It’s hard enough to manage a team when everyone is right in front of you… so how are you supposed to manage a remote team that doesn’t share physical space?
Hybrid work is growing at an exponential rate, so chances are that your workplace is about to go hybrid (if it hasn’t already). Around 85% of companies based in the U.S. now offer remote employment options, and more than half of all global companies have become hybrid or are fully remote by now. While offering remote options can be great for productivity, there are some specific challenges unique to managing a remote team. It can be difficult to keep track of all the moving pieces and to align flexible schedules for optimal workflow and collaboration. Whether you’re a manager who’s remote or on-site, here’s a guide to managing remote workers.
Create clear expectations with your remote workers
Time differences and flexible hours make it challenging to keep track of what everyone’s working on, so it’s important to set expectations early. Make sure that you’re on the same page regarding a project’s time frame, that you’re clear about what to prioritize, and that you clear any issues of availability ahead of time.
This also means being comfortable with giving specific feedback, both positive and negative. When you’re a manager of remote employees, it’s not enough to simply tell someone that something is good. You have to tell them why it’s good. That way, if something falls short in the future, there are clear guidelines for getting back on track. When you’re not working in the same place at the same time, clarity matters more than ever.
Set boundaries around remote time
Even a flexible schedule should have its limitations. Figure out a schedule that both you and your team member can agree upon, and then stick to it. This will protect you and your remote team members from accidentally pinging someone in a different time zone in the middle of the night. It will also make your team feel like their time is more valued. If your remote team feels like you respect their work-life balance, then they’ll be more inclined to respect yours, and take your requests and feedback seriously.
Have one-on-ones with your remote workers
If you’ve been reading along with our series on remote work, then you know how we feel about check-ins. Frequent communication is the key to successful remote work relationships. Your teammates need to feel like you are present in their work lives—especially since you aren’t face-to-face. A regular one-on-one—whether an informal daily rundown or a weekly video conference to go over whats on the docket, or even a live IRL conversation on occasion—will help establish trust.
Trust the project management system
Part of being a great manager is knowing when to leave your team members alone so that they can get their work done. You want to strike the right balance: be present and available, but also give everyone enough space. This can be a tricky tightrope to walk when you’re at the helm of a hybrid team. But it might help to use a project management system to keep track of the whole team’s progress—and to curb any impulses you might have to micromanage. Check out our list of the best tools for remote working to figure out what the right management tool might be for you.
Just because your team members might be on different schedules doesn’t mean they ought to feel siloed from each other. Find ways to encourage your team members to collaborate—and start by making spaces where they can all share what they’re working on.
Organize a weekly hangout, which can rotate times depending on the time zones that you’re negotiating. If you’re a small team, this can be an informal, standup-style meeting, where everyone shares a little bit about what they’re working on. If you’re on a larger team, make this more of an all-hands meeting, with brief demos and presentations from a rotating cast of employees. This will help bring awareness to all of the good work that’s happening in the company—and ultimately, it’ll bring people together.
This kind of weekly meeting would also be an excellent time to celebrate your team’s successes. As a manager, you want to make sure that when good work is done, it’s rewarded—this will also help keep your many remote employees motivated and connected.
Foster team bonding
Find ways for your team members to get to know each other outside of work. If you’re on a small team, you can easily encourage team bonding by instigating it yourself: Initiate group messages on Slack or plan occasional in-person events, like a monthly team lunch.
If you’re managing a larger team, you might need a little help fostering camaraderie. Try Donut, a Slack plug-in that randomly pairs different team members together for a virtual coffee or lunch—encouraging skill-sharing and mentoring. This will help foster a more collaborative work space over time.
Remember why managers are important
Ultimately, the role of a manager is to be as helpful as possible. You’re the glue that keeps your entire hybrid team together. And the more receptive you are to your team’s problems, the better things will run. This also means being willing to receive feedback, especially on how you can do better at setting goals and expectations. The more you can work toward fostering positive relationships between you and your team, the more solid your team will feel—and the better its performance will be, whether your teammates are working from the beach or from their couch at home.
This story is part of our new series on remote work. Looking for a more flexible, remote work schedule yourself? Check out How to Ask Your Boss About Remote Working here!