The pandemic is over, but remote working is here to stay. When remote teams are well managed, your employees are more likely to be happier and satisfied. This leads to better retention of remote team members and better productivity.
When you’ve built up a reputation for good management and a supportive company culture, you’re more likely to attract top talent from all over, and when you follow through on those expectations, you can successfully keep employees on board. It’s a great cycle.
But managing remote employees requires a particular skill set, which is slightly different from the requirements of a traditional office space. From organization and support to communication and collaboration, this article will give you 7 essential tips to successfully manage remote employees.
Tip #1: Set clear expectations
Professional corporate trainer Dana Brownlee discusses the importance of defining ground rules for remote teams, explaining that they can be “the difference between harmony and chaos.” Some of these expectations might include defining each team member’s role responsibilities, working hours, and regularly scheduled meetings.
Creating a set of standard operating procedures allows your team to start (and stay) on the same page, without feeling anxious or confused. When you set expectations early, remote team members feel confident about what they are doing and empowered to get started on their tasks.
This allows team members to work more independently, building trust with their managers in the process.
Define your remote team’s roles
One of the first things you’ll need to do is make sure each remote team member fully understands their role. This isn’t just about their job title, but everything else that comes with it, including their responsibilities, the standard of work they will need to produce, and what their deadlines will look like.
When you’re working with remote employees, creating opportunities for dialogue is particularly important. When you’re discussing the parameters of their role, encourage your employees to ask for clarification or bring up anything they think might not work for them. This way, you can work together to find positive solutions that will mutually benefit everyone.
This two-way communication should continue as new projects come in and role expectations change so that their responsibilities remain clear for both of you.
Decide on your working hours
You need to make a decision when it comes to setting work hours for remote teams. Many employees like remote work specifically because it often comes with flexible hours rather than set work schedules.
For many, an 8am to 5pm workday is highly undesirable, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should throw all expectations regarding availability out the window. If your team needs to collaborate across time zones, there may be only a few hours in the day when everyone can be online at the same time.
You might want to ask your remote team to make themselves available for that set block of time when everyone’s awake and working, but also allow flexible working outside of those particular hours.
Schedule regular team meetings
Whether monthly, weekly, or even daily, setting up a few formal meetings where everyone can get together and check in is a great idea. Let everyone know in advance whether these meetings will be video or audio calls so that everyone will feel prepared and comfortable.
Regular meetings help keep everyone on task and focused on their work. They also create a rhythm that can often get lost without the daily routine of going into an office.
Tip #2: Create flexible structures
Flexibility is one of the biggest benefits of remote work, but managing remote teams still requires organized structures. These give shape to your team’s daily responsibilities by providing motivation, supporting focus, and boosting productivity.
Then, the big question is how to create structure for your remote team members without compromising on flexibility too much.
Consider your remote team’s work-life balance
Striking a good work-life balance is one of the biggest challenges remote workers face. Studies have shown that employees working remotely often work longer hours. According to a study from the University of Chicago, remote workers save an average of 72 minutes of commute time each day, but they spend 30 minutes of that extra time working.
Having a goodbalance between work and home life is important. If you decide that set remote work hours aren’t right for your team, then implementing a timesheet can help you to make sure that your remote workers aren’t taking on too much.
Set up check-ins with remote workers
Studies suggest that up to 70% of employees would like to have more check-ins with their managers.
Regular meetings allow your remote employees to bring up any questions they might have or changes that they might find helpful. These check-ins don’t need to be very long at all, just 15 minutes or so will do, but they can help keep up communication and optimize remote work habits.
Regularly scheduled check-ins also create structure in their own right as a recurring part of a weekly or daily schedule.
Collaborate with team members across time zones
Managing remote workers often means working across time zones. One of the great benefits of remote teams is that you can hire top talent from across the world—you’re not restricted to just one location.
But this means you have to put a little extra thought into planning how your team will collaborate. Aside from setting apart a time block when everyone is online, you’ll need to make sure that everyone is reasonably able to attend essential meetings.
When you’re working across countries, some of your team members might have certain cultural differences that will affect how and when they work. Understanding their backgrounds and expectations will help to make everyone comfortable and keep things running smoothly.
Tip #3: Provide the right tools
Perhaps the biggest challenges of remote working are communication and collaboration. But these can also become your team’s greatest strengths when managed correctly.
Providing the right tools and software for yourself and your remote team is essential. There are many options out there, but your key tool kit should include collaboration tools, project management software, and videoconferencing options.
Make use of collaboration tools
There are essentially two kinds of tools you can use for team collaborations: those that help with communication and those that aid coordination.
Communication tools enable your project teams to liaise with each other. This includes things like email, instant messaging, and video-calling applications. Coordination tools allow remote teams to better organize their work with shared calendars, spreadsheets, and workflow systems.
But these tools only work well when they’re used effectively, with employees taking full advantage of their features, keeping on top of messages, and staying organized. As a manager, you’ll need to define expectations in advance and model best practices. For example, regularly checking your team’s Slack channel or replying to emails promptly.
Set up project management software
A good project management tool makes managing employees so much easier. It allows for seamless organization where you can assign tasks, set deadlines, and create to-do lists in just one program.
Project management software also encourages you to keep the bigger picture in mind with a shared timeline so you can see how everyone is doing. It can also help you identify bottlenecks so your team can continue to stay on track. By sharing all this essential information with the whole team, you can foster a healthy work environment with trust and open communication.
Use video conferencing tools
The most important remote communication tool you’ll need is a videoconferencing application. Virtual meetings became the norm during the pandemic, and they’re still incredibly useful for remote work. They allow us to put names to faces and build better relationships with coworkers and managers.
Again, the tool only works if it’s well implemented and frequently used by your team. However, it’s especially important not to overuse video calls, as too many can create a sense of fatigue, especially when a meeting could have been an email.
Tip #4: Optimize remote work environments
Remote workers still need to use a lot of the equipment and supplies that they would usually have access to in an office space. You’ll want to make sure your team members have access to everything they need to make remote work easier, including technology, tech support, and office items.
Ensure remote teams have work-designated computers
When working in a remote environment, the most important thing your team members will need is a reliable, work-designated computer. You can do this by shipping computers to your remote employees or letting them select a pre-approved computer at a store near them and paying them back.
It’s up to you if you want to provide other hardware and accessories, such as headsets or mousepads, but supplying work-designated computers is essential for remote work. By doing so, you limit the risk that comes with giving your remote employees access to company documents, systems, and data. This also allows your IT administrators to standardize the overall configuration of your employees’ computers by installing anti-virus software and other cybersecurity systems.
While it’s normal for freelancers to provide their own tools, it’s best for everyone’s safety that you provide full-time employees with their own computers. If they use their personal computers for work and they get a virus or get hacked, you could be held liable and required to pay for their new computer—or worse, you could risk that virus or hacker reaching your company’s data.
A remote workplace also needs fast-acting WiFi, whether it’s at home or through a membership to a coworking space. While this isn’t a requirement, some states have rules about reimbursing remote employees for business expenses such as internet access and cell phone use.
Supply tech support to remote team members
Access to a good tech support team will not only make employees’ time at work easier, but it’ll keep them and your company safe too. Whether your employees are having technical issues or are having difficulties getting access to restricted parts of the company intranet, a tech support team can go a long way to making working remotely more efficient and less frustrating for everyone.
Provide office space supplies for remote employees
A remote work environment often won’t have the same supplies as a traditional office. Most companies will have a selection of pens and paper available for everyone to use, but making sure your remote employees also have access to these supplies can help them feel more included and appreciated.
This is especially important if your team is involved in sending physical mail, as providing standard stationery maintains brand image and reduces paperwork for expenses.
Tip #5: Encourage team members to collaborate
When thinking about collaboration in remote teams, it can be really helpful to think outside of the box of day-to-day work. At the office, there are plenty of opportunities for casual interactions: at lunch, on break, or even when passing by. However, all these disappear when you’re working remotely.
Social bonds—and friendships especially—have a huge effect on your team’s success. Research shows that when employees have a close friend at work, they’re likely to get more done in less time, express more creativity, become more open to sharing new ideas, and engage well with customers.
Create opportunities for face-to-face interaction
Being part of a remote workforce means that you’re necessarily getting less time in person with other team members. But if you all work in the same area, a monthly or bimonthly lunch might be a great way to get everyone together in a more relaxed environment.
If you’re part of a global team, an annual retreat will give everyone the chance to meet in person and build social bonds outside of work, too.
Set up remote team-building activities
Team-building opportunities can be as casual as a quick catch-up conversation at the start of a meeting or a lunchtime chat over Zoom. These small interactions provide support, especially for employees who might otherwise be socially isolated.
You can also introduce more organized activities, such as after-work drinks, competitions, or even classes in cooking or art.
Encourage team collaboration
Making sure everyone is on the same page is even more important when you’re working remotely. Strengthening your interpersonal relationships will help this to no end. And while you don’t want to overwhelm everyone with meetings, making your decisions as a team will help you to keep these bonds strong and work better together.
Tip #6: Build individual employee connections
Getting to know your employees on an individual basis not only establishes a foundation of trust and communication, but it can also help you get the best from their individual talents. Each team member will require a slightly different management style based on their skills, needs, and goals.
Set up one-on-one calls with employees working remotely
One-on-one meetings can help a remote leader build a strong working relationship with their team. These meetings create a dedicated time to discuss changing responsibilities, workflow, and long-term goals, among many other things.
By establishing a positive space, it will be easier to work through any stumbling blocks you might discover further down the line.
Establish an open-door policy
Traditionally, an open-door policy means that team members are welcome to come into their manager’s office at any time—their door is left open. With remote workers, this means establishing a company culture of two-way communication.
One of the best ways to make this communication possible is to make your availability known to your team. If you have set working hours, this is simple, but keeping a work calendar that your team can access will let them know on a day-by-day basis when you will be available.
Establishing an expected response time for questions outside of your available hours can help reduce anxiety among your team and help them prioritize their communications effectively.
Connect individual employee goals to company targets
In one-on-one meetings, remote managers can better understand the individual motivations and goals of their employees.
By connecting these long-term career aims to company values and helping your remote team members make progress that matters to them, you can show your employees they are a valued part of the company, whether they’re in the office or not.
Tip #7: Boost employee morale
When employees thrive, so does your business—research even indicates that happy employees are up to 20% more productive. Managing remote teams well means making sure that every single employee knows that they are valued and feel like they are a part of the team.
Make everyone feel included
On video calls, certain remote team members might be hesitant to speak up. Properly facilitating meetings gives everyone the space to talk so that no employee feels left out.
If you dedicate time before the start of a meeting for a casual chat, asking people directly how they’re doing or what their plans are for the weekend gives them a space to talk within the group, without the pressure of giving insight on a business matter.
Celebrate individual and team victories
Celebrating success is a great way to motivate your team and to make them feel appreciated. If you received great feedback from a client or won a pitch, try congratulating your team both in group and individual conversations and reflecting your appreciation in their annual bonus.
Recognizing hard work goes a long way too, even if it’s not connected to a big success. Something as simple as hitting a big deadline or following through with a complex project should be acknowledged because it’ll make your remote team feel valued.
Beyond shout-outs or congratulatory meetings, one of the best ways to show appreciation to your team is with a written card or gift. These are particularly meaningful when it comes to remote work, as so much of your time working together is spent online rather than in the physical world.
Why effectively managing remote teams matters
With effective management, your remote team will be more satisfied, productive, and loyal to your company. You’ll be able to attract top talent from across the world and support your employees in the long term.