As we saw during the pandemic, working remotely full-time is completely different from working remotely now and then. That’s especially true when everyone in your household is there all the time. But even after the end of the pandemic, some teams chose to stay remote full time, simply because they could. And in order to make that work, leaders have had to learn better tips for managing remote teams at high levels. Here are seven of those best practices worth knowing about.
Best Practices for Managing Remote Teams
1. Create and Document Processes
If you only do one thing while managing remote teams, this is it. Having clear processes in place for getting the work done, collaborating, and documenting the work makes it easy to shift from in-office to remote and back again. Ending tribal knowledge also makes it simple to move work around and onboard new team members.
If you’ve done this right, all you need to do is point to the central place where you store your processes and let people take it from there. To ensure those processes are always up to date for the changes or process improvements, consider making the list one person’s responsibility, just as you would do with your chart of accounts.
2. Set Clear Expectations
According to Gallup, about half of all employees – whether remote or onsite – don’t know what’s expected of them at work. Remedy that by making sure everyone knows what they should be working on during a given week or day. Having clear processes in place is the first step, but your people also need to be clear on what the deliverable for the week or day is.
In a remote work environment, you can’t just walk around and make sure people are working appropriately. Instead, hold your team accountable to getting work done on time and completed correctly, but give them the autonomy to determine when and how to get it done. Workflow tools like Slack, FloQast, Asana, or Trello make it easy to assign tasks as well as affording visibility into who’s getting work done and who’s struggling.
You also need to set expectations around response times for emails, texts, and calls. Is a response within two hours adequate? Remember, some of your team members have other household responsibilities, especially if they’re given flex time. So, an instant response isn’t always possible.
3. Give Everyone the Tools They Need
Remote teams are finding that tech tools that were previously just nice to have are now essential for working together well. You’ll need some kind of platform that allows for easy communication and collaboration via chat and video, with screen and document sharing capabilities. You may need a combination of tools for full functionality. Choose tools that meld well with your existing process instead of trying to design processes around new tools.
Besides a laptop and headset, working successfully from home for the long term may mean setting up your team with ergonomic desks and chairs as well as making sure they have reliable high-speed internet and robust home Wi-Fi connections. Rigging a standing workstation out of an ironing board and plastic bins should only be a temporary fix. For ideas on what works well, check out these lists from ZDNet of recommended tech apps and gear for remote workers.
4. Set a Schedule
Working from home makes work-life boundaries tricky because you’re always at your workplace. In today’s hyper-connected world, with email and Slack right on our phones, it’s tempting to respond to every email or text. No matter how late or early they come in.
Instead, encourage everyone to establish a set schedule for when they are “at work” and when they are “unavailable”. But you must be sure to respect those boundaries. By making sure everyone on your team has time to unplug and recharge, you reduce the risk of losing people or productivity to burnout.
As team leader, you need to model this yourself. Commit to stopping work at a certain time each day, and not starting before a certain time. However, if you have team members in different time zones, this can be tricky. This may mean some of your team members may need your support late at night or early in the mornings.
5. Stay Connected
Your team isn’t there just for the paycheck, but also for the intangible value of being part of something bigger than they are. Building a remote culture is harder than just setting up a ping pong table, a snazzy coffee and soft drinks bar, and a cool modern office vibe. You’ll have to take concrete steps to make it happen.
Keeping connected to your team may mean more frequent but brief all-hands meetings, or online activities for everyone to participate in. Consider a monthly or weekly virtual happy hour, or get lunch delivered for everyone and share a meal.
Setting up off-topic chat channels in Slack also helps foster community and connection. By establishing other common points of reference, your people will build a more cohesive team. This means they’ll be more willing to pull together and help everyone out.
6. Be Judicious with Meetings
Despite what we just said about maybe needing more meetings, you may not actually need to cut back. Zoom fatigue is a real thing. Keeping meetings short and not scheduled back-to-back helps reduce that meeting exhaustion. Plus, if everyone is in meetings all day, no one can ever get any work done. Many meetings can happen in chat via Slack or Teams. Some don’t need to happen at all, or with a very small subset of your team.
7. Take Care of Your Team
Besides making sure your team stays on track with the work that needs to get done, the foundational purpose of being a leader is helping your team members become better humans. The COVID era is putting new and unusual pressures on all of us, so we may all need a bit more support. Compassion and empathy go a long way, as does insisting that everyone practice good self-care. Workplace fairness isn’t treating every employee the same, but treating them fairly given their circumstances.
Be alert for signs of burnout, and force those people to take a break from work. Especially if you’re the one feeling the strain. By establishing a connection with your team members, you’ll be aware of changes in work habits and response times.
Our dramatic shift toward remote work during the pandemic offered the perfect opportunity to become more creative about how we work. And these new habits and routines have ultimately proven helpful in creating a better workplace. So, team leaders who want to get ahead in this new environment would do well to heed the seven tips for managing remote teams that we’ve discussed.
And if you’re still striving to become the leader you feel you should be, consider taking a look at our various leadership courses.
Article written by Weston Fennell
Last updated August 18, 2023