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How to lead remote teams: Tips and tools for managers

Managers are looking for extra guidance during this unquestionably strange time. How can they best support their people, while still making sure that productivity and engagement stay high? Here’s some advice from the experts...

1. Trust your people

Now is an opportunity to focus on results, not presenteeism. As Dave Gilbert, VP of Talent at Gitlab says: “Don’t be a clock watcher.”

After all, “The coolest part of working from home is there isn’t an expectation to be at your desk. Watch the results, but not time in the chair,” he advises. 

2. Ask your people how they’re doing

Communicate and then communicate some more, says Benjamin Granger from the XM Institute: “Communicate even more than you think is necessary,” he says. “Results from our latest EX trends report clearly indicated that employees want to be surveyed during times of major organizational change.”

Staying closely connected to your employees is always important, but in these uncertain times, it is critical.

David Landman, Head of Talent Assessment at Goldman Sachs

Qualtrics Manager of EX Solutions Strategy Steve Bennetts agrees: “What we’ve found is that companies that listen more and take action off the back of that listening have a significant increase in employee engagement.”

Read more about communicating effectively with your teams.

3. Don’t expect to have all the answers

“Managers want to feel like they can help in any scenario,” says Steve. “But in times of uncertainty it’s OK not to know. It’s OK to say, ‘I’m not sure – let’s figure it out together.’”

In fact, in unprecedented times like these, it’s better to be figuring it out together rather than just telling people what to do.

“Crowdsource ideas,” says Steve. “Now is the time to really tap into how people are feeling and to be asking them how they need to be supported.” You’re far more than likely to get unexpected ideas that the leadership team may have never thought of.

4. Don’t expect 100% right now

“Now is not the time to be expecting 100% from your people,” says Lori McLeese, Global Head of Human Resources at Automattic. “Make sure that you make that clear.”

5. Be empathic

“Empathy is extremely important at the moment,” says Courtney Seiter, Director of People at Buffer. Especially for those with family responsibilities who need to fit work around childcare, or caring for elderly relatives. “So what if you can hear someone’s child in the background on a call? Be kind and try and be as understanding as possible.”

6. Find out more about your people

“Do get to know them personally,” says Dave Gilbert, VP of Talent at Gitlab. “Spend the extra time required to get to know them personally.”

7. Listen and then act

Let your people feel heard. When your workforce is disparate it’s even more important for people to feel like they not only have a voice, but that their voice is valuable.“

What's your biggest struggle with working remotely?

  • Unplugging after work: 22%
  • Loneliness: 17%
  • Collaboration / Communication: 10%

- Buffer's 2019 State of Remote Work Report

8. Give remote employees the same advantages as HQ employees

This may seem a little crazy, but sometimes just a video conference isn’t enough. Have you ever been in a call as the only one not in the conference room? You can feel disconnected and may have a hard time expressing your opinions about the topic. There is an energy that you don’t get to be a part of. As a manager, I tried something a little different that worked pretty well. For big group meetings I had everyone dial in, rather than having a few people in a conference room and a few people online.

The result was everyone being on the same medium and at the same disadvantage. That may seem a little extreme, so you could also just be hyper aware of the remote employees not in the room to ensure they are included in topics or their opinions are asked. As the manager, it’s partly up to you to provide an environment for remote work to succeed.

9. Lead informal conversations on Slack

Conversing with your remote team doesn’t strictly have to be about the tasks at hand. Your communication back and forth should go beyond what is currently being worked on. Leading informative conversations on Slack to your various teams can help them leverage the knowledge you give them, apply it to their work, and add their own ideas to the mix. Found a good article related to the design field? Want to experiment with a new marketing strategy? Tell your team. Inform them, educate them, and be receptive to their input.

10. Be a remote worker advocate

Practice what you preach. I’m sure you have heard that a million times before, but it holds merit. Don’t hire remote workers simply because it may be easier or save you money, but rather, advocate for the value remote workers can bring to the table, not only for business owners, but for aspiring or current remote workers as well. Advocating for remote workers will allow your remote team to feel like a larger part of the entire picture which is a challenge a significant amount of remote workers deal with. When working away from an office, workers may feel as if they aren’t an important part of the team when in reality, they contribute highly. Understand, practice, preach, share, advocate!

You can also learn this well by working remotely yourself at times. If your work allows, you can work remotely once a week or more to get a feel for what people on your team might be encountering. Empathy and understanding for remote work will help you to be a better manager of remote workers.

11. Hold regular 1:1’s

More commonly than with office workers, remote workers may feel a gap between what they contribute to the business and the business themselves. Holding regular 1:1’s to go over their work, address any concerns, listen to their ideas, and plan ahead can make all the difference for bridging that gap. These meetings don’t have to be long. Sometimes when I hold 1:1s they are 5 minutes and other times they are 50. The real key is to have it on the calendar blocked out for that discussion.

12. Hold accountable through OKR tools or virtual goal platforms

At the end of the day, your business has goals and objectives that you need to reach in order to stay afloat and maximize profit. Remote workers, just like in office workers, should be held accountable for their objectives and goals. OKR tools can help organize and reiterate KPIS, goals, objectives, and targets. Virtual goal platforms can bring these stats to light and allow owners and workers to go over them, make changes, address concerns, or remodel certain ones.

5 Remote team collaboration tools to use

Collaboration is especially important when it comes to working with remote employees because you can’t just walk into someone's office or arrange an in-person meeting, you have to get a little more creative with how you effectively collaborate and communicate.

1. CloudApp

Visuals play a massive role when it comes to better understanding what people are doing and how they are doing certain tasks. CloudApp allows for easy visual collaboration through screen and webcam recording. Remote workers can show team members exactly what they are doing, their process, the final result, etc. This can alleviate the back and forth emails trying to put everything into words and the potential for miscommunication.

2. Slack

I challenge you to find someone working in the digital space who ISN’T on Slack. It goes without saying that Slack is a popular and extremely useful tool for collaboration. The ability to create a number of streams allows for better organization of teams and tasks. For example, you can have a stream for designers, a stream for developers, and a team for a certain short-term project. This can help ensure tasks and messages don’t get lost in the mix of things.

3. Airtable

While on the topic of organization and its role in collaboration, I have to touch on Airtable. Airtable is an easy to use planner and calendar that can organize all your tasks at hand. Tasks can be organized by team, type of task, due date, urgency, etc. Although you can do a lot using Airtable, the interface is clean and simple - any remote team member can get the hang of it!

4. Calendar

Ah, how can I not pay homage to the trusty, handy-dandy calendar? Have a deadline? Calendar. Team meeting? Calendar. Remote presentation? Calendar. From pen and paper to digital, using a tool like the one from can not only organize your meeting schedule, but can also provide impressive people analytics to help you to optimize meetings schedules and best practices in the future.

5. Asana

How important is structure? I mean, we all know the answer to that. Structure is essential in an office space, but when it comes to remote teams, it’s even more critical. Since interactions can’t be done face-to-face, right away, remote teams have to navigate ways to delegate and structure tasks. Asana streamlines tasks, prioritizes them, and helps you organize them so your team isn’t stuck in a disorganized rut!

Find out how our free and simple-to-use Remote Work Pulse tool can help