Remote work: 9 tips to better manage your team

Whether your team has suddenly shifted to remote work due to coronavirus containment efforts or you just started a new remote management position, it can feel like uncertain waters to lead a team effectively in a virtual realm.

But being a great manager is more important than ever. According to Gallup research, 50 percent of employees quit their companies because of their boss.

Remote management just has a few additional challenges to plan for.

Here are nine tips to better manage your remote team.

Check-in meetings (on video) matter

The frequency is entirely up to you, but daily one-on-ones are recommended, especially when you’re just starting out.

Emails and instant messages (even phone calls) only go so far. It’s important to see your employees and for them to see you.

Regular one-on-one meetings establish a connection you don’t necessarily have the opportunity to create during larger team meetings. It’s important that these are predictable and consistent so that employees feel that they can ask questions and express any concerns. In essence, you’re creating a space for you to give feedback and/or praise as a manager while also listening to your employee.

According to a study by Interact, about 69 percent of managers are uncomfortable giving direct feedback to employees.

Creating a recurring space to both give and solicit feedback will help with any discomfort.

That being said, larger team meetings should also be scheduled out to keep everyone focused and on the same page. Video, again, is important. Otherwise, it’s just a conference call, but you can easily take advantage of applications like Zoom, GoTo Meeting, Google Team Hangouts, Microsoft Teams and more.

Just like with one-on-one meetings, your team meetings should be predictable, consistent and always with (at least a basic) agenda to maintain focus.

And video cannot be overrated. Every team member should understand that meetings happen on video in a quiet place with few distractions. This professional approach fosters productivity and better connection among participants.

Embrace over-communication in remote work

When it comes to working from home, you can almost never communicate too much. 

Two benefits arise from apparent over-communication: 

  1. Your team understands your expectations and is on the same page with you.
  2. Loneliness can be combated.

Love it or hate it, the office environment provides a social environment in many ways. Remove the physical office, and remote workers can more easily feel alone and isolated.

Communicate more. It’s rarely too much in a remote work environment.

Use a clear set of communication tools

Technology offers a range of options and applications to stay in touch with your team. It’s tempting to try the next “shiny” tool with upgraded features, but the more applications your team uses, the more scattered the communication.

In addition to the obvious use of email, decide on one communication tool for video meetings and one for instant messaging. More than that and messages could easily be missed by team members. Make sure that everyone on the team is comfortable with using each tool.

Beyond communication, there are definitely many tools that can optimize your remote team’s productivity to be aware of as well.

Whatever you decide to use among your team members, double check that each tool features adequate security.

Communication etiquette is relevant

Short of actually training your team on the best ways to communicate via instant message and beyond (never underestimate the power of an emoji when appropriate), a simple conversation about the do’s and don’ts of short-form communication always helps.

First, it’s helpful for everyone to assume the best from one other regarding tone in a message or email. But what else can everyone do to make sure that nothing is misread or taken in a negative light? It’s important to establish those baselines to foster the most productive and positive communication amongst your team.

Explain goals and set expectations

When working from home, it’s important that every team member feels part of the mission.

A big part of that is explaining the “why” behind a particular goal and how each employee contributes to that goal.

Clearly identify the tasks to be done, their priority and who should champion what, along with regular deadlines to check on progress.

Focus on the outcomes with your remote team

Micro-managing is never a good idea, remote or not. But attempting any semblance of managing every detail or every hour your team works remotely could lead to discord among your employees.

Instead, focus on the outcome of your team’s activity. In the end, the goals and deadlines achieved and met are the measure of success, not how each working hour is spent. As a manager, it’s your responsibility to set expectations and monitor employee workloads.

Audit your remote team’s resources

You can’t assume that every remote employee has what he or she needs to contribute as expected. Does everyone have an updated computer, mobile device, access to high-speed internet and so on?

Have a plan to address any gaps in resources among the team.

Support a remote team ‘social life’

It can’t all be about work, work, work from a remote setting. Just like how you’ll find “water cooler” chat in an office, your team will only benefit from a little social lead way here and there.

This can be as simple as leaving the first few minutes of a team meeting open to non-work conversation. You also could organize virtual social hours with possible themes. There’s no limit to your imagination here. Just remember that humans are more than worker bees, and the more you can celebrate that and offer each employee a sense of belonging, the better off your team will do in the long run.

Encourage vacations to be actual vacations

When you’re so connected to your team, it can be hard to disconnect. As the manager, let your team know that you not only consider their “off” time to be off, but also that everyone taking time to recharge is very important.

The technology we all use can make “turning off” pretty difficult, but this is especially true for remote workers. Remember that the power to make that a priority comes from you.

Help coordinate any temporary task hand-offs and plans to sustain an employee’s expected time off to ensure a smooth transition.

The key to managing a remote team successfully is clear communication, a consistent schedule and set expectations. Giving your team the flexibility and understanding they may need while also inspiring them to hit goals will always be a shifting balance you’ll be adapting to every day.