Thanks to a number of key factors, including a variety of technological advances, the past few years have seen a steady increase in the number of companies allowing their employees to work remotely.
In fact, over 3.7 million employees work from home at least half the time, and according to a 2018 survey conducted by Upwork, 63% of all companies employed remote workers. Whether companies were fully remote, partially remote, or remote-as-necessary, more than half of all hiring managers in the survey indicated that remote work has become much more commonplace than it was even just three years prior.
And these numbers were all from before the coronavirus pandemic forced any remaining businesses to develop work-from-home policies in order to continue operating in a time of social distancing.
Whether your company has always had remote workers or you’ve had to make a dramatic shift due to COVID-19, you may be wondering how to manage a remote team. It can be all too easy for team members to lose touch with what everyone else is doing or for minor roadblocks to become major setbacks.
To help you avoid these challenges and resolve them when they arise, we’ve pulled together this list of nine tips that will help you manage a remote team more effectively so that you can be an excellent manager whether your team is remote or in the office.
Tips to Effectively Manage a Remote Team
Implement these best practices to create a collaborative and productive environment for your team—whether they’re virtual or in-office.
1. Maintain Clear and Open Lines of Communication
Communication is always important in business. But when your team is working remotely, it becomes even more crucial: Without clear and consistent communication, it’s incredibly easy for teams to fall out of sync and for projects to become derailed.
As a manager, supervisor, or business owner, you need to do your best to ensure that your team understands that they can turn to you (and to each other) for help.
Exactly how you facilitate this will, of course, depend on the specifics of your business, your team, and the policies that you follow. That being said, it can be wise to consider:
- An “open door” policy, where members of your team are encouraged to reach out to you whenever they need help resolving a problem. Think of it as keeping your office door open for employees to pop in and ask questions.
- Daily “stand-up” meetings, where everyone on the team goes over their to-do list for the day. This ensures that everyone on the team knows what everyone else is working on and can help identify roadblocks that may be holding tasks back.
- Weekly one-on-one meetings between you and each member of your team, where your employees are encouraged to talk freely about the challenges they’re facing without the pressure of the entire group so that you can identify solutions.
2. Establish Protocols and Policies for Success
When making the transition to remote work, it’s important for all of your team members to understand the company policies as they apply to working virtually. A lack of understanding in the early days will only continue to cause confusion.
Questions you should address include:
- Can anyone work from home?
- Are there any essential workers who must remain on-site?
- How much notification does the company require to process a work-from-home request?
- What are the hardware/software requirements associated with remote/virtual work?
- Are there digital security requirements that must be addressed? For example, do remote workers need to log in through a VPN?
- During meetings, do you expect webcams to be enabled and turned on to facilitate face-to-face interaction?
Do your best to answer these and any other questions relevant to your business. Type the answers up in a formal document, and distribute them to your employees as a formal policy. If it is not already included in your employee handbook, consider adding these policies to make it official.
And, of course, if in the early days your team members have questions about the policy or are unsure of how to proceed, encourage them to ask you questions so that you can clarify.
3. Leverage the Technology Available
Remote work is possible due to the monumental advancements technology has made in recent years. It would be foolish not to leverage this available technology to your advantage. When designing your work-from-home policies, think critically about the different kinds of communication and tools that your team will require to be effective, and find ways to implement those tools.
Some options to consider include:
- Instant messaging systems: Slack, Microsoft Teams, Facebook Messenger for Business, and Google Hangouts are all great options for instant messaging systems that your team can use to ask each other questions and keep each other in the loop on important work as it happens.
- Video conferencing systems: Zoom, Uberconference, GoToMeeting, and Skype for Business can all help you and your team get important face-to-face time, even when you’re not physically with each other.
- Document sharing systems: If your team needs to work collaboratively on the same documents and projects, applications like Google Drive and Dropbox can be a gamechanger.
4. Remember What It Means to Be a Manager
As a manager or business owner, you undoubtedly wear a lot of hats and perform a number of important functions. But it’s important to remember that one of your most important duties is to identify and remove roadblocks preventing your team from working effectively. This duty takes on increased importance when your team is remote and communication is potentially strained or limited compared to how it might have otherwise been.
What kinds of roadblocks should you watch out for? That’ll depend on your business. But when you’re dealing with a remote team, it might include ensuring that all of your employees have the equipment they need to do their jobs. It might mean adjusting schedules so that your workers can tend to sick family members or children who are suddenly stuck at home due to school closures. It might mean dealing with supply chain issues.
Constantly be on the lookout for potential roadblocks, and do your best to resolve them before they become operation-halting problems.
5. Be Flexible in Your Management Style
When it comes to managing virtual teams, flexibility is the name of the game. Just as each of your employees has their own strengths and weaknesses, they each likely work best when managed in different ways. Not everyone needs to be—or should be—approached with the same management style.
Some of your workers will require more oversight. Some will require less. You should be flexible, and capable of tailoring your management approach to each individual employee so that everyone has the level of freedom and oversight that they need to thrive.
It’s also important to note that some people may need to be managed differently when they are remote compared to when they are in the office. An employee who was capable of performing well with minimal oversight when the team was all together in the office may need additional guidance and management now that everyone is remote. Be sure to check in with each of your team members, and don’t simply work off of your previously held assumptions.
6. Encourage a Healthy Work-Life Balance
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is essential for all professionals, but it can be particularly difficult for those who work from home.
According to a survey of remote workers conducted by Buffer, nearly a quarter of all remote workers (22%) cite difficulty unplugging after work as their greatest challenge. Another 7% say that taking vacation or time off is a major concern.
When you work in an office, there is a clear boundary between being in the office and being home; when you work from home, it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you’re always “at work.” The boundaries are blurred. This makes it more likely that you’ll be answering emails at 7 p.m., finishing up tasks before bed, and reading Slack messages while you should be tending to your family or yourself.
While it’s sometimes important to put in the extra time for the good of the company, consistently working outside of your regular hours will eventually lead to burnout, which can cause your employees to be less effective and less productive during their actual working hours and might even be a reason that good employees quit. It can be such a problem that the World Health Organization (WHO) has even added it to their list of medical conditions.
As the manager of a remote team, you can encourage your employees to keep a regular schedule and to sign off once the day is over. Do your best not to send emails or instant messages after hours. And model appropriate work-life balance in your own actions.
7. Facilitate Team-Building Activities
Team-building activities become more difficult when everyone is remote, but that doesn’t make them any less important. Team members who care about each other on a personal level and who have strong relationships with each other are more productive. Team-building activities help to facilitate this—and can offer a big boost in morale.
Trust falls might be out, but just because you’re not with each other physically doesn’t mean that you can’t “hang out” when the work is done. Consider setting aside an hour each week for a team lunch, or the final hour of your workweek where the team can come together virtually to bond and talk about something other than work. Set up a Zoom meeting, turn on your webcams, crack open a beer (or pour a glass of wine) and spend some time with each other.
8. Celebrate Your Wins
When everyone is in the office, it’s easy for everyone to stay in the loop when something goes right—news of a “win” quickly spreads throughout the office as a part of the regular workday. And that positive news can go far in giving your employees a motivational boost.
When everyone’s remote, it’s just as important for you to make sure that you’re sharing these wins with everyone so that your team stays motivated and connected and feeling as though the work they are doing is having an impact. Whenever you meet sales targets, exceed revenue goals, or find a creative solution to a complicated problem, do your best to publicize these wins and make sure that everyone feels good about them.
9. Consider Training
Managing a remote team is by its very nature different from managing a team in person. It carries its own challenges, its own roadblocks, and its own processes. If you don’t have experience managing a remote team, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed making the transition—especially if it’s thrust upon you suddenly.
If you’re not sure how to effectively manage a remote team, consider pursuing online management training, particularly from a course or workshop focused on remote teams, to quickly learn skills and strategies that will help you do your job more effectively. (Completing such training can also be a great addition to your resume, especially if you don’t have any formal management training at all.)
And with so many options to choose from, you’re bound to find something in your budget: LinkedIn Learning offers a number of free or relatively inexpensive options, while big-name universities (such as Harvard) offer their own courses for those willing to pay a bit more for professional training.
Another perk of completing online training of any kind? The act of going through an online course can be illuminating because it exposes you to how another organization (in this case, a remote educator) manages the process of virtual communication—lessons you can weave into your company’s policies.
The Bottom Line
Managing a remote or virtual team is about more than just oversight: It’s about providing the resources and support that your employees need to work effectively, regardless of where they happen to be performing their jobs.
Following the advice outlined above can help you learn how to manage a remote team, better serve your employees, and keep everyone productive—whether they’re working in the office, from home, or from a coffee shop.