Managing Remote Teams: Three Respectful, Intentional Tips Based on Experience

Stacey Woods

It’s hard to believe because for many, it’s what we’ve known for the past year — but prior to COVID-19, close to a quarter of the nation’s employees already worked remotely — and according to Forbes, that amount is supposed to double in 2021.

It’s hard to believe because for many, it’s what we’ve known for the past year — but prior to COVID-19, close to a quarter of the nation’s employees already worked remotely — and according to Forbes, that amount is supposed to double in 2021. By 2025, an estimated 70% of the workforce will spend five days a month working remotely. A recent Gartner CFO survey shows that 74% of those surveyed plan to permanently shift employees to remote work after the pandemic ends. 

And, with good reason! There’s a big cost savings for companies, with less money being spent on expensive rent. It opens companies up to a wider candidate pool, as remote work is more viable for a wider variety of positions. The productivity loss and business disruption many feared at the beginning of the pandemic was non-existent for many businesses — and many reported an increase in productivity.

All of this means what used to be a perk will become the norm for many businesses, which means that many of you — if you haven’t been already — might be managing remote employees in the near future. 

I’ve led remote teams for several years — virtually, and across several time zones — and everything I’ve learned about managing teams can be boiled down to two simple practices: being respectful, and being intentional. I’ve assembled a short list of my four biggest tips for managing remote teams below — and if you have some additional tips, please include them in the comments section!

Schedule regular check-ins.

Even without a pandemic, remote work can be challenging for both you and your team. For employees, it might feel like your manager is out of touch with their needs, or the access to them is limited. It also takes more time to exchange information — you’re no longer in the same open office or a few doors away — everything is an email or an instant message. And, even though there are countless perks to remote work, it can also be isolating and lonely.

That’s why checking in regularly with your team is so important — whether that’s a weekly all-hands meeting, a daily check-in with your direct reports, or individual one-on-ones. I know from experience that it’s so tempting to cancel these meetings, especially when there’s a deadline or a tough project. Don’t do it! Those check-ins are incredibly important — you have the opportunity to identify potential issues or roadblocks, your employees can continue to perform their work confidently, and projects and work can stay on track. 

However, there’s a caveat here — find the time to check in about things other than work. Reserve the first few minutes of a meeting to ask how people’s days are, how they’re weekends were, if anything is new, how their kids or families or pets are. It sounds small, but it makes all the difference to your team, who want to feel connected and feel like they’re being heard and seen.

Stay engaged at meetings.

We’ve all been tempted — you’re in Zoom or Teams meetings for most of your day, and your last meeting of the day is a one-on-one with an employee. But, you haven’t looked at your email since this morning, and maybe you could just read a few messages while they’re talking? Or, maybe it’s a larger team meeting, and you just want to take your camera off and go to your kitchen to refill your coffee. Again, I say: don’t do it.

Whenever I’m tempted to do something other than be an active part of a virtual meeting, I always ask myself, “Would you take this action or do this task if you were in the same room with these people, or this one person?” If the answer is “no” — and, it usually is — I wait. Multi-tasking might serve you momentarily, but it also sends a clear message to your team — that what you’re doing is less interesting and important than what they have to say. 

Respect your team’s circumstances.

When I say circumstances, I mean all circumstances. Even if vaccination rates are increasing and cases are declining across the United States, your international teams may be living through the current iteration of the pandemic differently. There might be parents on your team that will continue to send their children to virtual school. Independent of the challenges of COVID-19, there might be team members that are taking care of elderly parents, or someone close to them is ill. Be respectful of those circumstances, and ask if there’s anything you can do to make things easier. 

This goes for circumstances that are just part of doing business in a global world — time zones. Of course, sometimes you will have to schedule meetings that are occasionally inconvenient for some of your team members, but as much as you can — try to be accommodating. Put yourself in your team’s shoes. How would you feel if your manager was consistently scheduling meetings at 6 am or 6 pm at night? 

The truth is, there’s no magic formula to managing remote teams. It simply comes down to having empathy for your team, seeing and hearing them, and treating them how you want to be treated if the roles were reversed. 

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