Five Important Tips for Managing Remote Teams

How to help your teams stay productive and collaborative

Written by: Ryan Anderson, VP of Digital Innovation at Herman Miller

An all-white office with a white Mirra 2 Chair, white desk, Eames LTR table and bookshelves full of books and office accessories.

Five Ways to Help Remote Teams Succeed

1. Understand the challenges of helping everyone stay connected and engaged.
2. Use web meetings sparingly and rely on tools that keep you connected throughout the day.
3. Make sure important conversations and decisions include remote team members.
4. Get creative with ideas for socializing digitally.
5. Regularly check in with team members and establish outcome-driven performance metrics.

Are you new to managing a remote team? I’ve had the chance over the last decade to manage several and to study remote work with some very insightful colleagues from leading tech companies. Based upon those experiences, here are my five best suggestions to get started on the right foot.

1. Understand the Challenge

Managing remote work is an inclusion challenge. People are usually quite capable of doing their individual work from anywhere. But the real challenge is helping team members connect, be heard, and feel a sense of purpose and belonging. It’s your job as a manager to help people stay grounded in the bigger picture of what you’re trying to accomplish, and to feel like they are part of the team. Your role is being a champion of a healthy, productive, virtual team culture.

2. Get Asynchronous

Many remote teams quickly move toward web tools—Zoom, Skype, Go To Meeting, WebEx, etc.—to facilitate meetings. These solutions are helpful, but they require everyone to interact at the same time. This can slow the team down, be a challenge for introverts, and intrude on personal time for team members in distant time zones. Instead, choose Slack or Microsoft Teams as your primary communication toolset and use web meetings more sparingly. Create a Slack channel or Microsoft Team for your project and encourage people to interact throughout the day at whatever times are convenient. You’ll find that your projects will flow quicker and your team will interact more. As the leader, it’s up to you to learn about the platform you choose (watch a tutorial!) and to be active in modeling appropriate behaviors.

3. Establish Co-Located Protocols 

If you have a team where some members are co-located but others are remote, it’s your job to institute protocols to ensure that conversations don’t exclude remote teammates. Turn on the video camera in the room during web meetings so that remote people can see who is talking. Pause the conversation frequently—every ten minutes, max—to ask if remote team members have comments or questions. Make sure everyone is present when you need to make important decisions, and encourage before-and-after meeting conversations to happen on Slack or Teams.

4. Be Social

With remote work, team members often don’t get the informal social interactions that happen throughout the workday. These times are important for building team culture. To solve this, consider adding a Slack or Teams channel called “Break Room Conversations” and encourage people to post fun memes or talk about the big game on Saturday. Consider scheduling virtual video coffee dates for socializing or to celebrate a team member’s birthday or anniversary.

5. Manage Performance

Many organizations continue to view attendance at work as a measure of productivity (It’s not. It’s a measure of obedience, but I digress.) If that’s the case with your organization, then you’ll want to think more about outcome-driven performance metrics and make sure that each team member knows what’s expected of them over the course of your project. As the leader, you’ll need to take extra time and effort to check in with each team member weekly, ideally on video because nonverbal communication during one-on-one meetings is important. As you check-in with team members, be on the lookout for burnout. While some organizations may worry that remote workers are slacking off, often, the opposite issue is the problem. People can’t turn off the work when it’s happening in their home across time zones.