delegate tasks to remote team members

How to Delegate Successfully: Assigning Responsibility to Your Remote Team

Delegation is an essential part of leadership. Without delegation, it can prove challenging to manage a series of projects and ensure they are completed on time and on target with what a client wants.

As a leader with remote workers and remote team members, you might wonder about the viability of delegating tasks and therefore some of your authority and responsibility to professionals in other countries and timezones, especially if they’re freelancers or contractors.

Why delegation is essential for leaders?

Once any project is large enough that you personally can’t manage every moving part, delegating tasks to senior members of a remote team — or teams — becomes an operational necessity.

Trust is an essential element of this. And it works both ways. You need to trust in your skills as a manager to delegate effectively, and then trust in those who are taking on more responsibility to implement your goals and aims.

Communication makes delegation and remote team management possible. In many cases, unless you’ve worked with a remote team for years and know, trust and understand one another completely, over communicating is a recommended approach. Managers and co-founders of numerous successful remote startups, such as Buffer and Zapier, recommend communicating maybe more than necessary — providing longer, clearer explanations — to avoid confusion and create clarity.

As a manager delegating tasks and responsibility to remote team members, you need to build a culture and support structure to facilitate the most effective communication. Encourage clarity. Test people’s understanding of what is needed, to avoid any misunderstandings that could cost time and therefore money during the project.

To avoid miscommunication, misunderstandings and a delegation disaster, here are five ways you can delegate more effectively.

5 top tips for effective delegation

#1: Provide extensive background detail

Don’t skimp on the background detail.

Sure, writing down a series of tasks, a briefing document or another way of outlining a project might seem like enough. But when your remote team asks for more information, they ought to know why a client wants a product completing a certain way.

If your team doesn’t understand why, then how can they gain a clear understanding of how a development project should look, feel and function once it’s complete?

Context matters. Before starting a project  before even hiring a remote team — put together as much documentation as you can. Ask as many questions as you need to gain a clear understanding. Use this information to create a brief.

And then with that briefing document, see what questions a remote team of developers need to ask to gain the clarity they need to start building what a client wants. If there are a lot of questions, use this as a chance to assign a remote manager — a way of initiating the delegation process and funneling information between yourself, the client, and the remote team.

Use a project management tool and ask the remote team manager to document as much as they can. With documentation, you — as project leader/project or product manager — can spot discrepancies and misunderstandings early on. With this in mind, you can then provide further clarity to ensure everyone is on the same page at the start and throughout the project.

#2: Put communication tools in place

Remote projects require a suite of communication tools.

Email, instant messenger platforms (such as Slack or Telegram), VoIP tools (Skype, Zoom), project management and timezone monitoring apps are a handful of the basics any remote manager would expect to have in place.

Clarity isn’t always possible across chat or phone communication. Even when real-time communication is possible, there is more chance to create the understandings necessary on a call than using other means. Always have every option available, but know when and how to use them and make sure that remote managers understand the differences too. 

#3: Break a project into smaller components

Large projects aren’t easy to manage unless they’re broken down into smaller components and units.

This is especially true when you’ve got several teams in different timezones. When there are elements of the project that need team members working closely together, make sure they’re in the same timezone or country. 

Before a project starts, break it down into smaller components and success points, then delegate accordingly. Whenever possible, encourage remote managers to share the load and facilitate cross-training on different tools and technologies. Trust is so important when it comes to managing this process.

As Andrea K. Rozman, owner of Your Gal Friday notes in a Forbes article:

When working remotely, you can’t walk by their desks and see if they’re being productive. You have to take that leap of faith. If you don’t trust your team members, why do you have them working for you?

#4: Create a process

Don’t wait until half-way through a project for a remote manager to ask for clarification on something they should have asked at the start.

With the right process in place, know where you are going and potential areas where questions will arise along the way. Get the knowledge and understandings in place early on.

A lot of people, especially those whom you’ve delegated responsibility to, won’t want to look stupid or make waves. As a manager, you need to encourage them to ask questions to avoid looking stupid and causing more problems later on.

Build clarity and questions into the project process to make sure it drives forward at a sensible pace and achieves the objectives the client sets.

#5: Always aim for clarity

A lack of clarity — especially when teams are remote — can kill or cripple a project.

Dave Davis of Redfly Marketing, who’s been managing remote teams for over 14 years, said in Forbes:

Even with a proper structure in place, you’d be surprised how many people will wait until halfway through a project to admit that they don’t understand something. Rigorously testing the knowledge of a particular individual or team’s task at hand in an informal way at the beginning of a project can quite literally save a project.

As a manager with other managers reporting to you:

  • Clarify aims, objectives and background briefings;
  • Clarify expectations and project timescales and milestones;
  • Clarify when and how a manager should ask for more information (which should be always and whenever they don’t understand something clearly enough to issue instructions to others).

Other top tips to remember when delegating

It is worth remembering that there are going to be times when you can’t manage a project. You might be on holiday. Or unwell. Or looking after a family member who is unwell. Or in a meeting. What happens then? Does the project grind to a halt or go off the rails without your supervision?

It certainly shouldn’t.

And the same should be true of team leaders who are managing teams with your delegated authority. So if you are off or on holiday, make sure everyone knows who they are and how they can be contacted. Send out an email with those details confirming this.

Another important aspect of delegating to remember is that when something important happens, send everyone an email. Don’t let important milestones or challenges or praise from a client filter down through the team. Send out a clear, concise “all-hands” email, and be ready to answer any questions remote team members are likely to have.

As a manager with remote team members, something that is too easy to forget in this world of online communication: manners and being polite. Say please and thank you. Praise and politeness, the sort of professional levels of commutation you would expect in an office shouldn’t be absent when you’ve got a remote team. Praise and boundaries are important too. Don’t email someone expecting something urgent when they’re off, on holiday or it’s a weekend.

Remote workers have real lives too. Respecting this goes a long way towards ensuring they’re happy and productive.

For busy managers with remote teams, here is a checklist for when your delegating authority to remote managers and team leaders.

Effective delegation checklist

BEFORE Delegation

facilitation-skills-to-make-virtual-meetings-effectiveStep 1: Determine what to delegate

Break the project down.

Decide what tasks require delegation and what you are still managing personally. Have a clear understanding where they fit into the overall project, estimated timescales, goals; map out every aspect of the project and who/where various aspects are being managed remotely, alongside those that you are still managing centrally.

facilitation-skills-to-make-virtual-meetings-effectiveStep 2: Determine delegation authority

Next, decide who you are delegating tasks too. Pick team members you know can and ideally have managed others in the past.

Whenever possible,  select those who are already used to managing the team they’re going to be working with. Pre-existing lines of authority and delegation can prove very effective when there is a tight deadline, a client is expecting results, or the project is part of something much larger and you need everything to run smoothly.

Make sure to pick team members you can trust, or who come highly recommended from previous clients. Get to know them throughout the process and providing they deliver on this project, you know who to trust next time you need a development project implementing.

DURING Delegation

facilitation-skills-to-make-virtual-meetings-effectiveStep 1: Explain the task clearly

Clarity is key.

Documenting everything and providing a clear outline of what needs doing and when a project or aspects of a project ought to be complete is an essential part of delegating. If you don’t understand something well enough, get more information before trying to explain the outline to others. Don’t assume anything. Always clarify and make sure a process is in place to avoid misunderstandings within the team.

facilitation-skills-to-make-virtual-meetings-effectiveStep 2: Describe goals, not actions

Unless you can map out every action that needs taking, try not to micro-manage as the person responsible for the overall success of the project. Instead, aim to describe goals and what team members and remote managers should be aiming for. Map out goals, not the actions everyone is going to take to achieve those goals.

facilitation-skills-to-make-virtual-meetings-effectiveStep 3: Give a clear timeline

Without a clear timeline, there is only going to be confusion.

Make sure everyone knows what the timeline is and when various aspects of any project are meant to be delivered. Again, as project manager, don’t assume. Ask and check that those responsible are confident they can deliver in the expected timescales. Make sure they’re realistic.

facilitation-skills-to-make-virtual-meetings-effectiveStep 4: Describe the authority level

Put clear levels of authority in place.

Know what you expect of someone when they’re a manager taking on part of your duties. Know clearly what they can and can’t authorize and implement. Give them as much authority as you can, as you know they can handle and as you are allowed to give without losing too much control. It is a careful balancing act, and you may not get it right.

When delegating, try to avoid becoming a bottleneck in the process, while at the same time, retaining as much control as you need to ensure successful completion.

facilitation-skills-to-make-virtual-meetings-effectiveStep 5: Put it in writing

To avoid misunderstandings, put the level of delegated authority in writing.

Do this for the team someone else is managing too. Make it clear what they can and can’t do, so that everyone is on the same page and no one oversteps expectations and how much control they have.

AFTER Delegation

facilitation-skills-to-make-virtual-meetings-effectiveStep 1: Check in

Once a project is complete, check in and have a call with those who were responsible for managing other members of the team. Ask them how the process was and what could be improved. This is a learning experience for you as a manager, and a way of improving how you delegate tasks for future projects.

facilitation-skills-to-make-virtual-meetings-effectiveStep 2: Give meaningful feedback

At the same time, give your managers useful and meaningful feedback. Make sure they know what they did well and what can be improved for next time. All being well, you might be working with them again in the future and need to know you’ve got managers that are reliable and effective.

Over to you

Delegating authority and managing remote teams isn’t always easy. As a manager, you need to put processes in place to ensure this is successful. Communicate and always provide clarity, feedback, and reassurance. Set clear expectations.

delegate-responsibility-remote-team

Including the expectation that if something isn’t clear, a remote manager will always ask you to clarify and provide whatever extra information you can. Encourage open communication within the team.

Best of luck delegating responsibility and managing your remote teams😉

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Mary Atamaniuk

Mary Atamaniuk is a content writer at YouTeam — a curated b2b tech talent marketplace that matches businesses with dedicated development teams from pre-vetted software outsourcing agencies.

Mary's areas of interest include digital marketing, tech entrepreneurship, and influencer blogging.

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