How to manage a remote team: 11 top tips
In the past seven months, working from home has become much more than just a benefit offered as part of a job package. It is - for the time being at least - a necessity for professionals in the UK and around the world.
For Heads of Department, Managers, Directors and even those managing just a few people, this can prove to be a particularly tough challenge - especially for those previously unfamiliar with managing a remote team. This challenge is made tougher when we remember what limited time we had to prepare for the current situation.
If you’ve been trialing different ways of leading your team but haven’t quite struck gold yet, we’ve got you covered with this list of 11 top tips for managing a remote team.
How to manage a remote team
- Focus on accomplishments, not activity
- Have regular check-ins
- Trust your team
- When in doubt, use video
- Communicate non-verbally
- Manage expectations
- Be flexible
- Provide for your team
- Step up communication
- Make time for small talk
- Have longer one-to-one meetings
Focus on accomplishments, not activity
While you shouldn’t be doing this in the office anyway, working from home makes one thing impossible: checking up on every little thing your team is doing. As a remote manager, it is far more important to concern yourself with the accomplishments of your team rather than the minutiae of their daily activities. These little details should only come to the fore if goals are not being achieved.
Have regular check-ins
Checking in with your team on a daily or weekly basis helps you to stay on top of your team’s tasks while keeping them engaged. Use your knowledge of your team to determine the appropriate regularity of these check-ins – Personal Assistants or Secretaries may require more regular contact than an Account Manager, for example – but once per week should be the minimum. When determining whether calls should be done as a group or on a one-to-one basis, consider the dynamics and set up of your team.
Trust your team
We’ve all thought it: will work done from home be completed to the same standard of quality and speed as in the office? Given the current circumstances, managers have little choice but to trust their teams to deliver. If you don’t have full confidence, come up with a set of guidelines around frequency of meetings, responding to emails in a certain timeframe and the way feedback is given. This can then be relaxed as trust grows.
When in doubt, use video
In a time when many professionals are confined to their homes, video meetings - via Zoom, Microsoft Teams or another easy-to-use platform - are vital. These face-to-face interactions not only boost team productivity and positivity, but can be a real help for those whose mental health may be suffering due to this prolonged period of isolation. Video calls also allow you to gauge the attitude, thoughts and feelings of your team in ways that emails and phone calls don’t quite manage. After all, nonverbal communication - eye contact, hand gestures, facial expressions - is believed to make up the majority of human communication.
With this non-verbal communication in mind, consider how else you could be reaching out to your team or reinforcing good behaviour. Perhaps an emoticon or appropriate GIF could be used in an email celebrating impressive work, while a funny, topical meme might be just what your team needs to start the week off with a laugh. Just be sure not to send or say anything that could be construed as inappropriate or offensive.
As it would be any other time, it’s your responsibility as a team leader or manager to set the expectations of your team during this period. You may find that priorities and expectations shift and change as you and your team adjust to working from home - remember that this is to be expected. The achievements and goals of a remote team are as valuable as ever, even if they look a little different.
Contrary to popular belief, remote working rarely equates to simply doing everything you would normally do in the office from comfort of your own home. Make sure you’ve asked each member of your team about their home situation, as the routines and schedules of all your team members are likely to change. This is particularly important for those caring for children or vulnerable family members. Ensure you are offering appropriate flexibility to those who need it.
Provide for your team
A vital responsibility of any manager - remote or office-based - is to ensure staff have the appropriate resources required to complete their job to a high standard. Ask each member of your team individually if they have the technology and materials they need, keeping in mind that, for many, laptops, extra monitors, desk chairs and even high bandwidth internet connection are not guaranteed.
Step up communication
It’s your role to ensure that your team still feels connected, even though they may be physically miles apart. Feelings of disconnection and isolation can be averted by stepping up and promoting the number of video calls, phone calls, emails and messages exchanged within your team. This includes not only the communication you’re directly involved with, but also that with which you are not. This means that you should be encouraging all types of communication spaces for your team.
Make time for small talk
A key way to show members of your team that you care about more than just the work they do is by engaging in small talk. So, while it’s easy to jump onto a Zoom call and talk business straightaway, it’s vital that you highlight that you care about your team as people and their lives outside of work. The relationships and rapport you have with your team require consistent maintenance.
Have longer one-to-one meetings
One aspect of office work many of us miss is the chat by the water cooler, the chat while you’re making your coffee in the kitchen, the chat in the elevator. Not only this, but in the office your direct reports can come over to your desk when they encounter a problem, and likewise, you can go to them if priorities change or a task needs finishing urgently. Remote working does not afford these opportunities, so it’s important to have regular video or phone meetings with each member of your team. In order for you to find out in more detail about the progress your staff are making, these meetings should be substantial and last as long as necessary. This will also give your employees the chance to ask any questions or express any concerns they may have.