How to manage a team remotely
You can still be an effective manager if your direct reports work in another office—you just have to learn a few new tricks.
You have a great team of people under your managerial eye. They’re dedicated, talented and hard-working—and in a completely different building. Or state.
Whether it’s because you work remotely or because they do, leading people you don’t see on a day-to-day basis poses unique challenges, from methods of communication to work-flow issues. One of the biggest challenges of being a great boss remotely can be creating a personal connection and productive environment that come with typical in-office relationships.
“The beauty of remote work is the flexibility of it—people can work from where they are,” says Nicole Wood, CEO and co-founder of career coaching company Ama La Vida. “But at the same time, it takes a different level of effort to continue to maintain that relationship.”
The following strategies can help you create an in-person connection from anywhere.
Talk about communication
You don’t want to micromanage your team, but too little contact can throw workers off. Employees may have different preferences, so it’s up to you to get to know your people and what will work for them.
“If your employees are mostly autonomous and don’t need a lot of contact, perhaps everyone agrees on twice-monthly video conferences,” says Nancy Colasurdo, a writer and life coach in Hoboken, New Jersey.
“But maybe there’s one who needs more attention and guidance, so you work out a nice email scenario for times in between. This is where listening and communication skills really come in.”
Get comfortable with video calls
When you can’t walk down the hall and talk to someone in person, being able to see them regularly is vital—and impossible to do on the phone.
“You should definitely have at least monthly video conferences,” says Alexandra Levit, workplace expert and author of Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success.
“Using a platform like Zoom is a great way for everyone’s face to be on there at the same time.” Being able to see facial expressions adds invaluable context, so it’s something that should occur as regularly as possible.
Pick up the phone
Ask yourself if the news you’re delivering would be better received in person. If so, do the next best thing and call versus emailing or texting. This is especially true if you’re delivering feedback or discussing a problem, because it’s easy to misconstrue someone’s tone in electronic communication.
“Email can be overly terse, misunderstood and isn’t good with subtleties,” Halpern says. “You can’t over-rely on it.”
Pay attention to time zones
Your team isn’t going to appreciate it if you continually make them interact with you at odd hours. “I’ve noticed that some managers have an incredible lack of sensitivity about time zone differences,” says Nancy Halpern, an executive coach with KNH Associates in New York City.
Be mindful of what time you’re scheduling meetings—or if you send emails at odd hours, make it clear that you don’t expect them to respond until their day begins. “If you have someone working in Asia, you really can’t call a meeting for 3:00 in the afternoon. There has to be flexibility on your side,” Halpern says.
Use the technology available to you
Platforms like Slack, which is an instant messenger type system, allow the kind of quick communication between team members that you’d have in an office.
“It’s the technology replacement for spinning around and talking to someone,” Wood says. “There are those on-the-fly questions that come up. You want workers to feel like they can just ping you with those.”
So whether it’s Skype, Slack, Zoom, Google Chat or even good old AIM, find the “in-person replacement” that works best for you and your team to help manage communication and improve productivity.
Get real face time regularly
“If everyone is everywhere, a good rule of thumb is to try to get together once a quarter if travel budgets allow,” Wood says.
Even occasional face time can help make up for the lack of daily interaction, so make it a priority, even if you’re the one who travels, not the entire team.
“If you’re a boss and you’re in a different place, you should try to have face time with your team once a month, at a minimum. Nothing truly replaces the in-person experience,” says Wood.