As more organizations adopt flexible work structures, effective remote team management has become a critical factor in ensuring that teams and organizations achieve their performance objectives. Workplaceless has been helping new and seasoned managers develop remote management skills and behaviors since 2017—in this definitive guide to managing remote teams, you’ll discover the mindset, infrastructure, and capabilities remote managers need to effectively guide remote teams to success.
What is Remote Team Management?
Remote team management is the practice of overseeing and leading a remote team, or a group of individuals who work together on projects and tasks from different geographical locations. Managing remote teams requires effective communication, trust-building, and the use of appropriate tools to ensure the productivity and cohesion of the team despite the physical distance that separates its members.
Impact of Remote Team Management
Good remote team management can have a profound positive impact on an organization. When team members are well-led, communication is clear and consistent, trust is built, and tasks are effectively delegated and monitored. This leads to increased productivity, higher morale, and enhanced collaboration among remote team members.
In contrast, bad remote team management characterized by poor communication, micromanagement, or a lack of trust can result in reduced productivity, lower job satisfaction, and increased turnover. It can lead to misunderstandings, missed deadlines, and a lack of team cohesion, ultimately jeopardizing the success of remote teams and the organization as a whole. Effective remote team management is therefore essential for harnessing the full potential of remote work arrangements and achieving desired outcomes.
Managers of remote teams need to adopt a Placeless Mindset in order to manage their teams effectively. A Placeless Mindset is one that considers work as something you do, instead of a place you go.
- Embrace location independence over physical presence
- Empower autonomous work with flexible schedules
- Impact productivity with asynchronous communication and collaboration
- Be open and transparent
- Trust your colleagues and employees
Remote team managers, especially those that have worked in traditional office-based environments, should be aware of the differences between remote and traditional team management. These differences affect how managers should approach managing their teams across distance.
Differences Between Remote Management and Traditional Management
In a traditional office environment, managers often rely on input to gauge their team members’ performance, such as time spent in the office. In a remote environment, managers should measure performance by output, or tangible results, such as work completed.
In office-based cultures, managers rely heavily on synchronous communication, or meetings, to accomplish all aspects of work. In a distributed environment, especially in teams that span multiple regions and time zones, managers default to asynchronous communication so that all team members are able to access information and contribute to conversations, no matter where they are located.
In traditional office settings, managers tend to deliver feedback verbally in synchronous meetings or more informal conversations. In remote teams, managers need to be intentional about providing feedback using both asynchronous and synchronous methods, so that feedback can be delivered and applied in a timely manner.
In an office environment, managers tend to influence the direction of employees’ work days, whether intentional or unintentional. In a remote environment, team members need to self-manage and self-direct. Remote managers need to be able to enable this autonomy in their teams by providing support and structure.
When managers are in the same location as their employees, they recognize and reward the contributions that they are able to see. In remote teams, managers need to establish processes that enable all team members’ contributions to be visible, regardless of when or where they work.
Traditional management practices rely heavily on “serendipitous” moments at the office to drive connection and innovation: ad-hoc conversations in the hallway, by the proverbial water-cooler, or before and after meetings. Managers of remote teams need to intentionally enable structures that allow for serendipitous interactions in a virtual environment.
One of the most challenging aspects of remote teams is in developing meaningful connections with other people. In traditional office environments, managers tend to leave the social capital to employees to develop on their own, through organic, serendipitous connections that happen in a shared location. In remote teams, managers need to intentionally and explicitly support team members in developing connections within and outside their direct team.
At Workplaceless we define Infrastructure as the policies, processes, and tools required to enable effective remote work. Remote managers should ensure they have the following infrastructure in place to make sure their team can actually accomplish their objectives across distance.
Remote Work Policy
A remote work policy is an organizational document that outlines the guidelines, rules, and expectations governing remote work arrangements within a company. It typically covers key aspects such as eligibility criteria, remote work schedules, communication protocols, data security measures, and performance evaluation criteria for remote employees.
The purpose of a remote work policy is to provide clarity and structure for both employees and the organization, ensuring that remote work is conducted in a consistent and productive manner while addressing legal and operational considerations. It serves as a critical resource for managing remote work within the company and aligning it with the overall business goals and culture.
The Goplaceless course provides valuable resources and templates for creating a remote work policy if you don’t already have one in place.
A team working agreement in a remote work context is a set of guidelines and expectations that remote team members establish collectively to define how they will collaborate and operate. It includes clear definitions of roles and responsibilities, communication protocols, working hours, and any specific rules or norms unique to remote work.
Team agreements serve as vital tools for promoting transparency, fostering a positive team culture, and ensuring that remote team members are on the same page, which ultimately contributes to more effective and harmonious remote collaboration.
Creating objective, measurable performance metrics is essential when managing a remote team. Because they provide clarity and transparency about what is expected of remote team members, reducing ambiguity and misunderstandings. Additionally, objective performance metrics allow for fair and consistent evaluation of remote employees’ performance, regardless of their physical location.
Create your own objective performance metrics using the rubric provided in our Team Success Toolkit.
Single Source of Truth
A Single Source of Truth (SSoT) is a central, reliable repository of data or information that serves as the definitive reference point for a team or organization. In the context of managing remote teams, it is crucial because it ensures that all team members have access to the same, up-to-date, and consistent information, regardless of their physical location. This eliminates confusion, minimizes the risk of miscommunication, and fosters a shared understanding among remote team members.
If you don’t already have an SSoT, you can build one based off the template provided in the Team Success Toolkit.
Remote Management Tools
Remote managers rely heavily on digital tools to manage their teams. At a minimum, remote managers should ensure their team has access to and effectively uses the following categories of tools:
- Internal messaging platform for async communication, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams
- Cloud-based collaboration tool that allows for content creation and updates that are synced, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive
- Video meeting platform for synchronous communication, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams
- Project management tool that allows for visibility into work progress, such as ClickUp or Asana
Remote team managers need to develop specific competencies in order to facilitate team progress and employee growth.
Resilience. Develop trust, psychological safety, and belief in the ability to work well together as a team.
Communication. Balance synchronous and asynchronous communication to preserve energy, improve productivity, and optimize outcomes.
Inclusion. Combat proximity bias and enable connections to one another and to the company.
Autonomy Enablement. Ability to structure documetation and processes to ensure team members can work autonomously.
Communication Management. Ability to facilitate effective communication among remote and hybrid team members and teams.
Digital Tool Management. Ability to identify and implement tools for a remote or hybrid team.
Decision-making. Ability to make decisions without relying on synchronous meetings or access to people.
Onboarding. Ability to train new remote or hybrid employees.
Performance Management. Ability to set expectations for, manage and maximize team performance across distance.
Boundary Setting. Ability to set boundaries for yourself or your team to protect deep work time.
Change Management. Ability to manage a change initiative or respond to external change in a distributed setting.
Conflict Management. Ability to appropriately manage interpersonal conflict with remote team members.
Culture. Ability to build and contribute to a positive culture within a distributed team.
Learning & Development. Ability to support the development of remote team members by setting goals, sourcing learning experiences, and developing learning programs.
Sponsorship & Mentorship. Ability to support the career growth of team members by advising and advocating on their behalf.
View the complete list of remote management skills and their definitions in the Remote Work Competency Model.
Of course, it’s not enough to have remote management skills. You need to put these skills into practice with behaviors and habits. Remote team managers can develop these practices in the Leadplaceless virtual leadership course.
Effective remote team management hinges on a multifaceted approach that encompasses mindset, infrastructure, and capabilities. Cultivating a placeless mindset that values trust, clear communication, and results over mere presence is fundamental. Equally vital is the establishment of robust infrastructure, which includes the right tools and processes to facilitate seamless remote collaboration. Additionally, managers need to hone the skills and practice the behaviors needed to navigate remote work challenges.
Success in managing remote teams is not merely about geographical distance but about fostering a culture of trust, clear communication, and accountability. By emphasizing these key takeaways, organizations can unlock the full potential of their remote teams and navigate the evolving landscape of work in the digital age.