How to manage a remote team for the first time

If you are newly in charge of a remote team, this guide will help you hit the ground running

Today 4.7 million Americans work remotely, an increase of 44% over the past five years. Technology has made it easier (and more affordable in some instances) for companies to hire completely remote teams. For instance, many Fortune 500 companies like Amazon, Dell and Intuit have remote teams and the trend continues to grow.

Still, the current coronavirus outbreak marked the first time many managers had to coordinate operations entirely online. Chances are that the transition wasn’t exactly seamless. But while these circumstances are atypical—and temporary—remote work is here to stay in some form or another.

As more and more companies set up remote teams, it’s important that managers learn how to manage from afar. If you are newly in charge of a remote team, this guide will help you hit the ground running.

Manage expectations

Remote teams come in all shapes and sizes, and there are many variables that impact a remote team’s success—from the type of work you handle to the resources available to you.

Your first job as a manager is to set clear expectations. If this is a temporary team, assembled solely to complete one project, each team member should know his or her schedule, key performance indicators (KPIs) and the milestone markers to strive for. If it’s a permanent team, team members should understand the expectations and values of the company at large and know their precise duties and role in the company.

At the start, overcommunicate. Set up a routine and stick to it. If you call a meeting, make sure it starts on time. Building a cadence of meeting times, call schedules and uninterrupted work time will help team members figure out their own daily schedules.

When you set the expectation that consistency is key, team members will respect one another’s time. This is a crucial element of any remote team, especially one operating in multiple time zones.

Organize your communication

Technology enables remote work in the first place, but it also facilitates productivity. There are so many valuable communication tools for remote workers that the problem isn’t finding ways to communicate, but rather finding the right ways to communicate.

Nobody wants to spend 10 minutes on the phone answering a question that could have been solved in two quick messages. At the same time, nobody wants to get stuck in a 100-message email chain when a quick phone or video call could have easily solved the problem.

Your team should know what questions or updates belong in a Slack or instant message, an email, a phone call or what should be escalated to a video call. Figuring out what works for your team may take time, and the process may evolve as you use some trial and error to refine your processes.

Here are some basic rules of thumb for your team:

  • Keep your calendar up-to-date
  • Establish working hours for the team and honor them on all channels
  • Have anyone who is stepping away for an extended period (whether for lunch, an appointment, etc.) let the team know on Slack (or whatever messaging platform you use
  • Update calendars with vacation time.

Working from home should mean more communication, not less. For managers, that means figuring out what channels are best for different types of communication and making sure your team is on the same page.

Respect agendas

Slack and Google Hangouts are excellent tools for teams to stay connected and in near-constant communication. But when you schedule a meeting, keep it concise. You’ll have to decide the best meeting cadence for your team, but team members should know to come prepared to every meeting.

Whenever you schedule a meeting, include an agenda. Even if it is just a daily standup, your team should know what the meeting purpose is and how they’ll need to prepare.

During each meeting, either annotate the agenda yourself or assign someone to do it so you know who is owning what, what actions you need to take, or what you need to follow up on. Setting and honoring agendas for every meeting promotes accountability and transparency. It also shows your team you respect their time and will encourage them to follow the same guidelines for any meetings they run.

Check in regularly

You may feel like you have a pulse on your team from daily Slack or Google Hangouts banter, but to really understand how they’re doing, you should speak directly with each member of your team on a regular basis.

Your team members should have frequent opportunities to provide feedback. Employees are unlikely to voice concerns in public forums, which is why it’s crucial that you speak directly to them about specific projects, the direction of the company, their growth and happiness and how you can best support them.

For these types of check-ins, video is essential. Video conferencing tools like Zoom make one-on-one meetings feel more personal and can give you a better gauge on how team members are really feeling. Take the time to schedule one-on-one meetings with each member of your staff at least every other week.

And while it may be tempting, don’t spend the entire call talking about work. Use these meetings to make sure everything’s going well in an employee’s life and see if there’s anything they need to complete their work more efficiently.

The bottom line: Support your remote team

Ultimately, your job as manager of a remote team isn’t so different from managing a team in person. Set expectations, communicate information and goals clearly and support your staff. It may require a more proactive touch, but managing a remote team is easy when everyone understands their job, respects their coworkers and knows they can always voice their concerns. By creating this environment for your team, you’ll be able to work effectively no matter where you are.


Sally Lauckner is the editor-in-chief at Fundera, a marketplace for small business financial solutions. With over a decade of experience in print and online journalism, Lauckner has written and edited extensively on small business and personal finance. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University and a bachelor's degree in English and history from Columbia University.

Categories: COVID-19, Management & Leadership