The Expert Guide to Managing Remote Teams: 15 Must-Follow Tips for People Leaders in 2023

Managing distributed teams means adjusting your approach. Get expert tips in this 2200+ word guide.

Take your remote management strategy to the next level with the Distributed Work Audit.

This AI-powered assessment provides personalized recommendations tailored to your team’s specific needs.

Master key aspects like communication, performance management and work culture with this comprehensive 2200+ word guide for people leaders and HR professionals.

Table of Contents

  1. Set Clear Goals and Expectations
  2. Maintain Open Communication
  3. Measure Performance Objectively
  4. Build Trust and Transparency
  5. Foster Community and Engagement
  6. Provide Ongoing Feedback
  7. Promote Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing
  8. Keep Employees Engaged
  9. Enable Continuous Learning
  10. Leverage Technology Thoughtfully
  11. Prioritize Employee Wellbeing
  12. Embrace Asynchronous Communication
  13. Invest in Management Training
  14. Create Opportunities to Connect
  15. Distributed Work Audit

1. Set Clear Goals and Expectations

With remote employees, passive oversight is ineffective. You need to be very intentional about setting goals and expectations upfront.

  • Establish SMART goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.
  • Clearly communicate priorities, deadlines, and responsibilities.
  • Ensure employees understand their individual roles.
  • Set expectations for availability, response times, preferred work hours etc.
  • Revisit goals periodically and update as priorities or circumstances evolve.

Having clear expectations and goals from the start allows remote employees to work autonomously while ensuring their work ladders up to team and company objectives. This alignment and empowerment are the foundation for managing distributed teams successfully.

2. Maintain Open Communication

With employees working remotely, communication modes need to evolve. Relying solely on occasional meetings is insufficient for managing distributed teams.

  • Leverage digital tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom etc. for instant messaging, file sharing, video conferencing and document collaboration.
  • Establish norms and guidelines for using different communication channels appropriately. For example, use video calls for brainstorming sessions and email for progress updates.
  • Schedule regular one-on-one meetings to touch base with each direct report. This provides opportunities for mentoring, growth discussions, and relationship building.
  • Hold team meetings virtually to align on priorities, provide updates, foster connections, and resolve group issues.
  • Send weekly digests or recaps via email to consolidate and share recent developments with remote employees.

With well-planned communication rhythms and media, managers can lead distributed teams successfully even without daily in-person interactions. Frequent multidimensional communication replaces impromptu conversations lost with remote work. It keeps everyone connected, aligned, and engaged.

3. Measure Performance Objectively

With remote employees, manager visibility is reduced and judging productivity simply by hours logged or activities completed is ineffective. Instead, take an outcomes-based approach.

  • Set clear goals based on results and measurable outcomes rather than time spent working. Assess the quality and impact of the actual outputs.
  • Gather feedback from cross-functional partners that remote employees interact with to understand their contributions.
  • Use tools to quantify work accomplished - number of bugs fixed, lines of code deployed, deals closed etc.
  • Focus on evaluating the overall impact that the employee’s work has on moving top-level company goals forward.
  • Be flexible about working schedules as long as agreed commitments are consistently met and deliverables are high-quality. Don’t penalize people for unconventional working hours.

A fair and objective, outcomes-focused approach to performance management empowers remote employees to organize their work in ways that are most productive for them. This leads to greater commitment, innovation, and impact – boosting the business’s bottom line.

4. Build Trust and Transparency

Trust is the essential foundation for the success of distributed teams. But cultivating trust and psychological safety can be harder when teammates don’t interact face-to-face every day.

As a manager, you can build trust with remote employees by being intentionally transparent:

  • Provide context and explanations behind organizational changes, new initiatives or policies that impact how the team works.
  • Be open about what’s going well and what needs improvement – don’t just paint a rosy picture.
  • Explain the reasoning behind decisions that influence where and how employees work.
  • Discuss team and organizational challenges freely and invite solutions from the wider team.
  • Share key priorities, roadmaps, and performance metrics openly rather than keeping people in the dark.
  • Solicit input from employees when problem solving or brainstorming ideas to make them active partners.

Transparency from leaders demonstrates that you trust employees with important information about the company’s direction. In turn, this helps build mutual trust between managers and distributed team members.

5. Foster Community and Engagement

Without daily in-person contact and interactions, remote employees can feel isolated, disengaged, and disconnected from their colleagues and the organization. As a manager, you play a crucial role in cultivating team community and fostering engagement among distributed team members.

Here are some key strategies to build virtual social connections:

  • Dedicate Slack channels or Microsoft Teams chat groups for casual non-work conversations and community building.
  • Organize optional virtual coffee chats or virtual water cooler gatherings for socializing without an agenda.
  • Schedule periodic in-person offsite gatherings or retreats if feasible to provide opportunities for face-to-face team bonding.
  • Send care packages or gift cards to employees’ homes around birthdays, work anniversaries or holidays.
  • Spotlight different locations and individuals during all-hands meetings to increase inclusivity and visibility.

While remote work provides welcome flexibility, managers must also invest time and effort into creating intentional opportunities for social interactions. Fostering personal connections pays dividends in terms of higher engagement, collaboration, and performance.

6. Provide Ongoing Feedback

In traditional co-located office settings, managers can provide impromptu feedback driven by organic visibility and proximity to their direct reports. But replicating this virtually in distributed teams requires a more intentional approach.

As a remote manager, you should:

  • Schedule monthly or quarterly one-on-one feedback conversations to discuss recent wins, developmental areas, and career aspirations.
  • Solicit 360-degree feedback from peers to supplement your own perspective and reduce bias.
  • Seek feedback from remote employees on your own management approach and style too. Be open to improving.
  • Address performance issues promptly through supportive conversations focused on finding solutions rather than blaming. Don’t let problems fester.
  • Follow up after feedback meetings with mentorship, training resources or other support to drive positive change.

Making time for regular feedback conversations demonstrates your commitment to employees’ growth and success. Ongoing feedback ensures remote teams stay aligned amidst the distance and provides management opportunities for course correction as well as continuous improvement.

7. Promote Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing

Physical distance between remote employees can stifle organic collaboration, collective learning, and sharing of knowledge across the organization. As a manager, you play a key role in facilitating effective collaboration among distributed teams.

Here are some tips:

  • Create open forums for employees to voluntarily exchange ideas, insights, and expertise gained through their work.
  • Publicly recognize and reward collaborative behaviors during team meetings or privately through one-on-one conversations.
  • Establish digital channels using tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Workplace by Meta for seamless conversations and collective problem solving.
  • Organize cross-functional teams, cohorts, or mentoring circles to foster connections and knowledge sharing between employees across different departments.

By breaking down silos and proactively enabling collaboration, managers can tap into the diverse skills, experiences, and perspectives across their organization. This leads to better solutions that skillfully integrate different vantage points.

8. Keep Employees Engaged

Lack of daily in-person contact and casual interactions among distributed team members can take a toll on organizational culture and employee engagement over time. As a manager, you need to be proactive about minimizing detachment and fostering inclusion.

  • During all-hands virtual meetings, make it a point to spotlight different locations, teams, and individuals to give equal visibility.
  • Vary meeting and event times or offer recordings to accommodate employees in different time zones across the globe.
  • Invest in unconscious bias training for people managers and team members to promote psychological safety in virtual interactions.
  • Poll employees anonymously on engagement and culture periodically to quickly surface potential issues.

By intentionally cultivating inclusiveness and a sense of belonging, managers can maximize loyalty, discretionary effort, innovation, and performance among distributed teams.

9. Enable Continuous Learning

Out of sight cannot mean out of mind when it comes to developing and upskilling remote employees. As a manager, create opportunities for continuous learning and career growth.

  • Offer access to online courses, workshops, and conferences to help remote employees build new skills.
  • Develop mentoring, coaching, or buddy programs to provide guidance and advice.
  • Provide stretch assignments, project leadership opportunities, and lateral rotations to help people gain new skills.
  • Maintain online libraries with curated resources related to professional development, leadership, and remote work productivity.
  • Assess training needs proactively during check-ins and provide personalized recommendations for growth.

Investing in continuous learning for remote employees enhances engagement, skills, productivity, and job satisfaction over the long term. It also builds a culture of growth mindset.

10. Leverage Technology Thoughtfully

While the right tools can help remove friction from collaborating virtually, technology alone cannot guarantee engagement, inclusion, and productivity in distributed teams. As a manager you need to think holistically.

  • Invest time training remote employees on new platforms before rolling them out - don’t just provide access.
  • Strive to minimize complexity by choosing integrated platforms rather than specialized tools for every function.
  • Automate repetitive workflows and processes wherever possible rather than creating convoluted manual workarounds.
  • Institute organization-wide standards for core platforms to enable consistency and improve onboarding.
  • Develop stringent guidelines regarding data protection, privacy, and security for remote access and collaboration.

Used thoughtfully, digital tools can help managers lead distributed teams. But successful adoption requires change management discipline, not just purchasing shiny new software.

11. Prioritize Employee Wellbeing

Without deliberate separation between work and personal life, remote employees are prone to burnout and poor work-life balance. Managers play a pivotal role in nurturing employee health, energy, and sustainable performance.

  • Lead by example when it comes to respecting work hours and personal time. Be vigilant about notifications outside core hours yourself.
  • Explicitly encourage remote employees to take regular breaks during the workday - even five minutes makes a difference.
  • Offer flexible or compressed schedules to accommodate employees’ personal responsibilities and different working styles.
  • Provide stipends, resources, and extra time off for mental health and caregiving needs.
  • Train managers to identify warning signs of burnout through one-on-one conversations and pulse surveys. Intervene early.

The cascading effects of untreated employee burnout - absenteeism, attrition, disengagement, not to mention mental health crises - far outweigh the benefits of investing in preventative and supportive wellbeing practices upfront. Don’t wait for issues to arise before taking action.

12. Embrace Asynchronous Communication

When managing teams across time zones, asynchronous communication through email, chat, collaborative documents, and tasks becomes essential for avoiding logistical headaches.

  • Minimize unnecessary meetings by substituting with status reports, discussion summaries or pre-reads where feasible.
  • Summarize complex discussions over email rather than trying to explain solely through verbal means.
  • Confirm next steps, action items and decisions over written channels to retain clarity. Don’t rely entirely on verbal confirmations.
  • Establish team norms for expected response times to non-urgent messages such as emails based on priorities and time zones.

Thoughtful asynchronous practices allow distributed teams to seamlessly collaborate across time and space. They also create space for meaningful strategic deep work and improve work-life balance.

13. Invest in Management Training

Leading distributed teams requires adapting your management skillset and mindsets from a location-centric style. Formally develop yourself and your team’s remote leadership capabilities.

  • Provide training on best practices for communication, collaboration, team building, and conflict resolution in virtual environments.
  • Coach adaptive techniques like work-from-anywhere, managing by objectives, asynchronous planning, digital team building, inclusive meetings etc.
  • Access resources, peer coaching and mentoring focused on avoiding micromanagement, building trust, and providing effective guidance remotely.
  • Conduct virtual leadership bootcamps tailored to remote management skills for both new and experienced managers.

With training designed specifically for virtual environments, leaders gain confidence effectively guiding distributed teams. Structure it thoughtfully as you would other essential business programs.

14. Create Opportunities to Connect

While remote work provides welcome flexibility, the lack of daily in-person encounters can take a toll on relationships, morale, and innovation over time. As a manager, facilitate both work and social connections.

  • Schedule video coffee chats or virtual water cooler time focused on non-work conversations and community building.
  • Organize optional virtual trivia nights or game sessions for some playful team bonding.
  • Digitize hallway chatter through persistent casual messaging channels or forums.
  • Send personalized care packages for milestones like birthdays, anniversaries or holidays.

Mixing social interactions deliberately into the remote team experience can make a world of difference in morale, relationships, and performance. A little creativity goes a long way.

15. Distributed Work Audit

Take your remote management skills to the next level by investing in your team’s capabilities. The Distributed Work Audit provides personalized insights into your team’s unique remote readiness needs and opportunities.

This AI-powered 360-degree analysis delivers data-driven recommendations tailored to your organization’s remote maturity and challenges. Invest in your distributed leadership competencies with the help of remote work experts. Unlock your team’s performance, innovation and growth as a remote-first organization.

Key Takeaways

With intentional systems, manager training, empathetic leadership and the right digital infrastructure, leaders can guide happy, aligned and productive distributed teams.

Prioritize transparent communication, outcomes-based performance management, and nurturing employee engagement, development and wellbeing above all.

Adopt these fundamental best practices to lead successfully in the new era of remote work.

The opportunities for greater access, inclusion, productivity, and work-life harmony have never been brighter!

About the Author

Iwo Szapar is a Remote Work Advocate & Co-founder of Remote-how, the world’s leading platform for remote professionals powered by and for the community of 25,000+ people from 128 countries.

Through various initiatives like Remote-how Academy or Virtual Coworking, together with the world's top remote companies like GitLab, Prezi, or Doist, Remote-how is on a mission to help everyone achieve freedom of choice where and when they work.

No items found.