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Remote and hybrid working are here to stay. To help you adjust to the new normal, we've put together the best practices 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 best practices in this article, let’s start by looking at some of the problems they seek to solve.

Communication

Managing a dispersed team poses a number of communication challenges such as coordinating meetings around time zones, misunderstandings due to lack of face-to-face interactions, and too much “notification” or message noise.

Team cohesion and morale

When your team is remote and your work is frequently asynchronous, it’s easy to neglect putting the time in to make your team feel like a team.

But it’s critical to create opportunities for everyone to get together and feel connected as people, not just colleagues.

Even more critical is providing your team with a sense of accomplishment and success for the work they’re doing—and how it’s tied to the greater mission of your org.

Resource management and setting boundaries

When you’re working with a remote team, it can be tougher to manage workloads and allocate tasks efficiently.

You want to foster an environment of productivity that rewards strong performance, but you also want to be careful not to overburden individuals with too much or set unrealistic expectations and deadlines. 

Isolation and disconnection

Even though it may be exciting in the beginning, over time remote workers may start to feel isolated and disconnected. 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 don't trust, then it may mean that your hiring process 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.

Burnout

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. It’s harder for managers to 

Tips For Managing Remote Teams

With the above challenges in mind, here are our tips for effectively managing remote teams.

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Stay up-to-date on all things HR & leadership.

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 company policies and processeses fairly and consistently.

2. Create structures

Productivity in any workplace depends on predictability and structures and it’s easy to disconnect when people 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.

3. Continuously hone your communication channels

Communication is something that you’re always working to get better at as a manager. 

Some simple ways to improve this with your remote teams is to make sure you have regular 1:1 meetings set up with direct reports (and make it clear that you’re available for ad hoc discussions if necessary).

It’s easy for priorities and messages to get jumbled when you’re typically communicating via tools like Slack, so a weekly kickoff meeting can also help you to align your team on priorities for the week, provide status updates on ongoing projects, ensure clarity around new initiatives, and share pertinent or timely housekeeping information.

Also, when using a tool like Slack, you want to make sure there are enough channels to house dedicated discussions without disturbing too many others, but not so many that important information gets easily lost in the noise.

Try and document processes as much as possible to help ensure that everyone is clear about how communication will happen within the remote team.

Related read: 10 Best Team Communication Apps for Hybrid Teams

4. Check-in often

When you’re co-located, it’s easier for you to see that an employee is overloaded. For example, you may notice that someone isn’t 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.

Therefore, it’s important to regularly (once a week or fortnightly) check in with your reports individually to see how they’re faring with their workloads.

Ensure they feel comfortable being honest if they’re feeling overwhelmed, and be on the lookout for any additional resources that will make it easier for them to complete their work more efficiently. 

You may discover common themes, or that there’s a particular task that may be best suited to delegate to another team member or even outsource.

Perhaps there are particular tasks that are taking much longer than you thought to complete, and thus your capacity expectations are out of whack. 

These things are easy to overlook/go unseen in a remote environment.

It’s also good practice to ask your team to be clear about what their typical working hours are and to provide updates or set away messages as needed when they’re going to be unavailable or away from their work. 

You don’t want them to feel like they’re being “monitored”, though. Instead, you want to reinforce the importance of driving impact and delivering performance overclocking in and out of their standard workday.

This provides them with a level of autonomy and independence that’s really powerful and motivating. 

5. 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.

Therefore it pays dividends to ensure that there are well-documented procedures in place for damn-near everything (we use Slite for this). 

Let your team members be responsible for creating the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for their roles and continuously update these SOPs as things change.

6. Be open to feedback and input

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, 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.

An important aspect of this is creating a psychologically safe environment where your team feels comfortable and encouraged to share their ideas and questions.

7. Be flexible

One of the great things that people like about working remotely is the flexibility that this affords them. 

For instance, someone may want to pick up their kid from school and then work an extra hour or tow in the evening. This calls on you, the manager, to be flexible.

At People Managing People 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 lack of action.

8. Set reasonable expectations around working hours

While you want your team members to work hard and care about their performance, you don’t want to risk burnout by expecting them to be “always-on”. 

Set expectations that after-hours emails or messages are not expected to be responded to until the following workday (unless in urgent edge cases), and practice what you preach! Teaching this by example is important.

Setting clear boundaries between work life and non-work life in the world of remote work is tremendously important, and will help keep team members happier and more productive when they are working.

9. 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.

Do they have an idea to improve or simplify a process or task? Are they unsure why they’re being asked to complete something? Are they feeling frustrated by the lack of clarity on something? Don’t bristle at this sort of thing. 

Leave space for and encourage those discussions, particularly in a group setting, and make sure they feel heard. These are great opportunities for you to better understand the blockers for your team, and make changes or address issues that are holding people back from performing at their best. 

Related read: 8 Effective Ways To Get Employee Feedback (+ Pros and Cons)

10. Include Everyone

Even when you deal with team members in the same location, some individuals naturally end up taking a back seat. If you’re not careful in remote teams, such individuals may disappear altogether.

Thus, make an effort to get each team member to present regularly. This doesn’t 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

Yes we go to work to work, but we’re social creatures and building bonds and rapport is an important part of a functioning team.

One method for doing this is to make time for those semi-regular team-wide meetings, where you can share and celebrate individual or team-wide accomplishments in a (virtual) face-to-face setting. 

Open the floor and encourage others to shout out or celebrate their colleagues for things. Positive feedback is more powerful than you think, and you should make it a priority. Find ways to inject fun icebreaker activities in these meetings. Play a game, ask left-field questions, create space for non-work chatter!

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 great places to build community, learn, have fun, and understand how to create more equitable and inclusive workplaces.

12. 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.

13. Provide continuous feedback

Remote employees don’t have the opportunity to interact with you informally in the same building so 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.

14. Look for opportunities for collaboration

One way of encouraging employees to know each other and feel less socially isolated is for you 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.

15. 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.

16. Optimize your onboarding

Onboarding is a crucial and often overlooked phase in the employee lifecycle to get new hires productive quickly and assimilate them into your culture.

We’d argue this is even trickier in a remote environment so, as a manager, you can work with HR to help hone your onboarding process. For advice on how to do this, check out tips for effectively onboarding remote employees.

17. 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’s expected. Thus, you would want to state what a “one day” deadline means, with regard to when it starts and ends.

18. Treat all employees equally

Some managers of remote employees may be managing groups of co-located employees and remote employees at the same time. Some of these employees may be in foreign countries and technically employed by an employer of record.

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.     

19. Be empathetic

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.

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.

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 from ours, but we use a combo of Slite for documentation, Airtable for project management, Slack and Gmail for comms, and then an HRMS for HR stuff.

If you ask your 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 while their problems are being attended to. 

27. Be culturally sensitive

Hiring internationally 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. A good employer of record service can help you understand any norms and or issues related to compliance that you need to navigate.

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 inevitably 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:

Also Worth Checking Out:

By Finn Bartram

Finn is an editor at People Managing People. He's passionate about growing organizations where people are empowered to continuously improve and genuinely enjoy coming to work. If not at his desk, you can find him playing sports or enjoying the great outdoors.