10 best practices for managing remote teams
It’s been said over and over because it’s true — remote work (and remote workers) aren’t going away.
And with a permanent shift to remote work (58% of workers in the US have the opportunity to work from home at least once a week) comes the need to manage the remote workforce properly.
Compared to in-person and on-site teams, remote teams face unique challenges that managers need to be aware of, like lack of connection, which can lead to a drop in employee engagement, morale, and productivity. That means learning how to manage and motivate remote teams is now more important than ever.
In this guide, we’ll go over best practices for managing remote teams, the most common challenges managers face, and the best remote work tools to add to your tech stack. Here’s where to start:
1. Set clear expectations
As a manager, you need to set clear expectations for everyone on your team. Communicate your expectations for virtual work hours, availability, meeting time per week, and focus time per week.
To announce these expectations, you have some options:
Communicate your expectations at a large meeting like an all-hands or a town hall meeting.
Schedule one-on-one meetings to reinforce your expectations and discuss personal details so your approach can remain adaptable to the person.
Micromanaging isn’t the point, but clarity is.
2. Make your one-on-one check-ins and team meetings count
One-on-one check-ins are a great way to stay in touch with your team members, assist them with issues, and express support for any challenges they’re facing.
To make sure everyone gets necessary face-to-face interaction, you’ll have to rely on a bit of trial and error. You may want daily check-in meetings, especially for new team members — but most of the time, weekly check-in meetings are fine.
In addition to meeting one-on-one or through daily check-ins, your entire team should interact as a group at least once a week.
Tip: Start your team meetings with ice-breaker questions to set the right tone for the meeting.
3. Focus on outcomes, not on working time
In a traditional on-site workspace, people used to “punch in and punch out,” but that’s no longer the case with remote work. People are free to make their own schedules, and that’s not a bad thing.
Instead, think of going remote as a chance to help team members be more productive within their own schedules. All you have to do is focus on outcomes and deliverables rather than on working time.
Set clear expectations for required outputs in a given period to ensure team accountability. Create milestones with deadlines in your project management software and schedule status update meetings to follow up on progress. It can be that simple!
4. Document standard operating procedures (SOPs)
Before, when more people were working in offices, people could easily ask about processes and workflows by walking over to someone’s desk.
This can’t happen when you’re working from home — at least not without many disruptive instant messages and video calls.
Instead, document your SOPs. An SOP is a step-by-step guide on how to conduct an operation, like scheduling time off. Organize all guides into a searchable knowledge base using knowledge management software like Slite, Confluence, or Notion.
5. Invest in team communication and social interaction
“Water cooler chats” are spontaneous and casual interactions in the workplace, and they do a lot to improve well-being. They translate to team building, improved morale, and increased productivity.
In a remote or hybrid workplace, you’ll want to find a way to replicate the water cooler virtually.
At the simple and cheap level, you can dedicate a Slack channel to casual and random conversation. You can also organize virtual team-building sessions and build team-building into your regular meetings, with icebreakers and time set aside for casual conversation.
Of course, if you can afford it, it’s a great idea to get the team together in person at a company off-site.
6. Divide workload fairly
To make sure everyone feels valued, it’s critical to divide your team workload fairly. If it’s not, you’re facing a short path to lack of engagement and burnout.
The best way to ensure a transparent and fair work environment is to use project management software that clearly shows everyone’s tasks and deadlines. When you divide responsibilities fairly and practice transparency, your team will be satisfied in knowing that everyone’s pulling their weight.
7. Build a good meeting culture
Remote teams rely on meetings much more than those working side by side in the same office. They’re the only time all team members are interacting with each other simultaneously.
Still, too many meetings isn’t good. Excessive meetings interrupt the workflow and add to people’s already busy schedules — and meetings that drag on for too long sap energy and productivity.
The antidote to these challenges is a good meeting culture.
Building such a culture starts with three things:
✅ A clear and thoughtful meeting agenda
✅ Keeping on track with the agenda by not going over the allotted time
✅ Assigning clear action items so everyone knows next steps
Vowel can help with all of these!
8. Provide honest and constructive feedback
Giving feedback to employees is much easier in person than virtually, especially informal feedback that happens during a spontaneous conversation. Informal feedback fosters a good company culture and boosts employee engagement.
There’s no reason not to do the same for your remote team.
When providing feedback to remote employees you’ll want to be deliberate and provide it often. You don’t have to wait until the first formal performance review to praise someone when they do well or call their attention to something they could be doing better.
As with any feedback, be constructive — especially if you’re giving negative feedback.
9. Support your team on different levels
It’s easy to feel lonely and isolated if you’re working remotely. Some employees take to remote working like a duck to water, while others struggle more with work-life balance and time management.
As a manager, you don’t want to pry into the personal lives of employees — but you do want to show them that you’re here for them. Give employees the chance to tell you when something is not right or when they’re facing personal challenges.
10. Set productivity standards
A shift in focus from work hours to output doesn’t let productivity standards slip. Set, outline, and communicate productivity standards to everyone on your team.
Make sure to communicate:
Timeframe: Will the standards be set weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.?
KPIs: Key performance indicators are metrics that determine success, so be clear about which metrics apply to your team based on the work you do.
Milestones: Divide larger tasks or projects into smaller chunks and communicate when you’ve hit a milestone.
What are the challenges of managing remote teams?
Some of the main challenges you’ll most likely see in your remote team are:
Building relationships: In-person employees can build relationships organically (coffee break, watercooler, etc.) while remote team management requires conscious effort for relationship building.
Boosting morale: Remote workers may feel isolated and lonely, which impacts their morale and engagement. Managers need to be actively interested in the well-being of their team members, and one-on-one meetings are a good solution.
Sustaining team productivity: Social media, TV, household chores ... they’re all distractions at home. The solution is to share productivity tips and hacks with the team and give them the proper remote work tools.
Managing communication: What takes a quick instant message for one person might need an hour-long virtual meeting for another. Set clear communication policies to avoid such mix-ups.
Luckily, we have an entire blog post on remote team challenges and their solutions.
5 great tools for better remote team management
Cloud-enabled tools make remote work possible. Here we’ll take a look at a few that address some of the common work-from-home challenges, to help your team collaborate remotely.
1. Vowel for better virtual meetings
When we talk about communication tools for remote work, no tool is more important than the video conferencing platform. Video meetings are the bread-and-butter of the remote corporate world.
But managing virtual meetings isn’t the easiest thing in the world. You’re constantly wondering whether the audio and video quality are good enough. And you’re probably wondering how to create a better meeting culture within the world of remote work.
Vowel helps with all of this, from meeting preparation (e.g., meeting agenda templates) to meeting documentation (e.g., automatic meeting summaries, action items, collaborative notes).
2. Slack for effective remote communication
Image Source: Slack
Asynchronous communication is all the rage, so you’ll need a good app to make it possible. Slack is a popular choice for several reasons: it’s user-friendly and simple to set up.
Slack works just like any other instant messaging app you’re used to. Send a message, wait for a reply, rinse and repeat — it's the essence of async communication.
3. Notion for effortless documentation
Image Source: Notion
We talked about the importance of documenting your SOPs and workflows. Instead of relying on a bunch of documents in a shared drive, use a knowledge management app.
Think of Notion as your company’s personal Wikipedia. You can create entries for anything you want and invite others to collaborate on them. A major strength of Notion is its versatility, which allows you to add “blocks” to any document. Blocks can be images, tables, databases, kanban boards, and more.
4. Toggl for easy time tracking
Image Source: Toggl
Time tracking isn’t about making sure people don’t slack off. Tracking the time it takes to complete a task lets you benchmark your productivity and forecast future projects.
Toggl lets you track time across multiple platforms, providing you with detailed insights to improve your workflow.
5. Asana for seamless task management
Image Source: Asana
Project management apps like Asana let you create projects, tasks, and subtasks. Each of these can have an owner and a due date.
By default, Asana will show you everything on a kanban-style board. In other words, every task is a card, and cards are arranged in stacks from left to right, indicating the task’s stage.
Improve your remote work culture starting today
Just like Rome, robust remote work cultures aren’t built in a day. You’ll need proper remote collaboration tools to make it happen.
For video conferencing, Vowel has everything you need and more. Create agendas, take collaborative notes, record and automatically transcribe (in nine languages), and get an AI-powered summary at the end of every meeting.
Try it for free and see how it can make your meetings 10x more valuable!