How to manage remote employees: An open letter to managers leading distributed teams

Managing an all-remote team can be a challenge. Even seasoned remote teams face hurdles implementing effective work-from-home policies. If you’re feeling frustrated with a lack of productivity, ineffective communication, or another issue, it can feel easy to place the blame on your team. Often, though, it’s a lack of direction that makes working from home more challenging for employees. As a manager, it’s on you to implement a strategy that balances communication, priorities, and flexibility; in other words, a policy that works for you, not against you. Read on to learn how to manage the remote employees on your team.

4 best practices for managers struggling to make “work from home” work

1. 1:1 meetings: Don’t skip on the face time.

Every direct report should have a recurring one-on-one meeting with their immediate manager at a set increment.

If possible, conduct your meetings with video to better communicate with your body language and to provide more context. It’s important your employee feels comfortable and understands they can talk openly and honestly. Be sure they also understand that the meeting is a way to share their ideas and  to ensure they’re equipped with the resources they need to do their job successfully.

Encourage your employees to give feedback in these meetings. Ask them what’s working and what’s not, and whether there’s anything they need from you on a continuing basis.

The key to successful 1:1 meetings relies on you as the manager to trust your employee, and vice versa. The most successful 1:1s happen between employees and managers who are confident, communicative, and open.

2. Over-communicate

This is, perhaps, the most vital part of any remote work strategy or policy. Successful remote relationships between employees and managers have a few things in common: 

  • Everyone is diligent about putting everything in writing to minimize miscommunication
  • Critical information is available by all parties as needed – e.g., decision-making processes, standards, protocols, and resources are all in a common, consistent location
  • Daily or bi-weekly updates are treated as a standard daily procedure and don’t get forgotten or pushed off
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3. Help them prioritize

In a remote environment, some employees might struggle to keep their pulse on the team’s priorities. While every position is different, a good rule of thumb is to set weekly goals with employees and help them build a cohesive team plan.

In addition, make sure your employees know they are empowered to set their own priorities and ensure they feel confident with procedures regarding cross-departmental and ad hoc requests.

4. Empower and equip them well

If employees are struggling with too many projects or meetings, encourage them to block calendar time for the purpose of diving deep into high-priority projects.

You should also encourage employees to use concentration and productivity tools that work for them. Educate them on tactics such as the Pomodoro technique or meditation, but don’t neglect to provide them with concrete tools as well, such as Twist or Asana.

In the end, the key to successfully managing a remote team is straightforward: Trust your instincts to check on your team, and interact with them regularly. It takes a little bit of patience, a lot of communication, and just a few key tools to set up a team that thrives in a remote environment. 

Looking for more info on managing remote teams? Check out the certification course in Distributed Management from Remote-how.

About the author: Iwo Szapar is a Remote Work Advocate & Co-founder of Remote-how, the world’s leading platform for distributed management powered by and for the community from 128 countries. Remote-how helps companies embrace #remotework through multiple education programs for managers and HR professionals, built together with industry-leading experts from top remote companies like InVision, Buffer or Doist. Iwo is a relentless doer – the kind of self-proclaimed workaholic every team needs. Driven by a love for travel and a desire to be as productive as possible, anytime, anywhere, Iwo is passionate about helping companies everywhere successfully implement remote workforces. In his downtime, Iwo is a football and dog lover.

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