The rise of remote work has sparked numerous challenges for both managers and employees. How we work, how we communicate, how we interact socially — these all have different meanings right now than they did just a few years ago.
And, given that 74% of U.S. companies are either using or planning to implement a hybrid work model in 2022, knowing how to adapt to a remote approach is crucial. Not to mention that 59% of employees are more likely to work for a company that offers remote work opportunities as compared to one that doesn’t, making it clear that workers today are driving a major change in the work world — one that’s very likely to stick.
So, how do you, as a manager, turn those challenges into opportunities? How do you ensure that you don’t get lost in too many Zoom meetings, chaotic schedules and overly complicated workflows? How can you consolidate a team without daily, face-to-face interactions and keep in touch without micromanaging? Find answers to these and other remote team management questions below.
Invest in Quality Software
Since remote work has become the new normal, we’ve been more tech-reliant than ever before. And, while some early Zoom meetings felt like modern seances , with questions like “Jeff, are you with us?”, “Can you hear us, Brenda?” and “Can everyone see my screen?”, things have since settled into a relatively smooth process. Even so, leading a remote team means that you need to constantly ensure that your employees have the best possible means not only to keep in touch, but also to optimize workflows, onboard smoothly, report on results, and create a collaborative culture.
Since you know your business the best, take time to assess which software is absolutely crucial. Then, invest in a solid infrastructure that will support your work, instead of making it harder.
Forget to Invest in People, Too
Of course, technology plays a major role in any modern company’s success. But, always remember that your people are your best asset.
For instance, the pandemic years have caused most businesses to tighten their belts from a financial perspective and, in some cases, that included manpower, too. However, as the world starts to progress once again, make sure that you find the right people and invest in them. Notably, that includes not only their paycheck, but also the benefits they receive, their growth opportunities and their motivation to stay.
As an example, if you’re looking to hire new talent, the best thing you can do is start with a solid HR team that will track and engage the right people. That said, don’t forget about the more tenured, loyal employees — those who have stuck around during challenging times. Specifically, make sure that they’re properly compensated and that they know they’re appreciated for their efforts and dedication. Likewise, consider that, in the long run, it’s much more beneficial to invest enough to make people stay, rather than face high turnover rates and be forced to invest in constant recruiting, training and onboarding.
Give People Trust & Independence
While leading a remote team, you might feel like you don’t have as much visibility into everyone’s daily activities. In this situation, some managers try to overcompensate, but this is just a slippery slope toward micromanaging. The trick here is to find just the right balance and keep in touch just enough to make sure that things are running smoothly and that everyone has enough support and the means to succeed — without getting too persistent. Similarly, establish clear rules and workflows from the beginning about how a project has to run; how to update each other on progress; what the timelines and deadlines are; and so on. Then, once you set those in place, try to take a step back and give your people some independence. Remember, you hired them for a reason and now, it’s time to trust them to do what they know best.
Micromanaging creates a toxic environment where people feel like they’re never good enough, aren’t trusted and have no opportunities for growth. As such, this is one environment that will eventually be left behind by many employees, especially because mental health and a positive work environment are finally starting to become a priority for many.
Of course, micromanaging can happen to the best of us. Plus, the need to be on top of things and make sure that everything goes according to plan has likely increased due to working remotely. However, it’s important to remember that, in order for your team members to be able to function, learn, and grow, they need your trust and support. Therefore, give people enough space to do things on their own, to find solutions to problems, to research, test, try and occasionally fail.
Organize Regular One-on-Ones & Face-to-Face Meetings (When Possible)
While Zoom meetings and chat rooms are integral parts of remote team management, nothing really compares to meeting face-to-face. So, even if you generally work remotely, a monthly or quarterly on-site meeting can do wonders for your team. Specifically, organize workshops or even just team-building activities that will bring the group together and help people get to know each other outside of work. A joke over the laptop screen or a short coffee break with coworkers are some of the more minor occurrences in work life, but they often turn into great memories and a sense of belonging.
Along the same lines, one-on-ones with each individual team member are always appreciated and productive, so make sure to schedule them on a regular basis. In particular, take time to listen to feedback from your people and remember that questions like the following can work wonders:
- “How is everything going for you?”
- “Is your current workload manageable?”
- “Is there anything I can help you with?”
Assume Everyone Is the Same
Many employees cite the need for socialization as one of the reasons to go back to the office. Yet, when managing remote teams, it’s crucial to acknowledge the fact that one size does not fit all. That means that some of your team members might be more extroverted and get their energy from socializing and face-to-face-interaction, whereas others could be introverts, thereby making social situations exhausting.
Meanwhile, some workers find it harder to focus working at home, while others are more at peace in their familiar environment. There’s really no right or wrong here, it’s just a matter of allowing people to work in the best possible conditions for them and their particular needs and then supporting each member in ways that fit them as an individual. So, as a manager, you need to be flexible, adapt to each unique personality, and find the right balance between encouraging socialization and giving people space to do things in their own way.
Keep Things Organized
One of the biggest challenges when leading a remote team is ensuring that everyone is on the same page and knows what the team goals are, as well as the individual ones. Then, it’s up to you as a manager to schedule, delegate, prioritize and make sure that everyone knows what they need to achieve.
With this in mind, make sure to communicate project information very clearly from the start, as well as schedule regular meetings, assign tasks and have it all in writing. And, because everyone is probably juggling multiple projects at once, it helps to have either documents or tools that keep track of projects and their progress. Finally, every member of your team needs to know exactly what is expected of them, as well as what the deadlines are and which key performance indicators (KPIs) they’re being assessed on.
Forget to Make Room for People to Grow
It’s important to note here that being organized can also trick you into micromanagement territory if you’re not careful. So, this is another one of those areas where a fine balance is needed between stepping up and organizing the workload and letting people be accountable for their projects.
Plus, dead-end jobs are only satisfactory for a limited number of employees. The majority of workers need to feel like they’re growing, taking responsibility for their work and developing into better professionals. Therefore, along with well-deserved internal promotions, it’s advisable to give your team enough room to make decisions on their own and learn how to manage their projects and tasks with minimal input from you. That said, it’s also essential to make sure they know that you’re available and eager to advise and help them when needed, but also that you trust them enough to let them practice their skills.
Make Everyone Feel Included
While many leaders can be welcoming and supportive when a new employee joins their team, some may forget to nurture that relationship further. Accordingly, constant effort by both you and your employees is necessary in order to make things work, and it’s imperative to make everyone feel included and appreciated. So, give each member of your team enough time and attention and try to learn more about them as individuals, not just workers. This will not only make them feel valued, but it also might give you a better idea of how you can help nurture their skills and guide them on their professional path.
Moreover, make sure to include your employees in the decision-making process as well, especially if what needs to be decided will directly affect their work. Encourage people to share their thoughts and ideas and contribute to projects with their own unique perspectives. This will ensure that people always feel like they’re part of the equation and that you value them as employees.
Ignore Cultural Differences
When it comes to making everyone feel like part of the team, being aware of cultural differences is critical. Especially with the rise of remote work, you might have people on your team who come from different places, cultures, nationalities, beliefs, genders and so on. That’s a great advantage, both from a professional standpoint and a social one. On the business side, they might be able to address different markets with their unique insights. And, from a social perspective, it’s always nice to learn more about other cultures, as well as their traditions and celebrations. For these reasons, it’s vital to ensure that your team members know that you support their heritage and cultural identities — and maybe even make a celebration of it whenever you get the chance.
Celebrate the Team’s Achievements
Speaking of celebrations, since the pandemic hit, it may have been hard to take a moment to focus on the positive things; among so many changes, challenges and setbacks in most business areas, seeing the glass as half full was difficult — if not impossible — at times. However, in order to successfully manage a remote team (or a team of any kind, really), you have to make time and room for small celebrations. So, whether you managed to complete a challenging project on time, got positive results on a new campaign, or promoted an employee, make sure that you inspire your team to stop, take a few minutes and focus on the good. It’s important to recognize any milestone or even small success, as those are the moments that turn into great memories and create a sense of pride and belonging among your team.
Forget to Acknowledge Individual Progress
A collective appreciation is crucial, but so is an individual one. Make sure that no one in your team ever feels overlooked. Likewise, give each employee a fair share of time and attention. Realistically, this might be challenging among so many other responsibilities. But, a pre-scheduled one-on-one or a short call to congratulate them on a job well done can do wonders for morale. In particular, pay attention to what your employees succeed in; find their strengths and build on them; and let them know that you’ve noticed their hard work and dedication. Then, when appropriate, offer praise publicly. Note that, apart from salary expectations and growth opportunities, not feeling valued is one of the main reasons people leave jobs, so make sure your team has plenty of good reasons to stay.
Leading a remote team is definitely a challenge and there’s a lot to juggle simultaneously in order to ensure that team members deliver results, but that they’re also happy with their jobs. So, what about you? How do you manage a team remotely without burning out? We asked experts for their advice on the matter and here’s what they had to say:
Make sure that you take mental breaks away from the computer. Change your work environment from time to time in order to refresh your brain a bit, alter your mood and increase your ability to concentrate.
King Philanthropies Professor of Marketing
Stanford Graduate School of Business
First, it’s important to identify what leads to burnout. Research indicates three main contributors, which include a loss of sense of control, low self-efficacy, and the sense that work is meaningless. When it comes to avoiding burnout, there are features of job design that can help, such as giving workers some autonomy in how they conduct their work, providing feedback and knowledge to enhance self-efficacy, and enabling a variety of tasks that give them a perspective on how the whole fits together and has meaning.
Also, I would advise getting rid of as many synchronous work-related meetings as possible. Good candidates for cancellation (or at least reduction in frequency) are standing meetings that are simply status updates, meetings where a set of employees are all reporting out to a manager, or simple project coordination and hand-off meetings.
Anita Williams Woolley
Professor of Organizational Behavior and Theory at the Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University
Empowering your team members can help reduce the challenges of managing a remote team. Empowering leadership refers to delegating authority and decision-making to team members; coaching employees, rather than directing them; and regularly seeking their input to solve problems. To get comfortable empowering others, reach out to your employees for quick, 10- to 15-minute check-ins. Ask them how they are doing and build relationships. Get to know your team members as people, not just employees.
It’s also important for leaders to model good practices for their team members. This can help reduce burnouts for all. Remote working can blur the lines between home and office, but creating norms and expectations that set clear boundaries can help.
It’s crucial to prioritize your time, as well. Not just for work, but for your own mental health. Resist scheduling back-to-back meetings. Give yourself time to regroup in between.
Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior and Provost Solutions Fellow at Drexel LeBow College of Business