Benefits — 4 min
Your team members want to work remotely — but are you ready to manage workers across multiple locations? Remote work isn’t going away, so if you are not yet 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 to manage remote workers.
“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
Being a good manager in a remote setting is almost identical to being one in an office. The only difference is, you cannot take certain things for granted, like connections and culture.
Here are a few tips straight from Remote’s CEO on the best ways to manage remote workers:
“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.”
Check in regularly 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. 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.
Meetings are a last resort, not the first option. Reserve face-to-face interactions for building relationships and let documentation do the heavy lifting.
“Reduce length and frequency based on preferences of either party and/or a feeling of needing it less. Always have an agenda, but keep it light. This is the exception to the rule of running tight meetings. You want to have the breathing room to discuss more sensitive and/or personal matters (e.g. job performance). Don't rush those.”
Packed agendas are an inefficient way to work. When you create an agenda (like you should for every meeting), look at the list of things to cover and see what you could work on asynchronously instead. 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. Not only is that kinder to everyone’s time, but it also makes the information accessible to the rest of the organization.
Your team members will follow your example. If you send a lot of DMs, they will too. If you post in public channels and create documentation instead, they will follow suit.
“Work and communicate in public for everything but personal matters. It's super easy to fall back into the habit of DM'ing people, rather than having discussions in public channels (be those Slack, your project management tool, or Notion). This makes you much more accessible, visible, and sets a great example that reinforces async standards.”
The point of communicating in public is to ensure that information is accessible to everyone. In the long run, this saves time when people can search through documentation or old messages to get information they need instead of asking others and waiting for a reply.
Personal feedback is the obvious exception to this rule. Do not criticize team members in public channels. Praise, of course, is great for public spaces. We have a popular #thanks channel in Slack to acknowledge individuals who do especially great work.
All team members need to participate in creating documentation. That means managers, too.
“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.”
Remote practices a culture of documentation, which we outline in our public company handbook. Everyone, from the CEO to the newest recruit, is responsible for ensuring that all non-sensitive information is accessible to the entire company.
“Document how you work, how you expect to work with others. Make changes to documentation that other people wrote proactively. Be the example.”
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.
“Regularly check in on workload and working hours of all your reports. 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, you can rely on concrete evidence that your reports are overworked. They stay at the office too long. They eat lunch at their desk or skip it altogether. There are countless other visual and emotional clues that you can pick up on in person. Even if an overworked employee doesn’t bring it up on their own, you’ll see it and be prompted to ask.
With remote teams, you don’t see the long hours as easily. Although you can get a lot from video calls, they don’t tell the whole story. Make it a point to ask, and ask regularly. Make sure your team feels empowered to give you honest answers. If you see team members sending Slack messages at odd hours for their time zones, check on them. Some people work odd hours, and that’s fine. When someone never goes offline, though, that’s a problem.
See also: How to manage stress for remote workers
“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.”
If you know people are struggling, help them out now. A burned-out team can’t perform under pressure forever. Work is important, but unless you are transporting organ donations or putting out literal fires, very few deadlines are legitimate emergencies.
If people need more than a short break, take a task or two off their plate or give them the rest of the day off. Make sure they’re using their paid time off. Remote not only offers unlimited time off but enforces a minimum number of days 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 around 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 will 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 will 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 to connect them. 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.
Speaking of hiring, prioritize people who share the values of the company instead of certain requirements for experience. Some positions do require specific skills, like software engineering, but remember that with remote work, you aren’t limited to recruits in your area. The whole world is your talent pool.
“To hire great people, focus on shared values. Don't focus on remote working experience, but look for whether someone can work independently and is able to communicate effectively. That'll fully determine whether they can do their work remotely.”
At Remote, assuming good intentions is a cornerstone of our culture.
“Hire great people you can trust. Then, once people are onboarded, give them that trust from day one. Always assume good intent. Don't ramp up on this or wait until you see results. That's a false start for everyone involved. Trust starts on day one.”
You hired your team members to do great work, so give them what they need to do and let them do it. When problems arise, don’t assume people are slacking off or deliberately underperforming. Virtually no one logs on for the day intending to do a poor job. Instead, treat performance issues as problems of alignment of priorities, not ability or motive, unless definitively proven otherwise.
“Once hired, set expectations. It can be super helpful to create a 30/60/90 day plan with targeted goals.”
Once you have the right person, set them up for success. Make sure they know what is expected of them and when it’s expected. Track progress asynchronously and ask how new hires are acclimating in your 1:1 meetings.
With employees in countries all over the world, Remote has plenty of experience in successfully onboarding remote workers. Check out these tips for more advice on onboarding remote employees.
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.”
If a report needs to improve in an area, don’t just tell them to get better. Instead, empower them with the resources they need to make the necessary changes. Link them to information and assets. Create the documentation to ensure that they are clear on what to do and how to do it.
This goes for positive feedback as well. “Keep up the good work” isn’t truly useful. What are they doing? Where could they do it more? Who else could they teach? Link to the resources and document it, and remember to praise high performance in public!
Follow these tips, 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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