January 23

How To Manage A Remote Team



Welcome to this introduction on How to Manage a Remote Team.  

I am going to give you the 4 fundamentals of remote team management together with 12 specific things you can do immediately that will help you successfully manage a remote team.  

These fundamentals are important whether you are new to the challenge of how to manage a remote team or whether you have been working with your remote team for some time.

I’m also going to share with you 3 bonus tips that will help you increase the productivity of your remote team members.

So you’re faced with the challenges of how to manage a remote team.  

Where do you start so you keep them engaged, keep them motivated and most of all, keep them productive?

How to Manage A Remote Team -Fundamental #1 – Engage In Quality Communication.

Being remote means you lose those micro-exchanges between colleagues that keep the team connected and on track when you work together in the same location.  

These might include comments passed across the office, brief exchanges at the water cooler or even random conversations held over coffee or at lunch.

This informal background “noise” often carries important data but is also a vital mechanism that enables social interaction crucial for successful teams.

In the remote environment, you lose all of that, so you’ve got to somehow compensate in the way you communicate with your team.

So communicate clearly, communicate succinctly and most important, communicate often.  

But this isn’t just about transmitting your communication, it is also about receiving communication from them.  

Quality communication when in a position of leadership is often more about listening than it is about talking.  And this is even more in important when you are working out how to manage a remote team.

So here are 3 things you can do to ensure your management communication style adapts to remote working:

  1. Understand how each of your remote team members likes to be communicated with and then communicate with them in that way as much as possible.  This might include, how often, when and by what mechanism – phone, video call, messenger or email.
  2. Create regular and frequent team communication sessions, usually at the same time of day and the same day of the week that encourage communication between team members as much as you communicate to them.  Examples could be a weekly team briefings, daily stand-ups, sprint reviews or retrospectives.   
  3. Encourage frequent informal communication between remote team members to stimulate the flow of useful titbits of information or micro-updates that might otherwise fall between the cracks or be shared too late to be useful.  One way some teams do this is to have a chat room open constantly to allow the free flow of this sort of communication.

How to Manage A Remote Team -Fundamental #2 – Develop Quality Relationships.

One of the biggest mistakes I see managers make when developing how to manage a remote team, is to let their relationship with their remote team members stay at the transactional level.  

The physical isolation and separation from team members doing remote work sometimes means managers’ only contact with them is when they produce their output.  

Because the majority of contact with someone might be via  email, messenger or chat, it can be quite easy to forget there’s a human being on the other end.  

That’s someone with feelings, worries, aspirations, challenges, passions, interests and of course a life completely separate to work. 

If your relationship with them stays at just a transactional level you run the risk of your team member becoming disengaged.  

So here are three things you can do to create quality relationships with your remote team members:

  1. Make time for regular, brief and informal one on ones, ideally by video call, with each of your team members.  Take the opportunity to get to know them a little better and find out how they’re coping with the remote work environment.  Perfect opportunities could be just before or just after team meetings.  
  2. Be humble enough to take every opportunity to ask for their opinion and seek their advice on matters relating to the work you are doing.  You don’t always have to take their advice, but you can use it to inform your own decisions.  Just feeling their voice is being heard if not necessarily heeded, is often enough to make them feel valued.
  3. Be willing to be vulnerable with your remote team workers.  Be honest about your mistakes, acknowledge your shortcomings and share how you’re feeling.  This will help develop both empathy and trust.

How to Manage A Remote Team – Fundamental #3 – Positively Reinforce Great Behaviours

Not only has neuroscience now confirmed human beings perform far better when they feel better, but common sense leadership has known that for years.  

Good behaviours that go unrecognised are far more likely to fade away. So an unappreciated worker is far more likely to become an underperforming worker.  

Positive reinforcement is in my opinion, the secret sauce of effective leadership.  

It makes people feel good about the good work they do; it means that good work is likely to be repeated and as a bonus, you are more likely to tap into the treasure trove that is additional discretionary effort – team members who willingly go above and beyond the call of duty.

Here are three things you can do right away to positively reinforce your remote team members:

  1. Always positively reinforce the effort made rather than results achieved.   Focus on specific, positive behaviours that you want to see more of.   
  2. Time your positive reinforcement as close as possible to when the behaviour actually occurs so the neuro-chemical link between the good feelings of the reinforcement and the behaviour that stimulated the reinforcement is at its strongest.
  3. Get to know your team members well enough so you know what form of positive reinforcement works best for them.  Some may prefer a quiet word on the phone, but others might want their efforts praised publicly at the next team video conference call.

How To Manage A Remote Team – Fundamental #4 – Hold Your Remote Team Members Accountable.

Perhaps the hardest task a manager of a remote team has is to hold team members accountable for their effort, their behaviours and the results they achieve.  

However if you have the first three fundamentals of how to manage a remote team in place – quality communication, quality relationships and lots of positive reinforcement, you will have plenty in the emotional bank account for you to have healthy and constructive conversations when you need to hold team members accountable.

So here are three things you can do right away that will help you keep your remote team members accountable.

  1. Get very clear on the specific behaviours you expect your team members to demonstrate when they are doing their job to the best of their abilities.  Agree with them what those behaviours look like and sound like so there is no doubt at all when discussing whether they are doing them or not.  
  2. Look for opportunities to  positively reinforce those behaviours so that if you ever have to hold them to account for pulling up short of the standard, you have reference points you can base your conversation on.
  3. Set the standard yourself by being the perfect example of the behaviours that you need to be held accountable for.  It is much easier to have an accountability conversation when you are walking the walk.

So there are the four fundamentals of How to Manage A Remote team:

  • #1 – Quality communication
  • #2 – Quality relationships
  • #3 – Positive Reinforcement
  • #4 – Accountability

I said I would also share 3 bonus tips for you to increase the productivity of your remote team members.

Productivity Tip #1 – Make doing their job really easy by giving them the right tools for the job AND the training for them to get the most out of them.  Zoom, Slack, Basecamp, Microsoft Teams have great functionality but it can take time to work them out without appropriate training.

Productivity Tip #2 – Make sure you know what your remote team’s main thing to focus on is, that you’ve communicated that to your remote team, and confirm what they think the main thing is agrees with what you think the main thing is.  And then hold them accountable for progressing that main thing.

Productivity Tip #3 – No one turns up to do a bad job at work, so trust in your people to get the job  done.  Give them clear direction, provide them the support they need, and then get out of their way… and use the four fundamentals of how to manage a remote team to keep them on track.

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