When it comes to managing a remote team, there’s a lot of generic advice out there. While it’s not necessarily bad, it’s not exactly good, either. Here are some real examples you’ll find in the articles at the top of search results:
- “Focus on communication”
- “Set boundaries”
- “Be organized”
- “Be flexible”
What parts of communication should you focus on? The method, the message, or both? What kinds of boundaries should you set? How exactly should you be flexible? To me, they sound like the “Live, Laugh, Love” signs you see in a bathroom. Sure, who doesn’t like those three things. But do you have anything else to offer?
Know why I think there is so much generic advice out there about remote work? In 2020, a lot of people became remote managers, and suddenly there was a ton of rookie advice on being a remote manager.
Implementable Tips For Managing A Remote Team
I’ve run a fully remote marketing agency since 2016, and when it comes to managing a remote team, I’ve made all the mistakes along the way. Much of the pieces of advice you’ll read on the internet are what I’d consider to be a mistake from our company’s past. Others are so generic, you can’t turn them into a useful policy at your company.
Below, you’ll find real changes (not amorphous statements) you can put in place, starting with the easiest to implement first. Here’s what I did wrong, what I learned, and the changes we made to improve things. Under each, I’ll share what I did wrong, what I learned, and the changes we made to improve things.
1. Have recurring, non-work meetings
The Mistake: In the early days, our meetings were very work-focused. For example, every Monday, the team would meet to report project updates and discuss work-related issues.
It felt like we were accomplishing something and that these meetings were efficient,, but that was the problem. In a remote company, people don’t get the chance to know their coworkers on a personal level. Since we don’t have a shared breakroom, there were no opportunities for people to casually gather, chat, and get to know each other outside of work.
The Fix: The solution grew organically from the work-focused meetings. Initially, we’d spend the first few minutes of every meeting talking about personal things (like weekend plans) then jump into the agenda. But, over time, more and more of the meeting became devoted to casual chit-chat, which helped the team bond on a more personal level.
Eventually, we planned recurring non-work meetings specifically to chat about non-work items. This helped everyone get to know each other outside of work in a structured way which helped strengthen team bonds, building the trust that is essential to a functioning and productive remote team.
2. Cut your meetings in half
The Mistake: Of course, work-related meetings have to happen in addition to our non-work meetings. But at one point, we had weekly client meetings, weekly one-on-ones, and daily stand-ups. Meetings have their place, but people also need time to get their work done.
And while any manager or workplace can schedule too many meetings, remote managers sometimes use meetings to manage the team. They struggle with not seeing what staff are doing and use meetings to replace that face-to-face interaction. While the intention is understandable, this means wasting time in meetings when staff could be working. Plus, no one wants to sit on Zoom calls all day.
The fix: At Nectafy, have a four-day, 32-hour work week. While that’s done a lot for staff morale, we need to continue producing the same amount of work without sacrificing quality. That meant finding ways to dig up more pockets of uninterrupted time.
One way we did this was by cutting meetings in half, either in time and frequency. First, we cut the time allotted for each meeting. One-hour meetings went to 30 minutes, and 30-minute meetings went to 15 minutes. Then we cut down the number of meetings each week. Now we only meet with clients bi-weekly or monthly, and one-on-ones are bi-weekly.
Though meetings are shorter and less frequent, they are more effective because they focus on only the most crucial issues. And because staff spends less time in meetings, more of their work week is devoted to getting things done. Getting valuable things done is more fulfilling that looking at PowerPoint presentations in Zoom.
3. Discourage the “active” status & immediate replies
The Mistake: We got Slack, which wasn’t a mistake. The mistake was how we used it. We turned Slack on but didn’t set any rules or expectations. That unintentionally created a culture where people would log onto Slack, set their status to “active,” and keep it like that all day, every day. People used it to show they were online and available, but that resulted in others expecting an immediate response to Slack messages all the time.
And while quick responses are a big reason to use Slack, the problem is all those pings and notifications interrupt people’s work. Instead of getting things done, we’re responding to messages to prove we’re available..
The Fix: Any role that can be done remotely requires deep work—the kind that can only happen when you’re focused and not distracted by notifications and interruptions. We started to encourage people to sign out of Slack when they needed uninterrupted time to focus on work tasks. This shift helped us reinforce the culture that deep work that gets results is what matters, not responding to messages as they come in.
We also set new expectations for using Slack. People know to expect a slow response if they use Slack (and to plan accordingly). If it gets uncomfortably quiet on Slack for you as a manager, you may be managing the wrong things (like time at desk or availability).
4. Take (& share) personality tests
The Mistake: One of the biggest challenges we faced was that every team member has a different and distinct personality. While these diverse personalities make us stronger as a company and contribute to our success, it also impacts how we work together.
When you’re managing a remote team, it can be hard to “read the room.” Even in a one-on-one setting with cameras on, it’s difficult to get a handle on nonverbal cues. And if you’re not in tune with your staff, you may run into conflict.
For example, not everyone interprets the same piece of information the same way. When our founder once announced, “We have some exciting changes,” not everyone was “excited.” Some people interpreted the message as “something is wrong,” or even, “I did something wrong.” Others were excited for some change. The difference in the reaction comes down to personality types.
The Fix: We learned more about the unique individuals on our team to improve how we communicate with each other. Using a test like DISC gave us a framework for interacting with each other based on everyone’s personality and preferences, leading to smoother communications.
5. Give a home office stipend
The Mistake: Working remotely often means staff are more productive. But that productivity doesn’t happen on its own. What we didn’t think about as a company is how having the right home office setup boosts that productivity. Because we put no thought into this, we had some people take video meetings from their beds (not a great look, not great for your back, and not great for your sleep) and others sitting at a coffee table. We literally had not invested in our employees.
The Fix: In-person teams work in an office with a desk, a monitor or two, a laptop, and all the equipment they need to be successful. When you’re managing a remote team, you need to give them the same tools or better (since you’re no longer paying for office space). Create a home office stipend or include a home office setup package as part of your onboarding (this is what I have). This demonstrates that you value your staff and are committed to their success.
Here is what we provide to our team:
What I Have
Fully Jarvis Standing Desk
Dell S2421H 24 Inch
Apple Magic Keyboard
Apple Magic Mouse
Logitech 4K Pro
Video Conference Backdrop
6. Pair each core value with an employee benefit
The Mistake: We had a list of core values that seemed important when we made them, but they felt useless day to day. We didn’t have a way to incentivize the values as behaviors, making it less likely we would embrace them.
The Fix: To help everyone live the core values, we started pairing an employee benefit to each value. For example, one of our core values is “Intentional learning, not complacency.” We want people to keep learning, so we created the Book a Month benefit. Each month, everyone can buy any book, and the company will reimburse them for it.
See Also: 71 Books For Your Home Office Shelf
7. Create a salary calculator
The Mistake: We “made up” salaries for each new hire. What we paid wasn’t necessarily based on their cost of living (a key issue for remote companies), their experience level, or anything else. When you make up salaries, you end up paying the best negotiators, not the best performers.
The Fix: We learned from Buffer and created a salary calculator. It helped us set attractive salaries for every market by adjusting the pay for the cost of living. This made it easier for us to hire and fairly pay someone whether they live in San Francisco or Little Rock.
The salary calculator also makes us more efficient. Now when it’s time for annual raises or someone is promoted, all we do is update the fields with the new inputs, and the calculator determines the salary. Not only does that save time, it also removes the bias and emotion from determining pay, resulting in fairer, more equal pay across the board.
8. Choose an operating system (like EOS)
The Mistake: For the first few years, we didn’t have clear roles who the management team, didn’t track key numbers with any frequency, and didn’t have an idea of what services we could and should deliver.
We did all things online marketing at that point and were approached to build a website (we offered that service) and a backend software system (we did not offer that). It would be a $50,000 project… very exciting for us at the time. In the end, we hired a full-time developer and designer, couldn’t deliver the project, and refunded the client.
We lost hundreds of thousands of dollars because we had no framework for making decisions. It’s actually surprising we’re still around.
With Traction in place, we now have…
- Clear roles for management (a Visionary and an Integrator are the terms)
- A set frequency and agenda for our meetings, and a way to follow up on tasks
- An accountability chart: This is different from an organization chart in that an accountability chart helps us visualize who owns which responsibilities. Each role is entirely responsible for four to five business functions, and it’s up to them to ensure those functions get done. If something doesn’t happen, we know who is responsible for it and can work with them to see what’s blocking progress.
Remember how I mentioned that it might feel uncomfortable if Slack is really quiet? That’s because you’re managing time, not output or value. With an accountability chart, you have all the puzzle pieces assigned to succeed as a business. If one piece isn’t being handled, you can see why (without the need for Slack).
23 Additional Ideas From Remote Managers
The tips you saw above are my own–what works for my team, in my experience. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only way or right way to do it for you. To give some additional tips to consider, I asked my list of Buildremote contributors how they do it. I received 116 responses and included the 23 best below.
Allow time for connection
There are many ways you can build in social time for remote teams, including doing virtual team building activities, and online happy hours. One of the simplest things you can do is start each meeting with a quick round of icebreaker questions like, “What’s your name, role, and what was your favorite sandwich growing up?” If you make this effort consistently, you will support a healthy, connected remote work environment.
Thank you to Michael Alexis, CEO of teambuilding.com, who manages a remote team of 93 people.
Proper documentation allows for more effective scaling. Treat staff as experts in their respective roles and have them document their daily duties, protocols they follow, and the steps in which they carry out tasks. If this is kept updated, the ability to onboard new members and get them up to speed efficiently and thoroughly is a breeze.
Thank you to Irina Papuc, Co-Founder of Galactic Fed, who manages a remote team of 120 people.
Establish clear goals at every level
Establish clear goals for the company and each individual, and make sure they are shared and transparent within the team. When your team is clear on expectations and everyone is held accountable, it creates personal responsibility to get the work done and gives a sense of accomplishment because they have contributed to the overall success of the company and team.
Thank you to Marliis Reinkort, CEO of Code Galaxy, who manages a remote team of 20 people.
Allow time to disconnect
Letting your team know that you don’t expect responses after working hours can help employees feel they don’t need to be “always on.” Stating that it’s okay to unplug will allow staff members to fully relax, decompress, and enjoy their downtime.
Thank you to Jason Sherman, Founder and CEO of TapRm, who manages a remote team of 150+ people.
Create a virtual water cooler
Casual water-cooler moments don’t happen by accident. Don’t skip the soft stuff to go straight to goals, KPIs and OKRs. If you don’t invest in your team relationships first, you’ll find your team feels disconnected, cohesion suffers, and even simple tasks will feel like a struggle.
Thank you to S-J Kurtini, Cofounder of Ketchup, who manages a remote team of 70 people.
Establish KPIs for each employee’s position that will help you objectively measure how they are performing.
Thank you to William Samuel, of Blue Ladder Development, who manages a remote team of 3 people.
Prioritize mental health
Prioritizing mental wellness for remote employees across time zones starts with managers and team members being mindful of designated work hours. Workers must be conscientious of when and how they contact their teammates to avoid a constant sense of urgency. Being considerate of time zones will help keep stress levels low and reduce the chances of human error.
Thank you to Shaunak Amin, Co-founder and CEO of SnackMagic, who manages a remote team of 200+ people.
Set communication expectations
Remote work is more productive and fulfilling when supervisors set expectations for communication frequency, means, and timeliness. For example, we utilize videoconferencing for daily check-ins, but IM for urgent matters.
Thank you to James Angel, Co-Founder of DYL, who manages a remote team of 100 people.
Focus on outcomes
Put outcomes before activities. Allowing employees (who have the knowledge and resources to execute) to establish a plan of execution increases innovation and ownership.
Thank you to Kavin Patel, Founder and CEO of Convrrt, who manages a remote team of 100 people.
Respect others’ schedules
You as a manager or business owner may be working late or on weekends, but it doesn’t mean that your people have to. If you are constantly sending messages late in the evening, super early in the morning, or otherwise when your people may be resting, then you risk burning them out. One of my favorite tricks is to schedule messages in the future so they arrive during more regular hours.
Thank you to Tasia Duske, CEO of Museum Hack, who manages a remote team of 50 people.
Be consistent with processes
Remote employees appreciate consistency, so I recommend limiting the amount of changes you make to the way your team works and the processes involved in the everyday work. If an employee is constantly having to learn new systems and processes, they’ll have less energy to be as effective as they could be.
Thank you to Yauhen Zaremba, Director of Demand Generation of PandaDoc, who manages a remote team of 20 people.
Express their value
Be very explicit about explaining success to your remote employees. What matters is not the time they work but the value they produce. The key is to treat them like adults — articulate your expectations.
Thank you to Sweet Ha, of OurPCB Tech, who manages a remote team of 10 people.
Go above and beyond
It’s important to be appreciative of each worker’s situation and lend a helping hand where you can. You may have a team member that has children. Go over and beyond by helping to provide childcare for certain hours of the day when they need quiet time to truly focus. This may not always be possible, but whenever you can, be there for your team.
Thank you to Rhys Davies, CEO of Campervans UK, who manages a remote team of 3 people.
Use project tracking tools
Choose the tracking/management tools that suit you best and make sure that the entire team uses them. All project data and essential information should end up in the system so that everyone can find it quickly.
Thank you to Olivia Tan, Co-founder of CocoFax, who manages a remote team of 10 people.
See Also: The 21-Person monday.com Review
My best advice is to keep your virtual office door open. It is important for employees to trust they have a leader to help them overcome challenges, celebrate successes and explore new opportunities.
Thank you to Kate Zimmer, Talent Acquisition Lead at Varian who manages a remote team of four people.
Embrace automation tools
Automation is a critical ingredient for effective remote work management. Checking in on each and every remote employee is difficult. Managing a remote team is easier when you have automated tools and processes to reduce the workload.
Thank you to Alina Clark, Co-Founder and Marketing Manager of CocoDoc, who manages a remote team of 30 people.
Make sure that you’re not micromanaging. With a remote setup, it’s easy for supervisors and employers to ask their employees to use a time monitoring application that monitors your team’s screen activity. It’s always best to allow your employees to work with an adequate amount of freedom because micromanaging only causes pressure, and pressure lessens the quality of work.
Thank you to Marty Spargo, CEO of REIZE, who manages a remote team of 150 people.
Celebrate the social side of work
Avoid email where possible and use video calls or telephone instead, as it allows for more two-way communication. Try and create a virtual community by organizing monthly virtual lunches/learning sessions to boost the social side of work and bring the team together. A little thank-you goes a long way in rewarding effort and building loyalty, so celebrate little wins by sending physical thank you notes or gifts such as flowers or chocolates to show your appreciation.
Thank you to Rebecca Neweham, Founder & Director of Get Ahead, who manages a remote team of 70 people.
Take in the feedback
Pay attention to the feedback given from employees, and take it seriously. Finding more ways to communicate and collaborate as opposed to just email is very important.
Thank you to Oliver David, Founder of Green in Black and White, who manages a remote team of five people.
Be available and ready to talk to any member of your team at all times. Working remotely is a lonely endeavor at the best of times, and it helps the morale of the team if they know that you’re always there for them.
Thank you to James “Jimmy” Watts, CEO of Own The Grill, who manages a remote team of 10 people.
Think results over effort
Focus on output, not input. Trust first and adjust later. Clearly define goals and desired results, then allow employees to develop a plan of execution and deliver results.
Thank you to Lona Alia, Head of Revenue of SafetyWing, who manages a remote team of 14 people.
Structure your meetings
Ensure that all your virtual meetings are professionally structured. For starters, have an agenda for every meeting, and communicate this agenda to all the participants in good time before the meeting. It’s also professional best practice to have someone document the proceedings of the meeting, and share the minutes with all the participants.
Thank you to Doug Pierce, Chief Marketing Advisor of Sigma Computing, who manages a remote team of 18 people.
Tailor your communication to the individual
Get to know your employees’ workplaces and working style preferences. Learn the ways they prefer to get feedback, how often they want to be in touch, and what their working style is. All employees are individuals who have different preferences in how they work and how they like to be managed.
Thank you to Logan Mallory, VP of Motivosity, who manages a remote team of 50 people.
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