How To Manage Remote Teams

With many professionals now faced with managing remote teams, the experts at HumanX HR share top tips to help culture, performance and smooth working.

Managers and Leaders
Jan 2024

Tips on how to manage remote teams by HR experts 

There are many benefits to hybrid and remote working for both employers and employees, but nobody said managing remote teams would be easy. If you’ve found it difficult at times, you’re certainly not alone.

The good news? Many lessons have been learnt over the past few years to provide a clearer roadmap for successful outcomes. Whether you need help leading remote teams towards a common goal or building culture in remote teams while overcoming the absence of in-person connection, we’ve compiled an expert guide to address many of the challenges observed across numerous industries and sectors. 

Our specialist team has worked across a multitude of workplaces, engaging with employees scattered all across the globe. Below, we share the key differences when it comes to managing remote teams and the practical tips you can utilise for smoother working and high-achieving remote team performance.

How managing remote teams is going to be different 

Whether it’s a small team or a large-scale global structure, managing remote teams presents unique challenges that any HR department should be able to navigate. Below are a few of the key differences to be aware of when leading remote teams.

Time zones & languages

One of the perks of remote working is that companies now have the ability to attract top talent from all over the world. For those leading a global team or workforce, this means recognising that team members may not live in the same city, country or time zone. Setting in-work hours or meetings across time zones requires careful attention to avoid interfering with employees offline and personal time. For some, it can also mean leading remote teams where individuals speak different languages or have a different primary language, in which clear communication becomes even more imperative to avoid misunderstandings. 

Information accessibility 

Smooth work requires smooth access. Having all the necessary tools, data and company information available for all workers empowers them to be able to do their job properly. By granting this access securely, and introducing policies and procedures to establish boundaries, information can be shared safely, in a way that both benefits employees and protects the company.

Fostering connection 

Culture forms an important part of any workplace. Through the loss of in-person communication and in-office comradery, remote working can pose a risk for employee disengagement. Research has found employee disengagement can lead to an 18% lower productivity rate, 15% lower profitability rate, and higher absenteeism rate. Without proper strategies for building culture in remote teams, this can ultimately lead to low morale and higher turnover.

Lack of visibility

Similarly, the absence of in-person communication and even the inability to read body language makes noticing these shifts in culture and employee engagement much harder for managers. With a lack of visibility and feedback from team leaders, employers could be more liable to overloading or overwhelming employees. This lack of visibility is also why managing remote teams requires tangible ways to track progress—not just for remote team performance but also individual performance. Transparency when it comes to roles and the delegation of tasks ensures that each employee is held accountable (with a sense of responsibility often leading to higher buy-in too) and are contributing towards the team goal. 

Top Tip for Managing Remote Teams 

Remote working doesn’t have to be a barrier when it comes to team performance. In fact, a study of over 12,000 employees found that those who worked from home were 20% happier on average than those who didn’t have the ability to work remotely. 

Considering happy employees equals higher productivity and retention rates, learning how to manage remote teams effectively is likely to produce better results than a return-to-office policy. Here are some top tips to keep in mind.

  1. Make space for authentic conversations 

Positive relationships are a key ingredient to a positive work environment. It’s important to make a conscious effort to forge these relationships with friendly interactions so that every conversation with remote workers isn’t just a delegation of projects or checking up on tasks. Without casual chats in the kitchen while making coffee, it’s easy for remote workers to feel disconnected and isolated. 

  1. Don’t over-rely on tools 

While there are plenty of platforms available for managing your team’s work, projects and tasks online — nothing beats having a conversation. Sure, you could simply assign tasks digitally to the relevant people and move on. However, by consulting those involved in the project before assigning, you could not only gain valuable input and expertise but make remote employees feel more informed and appreciated. Check out our article on promoting collaboration in the workplace for more insight. 

  1. Clear boundaries & expectations for work

The first step to successful remote team performance? Setting clear expectations of what that success should look like. These expectations will vary depending on your company, industry and each specific role but should generally include clear boundaries regarding: work hours, benefits and compensation, company policy compliance and home office equipment. If you need help implementing remote work policies, consider outsourcing HR.

  1. Rethink how you approach development

When work shadowing and in-person mentoring isn’t an option, professional development for remote workers can often fall by the wayside. Be sure to check in with your remote workers to discover their goals and what excites them. You can help them to advance their career through budget funds for online courses, virtual seminars, or getting a new certification — location need not be a barrier.

Remember, that development isn’t all about hard skills. Soft skills, like leadership, communication and problem solving are also critical for any employee looking to move forward within their role. Coaching sessions can help to develop these skills, and unite a team together. 

  1. Prioritise feedback

Once you’ve set clear expectations, make time to regularly provide feedback. Remind your team of the big picture and how their tasks are contributing. This can be through weekly one-on-ones, where you can also discuss any work-related Q&As, mentoring needs or have a social chat to connect. Appreciation always feels good too, and a consistent check-in meeting is a great way to ensure hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.

  1. Prioritise documentation 

Whether you’re sharing written directions after a training session, providing appraisal 

notes or gathering feedback, following up conversations with documentation not only aids 

communication but can empower employees with a sense of autonomy. When setting 

expectations, documentation will also help to negate the risk of misunderstandings.

  1. Set deadlines and don’t micro-manage

When delegating tasks, always confirm a deadline for the completion of work with the team or employee to aid transparency and expectation. Be available to answer questions and provide guidance if needed but grant them the allocated time to produce the result without interruption. This will help to avoid mico-managing and give employees a sense of responsibility and trust, as well as visibility over the task.

  1. Encourage communication outside of the immediate team

Depending on your company or industry, certain departments will often cross over and require your team members to communicate with those outside of your immediate team. Likewise, some roles require communication with external partners. When managing remote teams, it’s important to extend introductions and provide a brief outline of a co-worker’s role (what they do and when they should be contacted) so that your employees are equipped with the confidence and details they need to reach out when required. An internal directory tool may also be useful.

  1. Lead by example

It’s one thing to set boundaries and expectations with your team, it’s another to show them. If you’d like work hours respected, don’t message once they’ve clocked off. If you promised to deliver a presentation by a certain date, stick to that deadline. If you’ve scheduled one-on-ones, show up with feedback. Leading remote teams is challenging but it can be less so when the respect is mutual.

Building Culture in Remote Teams 

Not surprisingly, building culture in remote teams is one of the biggest challenges facing company leaders today. When the swift move to remote working began in 2020, a Harvard survey found 41% of leaders struggled to keep their remote team members engaged. Similarly, only 40% of employees working from home reported feeling supported by their superiors.

Fast forward to today, and with 97% of professionals wanting to work remotely at least some of the time, this way of working isn’t going anywhere—companies need to adjust. And as more teams go remote, new data is proving that there can be serious benefits when done well.

For example, on average companies can save up to $11,000 per employee in terms of overhead costs if they switch to remote work. Not to mention a potential saving in turnover costs, given data indicates that 44% of people know at least one person who’s quit (or planning to quit) a position because of the lack of a remote work option, while 79% of people said they’d be more loyal to their employers if they could work remotely.

Flexible work is also associated with decreased stress, higher productivity and wellbeing, ultimately leading to better employee engagement. Of course, all of these benefits hinge on having the right strategies in place to support connectedness and employee morale. Some tips for building culture in remote teams include:

  • Employee recognition schemes – Highlighting team achievements can work wonders for morale. Consider having rewards in place to acknowledge hard work frequently as well as an open channel for ‘wins’ and ‘shout-outs’ to be called out.
  • Make time for fun – The absence of office interactions often means far less spontaneous ‘fun’ moments in between tasks. Make time for virtual team building and have your team connect over quizzes, games and activities. 
  • Thorough onboarding process – Your onboarding program should be highly descriptive and supportive in order to set new (and remote) employees up for success. Build in frequent opportunities for employees to feel valued and heard. Set the tone of your company from the outset.
  • Express the business’ personality online – If you want your company to come off as friendly, supportive and a great place to work, how this is communicated is key. Think about how you’d like your business to be presented online (its tone, demeanour etc) and coach leaders to express this in their everyday interactions.

When teams (that are fully remote, hybrid or otherwise) work cohesively and have a genuine connection with each other, higher employee engagement, retention rates, productivity and an overall happier culture follows. Contact our expert HR consultants today for support with remote working policies, hybrid working tools, appraisals and more.

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