Managing a remote team is a lot like other types of team management. However, getting everyone working together can require a slightly different approach without the benefit of face-to-face interactions.
There are several nuances to remote work. For example, you can’t pick up any body language cues in meetings that can help you understand how your team is feeling. You also may not always be online at the same time as the rest of your team (especially in global companies). Some of the overarching goals for managing a remote team include:
- Building trust
- Ensuring productivity to meet objectives
- Helping team members develop personally and professionally
The best practices below will help you manage your remote team and ensure that your team members are happy, healthy, and thriving in their roles.
14 best practices for managing remote teams
1. Identify top challenges first
Every team is different, even those within the same organization. Managers must understand the particular challenges they need to address within their specific team. Identifying each one is the first step in improving team collaboration.
Here are a few of the challenges associated with remote teams:
- Slower trust-building from both sides
- Lack of visibility on tasks and project progress
- Higher number of meetings for status updates or team-building abilities (as there’s no chance for watercooler talk or impromptu chats)
- More difficult communication
- Lower motivation and morale because of social isolation
- Lack of clear expectations
- Difficult collaboration among team members
- Cultural differences (since remote teams are often global)
2. Find the right meeting frequency
Remote work may result in feelings of disconnect with your team. But it's very easy to fall into the trap of overcompensating by meeting with your team members over Zoom or Hangouts too often. Video calls can be draining for many employees (dubbed "Zoom fatigue" or "virtual fatigue"). The reasons for this may range from distractions and increased cognitive load to unnatural levels of eye contact.
The solution is flexibility—ask your team members what works best for them. If you have a team comprising extroverts who crave contact, then frequent 1:1s and team meetings may be a good option. If you have team members who value extended periods of uninterrupted deep work, you'll only hurt their productivity by making them meet often.
At Float, we have various meeting processes depending on individuals and teams. Our engineering department has a weekly sync, while our marketing team meets quarterly to discuss OKRs. Some team members have weekly 1:1s with their managers, while others do biweekly or monthly check-ins.
3. Set clear expectations about working hours
This may sound like management 101, but it's much more complex when working with a remote team. Remote work has enabled better work-life balance for many people, which means managers' expectations should also change.
For example, it's easy to set working hours at an office. But if you're remote, should you demand that everyone clocks in at 9 a.m.? What if a person has children to look after or wants to exercise a bit in the morning before work?
It's helpful to set expectations for what you'd like your team to do and what they can figure out themselves. If your team works asynchronously, there's a lot of room to let people design their own productive workdays. If, however, there are time restrictions—such as the customer support team needing to be online when customers are—make sure your team knows in advance.
4. Move toward an outcome-based approach
The results of people's work are more important than how they work. Thankfully, this is something many businesses already understand. The challenge with remote work is that results may take longer to appear, and no amount of micromanaging is likely to change that.
It takes some planning to ensure you're on top of projects. Setting milestones and check-ins beforehand is a great way to promote accountability while also giving team members space to work. You also need to pay attention to what feedback you're giving and how often, as it can help you determine when to step in to provide clarification and guidance.
Float's Director of Marketing, Siobhan Hayes, says, "Avoiding micromanagement requires focusing on the outcome and thinking about the long game. If you give constant feedback for minor things, there could be a team misalignment. Feedback is an opportunity to continuously improve; however, if you're giving the same feedback regularly, then that's usually a signal that things aren't improving."
5. Communicate clearly (and help your team do the same)
Face-to-face communication is sometimes more accessible than virtual, as there's the benefit of reading body language and facial expressions. When working remotely (especially in different time zones), communication becomes a real challenge.
Float's Director of Customer Success, Alison Prator, says, "One of the challenges with managing remotely is making sure you communicate clearly and effectively. Remote communications are a lot different than walking into someone's office and speaking to them one on one."
The mode of communication is different when managing remote teams, so your effectiveness may depend on choosing the right communication method. As Alison explains, "A lot of our communication is written, so it's much more important to clarify details and convey intent and emotions in your writing so that you're on the same page. When I have a complicated or meaty topic, I try to use Loom or voice messages for an added layer of context."
6. Protect your team's time
Everyone needs blocks of uninterrupted time to focus on work. While it may not seem like it, it can be just as challenging to achieve that remotely as in a noisy office environment. Frequent meetings, a flurry of notifications, and constant check-ins may hinder your team's productivity.
One of the biggest challenges is called context switching—shifting from topic to topic without being able to focus on one for long. Float's Director of Engineering, Colin Ross, says, "Each time a person comes out of their focus bubble to respond to a message or to check Slack, some context is lost, and it takes time to regain it.
"Minimizing the number of context switches is one of the critical challenges for remote teams. All the productivity advice in the world can't help you if you can't get sufficient time to concentrate on a task and be productive."
Help your team focus by protecting their deep work. Try to minimize disruptions (e.g., by scheduling meetings together) and embrace asynchronous communication.
7. Use technology to track team capacity
When a new project comes your way, you need an accurate view of what your team is working on and what they're available to take up. This isn't always easy in a remote setting, as you can't quickly gather your troops and get a status update.
Resource management technology is a great solution to this problem. With a tool like Float, you can track team capacity and instantly see when team members are overloaded or underutilized. Float provides a bird-eye view of planned work alongside time off so you can understand your team's capacity at a glance. You can tailor each resource's availability with custom work hours or use tags to highlight whether they're full or part-time.
Make Float the source of truth for your team's time and capacity by integrating with your calendar to combine meetings and other events into the schedule. Keep workloads sustainable with red overtime indicators signaling when a team member's overscheduled. You can even filter and sort your team based on available hours within a selected timeframe.
8. Provide your team with what they need to thrive
On the company level, it's both good for morale to offer office expense perks and an advantage when hiring talent.
If your company offers workspace benefits or software subscriptions, ensure your team is aware and encourage them to use the perks they're eligible for.
Even if your company doesn't offer anything, there are always some things you can make a case for. For example, you can make sure your team has the software that best supports their work. Or provide them access to online courses and other resources, which can compensate for any on-site coaching they might have received if they weren't remote.
Float offers a home office expense budget, as well as a monthly allowance for coworking spaces.
9. Use documentation to your team's advantage
Being on the same page with your team members is critical. But when managing remote teams, sharing information may not be as clear-cut as you'd like. That's especially true if your team is international and spans multiple time zones or if you're working asynchronously by default.
It's helpful to set up clear guidelines and documentation. Notion is a popular tool for this purpose. You can add Notion pages about any internal process, from company policies to strategy and meeting notes. This helps ensure that your team stays informed on critical topics. Plus, it'll make onboarding new remote team members so much easier.
10. Simulate the physical office (when possible)
This may not be suitable for all teams, but technology has given us some amazing solutions for team building from afar. On the more fun side, apps like Gather look like video games, where you can move your character around to meet colleagues virtually.
You can also leverage messaging apps like Slack and Skype to create virtual watercooler rooms to connect with your team remotely. Monthly virtual drinks or lunches can also help if your team is up for it!
A view of Gather's simulated office space.
11. Be twice as empathetic
Working remotely can be a struggle for some, especially if they are used to an office environment. Some people thrive with their newfound freedom, while others experience challenges that may affect their mental health.
Social isolation and burnout are two critical issues to watch closely for. According to Buffer's State of Remote Work 2022, the top challenges for remote workers are the inability to unplug and loneliness. So be mindful of how your team divides their time between work and life. Please encourage them to turn off notifications when not working and avoid meetings outside of working hours as much as possible.
To combat loneliness, try checking in regularly. Or set up norms for employees to meet each other, e.g., with a tool like Donut, which sends periodical reminders for 1:1s between randomly chosen team members. But most of all, keep a pulse of how your team feels and translate the open door policy to the virtual world—be it with video calls, surveys, or direct messages.
12. Celebrate wins and milestones
Many of us who have worked in a physical office are used to seeing employees rewarded for their efforts—no matter how small the gesture. For instance, the sales manager ordering pizzas to celebrate the quarter closing above target, or the CEO letting everyone clock out early on Friday to celebrate a new ARR record.
When managing remote teams, you need to get more creative. A shoutout to team members in a Slack channel after a milestone is the minimum public recognition for your team. If you have the budget, arrange for care packages for your team or send them digital gift cards after major milestones.
13. Host virtual events and meetups
Virtual events can help build trust and familiarity in your team. Again, it depends on what works best for your team members, so you could consider several ideas:
- Quiz or trivia games (you can create a quick and easy quiz game with platforms like Kahoot)
- A virtual activity, like yoga or painting with an internal or external instructor
- Quarterly company-wide presentations (e.g., the Float Remote Roadshow)
Also, it's beneficial to bring your team together physically once in a while. It's a great way to improve cohesiveness and communicate better on longer-term goals.
Float's meetup in 2019 was in Athens, Greece.
14. Trust your team (and show it)
Nothing kills productivity for remote workers more than a manager who doesn't trust them. Managers who are constantly worried that their remote team members aren't working or are scared by the loss of control can lead to micromanagement and an unpleasant culture.
Trust-building happens over time, but you need to be ready to give your team a chance to breathe and test the waters themselves. "To avoid micromanagement, we build trust from day 1. We reference our values for how we work, and we have shared OKRs to keep us focused and accountable. Micro-feedback is also important in the early days to learn the expectations of working together and set the standard. But, as trust is built, letting go is critical," says Siobhan.
Demonstrate trust in your team, even if it's not always easy. Let them know you're always there for feedback and support, and place an emphasis on results. Your team will thank you for it!