Managing a Team Remotely

With more of the workforce going remote than ever, professionals have had to adjust how they work – and many have had to figure out new ways to manage.

If you’re a manager with a newly remote team, you may find yourself overwhelmed with the new challenges that managing a team remotely presents.

Here are some common challenges to managing a team remotely and ways to overcome them.


What Does Working Remotely Mean?

Working remotely is the shift the workforce has taken towards letting professionals conduct work from their own homes. Working from home has been on an upward trend since the start of the decade but has become a necessity for many in light of the recent pandemic.

To work effectively from home, there are steps you can (and should!) take, like designating a specific workspace, minimizing distractions to the best of your abilities, and setting boundaries between work life and home life, especially if you have small children at home.

According to Investopedia, these are some key things to know about working from home:

“For employers, working from home can boost productivity, reduce turnover, and lower organizational costs, while employees enjoy perks like flexibility and the lack of a commute.
To work effectively from home, you'll need to make sure you have the technology you require, a separate workspace, Internet service that meets your need, a workable schedule you can stick to, and ways to connect with others.”


    How to Work Remotely

    We’ve written several pieces on how to work from home, but some of our best advice can be distilled down into five key points:

    • Set yourself up for success. This means creating a designated work space free from distractions, clutter, and interruptions, with all of the necessary tools you need to get work done. Pro tip: don’t forget to ensure you have a reliable internet connection wherever you choose to set up! I learned this the hard way, when I spent an afternoon creating a perfect work-from-home set up in my closet only to realize the internet didn’t reach.
    • Keep to a schedule. One of the challenges of working from home is a lack of boundaries, since your work life and home life can blend together. Prevent this by creating a firm schedule an adhering to it; for example, set a hard start time of 9 a.m., and don’t let yourself work past 5 or 6 p.m. Taking breaks is a must, too, and the benefit of taking these at home is that you can feasibly squeeze in a nap… in your own bed. #luxury
    • Get your tech together. This one may seem obvious, but it goes beyond having the right laptop. Make sure you have all the software you need installed on your devices! For me, this meant downloading several apps on my phone to ensure I was connected. Apps like Slack, Zoom, Asana, and Dropbox are all integral to my day-to-day operations, and putting them on my phone meant I was reachable no matter where I was. Make sure you have the software you need before you’ll need it.
    • Stay connected. In the same vein as the previous point, make sure you stay connected to the rest of your team. Working from home can sometimes feel isolating, which is why tools like video chatting and conference calls are so valuable. Check in regularly to ensure you and your colleagues are on the same page.
    • Reduce distractions. This is oftentimes easier said than done, especially if you’re at home with small children or needy pets. However, there are ways to ensure you’re able to get into the right headspace, like investing in noise-cancelling headphones, or adjusting your schedule to maximize productivity. If it’s your phone notifications distracting you, check out these options for blocking distractions.


    Effective Remote Team Working

    Working from home can become more complicated if you’re a member of a team, especially one that needs to communicate or collaborate often.

    Medium recently published an article outlining the 5 stages of remote work that gives helpful insight into how most companies function as virtual teams, and how the ideal virtual team functions. They posit that to maximize productivity, you can’t simply attempt to recreate the office environment remotely; instead, you have to create a new environment that supports a remote team.

    5 Stages of Remote Work

    This means embracing things like asynchronous schedules (not everyone will work a 9-5, for example; some may start and end later, or chop their day up into sections) and modern, streamlined methods of communication, like Slack and Zoom. That being said, the article stresses the importance of communicating when necessary and only having video meetings “if it is absolutely necessary and the same outcomes can’t be reached via a quick ad-hoc conversation, phone call, email, text, or instant message.”


    Managing Virtual Employees

    All of these complications become more pronounced if you’re the manager of a team, since leading from afar can often feel like groping for a light switch in the dark. However, the basic tenants of managing a remote team are the same as managing an in-office team: communication is key, clarifying expectations is a must, and connection is important. It’s how you achieve these things that may look a little different.


    Challenges of Managing Virtual Teams

    Before we go into how to effectively manage a virtual team, let’s cover some of the challenges of managing virtual teams. None of these are insurmountable, but it’s good to know what to be on the lookout for so you can prepare before issues arise. Here are some of the most common challenges of managing virtual teams.

    • Communication breakdowns. With distance comes a loss of face-to-face communication, and oftentimes important things like tone or intention can get lost in written correspondence like emails, texts, and instant messages. Even video calls aren’t perfect; lag time and poor connections can chop up conversations and strain conversational cadence.
    • Irregular schedules. This is inevitable when you have a remote team and trying to rail against it by establishing any sort of hard-and-fast schedule is just going to create unnecessary friction. Instead of requiring your team to be tethered to their computers for a designated eight-hour block, set up standing meeting times so everyone knows when to be available well in advance.
    • Lack of motivation. A lack of motivation from a remote team is often a manager’s fear, but isn’t necessarily the case. If you find your team is taking longer than usual to get their work done, it’s likely a problem of poorly communicated expectations.
    • Reduced morale. If your team is one that was once a traditional in-office team that has been scattered into remote positions, you may find that some team members are having a difficult time adjusting to this ‘new normal.’ Combat this by having regular (but not too frequent) check-ins via phone or video, and by communicating clear feedback about their work and your expectations of them.


    So, what does effective managing a team remotely look like?

    Here are our suggestions, and what we’ve found works for us.


    Managing Remotely - Provide the Right Tools

    Provide the right tools. This seems like a no-brainer and we briefly touched on it above but set your team up for success by investing in the right software to keep everyone connected. These days there are a whole host of remote work platforms and tools out there, so you can create the ideal set up to suit your needs. For reference, here are a few we use to ensure everyone is clued in and able to be as productive as possible.

    • Slack is the instant messaging service we use to stay in touch. It allows for group chats and specific team channels so you can keep conversations organized without clogging up your text and email inboxes.
    • Asana is the project management software we use to keep our workflows in line and see who is doing what when.
    • Zoom video calls have exploded in popularity lately, and with good reason. We use Zoom to hold virtual meetings and stay connected.
    • Dropbox keeps all of our work in one place and is the perfect solutions for a remote team, since all of the organization’s data and work can be accessed from any connected device.


    Managing Remotely - Establish Structure

    Establish structure. Routine is just as important with remote workers as it is with in-office teams. People like to know what to expect; having an established structure for days and weeks is also a way to ensure everyone is always aware of what’s coming down the pipeline, which gives them ample time to prepare effectively and produce results.

    That being said, structure doesn’t necessarily mean create a rigid schedule. When you have a remote team, it’s inevitable that your team members will all have different schedules, and it’s far more productive to embrace this instead of fight against it.

    When it comes to structuring a remote team, set up regular, recurring meetings for check-ins and updates, and give ample heads-up for any additional meetings. Don’t assume that because your team is at home, they’re always available; this sets an unhealthy precedent and can lead to anxiety, blurred boundaries, and reduced morale.


    Managing Remotely - Check In regularly

    Check in regularly. As the leader of your team, it’s up to you to ensure that everyone is connected and up to date on the goings-on of your organization. It’s easy to feel disconnected when you’re part of a remote team, but an effective way to combat this is by setting up regular check-ins with your colleagues. This fosters a team mindset as well as giving opportunities for everyone to ensure they’re on the same page.

    Remember, though, that not every check-in has to be a video call or a half-hour Google meeting invite. A quick Slack message or brief email just checking in works just as well and will likely create less stress in your team members. Something along the lines of the messages below are all you need to foster a feeling of connection.

    Managing Remotely - Checking In


    Managing Remotely - Communicate

    Communicate clearly – and quickly! Clear, effective communication is a cornerstone of any healthy, productive relationship, be it personal or professional, and managing remote teams is no different. Keeping the channels of communication open is imperative to effective remote team working, and as the leader, you’ll have to be the one to set the example.

    It’s good practice to check in with each member of your team at least once every working day, and a great idea to set up a standing meeting regularly, as frequently as you think is beneficial without being overwhelming. Remember, it’s bad form to hold meetings for the sake of holding meetings, but a weekly check-in with your team on video call is a great way to cultivate a sense of community and connection while keeping everyone abreast of events and work.

    Another tip for effective communication when managing remote teams is to provide timelines for responses. For example, if you send an email to a team member with a question in it, it’s always best to put a time frame with it for clarifying purposes. A simple addition like ‘let me know by 3 o’clock, thanks!’ is helpful, since now your team member knows how to prioritize his or her workflow.


    Managing Remotely - Trust

    And, perhaps most importantly, trust your team. Instead of focusing on granular things like hours clocked, emails answered, or how many video calls you set up, look to the results and output of those working with you. Are projects getting finished on time? Are clients happy? Are results being produced? If the answer to these questions is yes, then it sounds like your team is practicing effective remote team working. Keep faith and keep leading – you’ve got this.


    managing a team remotely


    Got more questions about working from home? More questions about running thingsWe’ve got answers. Check out our blog or find us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Or, if you have a questions or concern, leave a comment below or send us an email – Larry loves hearing from you.


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    Grace Treutel is Blue Summit Supplies' Director of Culture. Currently she’s in training to become a Marriage & Family Therapist though her greatest love will always be the written word. Her three novel manuscripts have not yet been published - but just you wait. She lives in Huntsville with her  cute kids and cute pets.

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