The 6 Essential Skills for Effectively Managing REMOTE TEAMS


Having Virtual or Remote staff is not a new concept.
Many organisations have had teams working remotely for a very long time.
But today, this is no longer just a trend, it’s a necessity!

As a leader, it is vital you adapt quickly to this change and take advantage of its benefits… whilst mitigating its risks and challenges.

When the topic of remote work comes up, it’s quite common for people to be doubtful about how to get it to work best, particularly those with newly remote workers.

One of the issues with working from home is that people can feel isolated and disconnected, or they can get very distracted.

Many people don’t cope well with this style of working, while others love it.

But for both sides it’s important you set it up well and continue to check in with your team to make sure everything is working for them and obviously work is still getting done.

Research on Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Contagion tells us that employees look to their managers for cues about how to react to sudden changes like this.

The purpose of this MasterClass is to help inform you so that you can set the best example possible during these turbulent times and Manage your Remote Team in the most effective way.

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In the video above, we’ll give you the 6 Essential Skills you need for Effectively Managing Remote Teams.

If you would like to learn more ways to Effectively Manage your Remote Team, you can view the full-length lesson in our Great Managers MasterClass. For a limited time, you can subscribe to our MasterClass for free.

Click on the button below to find out more!
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[Don’t like videos? Video Transcription Below!]

How to Effectively Manage Remote Teams

Working remotely changes the team’s interpersonal dynamics, even if you don’t want it to.

This is where knowing your team members becomes even more important.

Things like their personality type, their strengths and weaknesses their needs and their family or home situation.

Skill 1 – Build Trust

remote worker,home office,manager

The foundation of high performance in any team is trust. This becomes even more important now.

Building and maintaining trust relies on connection communication and relationship building.

So, as a leader you need to take intentional steps to build trust… to fill in those connection gaps when your team is working remotely.

Default to Transparency

Zapier, a company that is expert at remote working describes this as default to transparency.

This is actually one of their company values.

Communicate more than you think is necessary

With some (or all) of your team working physically alone, it can be easy to unintentionally withhold information, or not give enough context to explain decisions or actions.

Pay attention to how and when you share information and look for opportunities to create transparency. Regular check-ins will help too.

It’s really important to communicate more than you think is necessary rather than less.

Be Aware of your Teams’ “Affinity Distance”

According to Karen Sobel Lojeski from the Stony Brook University, teams that are vulnerable to problems when working remotely are those that have what she calls a high Affinity Distance.

A high Affinity Distance means that there’s an emotional separation between team members.

They’re not connected to each other. They don’t share the same values or attitudes to work.

When this is the case it’s easier for people to lie, make excuses and not support each other.

Lack of trust will get in the way of productivity with remote working and lack of trust makes us assume the worst about someone, so use this time to get to know your people better because generally the more you know someone the more you trust them.

For our Great Managers members and MasterClass subscribers have a look at our MasterClass on Building Trust in Teams for some more specific information about what to do here.

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Skill 2 – Set Clear Expectations

Another skill that becomes even more important when working remotely is setting clear expectations.

Get very clear about what needs to be done by whom and by when. Your planning skills are really going to come into play here.

Plan for the Priorities. What’s the highest priority this week? What’s the highest priority this month?

What do you and the team need to deliver?

remote work plan,managing virtual teams

This is where a simple work plan can be very helpful to make sure that everyone knows what’s expected and you’re all on the same page,

Agree on Signals About Availability

Another important aspect of setting clear expectations is agreeing on signals about availability.

When are you free to talk? When aren’t you?

Remember that we’re missing the usual visual cues and we all know that constant interruptions are not good for productivity!

Skill 3 – Ultra-Clear Communication

Spend the time to communicate with the intention of being ultra-clear.

No matter the medium that you’re using.

Brevity ≠ Efficient

Sometimes when we’re communicating on the phone or online, rather than in person, we might use fewer words or use brevity, thinking we’re
being more efficient.

But it’s not efficient if people have to spend a lot of time trying to work out what you really meant or have missed half the message!

Master Your Listening Skills

Listening skills are paramount as we’re missing some of the nonverbals.

Being really present is needed. Master your listening skills like paraphrasing and clarifying.

Make sure you understand each other. Use video calls whenever you can for important information exchanges so that you can see more body language.

Establish Communication Norms for your Remote team

Establish some communication norms for your team that will help with clarity.

We’re all aware of shorthand like FYI (for your information) and I’ve heard of remote teams developing their own shorthand for messages with each other particularly in emails.

Find out what works best for team members, as norms can also exist on an individual level such as people’s preferred response time, writing style and tone.

For example, some individuals prefer short and quick messages while others favour lengthy and detailed responses.

Being able to tailor for individual needs is relatively easy if you have a small team, but it’s much harder if your team is large so do your best!

Now if you’re a CEO or general manager and your staff are working remotely, keeping in touch with all of them is very important now.

You might hold virtual “Town Hall” style meetings if you’ve been used to doing that sort of thing face to face.

Or a personal email to all staff on a Friday letting them know about some of the highlights of the week, updating them on what’s coming up and wishing them a good weekend can work wonders.

remote working,checking phone,managing teams

Communication is the tool that you need to stay connected. Communicate more than you think is necessary, rather than less.

Not enough communication is what causes people to feel isolated, invisible or not valued in a remote team.

Skill 4 – Regular check-ins

Regular check-ins help you manage effectively at the best of times and become even more important with remote work.

One of the key success factors in remote work is having structure.

Daily Individual or Team Chats

We all work better with the right routines so one of your routines might be to check-in via a quick phone call to your team members each day to say hi and have a brief chat.

Or you might decide to start each workday with a 30-minute team check-in that provides a chance for everyone to say hi to each other, share information or ask questions.

Ask Your Team for Input

It’s well worth asking your team for input on this. Ask them what do we need to do collectively to stay productive and engaged together.

Weekly or Fortnightly 1 on 1 Meetings

A regular one-on-one check-in where you discuss work priorities and deliverables is important too.

This meeting is more structured and should be ideally weekly, or at a pinch fortnightly.

Monthly might work for these when you’re co-located and having spontaneous face-to-face conversations but it’s way too long when working remotely.

Shorter, more regular meetings work better than occasional longer ones.

This is one of the routines that often slides or doesn’t get done. It needs to become a higher priority with a remote team.

Skill 5 – Managing Productivity and Performance

Keeping up with your employees’ progress is important for teams in the same physical location and even more so for remote teams.

Productivity and progress should be metrics for any team and reviewed and discussed on a regular basis.

Make these types of conversations part of your new normal.

Providing regular feedback can help team members improve their work and lessen the chance of them delivering low quality work.

It also keeps them accountable.

Give positive feedback about what has been done well and corrective feedback when they’ve gone off track.

Provide feedback at every check-in. (Your staff will appreciate it). Regular feedback is a big contributor to employee engagement and motivation.

Become Accomplishment Focused

One of the important things to do when managing a remote team is to become more accomplishment focused rather than activity focused.

Focus on outcomes and deliverables through your regular check-ins.

video conference,work from home,managing remote staff

Activity focus can lead to dependency in your team and also to micromanaging. So, be clear about outcomes and deliverables and then get out of their way.

Skill 6 – Proactively Manage Poor Performance

Let’s talk about managing poor performance in a remote worker.

When you are managing a remote team it’s more important than ever to tackle any issues about performance.

Because your team members are out of sight this means poor performance can take longer to notice (unless you’re being really proactive about it). …And we all know that avoidance of these issues makes them worse, not better.

The first thing to remember is that nobody comes to work wanting to be a poor performer.

If you’ve just started working remotely this change is a good opportunity to reset your expectations about performance.

Set Crystal Clear Expectations and Examples

Start by setting crystal clear expectations about what good performance or success means.

Be clear about any concerns that you have and get the person involved in coming up with a solution to address those concerns.

For example, if you’ve got a worker who already struggles to meet deadlines or deliver work on time chances are that they might need some strategies to structure their workday from home. Once you’ve identified what the issue is, ask them how they will tackle it.

Be Clear about Concerns, Talk Straight

This is where your ability to give skillful feedback and talk Straight is really important.

As author Brene Brown says:

“Clear is kind, unclear is unkind.”

Coach Your Remote Team

Resist the temptation to tell them what they need to do, and how to do it.

Coach them rather than tell them. Ask good questions to develop their problem-solving skills.

Remote workers will come across challenges they’ll need to solve all the time so use an approach to performance management that encourages them to build their problem-solving skills and get more resourceful.

Use a Performance Plan

Use a document like a performance plan to keep a clear record of your discussions.

This is useful for a couple of reasons:

  • It means you’ve got a roadmap to follow from one conversation to the next and you can document improvements or changes made and
  • It also gives you a record in case you need it in the future

Seek Support from HR

If you can’t get this person’s performance back on track, you’ve tried all these things and nothing changes it’s really time to change gears.

Discuss your situation with your HR manager (or HR professionals available to you) because it might be time to move to a disciplinary approach and you’ll need their help for that.

Next Steps

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If you would like to learn more ways to Effectively Manage your Remote Team, you can view the full-length lesson in our Great Managers MasterClass. For a limited time, you can subscribe to our MasterClass for free. Click here for more info.