Managing a team of remote professionals requires everything it takes to lead a traditional workforce – along with a unique appreciation for long-distance (professional, not romantic) relationships. If you’re a manager and you’re responsible for a remote team, here are five tips for making the transition from a traditional office to a virtual network:
1) Treat your team professionally.
Respect is the foundation of any decent team management system, and one that you can’t forget when working with a remote team. And while the common perception of remote workers may be 20-year-old freelancers in pajamas, this usually isn’t the case. Citing a Census Bureau survey, the New York Times describes the typical remote employee as “a 49-year-old college graduate – man or woman – who earns about $58,000 a year”. People who work from home are true professionals, and you should treat them as such.
2) Set measurable goals.
SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) goals are useful in many scenarios, but they’re especially relevant when working virtually with team members. Since you’re not physically present to oversee how your team members are producing, goals are incredibly important. Specifically, measurable, quantifiable goals are one of the few ways you can accurately assess performance online.
When transitioning into a remote work situation, expect to focus more on quantifiable targets than qualitative criteria – at least at first. In most cases, project completion becomes more important than how it is completed. Pay structures even reflect this, as many remote workers are either freelancers or contractors and paid per project rather per hour.
3) Maintain a schedule.
Many employees who work from home enjoy integrating their personal and professional lives, but this also poses a risk. The temptation to do “just one more thing” for work – especially when paid on a per-project basis – is strong. More than one remote employee has let work overtake home life and eventually burnt out.
Help your employees maintain a healthy work-life balance by insisting on a schedule. If you have a flexible workplace, let them choose their hours, but make sure they stick to the hours they select. It may be difficult to hold them fully accountable to this, but you can at least try to limit their responding to emails or working on projects during non-work hours.
4) Use the phone.
Most people communicate primarily via email, instant messaging or text messaging, but the phone remains the best way to communicate over long distances. Pick up the phone regularly and call your employees — and insist that they answer or call you back. You should use the phone, rather than typed communication, for the following:
- Weekly meetings (see below).
- Anytime emotions are involved.
- Whenever deadlines are pressing.
- To check in with employees individually (see below).
5) Check in frequently.
When working remotely, it’s easy to let things that would be addressed and resolved quickly in an office setting slide. But if they’re left unresolved for too long, even little things can become major issues. The only way to stay on top of and in tune with your team is to have frequent check-ups. Consider this three-pronged approach:
- Have weekly team meetings to keep everyone on the same page.
- Have one-on-one chats with your direct reports at least biweekly.
- Replace annual reviews with quarterly reviews.
Managing employees remotely is a lot like managing people in an office. You just need to think of creative ways to make traditional management strategies work online. Adopt these habits, and you’ll be well on your way to successfully running a virtual team.
Are you a remote employee for your business? Check out these five tips to help keep you more productive while working from home.
Originally published Dec 26, 2014, updated Oct 06, 2020