, while others are niche-specific for finance or pharma. The best choice will come through research and rinse-and-repeat testing.

Communication on Command

When the communication stops, so does productivity. Many businesses have learned this lesson the hard way over the past year. Basic software like email and embedded chat are a start, but these won't suffice when managing larger teams and tracking dozens of unique project threads concurrently.

What to look for in great communication software? Ease of use is No. 1, but collaboration features are a close second. Fast file transfers are a necessity for teams handling heavy workloads, and anyone should have the ability to search into the complete message history to get that key piece of missing info.  

“Slack has been a lifesaver for us as far as collaborating with our team,” said Jing Gao, CEO of Fly By Jing. “With remote work sticking around long-term, we have been using it a lot, and will probably continue to in-office as well. ”

These platforms are evolving all the time, getting upgrades and new features that may be the missing link in a team's communication strategy. 

Put Productivity First

Everyone has tried productivity software that seems to do the exact opposite of its intended purpose. Menus are slow and clunky, and the interface is just yawn-inducing. 

While many software suites have a lot in common, it ultimately comes down to what a team feels most comfortable with and what they can get done. Battling against non-intuitive tech is the last thing a team should be doing as they strive to make big creative breakthroughs. 

“The number one benefit of information technology is that it empowers people to do what they want to do. It lets people be creative,” said former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. “It lets people be productive. It lets people learn things they didn't think they could learn before, and so in a sense, it is all about potential.” 

Creativity can't be measured in exact terms, but team leaders will know intuitively when certain software is a hit or a miss.

Clarify Goals Daily

At a certain point in the remote work experience, even the most eager and determined employees will feel disconnected from their teams and the big-picture goals of the company. Managers and executives need to combat this trend by reinforcing the overarching mission of the business and making team goals crystal clear for everyone to understand. 

Lack of transparency and ownership are often the root cause of lagging employee engagement, and this is happening on a much bigger scale in the remote work era. Businesses that keep their employees informed and involved are less likely to deal with issues related to motivation and miscommunication.

“At the beginning of Covid, it was essential for us to feel connected,” said Aylon Steinhart, Co-Founder and CEO of Eclipse Foods. “We have daily virtual check-in for the entire company to ensure we all are aligned on our to-dos and are accountable to one another. Communication and efficiency are key for developing a remote team. We ensure to have a clear agenda and key points to talk through, so there isn't a lag between different speakers. You want to have all of your staff know what type of goals are needed of them to achieve and how to achieve them. In the midst of virtual work and running a company being able to communicate and connect with your employees are essential skills for us and running a successful remote team.”

Will it take a bit more effort and time to run frequent check-ins and communicate across multiple teams? Yes, and some businesses may not see the benefit in tangible terms. However, companies that put this policy into practice will be far more resilient to challenges and disruption down the line. The positives far outweigh the downsides in a remote work future. 

Make it Visual

Remote work can be a one-dimensional experience for managers and team members alike. Spreadsheets, terminals, emails, and web tabs can drag on day after day, and a visual interlude can help keep team members engaged and accountable.

Not every meeting has to be a video call, but this can help break up the monotony and make sure everyone is bringing good energy to the team despite working from home. 

“We have found that utilizing those communication softwares that are available is very important towards making remote work…work,” said William Schumacher, CEO of Uprising Food. “Employees need to be able to communicate effectively amongst each other. We like to use Loom for that. Loom allows us to have those video conversations that provide a bit more intimacy rather than communicating via email. Also, virtual project management is key. Whether it's email or basecamp, we've been staying more organized than normal, and having one location for everything project-related has also been incredibly helpful.” 

Some projects will be more conducive to video chat or certain types of project management software, so leaders need to go case-by-case and not try to force a fit that doesn't work. 

Go with the Flow

As teams become more well-versed in using various tools each day, workflows and threads will naturally gravitate towards the software that manages them best. 

For example, quick chats may be executed in a simple messaging app, while more important project touchpoints are reserved for software that tracks progress and allows for greater visibility across the team. 

“Our team communicates via Slack and through Google Hangouts,” said Olamide Olowe, CEO of Topicals. “We also use Trello to keep track of deliverables, issues or observations that have been noticed in respective departments, and questions raised in meetings that we should follow up on.”

The idea here is for team leaders to not try over-engineering the toolkit for their team, but rather to allow staff to experiment with different approaches to see what works best. Occasionally, managers will have to coordinate and remind of best practices, but only if things get off track.

Try an All-in-One

Some productivity suites are bigger, beefier, pricier, and worth every penny for companies that need a one-stop-shop for productivity and collaboration.

If meetings are required to host dozens of participants with major storage needs and secure file sharing, an enterprise solution might be the best call. Established companies with critical projects may not want to take a risk with smaller, individual apps. 

“I love to use Teams to collaborate with my employees,” said Jim Beard, COO of BoxGenie. “Especially while working remote, this software has been the perfect tool to keep our momentum going. We can share files easily, chat instantly, and collaborate on projects effortlessly. I think this software is what has given us continued success and I'd recommend anyone entering the business world to utilize this as much as possible.”

The big advantage of using one overarching software is the wide-ranging familiarity with one interface across the entire company. This makes things way easier when getting cross-department projects underway or sending staff members on solo missions with other teams.

Automate the Easy Stuff

Nothing can make productivity grind to a halt like a tidal wave of tedious tasks. Filling out spreadsheets, extracting information from documents, creating reports, or tracking inventory numbers – these are all tasks that can be automated with the right tools in place.

“We've implemented a variety of robotic process automations (RPA) around the business that have been a game changer,” said Brent Sanders, CEO of Wicksly. “We used a company called Formulated and everything has been automatic. Automating frees up a tremendous amount of time as well as worry over natural human error.”

Not every industry will enjoy the same ROI from software like RPA, but given the digitization of most businesses these days, there's surely something to benefit from in terms of automation behind the scenes. Executives may want to examine some software options to see how they can get an edge.  

Keep Collecting Feedback 

How does a manager know if his or her team is truly benefiting from a new productivity suite or application? They may check in now and again, but unless they're on the front lines with workers using the tools each day, they may not get the full story. 

This is where feedback plays a key role in the implementation of any new software, especially something as universal as collaboration or project management. Team members should be encouraged to give their open, honest opinion about any app that rolls out, giving leaders a clear vision of the pros and cons. This goes for any customer-facing feature as well.

“Using surveys is an excellent way to measure public opinion, as well as to create data and statistics to back up a business strategy or process,” said Jared Zabaldo, Founder of USAMM. “When you're first getting started, remember that the best surveys will include a variety of different questions, but all should provide space for one unique answer. While you may be able to get some idea of the information that you're after through the use of multiple choice answers and the like, asking those participating to provide a detailed paragraph explaining their answer to your most important question will be extremely helpful.” 

Feedback won't always be rosy – it shouldn't be! The best team leaders know how to receive feedback of all types and incorporate changes fast and effectively. 

Digitize the Basics

When a business is transitioning to a remote work setup, project leaders may forget to put the fundamentals in place. This becomes a problem when staff members end up lost in the dark with no clue how to complete a task or find a resource.

Even if it seems redundant, companies may want to go back and do a complete overview of the remote work protocol now that the majority of the shift has been made. This can be a revealing experience for all teams as they uncover gaps or weak points in their strategy. 

“Some of the best ‘tools' to manage your team can simply include digital versions of your Standard Operating Procedures that anyone can access – and at any time,” said Timmy Yanchun, Co-Founder of LTHR Shaving. “We've all had that feeling when pulling an all-nighter, and needing to confirm a particular process or procedure. By updating and making your SOPs available, they can serve as a 24/7 guide.”

A complete remote work support network may not be possible at first, but we can expect to see more products and services that address this issue moving forward, especially as it relates to the onboarding process for new employees. 

Efficiency Above All

Team leaders across the business world are looking for that perfect piece of software that helps everything fall into place, but what metric should they track to determine if it's actually doing the job?

The answer is efficiency – how much time and headache it saves the team without compromising on communication or quality. Teams that embrace complex software just for the sake of enjoying a shiny new object are destined to hit roadblocks sooner than later. 

In short, there's a foolproof question that leaders need to ask themselves when weighing the pros and cons of new software: “is this going to speed up our team, or slow us down?”

“Over the past year I adopted ConnectTeam, which is a tech tool that helps to improve productivity and efficiency within my business,” said Tyler Forte, CEO & Co-Founder of Felix Homes. “It is a communication tool that allows my employees to connect through individual chat and group chats. ConnectTeam has helped with maintaining day to day communication and collaboration within my company. It is easy to use, and its design encourages efficient and interactive participation between all levels of employees. Managers can effectively track progress without wasting time searching for information. It is all there, just a few clicks away. I highly recommend this tool for any business looking to streamline its communication and increase productivity.” 

Every company is handling these changes differently, but the overall lesson is clear. As business makes the slow but steady shift to remote work, executives and managers need to devote extra time and attention to team-based software to avoid falling behind the curve. 

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