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How to Manage a Remote Team: 6 Ideas for Better Remote Work

Managing remote teams can be difficult, but only if you’re not ready. Learn how to manage a remote team effectively — despite the challenges.

Woman in purple shirt learning how to manage remote team

Pilot Team

Published on December 10, 2022

How to manage remote teams 🧑🏿‍💻👩🏽‍💻🧑🏼‍💻

On paper, remote work sounds like a dream come true for many companies and their teams, affording employees a better work-life balance without sacrificing productivity. After all, more than 90% of remote employees say they’re as productive or more so working from home than from an office. In reality, though, implementing remote work as a company is neither easy nor simple. While remote work provides many benefits, it also comes with its own set of issues. By its very nature, remote work physically separates employees from each other and, more importantly, from their managers. This can lead to a myriad of problems, including poor communication and a lack of managerial support or company culture.Managing remote teams can be difficult — but only if you’re not prepared for the challenges. As a leader at a remote company, you should learn how to address those challenges in order to better understand how to manage a remote team. 

#1: Have clear expectations around remote work 👓

Every company has its own idea of how its employees should work remotely and how their performance should be measured. But employees can’t possibly know what you expect from them unless you tell them explicitly and make sure they understand those expectations. That’s why you need to document your expectations in your remote work policy and make that policy accessible and visible to all employees. A remote work policy serves as a resource that managers can reference when setting and communicating expectations to their teams. It should cover critical remote work expectations such as work hours, dress code, and communication guidelines. Remote companies that embrace asynchronous work and communication need to document those async expectations in their remote work policy. For example, at Pilot, we default to async and designate specific hours for company meetings that are respectful of most of our global team’s time zones.These kinds of expectations make it easier for your company to succeed in remote work because everyone knows exactly what’s expected from them. Your employees can enjoy the flexibility of remote work guilt-free when they understand the company policy.Without a remote work policy, your company can’t operate as efficiently. For example, companies that agree to a 24-hour turnaround on action items make sure that work gets done within one business day, even if team members live on opposite sides of the globe. Companies without a set rule around turnaround times would be more likely to suffer from delays, missed deadlines, and a lack of responsibility in getting tasks done.

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#2: Prioritize open communication 💬

Forty-six percent of project managers say that a lack of communication is their biggest challenge when managing remote workers. It can be more difficult to make sure that your messages are heard and that everyone’s doing their jobs when everyone’s working remotely rather than in-person. Managers need to lead by example and over-communicate to make sure that they are understood and that their team members feel comfortable communicating back.It can be hard to obtain visibility into how projects are going with remote work since information is siloed. Thirty-six percent of remote project managers say that they find it difficult to figure out what each of their team members is working on, as well as when they’re working. These are need-to-know details that help managers plan for the future. Without guidance from managers, direct reports also suffer from a lack of direction and not knowing what tasks to work on next. Managers solve these problems through open communication. Be transparent about what you expect from your team, and communicate what you’re looking for, such as KPIs or similarly quantifiable results. Manage those expectations so that they’re achievable, and provide support for team members that need help meeting goals. Over-communicate and provide as much information as possible so that your team always knows what you want from them, as well as what they can expect from you.Remote work requires a lot of trust in both directions. As a manager, you need to trust your employees with autonomy and freedom; meanwhile, remote workers need to trust that their managers won’t micromanage them. Communicating transparently helps build this trust between you and your team.You need to practice accountability and transparency without micromanaging. Establish the expectation that team members will provide regular updates on what they’re working on and that you, as a manager, will also update them about what you’re working on. These updates can be synchronous or asynchronous — either in daily or weekly 1:1s or stand-up meetings or through messages. It’s important to keep channels open for all kinds of communication, whether negative or positive. Make sure that your team members understand what resources are available if they need support in their work, including yourself. You need to make employees feel comfortable if they need to reach out about challenges they face without being criticized. Otherwise, workers won’t feel like they can bring their issues to you, and as a result, you won’t be able to help them with those problems. 

#3: Help employees unplug from work 🏖️

According to Indeed’s Employee Burnout Report, more than half of remote employees work more hours than they did while in the office. In the same study, 61% of remote workers said they found it more difficult to unplug from work during off-hours than they did before the pandemic. More work and less play makes for an unhealthy work-life balance, which can quickly spiral into burnout. Remote managers need to help their employees fight burnout by setting healthy boundaries around remote work and encouraging employees to prioritize themselves. If employees are burned out, they should just take paid time off or a personal day, right? But, here’s the catch: some employees who work remotely may feel pressured not to request time off because they get to work from home. Keep track of PTO requests to see which employees aren’t taking as much time off and encourage them to do so. Some companies set a recommended minimum time off policy to motivate employees to exercise their PTO.A 2020 survey showed that 66% of Americans who worked remotely believed that their employer would look down on them for taking sick days for anything less severe than COVID-19. As a remote manager, it’s important to prioritize your employees’ well-being and make sure that they know their health should come first. Encourage employees to take sick days or personal days as needed. A distracted or sick employee isn’t an effective one, and it would be better for everyone if they took the time off that they needed to. 

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In addition to encouraging time off, you should help employees set boundaries around remote work at an institutional level. Your remote work policy should state that employees shouldn’t send or respond to messages after a certain time and instead schedule them to send during working hours. This eliminates the pressure on employees to check their Slack messages or emails after work. Protect your remote employees’ out-of-office time so that they can fully recharge. As a manager, enable your employees to fully disconnect from work when they need to. Set expectations that workers should block off time on their calendars for appointments or vacations and respect each others’ time off as well. Instruct employees to set a vacation-responder email or Slack message status that says what day they’ll be available again and who to contact in their absence. If it’s feasible for your company, you can experiment with practices that prioritize work-life balance, such as a 4-day workweek, monthly company day off, or weeklong company shutdown. A company-wide disconnect ensures that everyone can unplug together, and nobody comes back to a mountain of work on their “desk.”By empowering your employees to put themselves first and by protecting their right to disconnect, you can remove company-based sources of burnout. 

#4: Support your team members’ professional growth 🧑🏼‍🎓

Out of sight shouldn’t mean out of mind, especially when it comes to managing a remote team. Make sure that you connect your remote team members with opportunities to advance their careers, whether through receiving promotions or pursuing professional development. Remote employees find it more difficult to stand out and receive recognition for their hard work, especially when it comes to getting promoted. In Buffer’s 2022 report on the State of Remote Work, 45% of respondents said that they believe career progression is more difficult for remote workers to achieve. Don’t let a lack of face-to-face contact keep you from recognizing your team’s accomplishments. Be proactive about helping your direct reports get promoted and earn recognition for their work. Track key metrics that measure your team’s results and surface top performers who deserve promotions. Share these insights with upper management during succession planningHold conversations around career development with your direct reports during regular check-ins. During these conversations, find out what your team members would like to accomplish while at your company. Maybe they simply want to be promoted within the next six months, or they want to create a new role within the company. Then, help them set realistic, attainable goals that will lead them to achieve those things, such as improving their deliverables or implementing a trial run of the new position while maintaining their current responsibilities.Set practical deadlines for each goal so that you can track their progress. Make sure to continue these discussions at each one-on-one check-in so that your employees don’t feel like you’ve forgotten about their career goals.You should also connect your team members with opportunities to develop their skills outside of work, such as upskilling courses, conferences, books, and networking opportunities. A great way to do so is by offering a professional development stipend as part of your remote employee benefits package

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#5: Maintain strong connections 🔗

One of the greatest challenges of remote work is feeling disconnected from coworkers. In Buffer’s 2022 survey of global remote workers, 24% of respondents said they struggled with loneliness. The lonelier employees feel, the more likely they are to be dissatisfied with work and leave their jobs, according to a 2022 survey by #WorkAnywhere of global remote workers. Managers need to help remote employees stave off loneliness by providing opportunities for social interaction so they can build meaningful connections. This helps employees feel more connected to each other and to the company and, as a result, more likely to stay. Here are some ways to foster genuine relationships between employees in the remote workplace: 
  • Go face-to-face more often. Encourage employees to have their webcams on at least some of the time during video calls. Lead by example by having yours on as much as possible. Video puts a face to each voice, humanizing your work relationships. It also allows for more genuine, face-to-face interactions with each other. 
  • Host team-building activities. Create space for your team to bond with each other outside of a work setting. Remote teams may have to get a bit more creative with the ways they “get together,” but there are plenty of options. You could host a watch party of the latest Netflix hit, invite everyone to a virtual team lunch, or hold a virtual happy hour. You could even take an online yoga class together! At Pilot, we hold a monthly remote social to play games online together. We also try to meet in person with our direct teams at least once a year.
  • Spark informal conversations. Dedicate time or space for non-work-related discussions. Consider creating Slack channels where employees can share interests with each other, like #memes, #pets, #kids, and #travel. For example, Pilot has fun channels for #food, #dogs, and #cats. Post an icebreaker question every day or week to invite discussions on fun topics like “What would you do with $1 billion?” You can also set up informal “virtual coffee dates” with coworkers to just chat about anything for 15 to 30 minutes. (Slack bots like Watercooler or Donut can help with this.) Even a small gesture, like dedicating the first five minutes of a team meeting to asking how everyone’s day is going, will go a long way in building camaraderie. 

#6: Streamline processes wherever possible 📈

Remote companies often employ a thick tech stack. According to a BetterCloud survey of organizations all over the world, the average company uses 110 SaaS applications. This means that employees and managers alike can get lost, not knowing which tool is used for what. Employees also need to learn new processes for each tool and switch between them to accomplish tasks, which leads to a loss in productive work hours. The less time that managers spend on busy work, the more time they have available to support their direct reports. Streamline and automate processes wherever possible. A 2021 survey by Topia of full-time employees in the US and UK found that employees at large companies spend 40 million hours each month working on HR-related tasks. That comes out to $8.15 billion in lost productivity. Tools that automate those tasks save your company work hours and money that you can then utilize more strategically. For example, Pilot helps remote companies automate hiring paperwork and global payroll processing so they can focus on more important things, like improving employee engagement.

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Keep your stack as lean as possible by using the fewest number of tools necessary. This limits the amount of context-switching you and your team need to do and the number of places they have to visit to complete one task. Whenever a new tool is added, make sure that employees have access to resources and documentation that teaches them what they need to know about it.Optimize your workflows for a remote environment. Your onboarding process and training materials should be accessible asynchronously so that new hires can work through training materials at their own pace. Host all your company knowledge in a single location, like a knowledge base or internal wiki, so that everyone knows where to look for information. Leverage integrations for your app stack to provide additional functionality that helps your remote workers. For example, if your company uses Slack, you can integrate bots that remind employees of their meetings, ping them with @ mentions in Google Docs, and more. Your tech should help, not hinder, your remote workers. 

Solve your team’s unique remote work needs 🛠️

In the end, only you can figure out what works best for your remote team based on the unique challenges your company faces. Identify those challenges and then decide how to address them based on your remote employees’ needs and the resources available to you. Let your company values and mission set the tone for how you manage your team and create a healthy, productive remote work culture. Establish practices that help both your employees and you as their leader.Here at Pilot, we have a lot of thoughts about remote work as a fully remote company with employees all over the world. We’re dedicated to enabling companies to hire, pay, and support their globally remote teams, no matter where they live. Going global is a breeze when you partner with Pilot — let’s chat today about how we can help you with your international HR and payroll.

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