Home Small Business 3 Ways Small-Business Leaders Can Manage Remote Teams

3 Ways Small-Business Leaders Can Manage Remote Teams

  • Managing employees across different time zones can be a challenge. 
  • One small-business leader said she set boundaries for when people needed to be online. 
  • Tools including a shared drive, Slack channels, and recorded meetings can also connect employees.
  • This article is part of “Small Business Playbook,” a series exploring the leadership challenges and solutions that can drive growth.

Before cofounding the integrated-marketing agency Aimtal, Janet Mesh enjoyed the freedom and flexibility of working remotely as a freelancer. 

When Aimtal launched in 2018, Mesh made the company remote-first. 

The main reason was that the company wanted to tap into a broad talent pool beyond its Boston home base, Mesh told Insider: “Bringing in diverse experiences, perspectives, and culture has always been really important to us.” 

Today, Aimtal has 20 employees across seven time zones.

Managing people around the globe can be challenging. To make it work, Mesh said the company set clear expectations and had established processes for communication and collaboration. 

“It does force you to be very intentional and process-driven to set up your operations and systems so that everyone can work well together and feel empowered,” Mesh said.

Being a remote company offers many benefits to small businesses. Along with expanding hiring opportunities, companies can save money on office space and other expenses. They can also retain their best people, as employees often report being happier and more productive when they work from home.

Insider spoke with a small-business owner and a remote-work expert about how small businesses could manage teams across multiple zones. 

Set parameters on availability

Scheduling is the biggest challenge of having a remote team, Cynthia Watson, the executive chair at Virtira, a remote-work consultancy, told Insider: “If you’re working across four, five time zones, you’ve got to establish a core working area.”

Aimtal requires its employees to be available from 11 a.m. to noon and 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. ET. Mesh said these time frames offered an overlap in schedules that made communicating and scheduling meetings feasible. 

Generally, employees can otherwise “self-manage” their work schedules, Mesh said. Aimtal devotes a Slack channel to employee availability and encourages them to post when they are and aren’t available. 

“It’s important to me, and for everyone, that we don’t have this always-on feeling,” she said.

Mesh often works at night, when she feels most productive, but employees know they’re not required to respond to messages from her outside their typical work times. 

Use asynchronous communication

Asynchronous communication — where communication isn’t happening in real time — is a must for small businesses with remote teams in different time zones, Watson said. It ensures everyone has what they need when they need to get their work done. 

For instance, companies can post meeting notes on a shared drive, store files on collaboration tools (such as Notion or Confluence) that everyone can access, and use consistent file-naming conventions. 

“You want to make it easy for people to access the information that allows them to be productive,” Watson said. 

Headshot of Janet Mesh, CEO and cofounder at Aimtal, in a white long sleeve shirt

Janet Mesh, the CEO and a cofounder of Aimtal.

Jessie Wyman Photography

Aimtal has set asynchronous communication and collaboration processes and procedures, including what information should be documented and where it should be stored, Mesh said: “This helps level the playing field and keeps everyone informed and engaged.” 

They use Slack channels, project-management tools, and knowledge-base software — a library of content that employees can contribute to and search — to stay organized. They record meetings and presentations and post the recordings and transcripts for everyone to access. 

“We make sure that everyone understands that communication and information should be visible, accessible, and searchable,” Mesh said. 

Build personal connections

Working remotely can be isolating. Watson said small-business leaders should build connections and immerse employees in the company’s culture to keep them happy and productive. For example, companies can host icebreakers and social activities, or pair coworkers for buddy relationships.

“It’s important to have a personal connection,” Watson said. “It reinforces core values. Everybody understands how what they’re doing aligns with the company’s goals.”

Every week, Aimtal hosts an all-hands meeting that starts with a “kudos,” where attendees share what went well during the week, Mesh said. 

“It’s a way for everyone to hang out for an hour and connect and go over company updates,” she added.

The company also has “knowledge-sharing sessions,” where employees discuss something they learned or how they helped a client, as well as a Slack channel devoted to pet photos, which Mesh said was one of the most active channels. 

“That’s an important thing to think through: How are people engaging and connecting and sharing their personalities and interests with each other outside of the day-to-day of working together?” Mesh said.