In medical communication, as in other fields, it’s increasingly common for team members to be scattered across the country or around the globe. It’s important for managers to have the skills needed to make their remote teams successful—no matter where employees are located. Managers of remote medical communication teams face challenges including
- Retaining valuable team members in the face of global competition
- Ensuring that expectations are met on both sides of the working relationship
- Keeping a remote team up to date on trends and changes in your field
- Having the information needed to report to your superiors
- Obtaining the technology needed for remote team success
Here are some tips for addressing the challenges of managing a remote medical communication team.
1. Hire people who are comfortable working remotely for your company
Not everyone is interested in or experienced with working outside of an office provided by their employer. Some people would prefer to engage face to face with their manager and peers on a daily basis. When posting a medical communication job online, be clear about the fact that you expect the hire to work remotely. Be upfront in the hiring process about the nature of remote work, and hire candidates who are self-starters and motivated to work independently. Look at their resumes for evidence of successful remote work in the past. Ask those you call for references how well the candidate used the systems they had in place for remote staff.
It’s equally important to communicate your company’s core values with prospective employees and direct reports. Hire employees who are invested in those values and who understand how their work is serving a larger purpose. A large part of keeping team members motivated comes down to helping them to feel connected to the company’s mission and goals.
2. Conduct regular conference calls
It’s a given that you’ll stay connected to your remote team via email, phone, and chat. But consider scheduling a regular meeting to keep your remote team on the same page. Conference calls can help bridge the distance gap and set the context for email and other online means of communication. Consider setting up a standing meeting with an agenda specifically geared toward unifying the remote team. A standing agenda for your monthly or biweekly conference call could be
- Successes: Highlight a success—if the team is small, mention one for each team member.
- Company or industry news: Choose one or two quick items to help your team keep up with trends and changes at your company or in your field, profession, and corporate arenas.
- Focus topic: If a problem or issue has come up more than once, put together a few bullet points and have a discussion about how to address it.
- Collaboration corner: Share a tip on how to use one of the tools you have for remote team success.
While online conference calls are the norm, think twice about requiring remote workers to use video. Many remote workers treasure the ability to work in the most casual environment possible—at home—and are not likely to appreciate having to put on a professional appearance. While putting a face to a name is nice, in most cases it’s best to make video optional.
3. Unify your team with secure digital access
Data security is crucial in all fields, but in biotech, pharma, and other medical settings, the information you work with and how you transmit it can be especially sensitive. While team members located in the office are tied into company-wide networks established by your IT team, those working remotely may not be. Connecting remote writers, editors, and digital advertisers to your internal team securely not only protects your company but allows remote team members to focus on doing their assignments. Work with your IT team to make sure that all remote hires have and are using secure, company-approved methods of
- Accessing your company’s network
- Sharing files and backing up data
- Screen-sharing as needed
- Securely setting and storing passwords
Make sure your team has the tools to thrive in a digital world.
4. Get help
Managers in medical communication face many demands, and it may feel like you have to solve every problem yourself. When it comes to managing your remote team, here are two resources you should make sure to tap:
- Your peers: Being in touch with other managers in the medical communication field allows you to ask questions that others are likely to know the answer to.
- Your IT team: Remote teams require expertise from an IT perspective. If you haven’t been given clear protocols for connecting your remote staff to the team, ask for them. If needed, set a regular check-in time to talk with IT staff about how best to keep your team connected.
5. Make good use of collaboration and task management tools
When managing a remote team, online collaboration and task management tools are a must. It’s just not possible for all team members to maintain communication and keep the work flowing without them. Use a collaboration and/or task management tool to organize and communicate about your projects, processes, and deadlines clearly, and make sure everyone has access.
- These task management apps are the highest-ranked, according to G2. Many task management systems include time-tracking tools that make it easy for team members to do their work while showing accountability for their time.
- Collaboration tools come in many different categories and types according to how you want to use them. It can be helpful to start by looking at the top apps in the most popular collaboration tool categories.
6. Plan for different time zones
When setting deadlines, make sure you’re aware of the time zone of the person you’re assigning it to. A report that’s due by the end of your company’s business day tomorrow may be due from your writer in a few hours, depending on where that person is located.
When scheduling meetings, try to find times that are reasonable for the entire team. Try using a scheduling app that both accounts for time zones and makes it easy to choose a time that works for everyone.
7. Be transparent with your team
As a manager, you have the responsibility of sharing company news and strategies, the projects you’re working on, and how the team can contribute to the company’s success. The more your team feels their work is important to you, the more invested they will be, and the more they’ll trust your leadership.
8. Get to know your team on a personal level
Personal connections make people feel more invested in their work and valued as team members. Spend time building familiarity with your team and cultivating social bonding as a group. Talk about weekend plans, hobbies, kids, and pop culture. Encourage your employees to do the same with their coworkers.
9. Trust your team to do their work, but check in periodically
Not knowing every detail of how a project is going can sometimes feel like you’re out of control. Take a breath. Trust your team members to do their work. Check in periodically, but don’t let the distance cause you to micromanage.
On the other hand, though it can be tempting to engage more often than you would with an in-person team, it’s important to use email, phone, and chat messages judiciously. Create an environment where employees feel safe having work-life boundaries.
10. Don’t reinvent the wheel
While medical writing is a unique field, there are many lessons to be learned from remote workplace experts. Give yourself a course in remote workplace best practices by checking out these resources:
- How to Effectively Manage a Remote Team (The Startup on Medium)
- How to Manage Remote Direct Reports (Harvard Business Review)
- Top 15 Tips To Effectively Manage Remote Employees (Forbes)
- 25 Tips to Help You Manage a High-Performing Virtual Team (Time Doctor)
- How to Run a Remote Team (Zapier)
- How to Manage a Ream Remotely (Monster)
- Best Practices for Managing a Remote Team (Fast Company)
Many of the qualities of a good leader are the same whether you’re interacting with people remotely or face to face. The key to managing a remote medical communication team is to put in place tools and processes that leverage your leadership skills and keep your team strong across distance.