Managing remote teams: 5 things leaders should know + best practices

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Remote work is growing at a rapid pace. According to the latest research from McKinsey & Company, 58% of the U.S. workforce has the opportunity to work from home at least one day a week, while 35% have the option five days a week. This data holds true across all industries and job types, including both “blue collar” and “white collar” jobs that traditionally required on-site work.

The takeaway for businesses that were used to working together in-person before the pandemic forced the shift to remote work: This way of working is here to stay. This means it’s more important than ever for leaders to effectively navigate communications, schedules, and make sure everyone stays productive while separated.

We understand that communication and team collaboration may have taken big hits in your organization during the pandemic. Keeping track of the various schedules and continuous IT problems had most companies spread very thin. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, there are things you can do to keep your remote employees on track.

In this blog, we’ll dig deeper into why it's so critical to have a healthy remote team. Then, we’ll share our roundup of the five things every leader needs when building and managing remote teams and offer some final tips. Let’s jump in.

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The benefits of having a successful remote team

When we think of the benefits of remote management, using your larger reach to find top talent outside of your region may be the first thing that comes to mind.

But if your team is working remotely (or considering offering upcoming roles to remote team members), you may be asking yourself if it’s really worth it.

The answer is a resounding “yes.”

In fact, as more teams choose to go remote, new data trickling in shows that there are some serious benefits for managers. Here’s a look at a few of them:

You can attract top talent from all over the world

While you’re limited to workers within your demographic area in conventional workplaces, you can cast a much larger net with remote work.

But the allures of remote work aren’t just about geography for potential employees. According to Buffer’s 2022 State of Remote Work, a whopping 97% of professionals want to work remotely some of the time AND recommend it to others. 

Not only that, but remote work is viewed as a perk in and of itself. When surveyed, 77% of respondents cited remote work as the second-most important compensation and benefit.

Remote work saves organizations lots of time and money

A typical company stands to save roughly $11,000 a year in overhead costs for every team member they have working remotely instead of in an office.

You’ll also save in turnover costs given data indicating 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.

Some employees reported being so eager for remote work that they're willing to take pay cuts of up to 20% and give up their vacation time if it means they can work from home.

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Creates a flexible work schedule for team members

We’ve already covered that team members want flexible work schedules thanks to the better work-life balance and reduced commuting costs. But sometimes employers overlook the benefits they’ll also reap by embracing flex work.

For starters, flexible work is an attractive recruitment and retention tool. As employees enter different points in their lives, they may require flexibility to remain on board. Flex work supports that.

Flexible work schedules are also associated with decreased stress and enhanced employee engagement, productivity, and well-being — all of which benefit companies in terms of everything from better productivity to reduced absenteeism and lower health care costs.

If you have a physical office location, having different employees working at different times means fewer demands on office space and equipment, further decreasing your overhead costs.

Finally, flexible work schedules may also have financial upsides, such as opening the door to more part-time workers or seeing the results of more productive work hours.

Remote teams tend to be more productive and efficient

While much of the data around remote team productivity is self-reported, the numbers paint a consistent picture: Remote workers think they’re getting more efficient and more efficient. 

A recent survey by Stanford University professor Nicholas Bloom found that 9% of remote workers reported being more efficient at home than in the office. In the summer of 2022, that number was only 5%. 

According to FlexJob’s findings, a staggering 96% of respondents said they’d be more or equally productive working at home as they would in a traditional office. 

One caveat? The ability to maximize productivity and efficiency for the remote workforce does hinge on having the right infrastructure and processes in place, like project management software or easy-to-digest remote work policies. 

5 things every leader needs when managing remote teams

While remote work has many undeniable benefits, the degree to which companies benefit from it varies. Why? Because without the right strategies and initiatives in place, you’re likely to fall short in everything from connectedness to employee morale.

If you’re wondering where to start when it comes to effectively and efficiently managing your remote team to set it up for success, start with these five must-have elements:

1. Ground rules for work and communication

Working remotely doesn’t mean your team gets to set its own rules and schedules. Your first task should be establishing concrete ground rules so your team knows what is expected about everything from communication channels to meeting schedules.

Author and expert on creating collaborative workplace cultures Dana Brownlee explains that employers need to highlight the importance of ground rules in remote environments when introducing them.

Brownlee also proposes that employers should focus on detailing how teams can work together better, and on the importance of understanding the various behaviors that make a healthy work environment.

Many ground rules are simple. For example: Everyone must attend morning stand-ups. Don’t set up team meetings after 3 p.m. CT unless you already cleared it with the attendees. Keep client communication inside relevant chat channels (no important updates sent via email). 

Teams also need to know that managers are engaged in their tasks and interested in their progress. Creating a project schedule for your team is one thing, but keeping up your remote communication with them is one of your most important tasks.

Even if you’ve never met a team memberface-to-face (and this is becoming increasingly prevalent), you establish these communication ground roles and learn each other's preferences with time. 

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2. Daily check-ins to inspire authentic conversations

Remote can feel, well, pretty remote. In fact, Academy of Management research reveals that loneliness is one of the hardest challenges for remote teams to overcome.

For those used to working around other people for eight hours a day, loneliness in the wake of the remote work surge is completely understandable. That's why you should consider offering daily check-ins to recreate the daily interactions people are used to. These quick catch-up meetings are also an opportunity for everyone to get a better sense of what their teammates are working on.

Sigal Barsade, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that ensuring everyone is connecting is a paramount priority for managers during these check-ins, which may also cover much more than work. Barsade suggests that open-ended questions like, "Who did something fun this weekend they want to share?" are the best way to get the conversation rolling.

Even if you don’t have enough time to have a two-hour conversation every morning with your team, you can still mix up daily stand-ups meetings to make them more enjoyable. As Jonathan Rasmusson writes in The Agile Samurai, changing the dynamic of morning stand-ups is as simple as using different wording, like:

  • What did you do to change the world yesterday?

  • How are you going to crush it today?

  • How are you going to blast through any obstacles unfortunate enough to be standing in your way?

Answering these types of questions — instead of sticking with, “What are you working on?” — can completely change the dynamic of individual or group interactions while also fostering a positive company culture.

Plus, they rise above merely standing there and giving an update to lay it all the line with a declaration of intent to the universe, according to Rasmusson.

Can’t manage daily stand-ups? That’s okay! At least make them regular enough so they become a predictable part of your team’s schedule. This helps manage expectations and ensures that all team members will know when they can hear from everyone, get status updates, and tap into that critical sense of teamwork.

Pro tip: We recommend Teamwork Chat for running daily stand-ups. All messages are safe and secure thanks to Embedded Chat, and the platform brings everyone together into one channel for the tidiest and most streamlined communications.

3. The correct communication channels

We’ll come right out and say it: Relying exclusively on email to manage remote workers just doesn’t cut it.

To keep your team productive and engaged, you need to equip them with a generous communication toolkit. Email can absolutely be part of that kit, but you should also have other tools, such as video chat, messaging apps, and file sharing aimed at helping your team stay connected and touch base with each other quickly.

Some of the must-have communication channels for managers include:

  • Project/work management tool: For organizing schedules and deadlines

  • Chat tools: For collaborating and brainstorming

  • Video conferencing tools: For meetings and virtual coffee catch-ups

  • File-sharing tools: For sharing documents and easier collaboration

  • Content collaboration tools: For keeping everything from standard operating procedures (SOPs) to healthcare policies organized and accessible

For some tips on what tools to use, check out our breakdown of remote working tools here.

4. Clear and manageable expectations for everyone

Creating realistic expectations for work is still a problem for managers — remote or not. In order to deliver, employees have to understand expectations. Bridging this gap comes down to clear and defined guidance from above.

The good news? There are many ways to be more definitive with tasks, including by providing exact due dates, precise quality standards, and detailed information on the overall goal.

But it's also important to remember that you can’t manage every aspect of your remote team and how they spend their time — nor should you try to! Work on empowering your team to stay on track and hit deadlines by setting clear guidelines.

Defining project scopes and setting deliverables in a workspace that can be accessed by your entire team is a great start. Plotting a team member’s to-do list into a project management calendar tells them exactly what they need to be working on for the week, as well as when their tasks need to be completed.

With a project management and communication tool like, you can assign tasks, like meetings and product launches, to projects on the calendar. This keeps everyone and everything organized without resorting to 50 different shared calendars or overwhelming tactics. (Watch our introductory video to learn more.)

5. Attentiveness to time zones and work hours

Finally, you need to acknowledge that because remote work brings a bigger talent pool, your team members may not live in the same city, country, or time zone as you.

Nobody likes getting interrupted outside their working hours. This is just one of the reasons it’s especially important for managers to pay careful attention to time zones. If you don’t and you’re constantly messaging team members at 10 p.m. their time, it can have a negative impact on their work/life balance, make them feel like they can’t disconnect from work, and lead to burnout.

One way you can resolve this issue is by adding an extension, app, or plug-in to your computer.

If you happen to be a Mac user, there are plenty of extensions to help you manage your time zones. For example, Menu World Time is a great and very simplistic Mac tool to add another timezone directly in your menu bar. But Windows users aren’t out of luck; Globe Time is also a handy app.

Another way to avoid disrupting employees’ personal time is by checking everyone’s time zone before scheduling a group meeting or virtual coffee catch-up. If you are in the U.S. but some of your team works in Australia, you need to find a time that suits everyone.

Of course, it sometimes feels impossible to remember and acknowledge every team member’s time zone. That's why you should choose a project management tool with localization and language settings.

For example, allows remote managers to set custom languages, time zones, and working hours for every employee. And it couldn’t be easier, either. Before setting any deadlines or scheduling a meeting, just jump in and check what’s the best fit for everyone on a project. This approach can easily transform the task of managing time zone differences from a burden to a productivity goldmine.

Remote management tips to become a better remote leader

We’ve covered why remote work matters and underscored the pivotal role that mindful leaders can play in supporting their remote workers. Here are a few parting tips to take with you on the journey to a happier, more productive remote team: 

Provide your team with the right tools

Make sure your team is equipped with what they need to get the job done, whether they’re at home, the library, or the local coffee shop. This means having the right hardware and software — like a laptop, accessories, content management software, etc — as well as clear setup and login instructions. (Keep in mind your team members may have different levels of technological expertise!) 

Beyond strictly need-to-have remote work equipment, health and social tools may also be worthwhile for your team. For example, offering a stipend to buy a standing desk or an ergonomic keyboard, or handing out coffee and tea gift cards. Don’t forget social tools, such as a Slack channel for ranting about TV and movies. 

 Have the remote version of an “open-door” policy

An open door policy refers to a communications approach and management style in which a manager’s door is always “open.” It’s the antithesis to traditional “closed door” one-way communications between managers and employees.

While the open door concept may or may not be interpreted literally in conventional workplaces, it can be even harder to implement in digital settings. Certainly, you can’t always be available to answer questions, discuss issues, and address concerns. However, you can designate “office hours,” AKA certain times in the day or week when you will be reachable.

Another option? Opening a Zoom room or other video conferencing space for impromptu employee drop-ins.

Schedule weekly 1:1 meetings with team members

In traditional offices, team members run into each other all the time. These in-personsocial interactions provide opportunities for discussions about work as well as casual exchanges. And they’re often lost in remote work environments. 

Keeping regular face-to-face, one-on-one meetings on the books with each of your team members is a critical tool for connecting and communicating. All you need is a video conferencing tool like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet. Depending on your needs, your one-on-ones can serve as feedback and coaching sessions, work-related Q&A, social chats, and more. 

Have a thorough and descriptive onboarding process for new hires

Successfully onboardingnew employees is challenging enough in a physical workspace. It can feel downright impossible in remote ones. But this is the same reason it’s important to proactively establish processes that set your remote employees up for success.

It’s also important to look beyond the first couple of days. Research shows that while employee enthusiasm peaks at the beginning of a new job, it drops by 22% shortly after. Your onboarding program should also build in frequent opportunities for employees to feel valued and heard.

Be aware of the remote work challenges

We’ve discussed the many opportunities associated with remote work. But there are plenty of obstacles too. The more leadership is aware of them, the more proactively you can maneuver to overcome them.

Acknowledging these obstacles is also a way of demonstrating support and empathy to your employees.

Delegate tasks and responsibilities as evenly as possible

Some employees will have an easier transition to working remotely than others for various reasons ranging from their personality type, to their comfort level with technology, to the suitability of their home for remote work.

So, they may be more visible and comfortable advocating for themselves. In order to make sure that all employees feel equally seen and valued, take care to delegate tasks daily and while mindful of capacity.

“Out of sight, out of mind,” should not apply when it comes to managing remote employees.

Leave space for interpersonal communication and fun activities

Watercooler conversations are a staple of traditional office life. And while leaving these interactions in the past may seem like it’d be beneficial for productivity and time management, it can have the opposite impact by stripping away opportunities for connection and fun between team members.

Virtual team-building activities are a powerful way to help people reconnect with each other — and with their motivation. Again, it doesn’t have to be an all-day extravaganza. Check out these virtual team-building activities to start setting up some meaningful fun of your own.

Today’s employees are increasingly prioritizing work-life balance, and expect that remote work will help them achieve it. However, this isn’t always the case. In fact, many employees have found that working from home actually means working around the clock due to the blurring of lines between the personal and the professional. 



How to successfully motivate a remote team

Despite your best efforts, remote teams do sometimes suffer from poor productivity. Often, the source is a lack of motivation, connectedness, or morale. After all, remote workers do report higher levels of loneliness and disconnectedness from the organization. 

The good news is that there are many ways to deliver a pick-me-up — starting with showing you care.

  • Use survey tools to gauge and understand the mindset of your employees. Guide them with clear but detailed prompts and questions so they provide feedback and unpack their thoughts or concerns in detail. The more information you have, the better you can tailor your motivational tactics. 

  • Re-engaging and exciting members of your team could be as simple as setting up an additional, casual check-in via video call. You can provide support, and your employee has the opportunity to voice ideas or discuss issues that are interfering with their productivity or morale.

  • Consider introducing or expanding employee recognition programs. One simple but meaningful step could be establishing a channel for sharing praise and highlighting achievements, maybe on a weekly “Winning Wednesday.” Have managers lead the way! 

Managing remote teams is easier with the right toolkit

Starting from scratch or shifting to a remote environment is a challenging task. There’s certainly a learning curve to successfully managing remote teams. You’ve got to zero in on the right management style aspects, set clear expectations around tasks and deadlines, establish good communication channels for work and social purposes, and make sure that your team feels supported and appreciated. 

However, doing it well can be a game-changer for your business! Not only can going remote save you a ton of money, but it can make your team members happier and more productive. (Thanks to time zones, some of them may be working while the others are still in bed!)

All of this is a lot easier for managers who have the right toolkit — one that goes beyond emails to create a true hub for managing remote communication, file-sharing, team chats, projects, and more — and we know just where you can find one. See how streamlines remote and hybrid workflows.

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