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.

How to manage a team remotely

Managing a remote team takes diligence.

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. Welcome to the new normal in the age of coronavirus, where managing a remote team of employees is a skill you'll rapidly need to learn.

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

Prior to the global pandemic, “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.”

But now, well, things have changed. Granted, you don’t want to micromanage your team, but too little contact can throw workers off—especially when there's so much uncertainty coming at them from all sides. Employees may have different preferences with regards to how frequently you check in, so it’s up to you to ask your team what will work for them. Maybe managing a remote team means you check in more frequently in the beginning and then switch to weekly group meetings once everyone has developed a rhythm.

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 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,” says Nancy Halpern, an executive coach with KNH Associates in New York City. “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 Halpern.

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,” Halpern says. “There has to be flexibility on your side.” 

Use the technology available to you

With social distancing on everyone's mind, instant messenger–type platforms like Slack and Skype allow the kind of quick communication between team members that you’d have in an office. This kind of technology make it very easy to reach out to your workers.

“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, or Google Chat, find the in-person replacement that works best for you and your team to help manage communication, improve productivity, and keep the camaraderie strong. Be as available as your schedule allows.

Reassure them

Managing a remote team of employees is made even more difficult when the anxiety levels are high. A quick IM to say, "How's it going?" and "You're doing a great job!" can do wonders to help ease the stress. Want more helpful insights? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can get advice for navigating the trickier demands of management delivered right to your inbox. We're all in this together.