Remote work is the new reality, and for many managers, a new frontier. As businesses rely more and more on remote teams to get work done and employees have shown an ability to be efficient from anywhere, remote managers must adapt.
In this article, we’ll discuss tips to help you manage remote teams and improve whatever situation you’re in.
Remote managers face many of the same obstacles as their employees. Knowing how to manage a remote team starts with empathy for their situation and the challenges they face, including:
- Lack of structure and routine that can lead some to disengage.
- Slower access to information and people that keep work moving.
- Process changes and learning curves for new communications tools.
- Distractions around the house, coffee shop, or wherever remote work
- Social isolation that can weigh on their emotions and team morale.
With an understanding of this changing landscape and a willingness to learn from it, remote managers can foster an environment where everyone thrives.
How to manage a remote team with confidence
Ultimately, you want to support your team to ensure everyone is motivated and effective. While many management fundamentals apply, there are other best practices for building remote employee engagement, establishing trust from afar, and creating a culture that balances empathy with accountability.
- Set the tone
Helping others manage their workload starts with managing your own. To make space for managing remote teams, you need to make sure your own plate isn’t too full. That means clearly understanding your own workload and any additional leadership responsibilities you may have. Setting clear, realistic expectations for yourself allows you to follow suit with your remote team and establish a culture of accountability.
- Get on the same page
Less face-to-face time gives remote managers fewer chances to field questions about processes or strategies. One way to get ahead is get it in writing. Map out workflows, create best-practice checklists, build out templates—if it makes work easier, document and share it. Seek out feedback to make sure everyone’s aware and aligned, then make your guidance easily accessible and updatable. The more transparent and flexible you are, the more likely your team will let you know when something’s not working, rather than slowing down, missing steps, or getting stuck.
- Dial up communication
Even a short check-in goes a long way in establishing rapport and connection. Regular individual meetings give people the opportunity to speak freely and feel heard. Start short (15 minutes or less) and adjust length and frequency based on the role. Have them run down what’s on their plate, flag any obstacles you (or other teammates) can help them overcome, and leave room for feedback in both directions.
- Choose your channels
There are more ways than ever to communicate about work, life, and everything else in the balance. There’s a time and a place for all of it—collaboration, conversation, even occasional venting. Don’t let how you communicate slow the conversation. Just be sure to establish the right channel for each purpose. Ask your team’s preferences and be flexible. Video conferencing for regular huddles, chat for quick questions, text if there’s an urgent need—whatever works, set the expectation and stick to it.
Constantly looking over someone’s shoulder doesn’t help them do their best work. If people are hitting deadlines and meeting quality standards, worrying about what they’re doing every minute of the day undercuts their performance—and yours. Focus on outcomes over activities, and trust work is getting done even if you can’t see it happening. The best way for remote managers to help their teams hit key benchmarks and show individual development is to give them the space to do it.
- Establish connections
If someone on your team is unhappy or unproductive, consider it an opportunity to show them you’re invested in their success. Remote work doesn’t offer as many moments before or after a meeting to catch up in the hallway, so reach out directly to proactively understand their needs. People generally want to succeed, so listen first and lead with compassion for their situation. Doing so will make them more likely to accept the help they need, and you’ll be strengthening your culture one person at a time.
- Respect time and calendars
Remote workers have enough distractions and frustrations away from the office. Avoid adding to it with constant pings and follow-ups that are proven to disrupt productivity. Don’t schedule online meetings without considering your team’s own schedule and time zones. Put yourself in their shoes and model behavior you want to see around late-night emails or proper channels for communications.
- Cultivate comfort
Creating a comfortable work environment eases stress and cushions against burnout. First, make sure your remote team’s physical work needs are covered and their chairs, devices, or Wi-Fi aren’t causing them pain (literal or otherwise). Then be sure you’re paying ongoing attention to your team’s morale and comfort as a group. Foster familiarity with friendly conversations around the digital water cooler, so your presence everywhere else feels positive, not overbearing. Build solidarity by sharing kudos over a certain channel and seek out opportunities to celebrate successes and recognize your team when it exceeds in this evolving work environment.
In the end, remote managers are people managers. Whether you’ve managed a remote team before or are just starting out, confidence comes from the connections you create. Remote employee engagement begins with you, so embrace the situation and many tools that make collaboration and communication easier than ever. There will be challenges, but being willing to learn and adapt will help you build a culture where people feel supported and set up to thrive.