How to manage teams remotely

While many people already work from home successfully, 2020 is different. It's not optional - which means that employees - and their managers - are having to work separated from each other, many for the first time.

Managing remotely can work well, here are eight considerations

Be realistic – this is not normal

This crisis will impact on so many of the things we take for granted about work. It has taken away the routine of going to work, the daily company of colleagues and the social life that goes with that. It has forced people to try and work under the same roof as their partners and families. Many of your employees are doing their jobs while being part-time teachers – and others might be finding the isolation of being at home alone tough.

All of which needs some understanding. Normal levels of productivity and focus are almost certain to fall off. It’s just not possible to expect that they won’t. A degree of realism, flexibility and understanding will go a long way towards getting the best from your people in these very difficult situations.

Establish the new routine and daily check-ins

With remote working, the daily routines we’ve all been following suddenly disappear. Along with no more trips to the coffee shop, there’s no opportunity to meet face to face and cover objectives and progress. Establishing a new routine brings back structure – and the key part of this is the daily check in. This could take the form of a series of one-to-one calls, if your employees work more independently from each other, or a team call, if their work is more collaborative. The important feature is that employees know that they can talk with their manager, and that their concerns and questions will be heard.

Trust your team to do the right thing

A common misconception about working from home is that people sit around in their PJs watching Netflix. The micro-managers out there are going to find this hard but, the key ingredient to successful remote management is trust. You won’t be able to see what they are doing but you can still be an effective manager, only differently. You can set those tasks, and of course you’ll be checking in – but it’s the outcomes that really matter and that’s no different with remote working. We like this quote from Ernest Hemingway… “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”

Keep the sense of team going

If you manage a team, one of the best aspects of that is the sense of team. It’s rewarding to build a great team and it certainly helps productivity. And, a lot of the time it’s fun too. So, remember that. Not all Zoom or Skype calls need to be about work. Start calls catching up on the weekend, tell jokes, share a little of what home life looks like, have a virtual cup of tea and cake, deliver pizzas in time for a video call. It might seem strange at first but experienced managers of remote workers (and the workers themselves) say that virtual events help reduce feelings of isolation and help to keep that vital sense of belonging.

Be aware of emotional well-being

Remembering that remote working is a very recent and enforced change, you need to be particularly aware of stress indicators. That means being a good listener and being able to empathise with their situation. People may not willingly offer this information, especially those newer team members who may feel more insecure, so build in some open questions to dig a little deeper. Just asking “how is working from home going for you? may reveal a lot. Listen carefully and repeat back what they say to make sure you’ve heard them right – which is reassuring in itself. You may be under stresses of your own but, make this about their issues and concerns.

Inspire confidence

As a remote manager and without colleagues or the office to visit, you are ‘it’. The relationship between your employee and your business depends on you – which only adds to your own pressure which could already be considerable. Workplace research has identified ’emotional contagion’ – how a manager reacts in a stressful situation trickles down to their team. That’s why successful remote management calls for a balanced approach. You need to recognise and acknowledge the stress and anxiety that they may be feeling in difficult circumstances (while disguising yours), but also show that you have confidence in their ability. Positive language really helps, using phrases such as “we’ve got this,” or “I know we can handle this”

Be accessible with clear communication channels

Managing remotely is far more successful when you know how to get in touch with your team – and they know how to reach you. So, set expectations for the frequency, the tech you’ll be using and ideal timing of communication. This is particularly important for new hires. For example, “We use Zoom for daily check-in meetings, but we use WhatsApp when something is urgent.” Also, if you can, let your employees know the best way and time to reach you during the workday (e.g., “I tend to be more available late in the day for ad hoc phone or video conversations, but if there’s an emergency earlier in the day, send me a text.” The important factor here is that all employees share the same set of expectations for communication.

Give them the tools

Finally, as remote working relies on technology to get the work done – you’ll need to make sure you can support your team with what they’ll need. We are all using tech much more often but, it’s not reasonable to assume that everyone has all of those things. You can’t expect someone to be able to work productively if they don’t have the necessary equipment. And the right equipment doesn’t only mean their devices or internet connection. Prolonged periods of time sitting on an uncomfortable chair can do lasting damage so please make sure they are sitting safely and comfortably.


In conclusion

Remote working effectively is all about clear communication, understanding and trust. These are all aspects of good management wherever you are working. It requires a mindset we are all adjusting to but, we are confident that before too long, you and your team will be productive regardless of where you work.

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