11 Best Practices for Effective Remote Team Management in 2023
Managing a remote team is a challenge, one that many companies have been forced into due to the pandemic. However, it can also have its advantages! The dynamic of managing a remote team can push managers to seek more impactful solutions that will improve teamwork, communication and the general work atmosphere. As a result, some remote teams can actually be better organised and more effective than those that get to see each other every day.
Drawing on the collective lessons and learnings of the past three years, as well as our own experience as a remote team, we’ve gathered some tips to share with you to help you become a better leader and manage your remote employees more effectively.
Is remote work here to stay?
Enabled by new digital technologies, remote work was a slowly growing trend even before the pandemic. However, COVID-19 pushed many companies to make the switch without much warning or preparation. Despite the initial challenges, it proved to be a solution that many workers grew fond of. In fact, many employees are not looking forward to coming back to the office anytime soon. Zapier’s 2022 Future of Remote Work report shows that a whopping 91% of surveyed workers would like to continue working remotely as it contributes to their overall happiness and more than 30% left their jobs because they were not offered remote opportunities.
This reason for this shift in attitude has much to do with the many benefits of working from home. People enjoy the freedom they receive thanks to a more flexible schedule and the ability to work from anywhere. Also, the time they save on commuting they can devote to their family, friends or hobbies. Plus, volumes of research prove that remote work correlates with increased productivity and engagement (e.g. research by the Harvard Business Review or the Gallup organisation).
Does this mean the death of the office is nigh? It may still be too soon to tell for sure, but it looks like we’re headed that way. Upwork reports that in seven years, 73% of all departments are expected to include some remote workers. As a company, Upwork itself saw the pandemic as the time to embrace remote work not as a temporary solution, but as a permanent model. On 22 May 2020, the company’s CEO Hayden Brown tweeted ‘The #futureofwork is here.’
The challenges of managing a remote team
The challenges of leading a remote team go far beyond the logistics of organising the right equipment and getting familiarised with the technology. Above all, it’s about keeping the team together even though you’re physically apart.
For Sofia Barrientos, Key Partnership Manager at Tagvenue, the biggest challenge is motivation. ‘It’s harder for people to feel like a real team when they are alone at home and [it’s also hard] for me to see the signs when someone is losing [momentum],’ she says.
As a manager, it’s your job to ensure that everyone has equal access to information, knows what they’re responsible for and how to achieve it. You have to model ways that your team can collaborate with each other under these new circumstances and help them stay motivated and focused on the goal.
Managing a team in changing and difficult circumstances is kind of a leadership test. It’s important that the manager shows the right attitude and is a role model for their team. Regular reporting, discussing goals and giving feedback has become even more important recently. It is also crucial to take care of the proper communication within the team and to make sure that all the team members receive information and are up to date. I don’t think there is a ready-made solution that will work for everyone, but I strongly believe that with an appropriate effort, engagement and great company culture, anything is possible.Magdalena Matejkowska, People & Culture Manager, Tagvenue
Remote teams can often be scattered all over the world. This may bring about additional challenges, like dealing with different time zones or trying to integrate different cultures and customs. ‘I work with people from Central Europe and Latin America, and I feel the difference in how they interpret certain phrases or sentences I use,’ says Sofia Barrientos. ‘That’s why I rely upon video calls to see their expressions and reactions.’
Being a good leader is all about becoming a role model for your employees. It also means understanding the challenges your team might be facing, such as isolation or various distractions at home, and finding ways to support them through hard times. The next section outlines some of the best practices that you can start implementing today.
Managing remote teams – best practices
1. Trust your employees
You hired your employees because you believe they can do the job right. So let them do it! Try to be flexible about how, when and where they work. Experts say it’s best to adopt a goal-oriented approach. In simple words, focus on the outcome and not how you get there.
Some companies still use micromanagement and electronic surveillance to ensure that people are working. However, the fact that you can’t see your employees working doesn’t mean that the work isn’t getting done. What’s more, research shows that the use of monitoring software can lead to higher tension in employees and growing job dissatisfaction, which in turn can result in them quitting.
On the other hand, Gallup found that giving flexibility to your employees boosts their engagement. Self-determination theory favours autonomous motivation over controlled motivation. In the first case, people choose to do the work because they find it interesting and satisfying, while in the second case, they are forced to do the work by something external (e.g. the fear of punishment). It’s not surprising that the first approach bodes well for performance.
So build your remote team on trust. Give them the autonomy to set their own priorities and figure out the best way to work towards them. Instead of trying to control, provide feedback and guidance that will help them improve.
At Tagvenue, everyone takes ownership of the work they promise to deliver. It’s about taking responsibility and keeping each other accountable but also making people feel empowered to take action, test ideas and create impact.
2. Commit to regular check-ins
Instead of micromanaging, commit to regular check-ins. This is a great way to track progress, give support when needed and suggest improvements. It’s also the time to see how everyone’s doing and make sure they’re not feeling isolated.
These check-ins may take different forms. It could be a good idea to discuss this with your team individually and ask which type of check-in suits them best. You can settle on regular email updates, channel standups in Slack or video calls. Also, you’ll want to check in both with the entire team and the individual employees separately.
What works for us at Tagvenue are the three types of regular check-ins: daily stand-ups, weekly Town Halls and bi-monthly one-on-ones.
For the stand-ups, we jump on quick video calls with the team, where we update each other on the progress we made the previous day, what we want to achieve today, and what potential struggles stand in our way. There’s also room for some general chit-chat. Town Halls are where we meet as a whole company at the end of the week to learn what each of the teams has managed to achieve.
One-on-ones are meetings between individual employees and their managers to give updates on project progress, solve potential problems, provide two-way feedback, talk about development options, discuss any issues that might arise within the team and/or have a casual chat.
Remember, these check-ins are not as much about giving your team a performance review, as they are about building trusting relationships, tracking the work that’s being done and providing space for mutual feedback.
3. Pay extra attention to communication
We cannot stress this enough: communication is always key. No company can be successful if its members struggle to communicate with one another. And it becomes even more important when you go remote.
Don’t be afraid to over-communicate. Everyone needs to be extra clear about their duties and responsibilities. Ensure a good flow of information between employees. Make yourself available if anyone has questions or matters they’d like to discuss. ‘I have constant meetings and short calls to mend the lack of a physical presence,’ says Sofia Barrientos. ‘I also use different tools for communication that let me confirm if a team member understands a task and will take responsibility for it.’
You may want to brush up on your written communication. Though it may seem like a forgotten skill these days, ‘writing matters more now, not less,’ says Ann Handley in Everybody Writes. ‘In an online world, our online words are our emissaries,’ she adds. Your words are your identity. They are the channel through which other people get to know you. So, the next time you’re composing that email or quick Slack message, think about choosing words that make you look competent and trustworthy.
Encourage people to have their cameras on during video calls. Non-verbal communication plays a huge role in how we understand one another. Without that factor, it becomes easier to misunderstand something or miss certain bits of information.
4. Establish rules of engagement
While working remotely, it’s important to establish the rules of engagement: clear expectations for when to communicate, how frequently and via what means. Having this set of guidelines will make the work more efficient.
This can start with each person on your team posting their office hours to indicate when they’re available to other team members. If you’re using Google Calendar, it has an option to show your working hours. They don’t have to fall within the traditional 9 to 5 range (remember when we talked about giving your remote workers flexibility?), but they should overlap to some degree with other team members’ time slots. Respect other people’s office hours and be mindful of time zones if your employees are spread out all over the globe.
Once it’s clear when everyone can be reached, you should then decide on how you’re going to engage. Establish what matters should be best communicated over email, what can be discussed via instant chat messaging, and what calls for a video conference meeting.
A side note about meetings: don’t go overboard with their length. If all people have to say after the meeting is: ‘This could have been an email,’ it’s probably true. Always have an agenda (a short one), share it with the attendees prior to the meeting and stick to it! When using other modes of communication, also be concise and efficient. No one wants to be pinged and pulled away from work every five seconds.
5. Set clear objectives
In his book Leading from Anywhere, David Burkus points out that ‘[i]n remote work, there’s often little to judge people on other than the work they’re completing.’ And we’ve already mentioned that it’s best to focus on the outcomes, not the number of hours or the methods put into achieving them. But to have outcomes, you need to have objectives first. They are necessary for everyone to have clarity about their roles and tasks and understand where to focus their energy.
Setting objectives should be a conversation. ‘You don’t want your people to feel like you’ve just handed them a random set of goals with no consideration of their circumstances or the time frame,’ writes Burkus. Don’t overload your employees. Let them have a say in how much they want to take on. Choose ambitious but realistic goals and don’t be afraid to readjust on the way.
Burkus also mentions that it would be a good idea to break up large tasks into smaller chunks, each with a shorter deadline. This has multiple benefits: the complex project doesn’t seem so complex anymore, it feels like progress is being made faster and it helps to keep people motivated and focused.
Remind people of the ‘why’ that guides each goal and the ‘why’ that defines your organisation as a whole. Understanding the intent behind the work they’re doing will give them extra motivation and a sense of purpose.
6. Provide regular feedback (and ask for it too!)
We’ve already mentioned feedback in the section on having regular check-ins, but we’d like to dive into more detail here to highlight how important it is. Study shows that half of remote workers feel that they don’t get as much feedback compared to when they were working in an office. However, regular feedback helps people grow and become better. It’s a chance for you, as a leader, to point them in the right direction by recognising and praising them for their accomplishments and coaching them on what can be done better.
How do you give feedback? Good feedback is timely, specific and focused on actions. State what you’ve observed or heard and don’t make assumptions about the intentions that may have guided those actions. Propose what could have been done instead. Highlight what impact a given action has had, then try to work out a solution together. Acting in this way will help you create an atmosphere of mutual trust and honesty. People will feel encouraged to speak to you honestly, instead of trying to hide their mistakes.
It goes without saying that feedback is not only about pointing out what went wrong. It’s just as important to recognise and celebrate successes. Let your employees know you care about and appreciate their work. Tell them what behaviours you’d like to see more of.
And, last but not least, listen! Give them the space to also share their feedback with you. Ask questions to learn how they’re feeling in their role, what you can do to support them in a better way and how you can grow as a leader.
7. Ensure a proper work-life balance
As already mentioned, research shows that remote workers are more engaged and productive. That’s obviously a huge benefit, but too much of anything is too much. If you’re not being careful, you can find yourself on a fast track to burnout. ‘For remote employees, engagement isn’t about helping them work harder. It’s about making sure they don’t work too hard and helping them limit distractions,’ says David Burkus in Leading from Anywhere.
When working from home, the lines between work life and personal life can easily become blurred. According to Buffer, unplugging after work is the biggest challenge for remote employees. That’s why you need to set up boundaries and encourage your team to do the same. Remember that you’re supposed to set an example. Develop a healthy discipline and model that behaviour in your employees. Here are some simple ideas that can help you:
- Create a work zone at your home, whether it’s a separate room or a designated part of your apartment (e.g. desk = work time, couch = leisure time). Even if you have to use your dinner table or couch to work, you can mentally switch into your ‘work zone’ by changing out of your sleep pyjamas into your work pyjamas and clearing the space of any potential distractions. You can also create some rituals that will instantly tell you it’s work time, like having a hot cup of coffee next to your computer or putting on a special work playlist.
- Respect office hours – yours, as well as those of other people. Don’t respond to work-related messages after work and don’t expect that from others. Once you close that laptop, don’t come back to it until the next morning.
- When you’re working, let it be your focus time. Try to eliminate distractions as much as possible. If you live with family members or roommates, let them know not to disturb you. If you’re tempted by social media, keep your phone out of reach and install a browser extension that lets you block certain sites for a set amount of time.
- Switch devices. Work computer = focus time, personal computer = chill time. If you’re using the same device for both work and personal purposes, you can always create two separate accounts.
- Take breaks! When you’re at home with no distractions, it may seem easy to just carry on working to keep up the momentum. But getting yourself overworked will do more harm than good. So schedule some quality breaks in your calendar. Get away from the screen: go for a short walk, do some stretching, meditate. Try to keep away from mindlessly scrolling through social media – it will actually make you more tired instead of letting you rest your head, as these platforms are designed to be addictive and constantly stimulate your brain with new content.
8. Use technology wisely
Use technology that facilitates remote work. Think about what kind of tools you need for efficient communication, task organisation, tracking progress, collaboration, sharing knowledge, etc. Consider whether what you’re already using is working. Are you getting the most out of the technology? Could something be improved? Maybe there are some new tools you could introduce?
Then make sure everyone on your team feels comfortable with the technology and knows how to use it in their daily work. Training your employees on how to effectively use the tools should be one of the top priorities in your remote onboarding process. Don’t assume everyone will figure it out on their own. Some tools may be straightforward to you, but to someone using them for the first time, they may seem complicated.
Use apps that are essential and make your work easier and more efficient, but be careful not to let technology become a distraction. If organising tasks takes more time than actually working on them, maybe you should look for a simpler solution.
In the later part of this article, we list a selection of tools and apps you may find helpful in managing a remote team.
9. Build strong connections
Remote workers can often feel lonely and isolated. It can be especially challenging for those who transitioned into working from home recently. Your role as a manager isn’t limited to assigning tasks and tracking progress. You should also be checking in to see how your team is feeling about being separated by their screens.
A simple ‘How are you?’ can be a good conversation opener. However, don’t just stop at the standard niceties that can sometimes lose their meaning. Remember that people can tell when you really care about their answer and when you’re just asking to be polite – so be genuine.
Try to dig deeper after the initial warm-up and ask your employees more specific and targeted questions. Make an effort to learn about them. After all, they’re real people with real struggles, strengths and weaknesses, not robots who are only meant to generate results. Listen to what they tell you, practice empathy and offer emotional support.
Building connections is crucial for the well-being of individual workers, as well as the prospects of the entire organisation. Strong bonds between team members make communication and collaboration a lot easier. So make sure you’re helping your employees connect!
Provide opportunities for informal social interactions. Things that would happen spontaneously in the office, like shared coffee breaks and casual chats, now need to be scheduled. It can be as simple as taking a few minutes of your regular meetings to talk about non-work-related matters. And every once in a while, it would be good to plan some bonding activities for your team.
As Tagvenue, we specialise in bringing remote teams together. We’ve organised team building events for companies like Netflix, Facebook and Amazon. We’re more than happy to help you create lasting relationships between your team members while having a laugh and spending quality time together! No matter how far apart you are, our virtual team building activities will make you feel closer to one another than ever before. Feel free to reach out to us, tell us what you’re looking for and we’ll make it happen!
10. Provide development opportunities
We recently highlighted the importance of development opportunities in our blog post, 21 Professional Development Activities, and Ideas for teams. According to various studies, employees tend to stay longer with companies that offer learning and development opportunities . A lack of development in their career usually leads to employee attrition. One of the key ways to prevent attrition is by investing in your employees’ growth. Businesses can ensure employee retention by recognising employees as valuable assets of the company and ensuring their growth through training, workshops, and activities. Whether it’s a virtual burnout management workshop where employees learn how to identify stress triggers, an online leadership training program, or even a team build activity, there are several ways to encourage staff development at the remote workplace.
Pro tip: It’s crucial to discuss the area of interest of individual employees to ensure that the learning opportunities offered benefit them.
Here are some of our favourite professional development activities:
Visual Thinking Workshop is excellent for employees who want to develop their creativity and presentation skills. These workshops aim at helping people clearly express their ideas through the use of symbols and short texts. Whether it’s a new joiner or a leader, these workshops can benefit everyone as they teach how to organise and structure ideas clearly and concisely.
Personal Branding Workshop focuses on your signature leadership or management style. It assists employees in tapping into their talents and developing their personal brands. In addition, such workshops can empower employees through self-development. This training is perfect for virtual teams that need some great suggestions to improve their leadership and communication skills while working remotely. LGBT Allyship in the Workplace– Employees will learn about the importance of inclusive language, pronouns, and crucial concepts about the LGBTQ+ community. Participants are taught how to identify discrimination issues and how to help their peers from minority backgrounds in the workplace.
Gamification, although a rather new concept, has become highly popular since the rise in remote work. Gamification is a way to keep employees engaged and productive while using game elements for learning. Introducing gamified elements into your learning environment is highly rewarding. It not only enhances awareness or brainstorming skills but also improves the overall performance of businesses. Other than those benefits, gamification allows remote teams to engage in both fun and engaging learning experiences. With the right dose of competition, games can motivate your employees to do better to make it to the top of the leaderboard. It promotes cooperation when working towards a common goal; it also promotes teamwork, creative problem-solving, and brainstorming and fosters a healthy learning environment. Knowledge is easily retained when it’s transmitted in an entertaining and creative way. Teaching in this way increases our dopamine levels and makes us feel good about ourselves. Whether it’s through learning and development activities, murder mystery games, or puzzle solving, you shouldn’t skip gamification in your remote team-building activities.
Apps and tools for effective team management
We’ve stressed the importance of good communication. Part of the job is using the right technology. It’s useful to provide multiple communication channels, each with its own purpose.
We recommend: Slack, Chanty, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet/Hangouts, Zoom
Technology can also help or hinder collaboration within the team. Use tools that enable you to share and work on documents in real time without having to send each other a gazillion emails.
We recommend: Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, OneDrive
Organising tasks and tracking progress
Once you’ve got your objectives set and broken down into manageable chunks, you’ll want to use a tool that lets you assign a given task to a specific person, create deadlines and track progress.
We recommend: Asana, Trello, Jira, Airtable, Basecamp, Monday.com, iDoneThis
To keep things simple, you can use Google Docs and screen sharing for brainstorming ideas. But if you fancy a dedicated tool with a few extra options, there are a couple to choose from.
We recommend: Bluescape, Lucidchart
You may want to use a dedicated app for measuring performance, recognising your employees for their hard work or gathering feedback from your team via surveys, etc.
We recommend: Vantage Circle, 15Five, Friday.app, Reflektive, Motivosity
Managing time off
Leave planners enable you to track any days off taken by the employees. They make it easy to send and approve absence requests and check the remaining balance at any time.
We recommend: Leave Dates, Timetastic, BambooHR, Deputy, Calamari, ZoomShift
We’ve mentioned how important it is to ensure an easy flow of information in remote teams. With these tools, you’ll be able to create a knowledge base that can be easily shared and edited.
We recommend: Notion, Evernote, Coda
Signing documents electronically is convenient and saves a lot of time. No more dealing with non-editable PDFs, scans and emails!
We recommend: DocuSign, HelloSign
We hope that reading this article has given you some fresh ideas on how to better manage your remote team. Remember to trust your employees, commit to regular check-ins, brush up on your communication skills, establish rules of engagement, set clear objectives, provide and ask for feedback, maintain your work-life balance, use the right technology, build strong bonds with your team and offer development opportunities. Adopting these best practices will help you become a better leader and build a company that people genuinely enjoy working for.
How do you effectively manage a remote team?
The recipe for effectively managing a remote team consists of a few key elements. Trust your employees and give them the flexibility to organise their work on their own. Check in with them regularly to track progress and improve whatever needs improving. Prioritise good communication, use the right technology and establish rules of engagement. Set clear objectives and provide regular feedback. Set up boundaries to ensure a proper work-life balance and encourage others to do the same. Build strong bonds and develop your team.
What are the challenges of managing a remote team?
According to research, remote employees struggle the most with unplugging after work, collaborating and communicating with their teammates, feeling lonely, getting distracted by various things at home, staying motivated and being in a different time zone. A good manager needs to find a way to bring their team together despite the distance and become a role model they can look up to.
How do you manage tasks remotely?
The first step to managing tasks remotely is setting clear objectives. You have to make sure everyone knows what needs to get done, how to achieve it and what tools are the most effective. There are a lot of apps that can help you manage and collaborate on your tasks remotely, e.g. Asana, Trello or Monday.com to name a few. They enable you to assign tasks to specific people and track progress. Tools like Google Drive or Dropbox are great for sharing and collaborating on files.
How can managers support remote employees?
Managers should check in with their employees regularly to discuss how they are doing, whether they are struggling with accomplishing tasks or are doing well. They should take on the role of mentors, helping their team constantly grow. They should be good listeners. Instead of overloading their workers with tasks, they should engage them in a conversation and let them have a say in what they’d like to accomplish.
How can you motivate your remote team?
To motivate your remote team and keep them engaged, give them the autonomy to decide what to do and how to do it. Research shows that autonomous motivation correlates with higher performance, and flexibility increases both productivity and engagement. Empower your employees to make decisions, test ideas and take ownership of what they promise to deliver. Show them how their actions contribute to the bigger picture – the purpose and the values that stand behind your company.