5 Research-Backed Ways to Effectively Manage Remote Teams

By Emily Roner | Updated: 15 Nov, 2018

Remote teams are often hailed as an embodiment of employee freedom and enabler of creativity and work-life balance. However, to be successful, they must have strong guidance to unite around KPIs, shared goals, and deliverable expectations. Without it, projects face tons of miscommunications and struggle to make it to the finish line.

According to Julie Wilson, the founder of the Future of Learning Institute at Harvard, managing a remote team requires leaders to “double down on the fundamentals of good management, including establishing clear goals, running great meetings, communicating clearly, and leveraging team members' individual and collective strengths.”

This doesn’t mean that managers need to hover over their distributed workers. Instead, leaders must be highly intentional about providing the information, structures, and resources their remote teams need to execute a single vision from all around the world.

Here are five actions that everyone leading a remote team must take.


 1) Create Structures for Transparency and Accountability

Studies show that managing remote teams requires a more disciplined leadership style than local ones. People who work from home lack the transparency and accountability that naturally occurs in offices so, it is management’s responsibility to create those critical components of productivity.

The easiest way to create transparency and accountability is to use project management tools such as Monday, Asana, and JIRA. Require employees to keep the tool updated with the tasks they’re working on so everyone knows who is responsible for what and when the team can expect deliverables to be completed.

Have your employees break their projects into milestones and set deadlines for each one with your project management tool. Instruct them to attach evidence of milestone completion to each task and have a discussion with them when they miss deadlines.

This ensures that everyone is held accountable for completing their work and gives you an opportunity to step in and support those who are struggling before they back up the rest of your team.

2) Systematically Keep Everyone in the Loop

When you’re managing a remote team, one of your most important responsibilities is maintaining lines of communication that ensure everyone stays in the loop and miscommunications don’t derail projects. Research from the Harvard Business Review found that remote workers are significantly more likely to feel disconnected than in-office employees so, you must invest more effort speaking to them.

Here are some actionable ways to maintain communication on remote teams:

  • Send weekly email updates with information that everyone should be aware of.
  • Create detailed project plans that outline precisely what results remote teams are expected to produce, the guidelines they must follow, and who is responsible for every part. These plans eliminate tons of confusion.
  • Require employees to message all relevant individuals at least one business day before deviating from project plans. This warns other remote team members and gives them a chance to weigh in.
  • Require employees to send out-of-office emails to the entire company when they will be unreachable on a business day.
  • Require employees to respond to all messages within twenty-four hours on weekdays.

You can think of your constant communication like office chatter. In offices, makes messages spread fast and gives employees ample opportunity to get clarifications. Communicating frequently ensures that people are always in the loop and feel comfortable asking questions.

Read More: 4 Compassionate Ways to Boost Employee Efficiency


3) Have a Robust Resource Library

One of the biggest challenges that remote employees face, particularly new ones, is being unable to get immediate answers to their questions. This causes productivity setbacks that often interfere with deadlines.

Resource libraries alleviate that issue by giving remote teams access to an abundance of information to resolve common problems.

Here are the materials you should include in the initial launch of your resource library:

  • A folder containing general company information such as values, policies, key contacts, etc.
  • Folders for all of your functional teams so people can quickly find the information that is most relevant to them.
  • Instructions on how to use all of your current tools
  • All of the processes each team uses on a regular basis
  • General best practices each team should follow
  • Guidelines for common projects

These materials will give your remote team a solid foundation. The more you add to it, provided you clearly label every page, the less likely they are to face setbacks due to a lack of information.

You should constantly update with new information as your company changes processes, starts new types of projects, best practices for using new tools, etc.

Read More: How to Inspire Goal Commitment From Your Team


4) Schedule Biweekly Brainstorming Meetings

According to a Siemens Enterprise Communications study, over 50% of remote workers struggle to maintain trust and consistent dialog with their teams.

An effective way to resolve that is to host brainstorming sessions that give people an opportunity to air their ideas and set up times for further collaboration.

Keep in mind that brainstorming isn’t limited to sharing new ideas. You should use these meetings to encourage your team members to share challenges they’re having and insights they discovered. Then, have them collaboratively generate solutions and methods of implementing new knowledge.

Here are some tips to have effective virtual brainstorming sessions:

  • Require employees to come to the meeting prepared with at least one new idea, a challenge they’re facing, or an insight they want to share with the team.
  • Limit discussions that don’t involve the entire team. Instead, direct people to talk in smaller groups following the meeting.
  • Use video and screen-sharing. It makes the meetings more personal and interactive.
  • Require everyone to be fully present and not working on other tasks.
  • Assign someone to send out an email with action steps following the meeting.

Seek feedback from your team for additional ways to improve your meetings; their buy-in is critical for these brainstorming sessions to be successful.


5) Encourage Employees to Develop Friendships

A survey of remote workers found that loneliness is tied as the biggest challenge that they face. Often, this is because workers don’t know how to start casual conversations that spark friendships.

Research shows that work relationships play a major role in employee happiness and engagement so, it’s important for managers to create a friendly virtual work environment.

As a virtual assistant company with employees and clients around the world, we’ve overcome this by using small talk at the beginning of our meetings to learn about one another’s interests. Then, we use those details to create personal connections in day-to-day interactions.

Our virtual assistants often develop close relationships with the members they support through actions such as:

  • Attaching kitty GIFs and a positive message to a routine email after hearing that a member’s beloved cat was sick.
  • Making happy birthday videos.
  • Sending good luck messages before marathons and other sporting events
  • Chatting about people’s favorite football teams.
  • Sending gifts for new babies
  • And much more

Though our members and VA never meet in person, they’re supportive of the significant events in each other’s lives and can have friendly conversations just as easily as focused business discussions. While this may seem just like a feel-good benefit, it has several very practical effects including:

  • It establishes trust so that no one hesitates to reach out or ask clarifying questions.
  • It gives our team a nuanced understanding of each other’s preferences. Our VAs use this to be more proactive in helping their members.
  • It eases tension during conflicts. Mistakes are inevitable. When remote team members have a strong camaraderie, they’re more likely to collaboratively resolve problems rather than dysfunctionally point fingers.

Encourage friendly behaviors by having the leaders in your company make an effort to foster personal connections with remote team members. As they observe your leaders' actions, most will begin to take similar ones themselves and start to develop friendships with their colleagues.


About the author: Emily formerly led Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.