Remote and/or hybrid working is here to stay. To help you adjust to the new normal, we've put together 27 tips for successfully managing remote teams.
As a remote-first company since the pandemic, we draw from our personal experiences as well as those of our community and from wider research.
We'll take you through the challenges you'll likely face and then provide tips for overcoming them.
The Challenges Of Managing Remote Teams
With more employees working remotely, managers are left wondering how they're supposed to properly manage people they rarely see in person.
To understand the tips in this article, let’s start by looking at some of the problems they seek to solve.
Lack of Clear Expectations and Boundaries
As a manager, it would be a mistake to think that since people already know what they should do in the office, it should be clear to them what is expected when working remotely.
Thus, it is vital to ensure that everybody understands what's expected of them regarding remote working. For instance, how quickly team members are expected to respond to communication and when they should attend virtual meetings.
Similarly, boundaries need to be set around working hours and methods of communication.
When employees come to the office in the morning, it’s easy to discuss ideas with them when you meet at the cafeteria or wait for a meeting to start. However, when they work remotely, it’s easy to neglect such engagement.
Thus, managers of remote employees need to consider how they will use different forms of communication to replace the face-to-face interaction at the office.
Isolation and Loneliness
Even though it may be exciting in the beginning, over time remote workers may start to feel isolated and lonely. If the manager has not devised methods on how to deal with this, it could become debilitating.
A study published by the Harvard Business Review concluded that “remote workers can feel shunned and left out.” If not appropriately managed, isolation and loneliness could become the basis for physiological and physical health challenges.
Lack of Trust
The fact that employees are part of your team means that you trust them. If there are employees that you do not trust, then it may mean that your hiring systems need to be improved.
Treating employees who work remotely as if all they want is to earn money for doing nothing—i.e. micromanaging—will have a negative impact on collaboration and engagement.
When people are heading into the office daily there are clear boundaries between work life and home life. With remote working this boundary is removed, so many people end up working longer hours, which can eventually lead to burnout or diminished productivity.
The challenges discussed above do not provide an exhaustive list. However, they show that the manager of remote employees needs to be clear about the challenges they may meet. They also show that when employees move to remote work, it cannot just be business as usual. Policies have to be looked at again.
Tips for managing remote teams
With the above challenges in mind, here are our tips for effectively managing remote teams.
1. Determine Your Responsibilities
As a manager, before you can hope to determine what is expected of others within a changing environment, you will need to start by looking at what is expected of you.
You need to get a firm grip on your role in applying the rules of the company fairly and consistently.
2. Optimize Your Onboarding
If you think effective onboarding is tough when peeps are co-located, it's even more of a challenge in a remote environment.
We're constantly working to iterate and improve our onboarding process because it's crucial for productivity and retention.
For how to do this, check out tips for effectively onboarding remote employees.
3. Create Structures
Productivity in any workplace depends on predictability and structures. It’s easy to disconnect when employees work in different locations. Mitigate this by creating team rhythm. There should be a clear timetable for meetings, and employees should know what different people are doing so that they have an idea of where they fit in the process.
When creating this rhythm for remote employees working in different time zones, ensure that the burden of inconvenience does not fall on one member. Rotate meeting times so that the inconvenience of having a meeting either too late or too early in the day does not fall on one employee.
It's also important to create structure within meetings themselves, to keep them efficient and to the point. An example is the EPIC structure, which stands for energy, purpose, insights, and connection. This keeps team members focused and purpose-driven to assist with productivity during meetings.
4. Give Team Members The Chance To Input Ideas
There's no dispute that you have to establish procedures and expectations for your remote team members.
But each individual circumstance is different, and they're the ones who know how they work best and to get the job done.
As such, it makes sense to get their input into how to go about creating this way of working. It's why Amazon CEO, Andy Jassey, has decided to leave it up to his teams to choose their own work practices.
An example of an area where you may want to involve employees is the method of communication they'd prefer, or to set core hours for working and collaborating.
Related read: 8 Effective Ways To Get Employee Feedback (+ Pros and Cons)
5. Focus On Communication
When team members work in the same place as the manager, it’s easy for an employee to walk into the manager’s office and inquire about something.
When working remotely, your team members may not always have an idea of where you are at a given time. Thus, you would want to be clear about how you will keep an open line of communication and remove any communication barriers.
One way of ensuring that communication happens regularly is to block certain times of the day and inform employees that they can book short sessions with you during those blocks. You could then have a calendar so that remote workers know which blocks are taken.
To ensure that everyone is clear about how communication will happen within the remote team, consider creating a communication strategy.
This will determine the number of meetings you will have with your team. In the strategy, look at such issues as limiting noises in the background, decorum around what team members can have in their backgrounds during video calls, and the use of meeting templates.
Related read: 10 Best Team Communication Apps for Hybrid Teams
6. Clarify The Rules
When you introduce rules to the remote team, be clear about what they mean. For example, using vague terms like “properly” and “quickly” may confuse people about what is expected. Thus, you would want to state what a “one day” deadline means, with regards to when it starts and ends.
7. Determine Outputs, Forget About Activity
In the traditional work setting, as long as someone has clocked in, is sitting at their desk, and leaves at the agreed time, they usually consider themselves to have done a full day’s work.
However, in the context of remote work, the workplace and the home are no longer easy to separate. Thus, it is essential to focus on what is delivered, instead of the amount of time an individual spent sitting at a desk.
To determine outputs, there is a need for clarity regarding what should be accomplished over a given period. To ensure that tasks don’t lag, create milestones that have precise deadlines, and schedule meetings to follow up on progress.
However, some jobs will require you to track the time that a remote employee took to complete them. For these kinds of jobs, you can find a time tracking tool.
8. Create Well-Documented Procedures
Oh man is this important.
One of the things that your remote team members will not be able to do with ease is to walk over to another team member’s desk, or around your office, and ask how they should do something.
One of your most important duties is to ensure that there are well-documented procedures in place for damn-near everything. Ensure that all employees know where to find these documents (we use Slite), and then use them.
Guard against just telling team members what the goal is without providing them with an idea of how that task is to be accomplished. To make things easier for yourself, let the employees be responsible for creating the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for their roles. Continuously update these SOPs as things change.
9. Check-in often
When employees are co-located, it’s easier for the manager to see that an employee is overloaded. You may notice that the employee is not taking their lunch or is leaving late every day. You don’t always have this insight with remote employees. If proper care is not taken, employees may end up getting overloaded.
If you have no choice but to send a remote employee an urgent task, inquire about how it will affect their other deadlines. The employee may then provide you with an idea of how much time they need to be added to the tasks that will be affected.
Another thing you should encourage your employees to do is not to overload others with emails. For instance, a “reply all” can send communication to people that it doesn’t concern. This gives employees the extra task of filtering through emails that they should not have received in the first place.
10. Include Everyone
Even when you deal with team members in the same location, some individuals may prefer to take the back row. If you’re not careful in remote teams, such individuals may disappear altogether.
Thus, make an effort to get each team member to present something at each meeting. This does not always have to be work-related; it could be something as simple as asking everyone to say what the best thing that happened to them was since the previous meeting.
We like to start our team meetings with a word and number. A word to describe how you're feeling and a number to gauge your energy levels out of 10. This opens conversations and encourages people to get involved.
11. Encourage Social Interaction
As a remote team manager, you’ll need to come up with ways of ensuring that none of your team members suffers from social isolation. This could be done through the creative use of technology to create engagement.
You could take a leaf from remote working platforms like Upwork, which has a “virtual water cooler” known as the Coffee Break, where employees can interact and share information and news.
You could also look into facilitating the creation of employee resource groups (ERGs). These are a great place to build community, learn, have fun, and understand how to create more equitable and inclusive workplaces.
12. Look For Opportunities For Collaboration
One way of encouraging employees to know each other and feel less socially isolated is for you, as the manager, to find opportunities for collaboration. Instead of having one employee work on one project on their own, determine ways to make remote workers accomplish projects in small teams.
To make that process easier and more fun, you may want to invest in some remote collaboration software too.
13. Include Physical Meetings Sometimes
Just because employees are working remotely doesn't necessarily mean that they can never meet physically if an opportunity arises. Sometimes, you may wish to make it happen.
This may not always be possible, but you could travel to regions where your employees live or organize summits where everybody gets together in the same place.
14. Create Remote Team-Building Activities
In the same way that you can hold virtual meetings with your remote team, you can also do virtual team-building activities. Involve the team in coming up with the ideas.
One of our favourites is the simple "two truths and a lie" game with a budget for snacks.
15. Treat All Employees Equally
Some managers of remote employees may be managing groups of co-located employees and remote employees at the same time. In such a situation, it is easy to end up with one group receiving more benefits than the other.
For instance, if you supply meals to your co-located employees, find a way to extend that benefit to your remote workers. If remote workers have flexible hours, find a way you can extend this benefit to co-located employees.
16. Provide Emotional Support
In a remote environment, the team members you manage may have different emotional challenges than those in a co-located environment. We have already alluded to loneliness, others may struggle to manage their time.
As a manager, you may also be the source of employee problems if you fail to respect the fact that even though they may be working remotely, they're not available 24/7. Unless it was an absolute emergency, you would want to keep communication within reasonable hours.
To provide emotional support, you will need to tackle issues from a place of empathy, always be in communication with your employees, and ask them if there is anything they need from you.
17. Build An Environment Of Trust
As a manager, if you do not trust the people who work for you, you are probably not doing an excellent job in your selection process. If you have to worry about what a remote employee is doing continually, you haven’t been clear about the output and the deadlines. Be clear about guidelines, such as a timeframe within which emails should be answered.
18. Recognize Excellence
While it is vital to treat everyone in your remote team equally, you should make the effort to recognize high performance and those who live by your company values.
Because you will not meet the employee in the corridor and remember to recognize them, be deliberate about mentioning this during team meetings and in your one-to-one meetings with your employees.
We also have Slack channel dedicated to employee recognition and encourage team members to recognize each other.
19. Provide Continuous Feedback
Remote employees don’t have the opportunity to interact with you informally in the same building so that you can give them both formal and informal feedback.
Also, because they may not have a chance to see how others are doing things, they may be apprehensive regarding their ability to meet the standard.
This calls on you to be deliberate when it comes to providing feedback and provide it often and clearly.
For help with this, check out 5 ways to give effective feedback.
20. Provide Remote-specific Training
With the proliferation of employees working remotely, there has been a corresponding increase in companies offering remote training. Remote training is especially important when things are changing because employees need to learn new skills around working remotely.
21. Help Team Members Understand Company Values
Your role as someone responsible for remote team members is to help them understand the values and mission of the company. While they may be working remotely, they need to feel that they are part of the company in every way. This may include involving them in determining the values of your company. You can also find a way of aligning your company values with employees’ values by selecting new employees based on your values as a company.
22. Connect Company Goals To Employees’ Aspirations
One of the significant benefits of remote work is that it allows your employees to work anywhere in the world, as long as they have the required tools. As a manager, this provides you with an opportunity to connect your employees’ goals with those of the company. For instance, an employee who has always wanted to visit New York could be given a chance to work on a New York project when it arises.
By knowing your employees’ aspirations, you could easily determine how to connect them to those of the company. This has a positive effect on engagement, job satisfaction, and loyalty.
23. Be Flexible
One of the great things that people like about working remotely is the flexibility that this affords them. For instance, an employee may want to get her groceries at 11 am, when the shops are less busy, and then work an extra hour in the afternoon. This calls on you, the manager, to be flexible.
We don't care where work is done, or where, as long as it meets our standards and customers and other team members are not being inconvenienced by a lack of communication.
24. Determine The Most Effective Technology
The reason why remote teams have become pervasive is the availability of technology. However, as a manager, you need to ask an important question—which technologies will enable my team to work best?
Your stack will be different to ours, but we use a combo of Slite for docmentation, Airtable for project management, Slack and Gmail for comms and then an HRMS for HR stuff.
If you al the team members to supply their own equipment, you’ll need to determine how it will be paid for, how technical support will be provided, and what features it should have. If this is not clarified, you may risk the security of the communication and data that your employees have access to.
Related read: 10 Best Remote Working Software for Distributed Teams
25. Find A Project Management Tool
The proliferation of remote teams has been accompanied by a corresponding growth in available project management software. A project management tool’s advantage is that it provides a central place where all team members can determine the stage at which a project is at.
The main advantage of most innovative project management tools is that they allow conversations to happen within projects rather than in emails. Anyone who has access to the tool can follow conversations there, reducing the time taken to find information and ask questions that have already been answered.
26. Be Ready To Deal With Technical Problems
Most companies have a dedicated in-house technical team to solve any technical challenges that employees meet. However, remote teams may be spread out so they will need a special arrangement with regards to dealing with technical challenges.
As a manager, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your team is not delayed by the fact that a team member cannot accomplish their tasks due to technical problems. Solutions may include identifying service providers near each team member that would be available when a technical problem emerges. Another solution is to provide a backup by paying for access to a shared workspace where employees can work from while their problems are being attended to.
27. Be Culturally Sensitive
Managing remote workers could mean that you may end up managing employees from different cultures. Being culturally sensitive includes agreeing on which language will be used to communicate during interactions. Also, you’ll need to invest in learning the communication styles of your employees, and how they view punctuality. You should be willing to embrace different cultures without diverting from your own company culture.
Remote working is an evolution
Remote working at this scale is new and fresh methods, best practices and technologies will inevitable emerge to help us.
As ever, it's important to be open minded and focus on how you as a manager can remove blockers and foster greater collaboration.
Some further reading/listening to help you along your management journey:
- People management tips for new and experience managers
- How to bring creativity and fun to remote teams (podcast)
- How to conduct a better performance review
- 5 challenges of managing remote employees and how to overcome them
- The WHY Factor, how to increase employee engagement
- "Thanks, tell me more" how to give and receive feedback
- Servant leadership examples and characteristics
- In too deep: how to keep calm & carry on when you’re overwhelmed as a new manager
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