Customer Stories — 8 min
Your team members want to work remotely. But are you equipped to manage workers across multiple locations?
Remote work isn’t going away, so if you aren't an experienced manager of remote teams, take this opportunity to sharpen your skills and become the remote manager your team deserves.
Let’s dive in and look at some of the best strategies and tips that'll help you become a successful remote manager.
Making the transition from in-office work to remote work can feel difficult because it requires a change in routine. It’s also harder to engage with people who aren’t in the same office as you. Everything from communication to team cohesion can fall apart if you aren’t careful.
Here are some common challenges to keep in mind when managing remote workers:
When it comes to remote work, communication is crucial.
While software and computerized apps can streamline communication, it can still be challenging to gauge tone and non-verbal cues through text-based communication.
Here are some strategies that can help overcome this issue:
Encourage the use of video conferencing or phone calls for important conversations rather than direct messaging.
Try to use adjectives and friendly language to create a warm work environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their opinions.
Provide all necessary information, including deadlines, documentation, and task outlines, in one central location to avoid misunderstandings.
Ensuring remote employees are meeting their work goals can be difficult.
Remote employees have more freedom and flexibility to plan their workdays than in-office workers.
As such, remote managers need to be able to establish clear expectations and goals for each employee without micromanaging.
Here are some strategies that can help overcome this issue:
Use productivity-tracking software tools that can help you oversee how much work is being done by each employee throughout the day and where their time is being spent.
Create an open communication system where employees are encouraged to give honest feedback about how well they’re able to work remotely.
Avoiding constantly surveilling your employees’ activities, as this can signal distrust.
Building and sustaining team cohesion can be challenging when a manager is unable to interact with their team face-to-face.
Here are some strategies that can help overcome this issue:
Set up virtual team-building activities to encourage social interaction, such as virtual book clubs or online gaming events.
Prioritize collaboration on work activities by occasionally assigning the same task to two to three team members and encouraging them to work on it together.
Organize regular online catch-ups to give remote employees a chance to meet with their colleagues in a more casual way.
It can take time to adjust to the changes transitioning to remote work brings and find a new rhythm that works for both you and your employees.
The good news is that as long as you have a solid plan in place and communicate clearly with your remote team, productivity and profits are unlikely to take a hit.
Remote managers need a unique set of skills to meet the demands of leading a team of remote employees in 2023.
You’ll need to be technologically proficient, adaptable to changing needs, and an expert at time management.
To successfully manage remote employees, it’s important to be proficient with technology and have a solid understanding of the tools and software your team uses.
If you find this is a struggle for you or your skills need some brushing up, there are several ways you can improve your technical knowledge. For instance, you can:
Take an online course or tutorial.
Use software like Remote that allows you to integrate your entire HR tech stack, sync employee data across all your systems, and connect the tools your team needs so you only need to use one platform.
Remote managers need to be highly adaptable since the environment and challenges they face are constantly evolving.
This means that you must be able to easily pivot strategies and approaches to your managerial style to address your team’s needs and concerns as soon as they arise.
Here’s how to do this:
Stay up-to-date with the latest trends and developments in remote work to help you adjust your strategy based on common mistakes and others’ successes.
Don’t remain stagnant. Instead, be willing to experiment with new approaches to see if they’ll help your team grow.
Remote managers need to manage their own time effectively and help their team members stay on track.
This can be especially challenging when working with employees who may be in different time zones.
Here are some helpful strategies to help you improve your time management skills:
Establish regular check-ins and feedback sessions to address concerns about workload and deadlines.
Use software like Remote to help you manage workers in different time zones and ensure they meet their deadlines.
Start using Remote’s employer of record services and local entities to avoid the time, cost, and risk of building your own.
“Being a great manager and being a great remote manager are nearly identical. You don’t need to smell people to manage them.” - Remote CEO Job van der Voort
Good management in a remote setting requires the same fundamentals that drive success in an office setting. The are some specific differences, espcially related to the challnge of building connections and culture within a remote team.
Here is a list of actionable tactics straight from Job's own experience. You can implement this advice to improve your remote team management.
“Have regular 1:1 calls with all your reports. The point of these calls is to check in with the person, not the work. What that means in practice is that you don’t spend that time reviewing work — you can do that async.”
Regularly check in with your employees, but don’t do so to gauge their progress on projects. You can handle the work stuff asynchronously. Instead, use these opportunities to ensure your team members feel supported.
Ask the following questions:
Do they have what they need to do their work well?
Are they happy with the work they’re doing?
What would make their lives easier?
“You spend the 1:1 time coaching, unblocking, helping them grow, providing feedback, discussing plans and doubts, etc. Feedback first, then strategic, then tactical. Many managers make the mistake of doing this the other direction.”
The purpose of these meetings is bigger than checking in on work. It’s about building relationships. Failure to use these one-on-one meetings correctly is a common mistake made by new remote managers.
Team meetings should be a last resort, not the first option.
A recent study found that 64% of managers believe that meetings distract them from finishing their own work tasks.
It’s important to remember that face-to-face interactions should be reserved for building relationships. If the entire point of a meeting item is to alert someone to a task or explain the goal of a project, create a document instead.
You can make remote meetings more efficient by:
Reducing their length and frequency
Always having an agenda (but keeping it light)
Having a strict start and end time
A good manager leads by example.
So if you’re constantly direct-messaging your team, they’ll do the same.
This can be counterproductive when trying to build a strong sense of community among your team members and can worsen the feelings of isolation that remote employees often experience.
“Work and communicate in public for everything but personal matters…this makes you so much more accessible, visible and sets a great example that reinforces asynchronous standards.”
Some advantages of communicating in public include the following:
It ensures that information is accessible to everyone.
It saves employees time when searching for key information.
It cuts down on long response times.
Personal feedback is the obvious exception to this rule. It’s a best practice to avoid critiquing team members in public channels, keeping feedback private instead.
All team members (including managers) need to participate in creating documentation.
“Don’t delegate minor documentation tasks if you’re directly involved. No one is too big to write documentation. No matter your seniority or rank, you should be documenting.”
Documentation belongs to everyone, so make changes where necessary instead of asking someone else to. If you’re not the owner of a document and unsure whether you can edit it, make a comment suggesting a change.
“Working remotely makes it much easier to overwork, and not everyone will naturally bring this up or even make it visible, you have to ask.”
In the office, it’s often easy to tell if an employee is taking on too much work. For instance, they might spend late nights at the office or eat lunch at their desk as they continue to work.
However, since remote managers are only able to communicate via video chat or instant message, tracking workloads can be difficult.
Here’s what you can do to combat this issue:
Regularly check in with your employees about their workloads and working hours, and ask them if they feel overwhelmed by their work.
Pay attention to team members who are constantly working overtime, and work with them to determine how you can lessen their workloads.
See also: How to manage stress for remote workers
Remote employees might not take breaks when they need them, which can seriously impact their productivity levels.
A recent study found that “…work-related activities during a scheduled break increases fatigue.”
“When you find that people are overtired, overworked or just need a break — give them that break. Take their work/worries away and let them take off. Don’t postpone this, do it right away. Rest is essential.”
Strategies to use include the following:
If an employee seems tired, take a task off their agenda for the day.
Schedule “tech-free” lunch and coffee breaks.
Here at Remote, not only do we offer unlimited time off, but we also enforce a minimum number of days that workers have to have a break per year to ensure our team members get the rest they need.
“A good manager is available to their team. That means they can make time for everyone.”
In the office, just coming to work makes you available. With distributed teams, you may have to do more.
You need to schedule interactions and be available on the fly.
You need to show you’re available by communicating through your established channels, and you need to respond to private questions when your team reaches out via DM.
High-performing teams feel heard and respected. Don’t let them think you consider them a burden or annoying. Don’t ignore their communications.
That said, don’t break your own time off to answer work questions outside of an actual emergency.
Your team takes their cues from you.
Respond to work emails and Slack messages on your days off, and they’ll feel like they have to as well. Give them the tools and support they need to be autonomous to make work easier for both of you.
You might be thinking, “I don’t have time to do this with everyone!”
It’s true that you can only do so much. But it’s a problem with a solution: limit the number of direct reports you have.
“You should not have many reports. More than eight is really hard to manage well. Exceptions to this are very experienced people, but everyone needs a coach or someone to help them get unstuck.”
If you have too many direct reports, look into promoting one of your team members to manage a sub-team under you or bring in some outside help.
Budgetary constraints can make this difficult, but if you don’t limit your direct reports, you’ll quickly become overwhelmed.
“If you have more than about eight reports, split the team up and either add hierarchy or some other structure that makes it so everyone has a manager that has time for them.
Remote teams don’t have the luxury of hanging out with each other every day. They don’t have a shared hometown or many common experiences.
Instead, you need to facilitate these connections.
“Connect individually at a deeper level, i.e. don’t neglect to bond emotionally with the people you work with. This will make it more fun and easier to work together — especially when times are tough.”
Connect with all reports, not just the ones you have the most in common with.
You should be interviewing diverse pools of candidates for every open role and hiring accordingly.
When you have a diverse team from around the world, it’s fun to discover the unexpected things you have in common while building relationships that would have been impossible in a traditional office setting.
Setting clear and specific expectations for your remote employees is important because it helps outline what they need to do daily to succeed with your company.
Here are some tips for setting expectations for remote employees:
Clearly define the different roles and responsibilities within your team to avoid confusion.
Set goals for each employee that align with the company’s values and expectations.
Provide written guidelines for company protocols, like lodging complaints, communicating with fellow colleagues, and taking time off work.
With employees in countries all over the world, Remote has plenty of experience in successfully onboarding remote workers.
As a manager, providing feedback is essential. The more specific your feedback, the better the results will be.
“Make feedback highly actionable by linking and documenting.”
Here’s the best way to do this:
Empower your team to correct their mistakes by providing links to information and training lessons.
Record notes from your feedback session so your employees are clear on what they need to do moving forward.
Be as specific as possible with your feedback. Avoid ambiguous statements like “Keep up the good work.”
Follow these tactics, and you won’t just be the best remote manager your employees have worked for.
You’ll become the best manager they have ever had. Period.
Remote CEO and co-founder Job van der Voort regularly shares tips for remote leaders on his Twitter account. Follow him for more advice!
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Customer Stories — 8 min
Visas and Work Permits — 5 min
Visas and Work Permits — 8 min
Employer of Record & PEO — 8 min