Similar to the nuances of successful remote work, managing a remote team requires an alternative approach — leaders need to think differently as they build a culture of trust, clarity, and transparency on their team. From communication and project check-ins to career development conversations and project launches, managing a remote team requires different skills and strategies.
For a successful and sustainable remote team, leaders at all levels need to set a new precedent. They need to think differently and prioritize communication and access to create a culture that empowers their employees to succeed. According to the Journal of Organizational Behavior, higher levels of employee autonomy were associated with increased employee engagement, which is linked to job satisfaction. And a study by Gallup shows that companies with a highly engaged workforce have a 12% higher profitability rate.
Remote teams are successful teams, when managed correctly. Here, we explain strategies and skills for effective remote team management.
Strategies for effectively managing remote teams
Put simply, successful remote teams rely on good communication. When managing a remote team, leaders need to encourage and enable functional communication among team members and with other teams. When remote teams effectively utilize all forms of digital communication — video calls, instant messaging, email, project management tools — they’re able to be more productive and efficient. With that in mind, managers of remote teams should:
Establish ways of working
Especially if teams are global, managers need to put guidelines in place to facilitate communication, collaboration, and project management. These expectations can include the best times of day to reach certain team members, the right forms of communication based on a circumstance, and who to go to for what. Create a document that has team members’ working hours, time zone, days off, what they're responsible for, and the best way to contact them. Additionally, solidify how team communication works. For example, if someone has a question on a larger project, post it in the team channel on Slack or Teams so everyone can see the question and answer. Or, for a project status update, put it in the correct project on a shared collaboration tool and tag the relevant stakeholders.
Outlining what these look like for your team — and providing a refresher when needed — ensures team members are on the same page, know what to expect, and can seek the information they need when they need it.
Access to the right tools is paramount for remote work success. Remote team members need to be able to quickly discuss important changes or issues and sketch out solutions to a problem. Tools that mirror in-person communication and collaboration are key. These could be project management tools — Jira or Trello are two good options — to ensure sprints are on track. A digital collaboration tool like Miro or Figma can also allow team members to solve problems collectively.
In addition, have a dedicated place for team and company resources that is readily available and accessible to all. This allows team members to proactively seek the answers they’re looking for when they need them and clearly outlines a manager’s expectations of team members.
Use asynchronous communication
For a global team, time zones can make communication tricky. Relying on asynchronous communication tools — emails, messaging platforms, screen recordings, or project management software — ensures questions get answered and work gets completed.
For asynchronous communication to be successful, there needs to be expectations in place. For example, unless something is urgent, a response outside of someone’s normal working hours is not expected until the next day. However, responses within a reasonable amount of time, be it 24 or 48 hours, are required. A perk of a global remote team is the ability to cover multiple time zones, but workers can get burnt out quickly if they feel like they must be ‘on’ all the time.
Foster an open culture by facilitating interactions among remote employees without adding more meetings to the calendar. Take the first five minutes of a daily or weekly stand-up to chat about non-work tasks and encourage team members to talk to each other about problems or issues that you know they have both experienced.
These interactions can take place asynchronously, too. Keep the team channel active on your messaging platform, or create a separate channel for non-work or “watercooler” discussions. As a manager, share industry insights or links to interesting articles on relevant topics. And keep the conversation going. The more people share, the more comfortable others will feel.
Best practices when managing remote teams
A manager’s job is the same whether it’s an in-person or remote team. It’s how they manage that changes — and is the key to success. Here are a few best practices to effectively manage remote teams:
With the lack of face-to-face interaction, it’s more difficult for remote team members to engage with each other. Managers can facilitate this by setting the example themselves and fostering a culture of openness.
Consider the team’s ‘ways of working’ that have been established and use those as a guide. Be clear on which meetings are audio-only and which ones are mandatory to use video — ‘seeing’ team members on video promotes connection. Ask open-ended questions, allow others to share, and be genuinely interested in each person’s thoughts and ideas. This goes a long way to building trust and team camaraderie when everyone isn’t sharing a space.
All managers need to make themselves available for questions, but remote managers need to establish a process for doing so. It could be a formalized process through office hours a few times a week, or an open door policy where informal messages are always welcome. By creating consistent availability and communicating that to your team, employees are able to do their jobs better and your team will be more productive.
Managers should also be available for career growth conversations, insights into the industry, and whatever tangential topics their teams may want to discuss. Think about what you might talk about with a team member over coffee or walking to lunch. Those conversations are more difficult in remote environments, so managers need to actively promote and make themselves available for them. Depending on time zones and team setup and size, this might be as informal as messaging about something that comes up or jumping on a quick call, or as formal as scheduled conversations on a specific cadence.
Set clear objectives
Having clear priorities at the team and individual level sets a team up for success. Regularly discuss and track team goals, decide who is responsible for what, and talk about final deliverables and deadlines with the entire group. This could be daily standups — live or asynchronous — or in a weekly meeting.
Providing insight into the end goal and the steps along the way ensures everyone is on the same page and able to effectively work towards that goal.
Increased flexibility is one of the major perks of remote work for both employees and leaders. Managers of remote teams need to embrace the flexibility — as long as employees ensure they are on top of their work. Setting an example can encourage team members to take advantage of the flexibility offered in remote work environments. By blocking time for lunch, to pick kids up from school, or to go to an appointment and publicizing it, team members will feel comfortable to do the same.
A team should mirror the wider organization’s policies, but a manager can go a long way to promote and live the same values.
The impact of effective communication on a team and its individuals can’t be overstated. When a team collectively communicates clearly, they’re more likely to collaborate, brainstorm, and function highly.
Managers can ask each team member their preferred form of communication. Some people might prefer a call so they can ask questions live and digest information as they go. Others might prefer an email in order to evaluate the information at their own speed and then ask questions later. By communicating with people in the way that they process information, managers can reduce misunderstandings.
With the rise of remote work came the rise of borderless — now, teams might span countries or continents. As a team, it’s important to remember that not everyone communicates in the same way and how they express themselves in their culture might be different. It’s a manager's job to reinforce this notion.
The benefits of remote work are endless – remote teams have higher employee satisfaction ratings and a Harvard study found that remote workers are more productive and less likely to quit, leading to a 4.4% increase in productivity.
In today’s hiring climate, remote tech teams allow companies to recruit top talent — and retain them.
Andela helps organizations build successful remote tech teams. With the help of Andela Talent Cloud, which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to analyze thousands of data points from across the hiring lifecycle, companies can seek out and hire quality remote candidates quicker and easier than traditional hiring options.
Building a remote team? Dive into insights and best practices for successful remote work in our Tech Leader’s Guide to Remote Work.