Remote work is the future. Yes, employees will eventually return to offices, but the workforce will never be the same. You can applaud (or blame) the pandemic to some extent for this movement, but the remote trend was already on the up and up before COVID-19.
However, managing remote teams isn’t something they teach you in business school. And it’s likely not something your boss or mentor has tons of experience with, either—it’s an emerging business phenomenon.
Fortunately, you don’t need to figure it out all on your own. We’re a distributed workforce ourselves here at Foundr, so we’ve learned a thing or two about how to manage remote teams—and we’re sharing everything we know in this complete guide to managing remote teams in 2023.
Whether your business is temporarily working from home or you’re leading a remote team, these tips and best practices will help you overcome obstacles, improve collaboration, and blow your key performance indicators (KPIs) out of the water.
First, let’s address the most common obstacles to remote collaboration. Understanding what you’re up against will give you the foundation you need to learn the remote hurdling techniques.
Common Obstacles to Remote Collaboration
While managing remote teams has a suite of benefits (increased productivity, better work-life balance, lower attrition), it’s not all candy canes and marshmallows. There are downsides to remote work that can hurt collaboration.
Different Time Zones
It’s hard to coordinate meeting schedules when 10am on Monday in San Francisco equates to 6pm on Monday in London and 5am on Tuesday in Melbourne. Yet, it’s got to be done.
Switch around meeting times to accommodate different team members. Don’t always make your United Kingdom teammates hop on late-night phone calls. Consider having an early morning meeting to give them a semi-normal schedule every once in a while.
60% of remote workers feel less connected to their colleagues. That’s going to be a problem when you’re trying to build trust and nurture close-knit relationships. It doesn’t have to be this way, though.
You can help your remote workforce form connections by investing the extra time and effort. This might involve additional digital team-building activities or frequent in-person team gatherings—whatever works better for your logistics.
Consider having daily check-ins on Slack or initiating more collaborative group projects. Teams that don’t see (or chat) with each other frequently will struggle to form meaningful connections.
It’s easy to collaborate, go back-and-forth, or drop by a colleague’s desk for a quick chat at the office. Online, not so much. You’ll need to invest in the right collaborative tools to empower your team members to work together effectively.
If you’re working on graphic design, you might use a product like Punchlist to edit together. Project management applications like Trello and Asana can keep teams aligned and in the know. And a simple (but powerful) messaging application like Slack can help your employees seamlessly start 1:1 and impromptu group conversations.
Best Practices for How to Lead Remote Teams
You don’t have to sit idly by and watch distance destroy your teams. You can take action to overcome these obstacles and better lead your remote teams. Let’s jump into a few game-changing best practices that’ll get your team headed in the right direction.
Give everyone a voice, especially in meetings. It was manageable for introverts to disappear during in-person meetings, but it’s downright effortless in digital sessions. However, they have valuable things to say, too.
Go out of your way to give them an opportunity to speak up and voice their opinions. It might spotlight them for a minute, but it’ll help them contribute and feel more connected with the overall team. Use features like chat, polls, and even emojis to get everyone involved in the way they’re most comfortable.
Consider implementing a cameras-on policy in meetings. This might sound a bit intrusive, but with the quick setup of background images and blur settings, turning on a camera is simple and private. And it’s not asking too much—you’d just like to ensure everyone is engaged and present rather than making breakfast or watching soccer highlights.
Remote workers report feeling 182% less engaged than those who primarily work in the office. And most of that non-engagement comes down to the feeling of “time scarcity.”
As the CEO or team leader, it’s your duty to keep employees motivated. Motivation looks different to everyone, so you’ll need to take a personalized approach rather than a batch-and-blast strategy.
Some employees might be motivated by realistic goal-setting, while others could be inspired by collaboration and connections. Find out what your team needs to feel engaged and part of the crew.
Focus on Priorities
It’s easy to get lost on big-picture items when you’re staring at a digital screen all day. The Zoom meetings, emails, Slack messages, and Google Docs start to blend together, and to-do lists often emerge to keep track of all the minutiae.
Take a step back and help the team focus on priorities. Remember those goals you set back in January? What’s the update on their status?
It can be overwhelming to tackle every project and task that gets thrown your way. Keep your teams and employees focused with clear objectives and key results (OKRs).
Everyone wants to be noticed for the hard work they put in. Make it a priority to recognize team members’ contributions in 1:1 meetings, group conversations, department get-togethers, and even all hands.
A simple “thank you” or a quick round of applause can do wonders for your team’s confidence and engagement. Find creative ways to reward your hard-working employees and keep them motivated. This might be monthly gift cards, trophies, or even a day of paid time off.
Drive Your Team Members’ Careers
It’s hard to feel personally invested in your team members’ careers when you may have never had a face-to-face conversation with them before. However, it’s your job and responsibility.
Take an interest in your team members’ wants and needs. Assist where you can, and ask the hard questions to get them to break out of their pandemic bubble and open up.
11 Tips for Managing Remote Teams
1. Set Expectations
Your team doesn’t need to be present 24/7. Let employees know when you expect them online, but provide them with more flexible working schedules.
For example, some team members may prefer to work early mornings while others prefer evenings. That’s fine and dandy, but you’ll need a bit of overlapping schedules to enable and encourage collaboration. You might ask your team members to all be online between 10am to 2pm PT on Tuesdays and Thursdays (depending on their time zones), but how they allocate the rest of their time is up to them.
2. Establish Boundaries
Use tools to help respect different team members’ time. If someone receives an email or Slack message at 8pm, they might feel compelled to check and answer it.
Instead of telling your team not to check their messages after hours (which they probably won’t do), use Gmail’s scheduling feature or Slack’s Gator plugin (also for scheduling) to only send messages during business hours.
3. Overcommunicate (But Don’t Micromanage)
Keep your team members in the loop. It’s better to overcommunicate than under-communicate, but be careful not to fall into the realm of micromanaging.
Provide daily check-ins with the team to align on priorities, urgent tasks, and long-term outcomes. Have weekly 1:1 meetings with each team member to see how they’re doing and what you can do to help.
Not every meeting needs to be a Zoom call. Consider hosting 15-minute Slack conversations, or maybe do an old-school conference call every once in a while. Keeping your meetings fresh reduces monotony and non-engagement.
4. Get to the Root of Problems
Your employee might not be underperforming because they’re lazy or incompetent—they might have obstacles getting in their way. For example, they might be sitting in Zoom calls for 4+ hours per day, slowly losing their soul to video fatigue. You could work with them to remove non-essential meetings and free up their schedule.
Ask more intentional questions to figure out how your team’s doing. Ask “how are you” at the start of every 1:1, and you’re probably going to hear “good” a lot (even if they’re not doing so hot). Instead, consider asking a question like, “How’s your work coming along? Is there anything I can do to make things easier?” or “Is your remote setup working for you? Is there anything that’d make it smoother?”
Employees will feel more comfortable talking with you if they feel like you’re a champion in their corner (and you should be).
Spot overloading before it’s too late. It’s hard to notice the signs of exhaustion, fatigue, and burnout from Slack messages and emails, but watch closely for tell-tale signs your employees need a break. If you notice signs of burnout (glazed-over eyes, missed deadlines, irritability, or long waits for responses), consider suggesting they use some PTO or offer to redistribute the workload to give them breathing room.
5. Gather Feedback Anonymously
Your team leads and direct reports might not feel comfortable sharing candid feedback in person—but you need their responses. Provide anonymous surveys to gather insights about your team. You might not know who specifically needs help, but you can spot trends and provide solutions.
For example, if engagement in customer support is dipping, you might want to hire additional help to share the load. If your human resources department feels burnt out, you could consider revisiting their KPIs and setting more realistic goals.
People will be more honest with their feedback when they know it can’t be traced directly back to them. Give your employees this opportunity.
6. Find Opportunities to Collaborate
It’s easy for employees to fall off the bandwagon if they’re off doing siloed work day after day. Find ways to get multiple team members working together. This provides a chance for social interactions, team-building, and bigger outcomes.
Collaborative opportunities won’t always appear on their own—sometimes you have to look for them or create them. For example, if you’re managing a content writing team, your team members might naturally be used to working on projects by themselves. Mix up their day-to-day work by assigning 2 teammates to a single assignment. It might not get done as fast as usual, but it could provide the interaction your employees need to feel engaged.
7. Host Team-Building Activities
While you might not be able to get together for dinner or an escape room, you can find plenty of remote team-building activities to get the team together. It could be as simple as a week-long Wordle competition or a dedicated weekly 30 minutes of Among Us—nothing like lying and backstabbing to bring people closer, right?
Every quarter, consider doing a bigger team-building activity. This might be a pizza-making night or a talent show. Include families (where appropriate) to help your team members get to know more about each other. Post-COVID-19, get your teams together for in-person gatherings. Real-life face-to-face interactions can make a lasting impact on your team’s relationships. You could even incentivize your teams to hit their goals by offering to host a team-building trip to a central location.
8. Provide Feedback
Sometimes, managers only step in when something goes wrong. Be proactive about congratulating your employees when they do something right. This could be as simple as recognizing a professional way they handled a troublesome customer, or it could be taking the time to acknowledge the consistent work a team member’s been putting in.
When employees feel seen, they’ll feel more engaged. If they don’t feel like anyone notices or cares about the work they’re doing, they’ll naturally care less, too. Show them their work is appreciated and how it impacts the bottom line.
Do you have an employee who always shows up to meetings on time with a positive can-do attitude? Recognize that behavior (publicly and in private) to show them you appreciate their support and the difference they’re making to the team.
For example, you might show an employee how their piece of content is ranking in organic search and how this leads to revenue for the company. Tying individual contributions to overall company outcomes can help keep employees motivated.
9. Offer Career-Building Opportunities
Show your employees and team members that you’re invested in their careers. Offer them a stipend for ongoing learning, or bring a specialist to the company to provide workshops and 1:1 training.
Leverage your connections. If you have a good friend at another non-competing company that specializes in graphic design, consider asking him to do a 30-minute presentation to your team.
Ask your team what kinds of skills they’d like to learn. If they want to learn more about search engine optimization (SEO), you might purchase a discounted company license to a certified course they can all take.
Your employees can still shadow remotely, too. If your team member wants to learn something new, consider finding someone at the company they can shadow for a few hours. It’ll look different than your typical follow-the-person-around-all-day shadowing, but it’s still possible to have these experiences over Zoom.
10. Be Empathetic
It’s no longer cool (or culturally acceptable) to be a standoffish leader. Show your employees you care. Be empathetic and vulnerable. Listen.
Teach by showing. Ask for help when you need it. Pick an employee’s brain to get their thoughts about a strategy or the company’s direction.
This sort of leadership leads to long-lasting trust, strong relationships, and powerful insights.
11. Invest Cost-Savings into Your Employees
You might not be paying for office space and commuter perks anymore, but don’t just pocket that money for profits. Instead, reallocate it in the form of bonuses and benefits.
Consider providing your remote workforce with a monthly stipend to help with remote-friendly offices or a coworking space in their area. This could help offset the price of internet and electricity for your team members. It could also help them purchase a more ergonomic desk chair or an upgraded headset. These investments can boost their engagement and productivity.
Purchase hardware and software that’ll improve remote work. Listen to your employees and see what they recommend—they might know of solutions that’ll improve efficiencies and your bottom line.
Become a Leader Who Walks the Walk
It’s hard to show leadership or empathy when you have no idea what your team is doing. You don’t need to be proficient in every expertise at your business to manage remote teams, but you should have a general understanding of each team member’s role, responsibilities, challenges, and expectations.
While you’ll glean some of that know-how from time, experience, and managing, you’ll need to be more intentional about gaining specific knowledge. That’s where we can help.
Check out our catalog of free exclusive trainings to learn all the ins and outs of your business. Not sure how to help your marketing managers? Take a refresher on content marketing, copywriting, and advertising. Want to provide more actionable advice to your product development team? Watch a quick course about MVP methodology.
Become the leader your teams need by signing up for a class and getting started.