Just like being a team leader in person, leading remote teams depends on the effective use of technology, communications, and workflows. Many qualities of onsite managers are also important for managers of remote employees.
However, here we focus on the specifics of remote management. What is the best way to build, lead, and manage teams who work from home every day?
Be present and approachable
Not every employee is ready to go full remote and spend days working without human interaction. Business-related emails don’t count. That’s why a good remote leader would set up regular video chats and create an atmosphere of informal communication.
While in a brick-and-mortar office you can hold informal meetings in the lounge, you need to schedule those meetings in the online environment.
From many aspects, being a remote manager means building a support system for your team. At the same time, you’re making sure they’re pulling their weight.
Success often depends on the manager’s ability to build trust, maintain transparency, and communicate openly. All these are helping the leader build a supportive working environment.
The key is to overcome “remoteness” through constant communication.
At Better Proposals, Slack is critical for team communication. I love it because it allows for real-time communication, while also supporting the asynchronous mindset.
(asynchronous = not at the same time).
It’s perfectly normal that team members set “do not disturb” or “at lunch” statuses and don’t expect real-time answers from others all the time.
One-on-one communication is also important for a remote team to work smoothly. You don’t have to jump to Zoom video calls every time. No one is crazy for video meetings, even if they’re informal.
A quick 1-1 chat with a team member is more effective in clarifying misunderstandings than a 15-minute video call.
Still, schedule regular AMA (Ask Me Anything) meetings so team members can get to know you, learn something about existing team members, or get more info on recent changes.
Prioritize thinking instead of schedules
The whole point of remote work is to allow team members to live and work where it’s most convenient for them.
When you support asynchronous workflows, you increase efficiency and decrease dysfunction.
A study has suggested that adopting asynchronous workflows can save workers nearly 60% of the time.
The idea is to reduce the number of real-time requests across a range of apps that would otherwise lead to more time being online and less time completing the tasks.
It’s not rare that even brick-and-mortar companies that have team members on various floors and offices adopt the asynchronous model. This is especially true if it involves multiple time zones, having global partners, clients, etc.
A 100% remote setting can be more inclusive, for example, enabling childcare providers to combine work with parenting. The asynchronous operation also removes any chance for time zone partiality. This allows global team members to be on an equal level.
Focus on onboarding
Onboarding boils down to equipping new team members with the tools and knowledge they need to feel at home in the new company.
This process mustn’t be left to take care of itself. The team leader must intentionally set up the guardrails to ensure the onboarding stays “on track”.
This is achieved through a long-term mindset. The success of onboarding depends on the depth and thoroughness of onboarding as well as how much onboarding a new member has completed.
A manager must know how to strike the right balance between the work that has to be done and allow a new hire to focus on onboarding.
The first few weeks are critical.
The team leader must have a long-term mindset to believe that freeing a new employee from short-term tasks in the first weeks will result in long-term efficiency.
According to Gallup, even 88% of employees in the US think that their companies don’t provide a good onboarding program.
At the same time, a Glassdoor report suggests that a strong onboarding process improves new hire retention by 82% and productivity by more than 70%.
In situations when teams need to make a transition from an office environment to a remote one, it’s not uncommon for team members to adapt with various success rates.
For some, the transition is smooth, as the remote-first infrastructure is already up and running.
For others, the shift is pretty much disruptive, with the degree of disruption being related to two factors: culture and tools.
This is why it’s important to delegate tasks as your team movies through remote adaptation.
One way to do it is to use proven and tested tools for online collaboration such as
- Google Drive: File storage and synchronization service. Allows users to store files in the cloud, sync files across devices, and collaborate by sharing files.
- Slack: Messaging app designed especially for business environments and remote teams. The conversations are organized into channels, which helps to get together and share ideas.
- Asana: Cloud-based task management solution that allows businesses to manage, collaborate, and organize their tasks and projects. Suitable for companies of all sizes.
- Trello: Visual tool that allows your team to manage different types of projects, workflows, or track tasks. You can add files, and checklists, and customize the tool for the way your team works.
- Zoho: Web-based online office suite designed to help with every aspect of your business. You get software for planning and tracking projects, setting up meetings and webinars, tracking leave, virtual training, etc.
Encourage a healthy informal work culture
Informal communication helps make up for in-person interactions in a remote environment. It also allows for friendships to form as people are encouraged to discuss matters other than work.
Employees who have genuine friends at work are more likely to enjoy their job and show high levels of performance. When they feel part of the company, they are more prepared to serve others within the company.
However, many team leaders make a mistake by expecting informal communication to happen naturally. In a remote environment, there are no hallways or kitchens where team members can cross paths, or carpool to work.
As with onboarding, informal communication must be intentional.
I’d even go to the length and say that informal communication needs to be formally addressed. Leaders should be the pioneers of informal communication and by all means, design an atmosphere where team members feel comfortable reaching out to anyone to talk about topics unrelated to work.
An important part of it is encouraging social interactions.
Working remotely typically leads to mostly work-related conversations. You should encourage everyone in your team to spend a few hours a week having social calls with anyone in the company.
These would make a great opportunity to get to know who you work with. People can talk about everyday things and enjoy their favorite beverage. Making friends and building relationships with people you work with allows you to create a more comfortable environment.
Answer with a link
When managing an office team, leaders often focus on managing people as individuals, which is understandable. However, in a remote setting, team managers should try to focus on managing the process instead.
So how does this management style work?
Here’s an example.
Each time an employee asks you a question directly, there’s a loss of productivity and focus on answering. If you deliver this answer verbally and privately, the employee in question is the only one who benefits from the answer.
On the other hand, if you document the answer in a searchable location, and provide a link, the answering process becomes much more useful long-term. Now anyone with a similar question can look up the resource base and find the answer they need without productivity loss on either side.
In this case, managing the process instead of a person results in long-term efficiency.
New hires will recognize that they are encouraged to search for answers and retrieve important information to keep projects afloat even when their manager is engaged in other work or on vacation. This leads to fewer standstills, less dysfunction, as well as greater autonomy, and improved mental health.
This setup works for managers, too, as they have more time to focus on their work instead of re-answering questions now and then.
One of the roles of a team leader is to ensure that new hires have everything they need to meet their goals daily. This is much more effective if the leader takes the effort to document processes, guides, solutions, how-tos, and policies.
If your organization hasn’t yet implemented its own handbook, start small. You don’t have to write a complete handbook from scratch.
Start with a process that your team has the most trouble with, then document the next one, and so on.
In case an employee encounters a problem that has yet to be documented, make sure to document the eventual solution so that the work you invest benefits a wider range of people.
When you embrace a documentarian mindset, you’re showing that you’re proactively and transparently working to provide your subordinates with everything they need to complete their tasks.
Keep an eye out for
Remote work has many advantages, but honestly speaking, it isn’t for everyone. Depending on the employees’ lifestyle and work preferences, it can become a source of frustration for both the individual and the organization.
Here are some red flags to watch out for, as well as possible solutions.
The first month in a remote position can feel lonely, especially for someone who’s used to a traditional office setting. What can you as a manager do about it?
Fight loneliness by formally designing informal communication. For example, schedule at least 5 coffee chats with every new employee during their onboarding.
Scheduling coffee chats, social calls, and even encouraging in-person visits, is the best way to dispel the feeling of isolation.
Feeling left out
Remote settings can easily disrupt communication skills if the company isn’t intentional about creating ways for people to stay connected.
Remote businesses should embrace asynchronous communication models to prevent the feelings of being left out of important discussions.
For example, if you’re a global company, make meeting attendance optional. Record meetings to allow team members to catch up on the discussion and get a better context to the meeting notes. You can also use this best screen recorder for windows 11 to record meetings.
You should also cancel unnecessary meetings, especially when there’s no clear objective and agenda.
Separating personal and work life is hard, even in a traditional office, and in a remote company, it can become a real problem for some people.
It’s important to understand that preventing the burnout culture starts at the top.
Make sure to reinforce this policy every step of the way, from the interview process to onboarding, to regular 1-1 meetings.
At Better Proposals, we always focus on results vs. hours worked. This, however, requires a level of organizational trust – that the colleague next to you will do their job.
Encourage team members to communicate with their manager when they recognize signs of burnout. They should also be mindful of a team member who’s not taken a day off in a year.
The remote work environment has many challenges, especially for new hires. Luckily, there are many ways a proactive team leader can keep the team’s productivity and morale high.
One of the ways to boost the productivity of remote teams is to use digital solutions that automate many time-consuming processes.
Our digital proposals are written according to the best business practices, and even filling in the client details can be automated, by integrating your CRM.
Sign up for a trial and you’ll quickly realize how much time your remote team can save by switching to our digital proposal templates.