With virtual work here to stay, managing remote teams is a responsibility for many managers… However, mastering the art of managing remote and hybrid talent doesn’t necessarily come naturally—it takes time, know-how, and practice.
The leaders who learn how to better manage remote teams will have the advantage in the modern-day workforce. They’ll be better able to:
Managing remote employees is hard. We’re here to help you master the art and become a top-notch virtual manager. First, let’s get into the challenges. Then, we’ll cover the tips and best practices.
It’s no secret that managing remote teams can be difficult. You’re trying to get the best work out of people you hardly ever see and potentially have never met—and that can be tricky. Whether you’re brand-new to managing remote team members or have been around the virtual block, here are a few of the challenges you’re bound to face:
Sometimes, email and Slack messages just aren’t as clear as you think. It’s easy for remote employees to get confused about processes and expectations, and not everyone has the courage to raise their hand when they have a question.
Your remote team likely works in different time zones in varying stages of life. Some team members might have just graduated college, while others might be wrangling a handful of kids. You’ll need to learn to accommodate work preferences and be flexible with scheduling and demands.
Every employee will have their own communication preferences, and you’ll need to learn to adapt to them. Don’t force all your employees into a single mode of communication. Instead, provide options and accommodate everyone’s work and management style. Some might prefer Zoom chats while others will rely on Slack.
It’s easy to feel alone and isolated as a remote employee. Without physical interaction, these employees rely on emails and Slack messages to communicate with other human beings. Even if the employee has a family and works from home, it can be challenging spending 8+ hours of your day in front of a computer by yourself.
Burnout can happen to anyone, but remote employees are a bit more susceptible. Without clear rules of engagement and remote-working guidelines, they can easily be “on” all day and never get a true break. They may log in early, work throughout the day, and answer emails in the evening because they don’t have a clear separation from work.
28 best practices sound like a lot…because it is. However, don’t feel like you have to change everything at once. Look through these tips and best practices to find the ones that resonate with your team’s challenges the most. Commit to a handful, track the impact, and make it a habit—then move on to another set you want to implement.
Remote work is still a relatively new phenomenon, at least at the scale it’s reached now. Learning to manage remote teams isn’t an overnight process. There’s a lot of trial and error. Give yourself time and space to adapt.
Create rules of engagement for your remote teams. Be flexible, but establish ground rules that everyone should follow. Expectations could include the following:
Give your employees autonomy with their work, but make sure they’re accountable for their tasks and projects. Their success should be tied to metrics they can control, and they should report on progress and roadblocks during one-on-ones and team meetings.
You’ll need to invest in a handful of tools and hardware to empower your remote teams. For starters, everyone is going to need decent computers relevant to their role—you don’t want your graphic designers waiting hours for their files to upload and process.
Next, you need remote-friendly tools for collaboration. Here are a few they can help:
Nailing the perfect amount of communication is hard, so it’s better to overcommunicate rather than under-communicate. Provide regular updates to your team on project progress and broader company changes.
Assume your employees don’t read every email (because they don’t).
Take time during your weekly virtual meetings to catch up and get everyone on the same page. You might have regular round robins where every team member shares what they’re currently working on or things they’ve recently shipped.
Your employees are likely distributed across your country and possibly even internationally. Respect these different time zones. Don’t schedule meetings for 10am EST when it’s going to be 7am for your Pacific Coast coworkers.
When possible, use scheduling features with email and messaging applications to deliver messages during your employees’ working hours.
Micromanagement can be the biggest detriment to distributed teams. Make it easy on yourself (and your employees), and stop worrying about inputs.
It doesn’t matter how much time your employees put in or if they’re online for 8 hours every day—what matters is that they get their work done. If your employees are producing good business outcomes and meeting goals, don’t worry about their input.
Encourage flexibility with your remote workers. You’ll need some rules and overlapping schedules for meetings, but don’t create unnecessary rules.
If an employee likes to take a 1-hour run in the afternoon but starts the day early to get all their work done, that shouldn’t be a problem. And if a parent needs to leave throughout the day to drop kids off at school and daycare, make it as no-stress as possible.
Remember, your remote employees have lives. Yes, they’re committed to your business, but the more autonomy you offer them, the more likely they’ll care and contribute to your company.
Bring your entire team together often (preferably at least once a week). If your agenda is light, make time to at least see each other and get face time. It could be an opportunity to socialize and catch up.
Some teams find time once a week (or every other week) to play remote-friendly games like Among Us for Jack in the Box games. It’s great for team-building and encouraging collaboration.
Create documents detailing your team’s processes. Whether that’s committing changes to GitHub or uploading blog posts to WordPress, build step-by-step guides that anyone can follow.
Thes can be handy for onboarding new employees and for mitigating losses when employees inevitably decide to pursue their careers elsewhere.
Once you have your documented processes, look for ways to streamline your workflows. This might be involving automation in the process or even hiring contractors to handle some of the nitty-gritty work.
The less time you spend managing your projects and handoffs, the more time you’ll have for actually doing work.
You don’t need to be best friends with all your coworkers or direct reports, but you do need a remote-friendly environment where employees can just chat. Encourage social interactions.
Consider it the virtual water cooler.
You could do this with regular video meetings, or you might just make a specific Slack channel for coworkers to share funny GIFs and weekend plans.
Managing remote teams can be difficult when you have a hybrid environment. For example, if you have a majority of employees in the office and a handful (or just one) employees on a video conferencing call, you’ll need to be intentional about making everyone feel included.
Sometimes, that’s pausing the meeting to give someone on the remote call time to add feedback. Other times, that’s actively using and monitoring your group chat during larger meetings. Some employees might not feel comfortable speaking out loud in a bigger setting, but they may be willing to type in chat.
Make time at least once a year (more often if you can manage) to meet together in person. This is a valuable time to collaborate, build camaraderie, and remind everyone that there are real humans behind usernames and avatars.
You don’t need to wait for in-person meetings to do team-building activities. There are plenty of ways you can build teamwork and collaboration in a remote working environment.
Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing:
Your employees should be comfortable being their authentic selves in a remote environment. That means your introverted employees should feel safe not always speaking up, and your LGBTQ workers can feel secure talking about their lives without judgment or unconscious bias.
Remember to celebrate team wins—big and small. It’s easy for remote work to turn into daily monotony, but recognition gives everyone a chance to step back and soak in the details.
You might create performance awards or celebrate employee milestones. For example, when an employee goes above and beyond, let them know you see it—and shout it out in broader meetings for them to get recognition with other teams and executives.
And when your worker reaches a 3-year anniversary with the company, make it feel like their birthday.
Remote management and work doesn’t come naturally for everyone. It can be hard to learn how to collaborate virtually and create healthy boundaries. Don’t assume everyone has it nailed down already—create training opportunities for everyone to learn (including you).
Consider bringing in professionals to train your team on remote work best practices. This could include advice on healthy habits and behaviors for thriving in a remote setting or training on collaborative applications and software.
A project management tool can help keep everyone up-to-date on projects, tasks, and assignments. As much as possible, try to put all relevant conversations into each project’s description and comments section.
This will help alleviate employees having to bounce back and forth between emails and one-off Slack conversations to find all the pertinent details for an assignment.
Within (and outside) your project management tools, find ways to automate the boring work. Here are a few ways you can automate some of your work:
Things can and will go wrong. Internet connectivity will crash, cameras won’t work, audio will fluctuate, and apps will malfunction—it’s all part of working with technology.
Recognize that technical difficulties come and go, and don’t make it a big deal. Work with your IT team to come up with quick fixes and solutions, but don’t panic when things fail.
For decades, culture has been shaped by interactions and engagement face-to-face in the office. Now, companies need to be intentional to develop remote cultures that are just as impactful.
Your remote culture is shaped by your language, communication, company values, and priorities. For example, do you want a culture where it’s appropriate to include GIFs in professional presentations? What about using swear words?
There’s no right or wrong answer—but it’s up to leadership to set the standard and build the culture they envision.
While it’s easy to slip into a habit of camera-off meetings, try to have virtual face-time at least occasionally. Video meetings let you build upon verbal and text communication with non-verbal queues. This can help eliminate confusion and build stronger relationships with your employees.
Ask your remote team what they’re struggling with. What’s hard about virtual work, and what would they like to change? Is there anything you can do as a manager to improve their work-life quality?
Ask these questions in one-on-ones or team meetings. If you aren’t getting much feedback, consider an anonymous option where employees can be a bit more candid without fear of repercussion.
Your employees won’t always admit they’re getting burned out—they might not even notice it themselves. However, you might be able to catch early signs of burnout and intervene before things spiral out of control.
If an employee is showing up late to meetings or underperforming in a way that’s unlike them, don’t jump to critiques or reprimands. Provide emotional support. Find out what’s going on. They might just need a little break, and your encouragement may give them the excuse they need to take it.
Highlight your remote employees in broader meetings. You might send a monthly (or quarterly) newsletter to your department or the company highlighting your team’s success (and spotlighting individual teammates). You may also look for opportunities for your direct reports to present in important meetings to give them valuable face-time with the rest of the company.
Career progression can often get lost in a remote working model. Make sure you have regular meetings with your employees to talk about their big-picture careers. Are things headed in the right direction? Would they like different opportunities to acquire new skills?
Your employees inevitably will run into remote roadblocks that make their work more difficult. That might be a headstrong human resources team or a non-responsive member of IT. Whatever the case may be, champion your employees and advocate on their behalf to eliminate obstacles.
Everyone is still getting the hang of this whole remote work thing. It’s easier for others than some, and you might even be struggling yourself. Be patient. It takes time to adapt to change. Don’t expect an overnight shift.
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