Best Management Practices for Leading Remote Teams
As more teams transition to remote work, it’s essential for managers to have the tools to succeed. Our experts outlined the key best management practices for team leaders to implement today.
While there are some organizations and companies that intend to have their entire teams fully return to the office environment (if they have not already done so), there is no doubt that hybrid schedules and remote work are here to stay as part of the “new normal.” The consensus from many studies has been that remote workers are maintaining or exceeding their previous in-office productivity levels, and remote work has offered new insights and opportunities for team members to collaborate, focus, and perform at their best.
As the workplace shifts, both now and in the future, managing remote teams will become an even more valuable skill set for managers, supervisors, and team leads to hone. That’s why we gathered some of our most trusted management, human resource, and employee engagement experts to provide their advice on the management practices that make the biggest difference in terms of managing remote teams or an entirely remote workforce.
Time, Time, Time
One of the first concerns that many managers bring up when it comes to virtual teams is—what about employees who are located in different locations? And specifically in different time zones.
Knowing and planning for your full team, including their locations and the respective times and work schedules, was one of the first keys that our experts identified in order to manage remote teams effectively.
“One of my biggest tips for managing a remote team would be to overlap your team’s work schedules, even if we are physically in different time zones. This way, when someone needs advice or help from someone else on the team, a fellow team member is there to answer the call for assistance. Everyone benefits from working remotely and with the right tools and setup, it can be your secret weapon to success!”
—Donna Galassi, CEO and Founder at Blue Zenith Design + Strategy
Being aware of the different time zones and potentially different schedules is also key to fostering and maintaining a healthy team environment and company culture, which our panelists touch on in another section.
Communication is Key
By far the biggest area that our remote management experts identified for growth, improvement, and success was communication. Since you lose the advantage of having a shared work environment and those watercooler conversations when your team is remote, it’s on every manager to really focus on and bolster clear communication to ensure that everyone is in the loop. From communications tools and project management suites like Teamwork to flexibility with different work arrangements and follow-ups, remote team management is only as effective as your communication with your team.
“Communicate! A leader needs to practice what they preach; they are not excluded from practicing strong communication. Set clear expectations for everyone you manage. Whether you have a 15-minute check-in with everyone in the morning or chat on Slack or Zoom, you’re not going to be efficient if you’re not communicating.”
—Ryan Kallok, Founder of Brandspire
That communication goes beyond simply relaying deadlines, though. Team meetings and one-on-one meetings, whether through Microsoft Teams or some other app, offer the opportunity to continue training, development, and growth for current remote employees and new hires as well.
“Every team member is different, and each person may require different levels of feedback. Communicate clearly to set the right level of expectations with each person you manage. Some will welcome the regular meetings, while others might feel you are micromanaging them.”
—Colton De Vos, Marketing Specialist at Resolute Technology Solutions
That’s not to say that project-specific information isn’t important, though. Of course, you need to ensure that all of your remote team members are on the same page when it comes to priorities, deadlines, and everything else related to their work tasks.
“When managing a remote-based work team, it’s crucial that your team feels updated, involved, and appreciated. Setting clear expectations and consistently communicating—and especially commending great work—instills confidence in the individual, which benefits your team and the company.”
—Allison Gappa, Founder & CEO at ALLYEXIA
Clarity of your communication is key, too. While many of us are used to being able to clarify and explain things well in person, the transition to a remote environment and different communication tools requires a different approach.
“There should be no space for misinterpretation. If the workers have any queries or concerns, managers should encourage them to contact them via instant messaging, video conferencing, or a phone call. Meetings, one-on-one conversations, and conference calls should all be scheduled regularly.”
—Ershadul Hoque, Founder & CEO of Riseup Labs
Our panel of managers and virtual team experts also recommended finding and implementing the right blend of regular, real-time check-ins and uninterrupted work time for your team.
“Without face-to-face interaction in a physical office, it can be easy for miscommunications to occur. Schedule weekly or even daily check-ins, whether they be via video conference or phone call, and create a system for communicating and tracking progress to identify any issues early on.”
—Atarah Lynn Pipe-Rougeau, Content Curation Specialist at Fusion Marketing
Hear From Industry Experts
Read the latest tips, research, best practices, and insights from our community of expert B2B service providers.
Productivity and Collaboration
Early on during the pandemic, when teams who had been sharing the same workspace full time suddenly shifted to a virtual or remote environment (many for the first time), there was a fair amount of concern about productivity. “Can we still accomplish and achieve in the same way even when we’re not together?” was a common thought among many directors and managers, even if it wasn’t spoken aloud. And while remote teams have proven their ability to get the job done and even go above and beyond, ensuring, measuring, and fostering these levels of collaboration and productivity still require effort on the part of the management team.
“The first question I often hear is about how to manage and measure productivity. As business leaders, we need to change our mindset and adapt to the changes in our workforce. It’s no longer about bodies in seats 40 hours a week; it’s about productivity. Take the time with your leadership teams to discuss how you can measure productivity.”
—Tim Nyberg, Founder/CEO of The MacGuys+
Staying on task and on target is one of the primary reasons for the communication tips we covered above and one critical area that is affected by deficient communication.
“Poor management leads to a backlog of tasks, and your team will lose a sense of direction. By staying on top of management, your team will see a clear path for the work they need to carry out. And you can drive further success by incorporating a schedule and being disciplined to it.”
—Ben Precious, CEO at Pace Social Media
Culture Club & Social Interaction
A primary concern for many managers who were not accustomed to a remote team was centered around morale and company culture. How do you maintain and improve the connection between the team members and yourself without those typical in-office or in-person team-building activities?
“A remote-based team has the potential to be just as strong as, and sometimes even stronger than, an in-person team. Spend time getting to know each other, learn about your employee’s schedules, and invest in the relationships. This will help team morale, communication, efficiency, and more!”
—Taylor Dove, Lead Content Developer at The Molo Group
Options including virtual trivia games, online activities hosted by yourself or an external agency, and even virtual happy hours are terrific ways to offer connection opportunities similar to those commonly used for in-office teams.
“Teams, Zoom, Google Hangouts, text, call—there are a lot of options when it comes to communicating with your remote-based work teams. But whichever you choose, be sure to include some social time. The most successful remote-based teams include virtual events to engage the team, bond with each other, and improve work relations.”
—Amanda Masick, Virtual Event Consultant at Event Solutions
Establishing these kinds of activities and opportunities, no matter how simple or involved, is also an important way to keep your team members from experiencing social isolation. Some people may not be comfortable reaching out to their colleagues for casual conversations and virtual happy hours, but as a manager, you have the space and ability to strengthen the relationships between everyone on your team.
“Always find the time to have small talk and ask how your team members feel. Simple gestures like this can create trust, so make sure to listen carefully and demonstrate empathy.”
—Natalie Maximets, Head of Content at Belkins
Hiring & Onboarding
While some of the tasks and duties associated with onboarding new employees can be made easier by the remote or virtual environment, there are still things you should be aware of and consider as a manager of a remote team.
“One of the best pieces of advice I can give is to create a sophisticated onboarding process to help remote team members learn about your company and processes. Combining that with established time and task management processes helps remote teams check in and feel valued, while also fostering a sense of work culture.”
—Ilia Tretiakov, Chief Digital Strategist at So Good Digital
From company policies to tools and training, managers just want to take the time to consider the full onboarding process and then explore different ways to adapt those to the remote work environment.
Respecting the Work-Life Balance
Apart from communication advice, nearly all of our experts were in agreement that respecting your employees’ time and taking into account their personal lives is critical to the success of remote teams and employee engagement.
“Work-from-home doesn’t mean that team members are on call all day. Make sure that you and your team are only sending emails, chats, or notifications during your established work hours and schedule. Team leaders should respect not only their team’s time but also their own.”
—Henri, Marketing Director at LRDG Toronto Marketing Agency
There was also a great reminder for both managers and remote employees—be honest with your limits and remember that it’s okay to say “no.”
“Sometimes the finest gift you can give yourself is to say ‘no.’ Getting a handle on time management starts with eliminating the excess, which is actually harder than we believe since it needs us to have, hold, and explain our boundaries. Ask for space before responding to any request, and don’t be surprised if your team starts to imitate this kind of self-control.”
—Jeffrey Tebele, CEO/Founder of RCS Professional Services
As a leader, you also want to keep tabs on how your team is working, and how much, in order to prevent the burnout possibility and put resources where they will do the best.
“Managers should worry less about employees underworking and more of them overworking. As employees transitioned to remote work, there was a strong pull to never log off. To mitigate this problem, work on establishing effective communication with your team, such as asking how your team is doing or how you can better support them.”
—Anna Thiele, Leadership Strategist at Deliberate Directions
Effective communication about expectations and schedules is all about making sure your employees have clear boundaries for themselves and their work. And managers are the ones who can create that culture and support employees in doing so.
“Staying connected is huge, but so is helping your team establish a clear work-life balance. We have clear email rules, including no emailing each other or clients before 9 am or after 5 pm. PERIOD. Setting clear boundaries and expectations is crucial to ensuring the team is connected to each other during the workday and respectful of each other’s personal time.”
—Jennafer Ross, Founder & CEO at JR Global Events
It may seem easier now that remote work has been around for many people these last couple of years, but it is still difficult to resist the allure of the computer when it’s right there in the same room or the next room. Creating a culture of “off hours” is up to everyone, especially team leaders.
“The most common mistake is contacting the staff in their free time, or after hours, as the boundaries between work and free time are becoming more blurred. The manager should be aware of the time zones and the schedule staff members have, and avoid interrupting their free time.”
—Daria Leshchenko, CEO of SupportYourApp
Successful Remote Leadership in 2022 and Beyond
These are just a few of the many tips and words of wisdom that our HR and management experts offered. And there’s a great deal more to consider when managing a remote team, whether you have a hybrid work environment or fully remote staff. Fortunately, the providers we spoke with for this article, and several others, are available to offer further guidance that will ensure continued success for any remote manager and team.