Managing a Remote Team? What Leaders Need to Know...

Comprehensive guide on managing remote teams. Explores strategies across leadership, communication, goals, trust, feedback, tools, and more.

The rapid shift to remote work has thrust many managers into uncharted territory.

Suddenly faced with overseeing dispersed teams.

Leaders need to quickly adapt their management styles while confronting unique challenges like maintaining team cohesion, facilitating collaboration, and promoting engagement in a virtual setting.

However, with careful preparation and intentional leadership strategies, managers can find success leading productive and motivated remote teams.

This comprehensive guide will explore the management approaches, skills, and tools needed to effectively lead in the remote work era.

Leadership Styles for the Remote Workforce

Leading remote teams requires finding the right balance between providing structure and allowing autonomy. The traditional command-and-control style of close supervision doesn't translate well into a remote setting where employees operate independently. On the other hand, taking a completely hands-off approach can lead to misalignment and reduced accountability.

To strike the right balance, managers should aim for an inclusive leadership style that focuses on facilitating work rather than micromanaging tasks. As noted by leadership development firm Zenger/Folkman, some of the qualities of excellent remote leaders include being motivational, communicative, confident, and organized.


Inspire people and make work exciting even without in-person interactions.


Be available, listen actively, and provide frequent updates.


Exude confidence in their team’s abilities to collaborate and achieve shared goals.


Set clear objectives, systems, and schedules to keep everyone aligned.

This leadership style empowers employees with the autonomy and trust needed to work productively while also providing the direction necessary to keep teams aligned on priorities and goals.

Setting Clear Goals and Expectations

With employees distributed across locations, having clearly defined goals and expectations is crucial for keeping everyone working towards shared objectives. Leaders should take the time to set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) goals that outline:

  • Expected outcomes for specific projects and tasks
  • Success metrics for evaluating performance
  • Schedules and milestones for deliverables
  • Processes for reporting progress and completing assignments

Project management tools like Asana, Trello and Basecamp can help managers map out plans, assign tasks, and track progress. However, it’s also important that leaders frequently communicate goals, remind team members of priorities, and check in on progress.

When expectations are vague, remote employees can feel directionless and frustrated. But being overly rigid can also limit creativity and problem-solving. Striking the right balance requires aligning on the end goal while allowing flexibility in how it’s achieved based on individual working styles and priorities.

Fostering Trust and Team Cohesion

Lack of daily in-person contact can make it harder for remote teams to bond and build trust. Managers play a key role in fostering team cohesion through intentional culture building, such as:

  • Scheduling regular video calls focused on non-work conversations and team building activities. Tools like Donut and Teammate can randomly pair up employees for virtual coffee chats to enable more organic relationship building.
  • Creating channels on collaboration platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams specifically for social conversations and sharing personal updates.
  • Sending weekly newsletters with employee recognition, lifestyle content, and fun facts about team members.
  • Organizing monthly virtual happy hours, trivia nights, or activities based on shared interests like virtual yoga classes or online game competitions.
  • Periodically bringing remote staff together in person for immersive team retreats or off-site working sessions.

These bonding experiences help remote employees feel more connected to their teammates and the organization as a whole. Leaders should also promote trust by being transparent about goals, issues, and company information. With employees unable to pick up on office gossip or overhear hallway conversations, managers need to be proactive and consistent about sharing updates.

Providing Effective Feedback Remotely

Giving regular feedback is essential for nurturing productivity and employee growth. But leaders often struggle with providing feedback remotely due to the lack of casual, in-person interactions.

Best practices for effective feedback in distributed teams include:

  • Schedule consistent one-on-one meetings with employees to discuss their performance, development, and any issues. Cadences can vary from weekly for newer employees to monthly for more tenured staff.
  • Set the expectation that feedback will be given often, not just during formal performance reviews. Integrate praise and constructive criticism into everyday conversations.
  • Ask employees for self-assessments during one-on-ones to get their perspective before providing your own feedback. This promotes openness and can reveal blindspots.
  • Follow up on concerns via email to create documentation. The written record ensures alignment and prevents misinterpretations.
  • Share positive feedback publicly on group chat platforms to recognition achievements. This fosters motivation and peer learning.
  • Monitor work asynchronously through status updates, reports, or screenshots. This gives visibility into productivity without micromanaging.
  • Use video conferencing to observe presentations, facilitate role play exercises, or demonstrate skills. The face-to-face interaction makes feedback more impactful.

With remote employees unable to detect non-verbal cues or body language, it’s important to be explicit yet empathetic when giving feedback digitally. Leaders need to strike the right tone and provide enough details to be constructive while building trust.

Tools and Strategies for Success

The right platforms and management strategies are key to effectively collaborating, engaging employees, and monitoring productivity in distributed teams. Here are some of the most essential tools and techniques managers should have in their remote work toolkit.

Project Management

Platforms like Asana, Trello, Basecamp, and provide centralized systems for assigning tasks, setting timelines, documenting processes, and tracking progress. Their boards, workflow automations, statuses, and reporting tools add transparency and accountability.

Team Communication

Messaging apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams enable constant communication. Private groups and threaded conversations streamline collaboration while video and voice channels add personal connections.

Document Sharing

Platforms like Google Drive, Dropbox, and Sharepoint centralize files so everyone has access to the latest versions. Simultaneous editing capabilities facilitate collaboration.

Virtual Meetings

Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, and GoToMeeting enable face-to-face interactions using video and screen sharing. AI features like live transcriptions and automatic summaries boost engagement.

Time Tracking

Tools like Toggl, Timely, and Hubstaff allow managers to record time spent on tasks and projects. This increases transparency around workloads and ensures accurate client billing.

Productivity Monitoring

Analytics tools like Microsoft Clarity, Time Doctor, and ActivTrak provide insights into activity levels during work hours. Managers can identify inefficiencies and optimize workflows.

Daily Standups

Short daily video check-in meetings let everyone share progress updates and impediments. This promotes accountability and alignment.

Async Communication

Written channels like email and Slack allow non time-sensitive information to be shared asynchronously, reducing unnecessary meetings.

Team Rituals

Consistent rituals like weekly standups, monthly offsites, and daily watercooler chat sessions reinforce bonds and culture.

Digital Whiteboards

Mural, Miro, Stormboard and other visual collaboration platforms replicate in-person ideation and design sessions virtually.

The technologies supporting remote work continue advancing rapidly. But even more important than any tool are the leadership philosophies and management practices needed to engage, align, and develop distributed teams.


Leading remote teams presents unique challenges that require managers to adapt traditional leadership philosophies. By focusing on inclusivity, communication, and transparency, managers can make distributed team members feel valued, aligned, and empowered. The key is striking the right balance between providing structure and allowing autonomy.

With the surge of remote work, managers have a remarkable opportunity to demonstrate agile leadership and innovative thinking. Adopting flexible mindsets focused on outcomes rather than hours worked or physical proximity is crucial. The leaders who embrace this remote management evolution with confidence and purpose will discover enriched team relationships, increased productivity, and new competitive advantages.

While supporting employees through this transition requires dedicated effort, the rewards are manifold – for both managers and their teams. By honing motivational techniques, directing with clarity, nurturing culture remotely, and leveraging technology strategically, leaders can unlock their team’s full potential, no matter where they’re located.

The future of management is remote - and with the right approach, it’s bright.

Iwo Szapar

Iwo Szapar

Remote-First Advocate & Book Author

🚀 Remote-First Advocate & Book Author // Since 2017, shaping the future of remote & hybrid work as the CEO of Remote-how

No items found.