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The ultimate guide to managing a remote team
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The ultimate guide to managing a remote team

Effective remote team management can be tough. Check out our list of 8 tips for managing and motivating your team better, and 3 things to avoid.

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Meet Mina, the head of client account management at a small marketing agency. Her company went fully remote last year and, while it maintained productivity well, Mina knows her team sometimes misses spontaneous interactions and the feeling of working side-by-side. Because of that, she’s looking to create a positive remote environment that brings her people together and motivates them to do their best work. 

To do that, she needs to think differently about how she manages them. Rather than trying to make in-person management styles fit remote working, she needs new tools and strategies to make online working feel the same as–or better than–in-person. That means getting people working together as if they were in the same room and creating a great remote work culture they want to be part of. 

Here are some ideas you can use to inspire your remote team management strategy.

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How to effectively manage your remote teams

Remote working offers a lot of benefits, but it comes with some unique challenges, like isolation or siloed working and information. To keep everyone motivated and on the same page, you need to take a new approach to building company culture and give your teams the tools and support they need to succeed when they’re scattered around the world. 

Let's take a look at four practices you can use to manage your remote team better.

1. It all starts with your values 

If your company was a building, your values would be its foundations. So you need to make sure they’re rock solid. 

Your company values provide a shared sense of purpose and direction for everyone. They also help shape your people’s behavior and decision-making.

Effective remote team management needs to start with solid, meaningful values. And, as a leader, you need to lead by example. Start by thinking about which values you need to embody to motivate and inspire your team. 

For example, one of Mina’s company values is “extreme ownership,” which she lives by:

  • Being proactive and identifying potential bottlenecks in the workflow in advance
  • Following processes while also seeking to improve them as she goes 
  • Owning and correcting her mistakes, and sharing them with her team so they can learn too 

To set your team up for success, start by communicating your company culture and values to each  new hire and setting expectations. Right off the bat, let them know that you’re there to answer any questions and make their transition easier. Remember, for some of them this might be their first fully remote job, so it’s up to you to show them what you expect—and what that looks like.

In practice day-to-day, living values like ownership may involve clearly documenting and communicating everyone’s responsibilities, tasks, and processes. That way, everyone knows what exactly they need to do and who’s responsible for what. 

2. Over-communicate 

When people work from all over the world and often communicate async, it’s easy for messages and important information to get lost. Overcommunication is the glue that holds your team together but it’s about more than constantly blasting your team with messages. It’s about knowing when, where, and how to emphasize information so the message sticks. Doing so ensures that everyone’s always up to date on recent company news, process updates, or workflow changes.

Here’s how you can communicate more effectively:

  • Tie overcommunication to your company values and your own actions: don’t just expect that people will over-communicate. Tying this practice to your values by clearly demonstrating it in training, all-hands meetings, and onboarding helps everyone buy into it and practice good communication on a daily basis. 
  • Strike the right balance: overcommunication isn’t oversharing, info-dumping, or checking up on your employees every hour. In other words—don’t micromanage. Instead, prioritize and deliver the right information in the right way at the right time, so no one’s left in the dark. Mina does this by publishing important information in her company newsletter, updating shared knowledge bases, and creating tasks for her team to review updates in the company’s project management platform.
  • Stress the importance of internal comms: effective internal communications are key when it comes to managing a remote team. Make sure you promote open dialogue to keep everyone in the loop. Encourage team members to always ask questions to get ahead of potential issues and address any concerns. 
  • Set clear expectations: let your people know that being responsive to their teammates and clients is more than just a “nice-to-have.” It’s the secret to happy clients and a successful team. However, to avoid burnout, Mina knows that she needs to respect her team’s boundaries when people are off the clock, on vacation, or at an appointment.

3. Design a great onboarding experience

Set your new hires up for success by giving them a great introduction to your company. A well-planned and positive onboarding experience helps new employees feel confident and excited about their decision to join your organization. It also gives them everything they need to do a great job—even if they’re not physically in the office.

When Mina onboarded her last new hire, Natalie, she immediately welcomed Natalie to the team on Slack. Then, she shared the onboarding plan and encouraged Natalie to set up a quick video call the following day to go over any questions. She also helped Natalie set up and start using the company’s project management and communications platforms.  

Learning how to use the company tech stack meant Natalie could quickly start collaborating and communicating with the rest of her team as if they were in the same room.

Once Natalie was up and running, Mina sent her all the documentation and learning materials she needed. For example, the employee handbook, team member profiles, or remote work guidelines. Mina also showed Natalie where everything lives, so she can go back and find it in the future.

Pro tip: Switchboard is a browser-based collaboration platform that lets you collaborate on documents and apps inside a virtual room—without having to share your screen. 

When you use Switchboard for onboarding, you can save all the materials new hires need in a permanent, virtual room. Persistent rooms save your work so you never have to put together the same onboarding documents again.
A screenshot of a Switchboard onboarding and training room
Switchboard’s persistent rooms keep all the materials you put there in the same place, so you never have to prep the same room again.
Source: Switchboard

4. Choose the right tech

Natalie can’t just walk over and tap Mina on the shoulder every time she has a question, so it’s crucial for her to have the right tools to communicate async and in real time with her team to get the information she needs. 

A streamlined tool stack makes it easier to create a collaborative culture and workspace. It also gets people working as if they were in the same room. Always choose the right tools for your team’s unique working and communication style—specifically those that allow for a mix of real-time and async teamwork. That way, your teams can work together or independently depending on what’s needed. 

Investing in a powerful tech stack of three or four—rather than 10—tools lets you create a collaborative, productive environment that motivates your team, and doesn’t overwhelm them.

Here are three internal collaboration tools that can help you manage your remote employees better: 

  • Switchboard for cross-team collaboration and remote meetings: Switchboard is a browser-based online workspace that lets users collaborate on documents and apps inside a virtual room without having to share their screens or switch between multiple tools and tabs. For example, if you want to brainstorm, host spontaneous meetings, or onboard a new hire, you can create permanent, hostless, cloud-based rooms that double as virtual canvases.
  • Slack for instant communication: Slack is perfect for distributed teams like Mina’s that need to share information and files in real time. You can also integrate it with your calendar app, schedule regular video calls with teammates, and work on projects together.
  • Notion for project management, knowledge sharing, and training: Notion is a productivity and organization platform that lets you share files and collaborate through dedicated workspaces. It also doubles as a project management tool to help you manage your remote team and keep everyone in the loop. You can create and organize tasks, assign team members, set deadlines, and track milestones.

Having access to the right tools to do her job helped Natalie quickly feel like part of a team and start contributing. Also having a lean tech stack with only the essentials made it easy for her to learn when to use which tool and find any information she needed.

A screenshot of three coworkers working together in a Switchboard room
When remote teams feel connected, they can get more done, no matter where they are.
Source: Switchboard

How to keep your remote workers motivated

With everyone working from different places and at different times, it’s easy for remote workers to feel disconnected. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to motivate your people and help them feel like they’re part of a cohesive team. You just need to think a little differently—and creatively—about how you do it. 

Here are four ways to keep your remote workers fired up and excited to work together. 

1. Give credit where credit’s due 

As a manager, recognizing individuals when they’ve done something great makes them four times as likely to be engaged. And engaged employees are more productive, motivated, and enthusiastic about their work and company. 

A little recognition is easy to do and goes a long way, raises morale, and lets everyone know their contributions are valued. 

One way to encourage and motivate your team is to show them you appreciate a job well done and celebrate their wins—no matter how small. And while private recognition is important, you should also take every occasion to shout them out publicly and even let clients know when someone’s done a particularly good job.

Pro tip: If you’re using Slack or Microsoft Teams as your main instant communication tool, you can create a dedicated “wins” channel. Invite everyone to shout out their peers and team members (or even themselves!) and share valuable moments. You can even encourage employees to celebrate each other based on their dedication to your company’s values.
a screenshot of a company’s wins channel on Slack
Shouting out your people for working together and living your company values helps your teams work together better.

2. Offer flexible working hours 

One of the great things about remote work is that it lets people enjoy greater flexibility in working hours. If someone’s a night owl, they’re free to do their best work later in the day. Or if they have to do the afternoon school run, they can log on and finish earlier. 

One way to create a great remote work culture is to let your people set their own hours and prioritize getting work done when they’re most productive over sticking to a rigid schedule. This shows you trust your employees and is the number one factor that improves company culture. 

In fact,  64% of workers prefer to work for a company that allows flexible hours. As well as motivating them to do their best work, it makes them more likely to stay longer in their role. 

One best practice for managing a team with flexible hours is to keep all your processes well-documented. Create clear standard operating procedures (SOPs) so people can always check how to do something, even if they’re not online at the same time as everyone else. That way, they can work effectively async. Also, make sure everyone’s calendars have their working hours clearly designated so it is easier to schedule meetings if needed.

“Establishing clear expectations and guidelines for your remote team members is crucial. This includes things like work hours, deadlines, and communication protocols. Having these in place will ensure that everyone is on the same page and that expectations are met.” —Tara Furiani, CEO and Host of Not the HR Lady

3. Provide and ask for frequent feedback 

Receiving regular, actionable feedback plays an important role in people’s personal and professional growth. When delivered correctly, it shows employees you care about their development and notice the work they’re doing. And when they know this, they’ll trust you to guide them as they grow and achieve their goals.

Pro tip: Practice radical candor when giving feedback. This means being truthful, while also empathetic and caring when giving constructive criticism. 

Challenging your people without caring for their feelings will only leave them unmotivated and demoralized, but being overly kind and dishonest doesn’t help them grow. The trick is to find the sweet spot where you provide useful, actionable feedback that comes from a place of caring.

But feedback is a two-way street, so you need to encourage your team members to share their honest input with leadership too. Regular one-on-ones or quarterly performance reviews are a great place to do this, share concerns, and express opinions. You can also create an evergreen anonymous feedback form to make it easier for everyone to bring up any issues. A remote culture where everyone feels safe to voice their opinions is one people want to be a part of.

A screenshot of a Google general feedback form
An ever-green, anonymous feedback form makes it easier for everyone to voice their opinions, especially if they’re not comfortable bringing them up directly within the team. 

4. Encourage regular catch-ups between employees

Encouraging regular, informal video calls and remote huddles between team members and people from different departments helps them make authentic connections and build stronger relationships. And that makes them feel more engaged and ready to work together.  

Nurturing deep relationships takes work and consistency whether you’re in the same office or spread around the world. But there’s a lot you can do to make it as easy as possible for remote teams. For example: 

  • Use Donut, a Slack integration, that randomly pairs people up every two weeks and prompts them to set up a casual video chat.
  • Add icebreakers, team-building exercises, or games to your team meetings to spark some fun and help people forget about work for a bit. You can do a quick show-and-tell, have people recommend a movie, series, or podcast they’ve enjoyed recently, or do a multiplayer drawing game. If you use Switchboard, you can even create a permanent “watercooler” or “game” room dedicated to regular, spontaneous fun activities like these.
  • Use virtual backgrounds and ask everyone to explain the story behind their choice. You can even do a festive version of this for occasions like Halloween or the Lunar New Year.

Not only will you get to know your teammates better by seeing them in real time, you also might have a chance to learn about their hobbies too. “During one of these monthly [video catch-up] sessions,” says Rakeyia Collins, Founder at Plain Conversation, “we saw a banjo in the background of one of our team members and, when asked [about it, he] lit up and started telling us stories of how he played with his band. None of us knew he was in a band. These types of monthly sessions allow us to ensure we are still connected to one another on a human level even though we live in various parts of the world.”

What to avoid when managing a remote team

Knowing what not to do when managing your remote team is just as important as knowing what to do. This helps you spot potential issues and act fast to address them before they become a problem. 

Here are three common mistakes to avoid.  

1. Blurring work-life boundaries 

Drawing hard lines between modern work and life is never simple, whether you’re in a physical office or remote. When you work from home, though, it’s even easier to fall into the trap of checking emails and being “always on.” Regularly blurring the line between work and personal life will leave your people feeling burned out and unmotivated. 

As a leader, it’s your job to create an environment where employees can perform at their best while also taking care of themselves. Encourage people to set clear working hours, availability, and response times—and stick to them. If you’re using Slack, ask them to put their general working hours in their profile and, if they’re away, they can update their Slack status to let their teams know when they’ll be back. This way, their teammates will know to not expect a message from them while they’re gone.

And of course, lead by example and practice what you preach. It’s easier for employees to prioritize work-life balance when they know you do too, so don’t message people when you’re on vacation or respond to emails at 3 AM.

By offering a flexible work schedule, giving your team time to disconnect, and discouraging constant availability, you allow your employees to find the balance that works best for them.

“It's important to remember that remote workers often have different work-life balance needs than in-office workers. Encourage your team members to take breaks and disconnect when needed, and make sure they feel comfortable discussing any work-life balance issues they may be having.” —Tara Furiani, CEO and Host at Not the HR Lady

2. Micromanaging 

Unfortunately, some leaders are still prey to the old, inaccurate, nagging suspicion that remote workers are less productive than in-person. This comes across as a tendency to “helicopter parent” your employees, constantly monitor their work, and mandate how things should be done.

But micromanaging your remote team is both an unproductive use of your time and undermines people’s sense of autonomy and trust. Instead, trusting your employees to be responsible for their work encourages creativity, inspires them to share new ideas, and ultimately increases retention rates.

“When managing remote teams, it's important to avoid micromanaging or over-controlling. Trust your team members to work independently, and give them the autonomy to make decisions and take ownership of their work.” — Shri Ganeshram, CEO and Founder of Awning

3. Holding ineffective meetings

Meetings are a necessary and unavoidable part of remote collaboration, but 92% of employees think they’re costly and unproductive. 

You need to show them that’s not true. 

Having fewer, more efficient meetings improves productivity, communication, and teamwork and creates a happier workforce. Here are some things to do to make meetings more productive and enjoyable to attend: 

  • Ask yourself if the meeting can be an email, Slack message, or Loom video. If the answer’s yes, skip the meeting. Your people will thank you for it.
  • Always use a meeting agenda. That lets you stay on topic and prioritize discussion areas. It also gives your people a heads-up so they know what to expect and can come prepared.
  • End the meeting with clear next steps. Assign action items to the right people and make sure everyone leaves with a concrete idea of what needs to happen next. If you’re using Switchboard, you can save the list of action items in your permanent room so people can easily find it.
  • Start and end the meeting on time. As well as letting you get more done, this shows you value and respect your people’s time. 
  • Keep meetings short. The sweet spot is between 15 to 30 minutes. So unless you’re having a one-on-one or strategy meeting, stick to the main agenda points and let everyone get back to their tasks if you wrap up early.
  • Use the right virtual meeting platform. Switchboard’s interactive rooms mean everyone can contribute rather than just watch someone share their screen. This keeps them engaged, focused, and motivated. 

Effective remote team management: The key to a positive work culture 

Your remote team can be more effective than a traditional office-based one. But to achieve that, you need to think differently about how you manage it. That means creating a great remote work culture and using tools that get them working together as if they were in the same room.

Set your people up with tech tools designed for remote teams so they can work effectively in real time and async; whatever best suits their needs and their working and communication styles. Switchboard helps you do that by creating an interactive virtual space where your teams can work side-by-side for more effective collaboration, anytime, on any project. 

Then, establish and live solid values like overcommunication, honest feedback, and celebrating wins. This will motivate and inspire your team to do the same—and do their best work. 

Don’t forget to also create opportunities for those water cooler conversations and spontaneous social interactions. This helps build a cohesive remote work culture that people want to be part of. 

And, of course, you need to avoid the temptation to micromanage, blur work-life boundaries, and subject everyone to endless, ineffective meetings. 

Fast forward to Natalie’s first-year-anniversary at the agency. She’s an integral part of the team, has built deep connections with her colleagues, and is excited about logging on to work every day. All this means Mina has nailed her responsibilities as a manager. 

And that’s another win they can celebrate.

Ready to become a better remote team manager?
Switchboard gives remote teams the virtual space they need to work together more productively and spontaneously.
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Frequently asked questions about managing a remote team 

What are the challenges of managing a remote team?

Some of the challenges of managing a remote team include: 

  1. Communication breakdowns and a lack of face-to-face interaction
  2. Time zone differences 
  3. Difficulty maintaining team cohesion and motivation
  4. Limited opportunities for team building and professional development
  5. Trust and accountability issues
  6. Difficulty in monitoring and evaluating performance
  7. Differences in work styles and preferences 

How do you deal with the lack of face-to-face interaction?

There are many ways to deal with the need for face-to-face interaction in remote teams. And while a lot depends on your unique situation and needs, our top tips include:

  1. Schedule regular virtual team meetings and check-ins to promote a sense of community 
  2. Encourage virtual coffee breaks or casual chats between your people 
  3. Create a culture of open communication and encourage team members to reach out to each other 
  4. Organize virtual team-building activities and events 
  5. Use instant messaging tools like Slack and collaboration platforms like Switchboard to improve communication and collaboration
  6. Encourage your people to share their ideas and perspectives, and actively seek their feedback and input

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Switchboard gives remote teams the virtual space they need to work together more productively and spontaneously.