How to Manage a Remote Team: A Practical Guide

Remote work has become the norm — Gartner forecasts that by the end of 2021 remote workers will represent 32% of all employees worldwide. Meanwhile, Buffer’s most recent State of Remote Work survey shows at least 46% of companies planning to allow remote work permanently which means that fully remote teams are becoming the new norm as well. 

And remote teams face their own slew of challenges: the lack of face-to-face communication, globally distributed workforce, and remote employee productivity issues. 

All these struggles force managers to come up with unique approaches to leading remote teams and helps their employees sustain high performance in hybrid and fully remote environments. 

In this article, we’ll go through tips that help you manage your remote team more efficiently and make sure your remote workers regularly perform at their best.

Establish Healthy Communication Within a Remote Team

Communication in remote teams is vastly different from traditional on-site communication: Buffer remote survey respondents indicated that after switching to remote work the biggest change was about how they communicate and collaborate. 

remote-work-buffer

Managers know all too well that without proper communication, your remote team turns into a collection of isolated people who lose all the perks of collaboration and camaraderie.

Poor communication on remote teams can lead to the following disadvantages:

  • Low or non-existent collaboration. Helping others to perform their tasks or do them more efficiently requires your teammates to be in touch regularly. But when it’s hard to reach out to teammates, people will prefer doing tasks on their own without seeking help from more experienced team members. Both quality of work and speed can be affected as a result. 
  • Lack of purpose. The purpose is a crucial component of individual motivation, but when teams have a shared purpose that leads to a whole pack of benefits such as employee retention, boosted productivity, and even better stock market performance. But teams, where communication is scarce, don’t get to experience all that as team purpose is never shared nor cultivated. 
  • Lack of knowledge distribution. Some of your team members surely will have more knowledge and expertise than the others. In remote teams with poor communication this knowledge gap is never closed: senior team members are too busy doing their tasks and new team members are too hesitant to ask for advice. Ultimately, the gap leads to tension and missed opportunities ad newer members learn far slower than they could. 
  • Feeling of isolation. Employee isolation is one of the most common drawbacks of remote work that plagues employee productivity and morale. Weak communication with colleagues and management only makes this problem worse. 

It’s worth mentioning that some remote teams experience the opposite — the abundance of communication. With too many useless meetings or too much time spent in corporate messengers employees suffer from information overload and endless distractions.

Fortunately, whether your remote team experiences a lack or surplus of communication, there are ways to address all communication issues at once:

  • Perform remote communication audit. Understand how your team communicates now. Sometimes you will be surprised how much communication is happening on non-team channels such as Slack DM’s or personal messengers. That’s a good sign that work communication channels are underutilized and some people might be left out.

    Analyze the number of meetings in the team’s calendar — are there too many, are there too few? Notice if some people are absent from discussions or have too many meetings on their plate.

    The audit will help you become aware if there are any imbalances in your team’s communication and communication-related issues that might be affecting your team.

  • Conduct an employee survey. The best way to surface communication-related issues (or any work issues, for that matter), if to ask your employees. Conduct a survey asking colleagues if they think there are too many or too few meetings and why they think that way.

    If you want to get more insight, ask your team members to scale some of your regular meetings based on their efficiency, length, and level of engagement, e.g. “On a scale from 0 to 10, how productive do you think our weekly planning meeting is?” You can use Geekbot to conduct the survey directly in Slack or MS Teams and gather all the responses in one channel for quick analysis and follow-up.

  • Inspect your tools. Tools have a tremendous impact on how your team operates and choosing the right communication tools ensures your team communication is not only balanced but thorough and rich.

    Are you using video conferencing tools such as Zoom so that your team members can not only hear but see each other from time to time? Do your communication tools support screen sharing for added interactivity and recording to preserve meetings for absent team members?

    Learn more about the features your current communication tools offer and start utilizing them to enrich your remote team communication

  • Use Geekbot. Geekbot is a multi-functional Slack and MS Teams tool that was developed to solve all remote communication issues at once. Whether your remote team struggles with too many meetings, or long boring meetings, or unstructured meetings, Geekbot helps make your meeting short, engaging, and to the point.

    The best part is that Geekbot facilitates asynchronous meetings directly in Slack or MS Teams so your team members can participate in these meetings whenever works best for them AND still receive all the benefits of engaging and efficient communication with their team.


    Here’s an example of how Geekbot helps you run effective daily standup meetings directly in Slack or MS Teams: 
  1. Open Geekbot dashboard and choose a “Daily Standup” meeting template:
  2. Choose when you want your team members to receive standup questions in Slack [and who will receive them]:

    Tip: Questions can be sent according to the user’s local time. This is especially useful for teams distributed over several time zones so that everyone can answer questions at the same time of day.
  3. At the scheduled time, Geekbot will notify your team members to answer standard standup questions. You can add questions or edit existing ones if needed.
  4. When everyone has answered the daily standup questions, Geekbot will automatically organize the responses and send them to any channel you choose in Slack or MS Teams. Check out everyone’s answers, keep up with Slack threads, and review the previous answers.
Slack broadcast channel

Establish Ongoing Communication With Management

Regular two-way communication with management is equally crucial for employees as it is for managers. Without a strong connection with leaders, employees can feel misguided, discouraged, and demotivated.

Google’s study revealed that employees consider failure to recognize employee achievements and the absence of clear directions from management as two of the most common reasons for ineffective leadership. Ongoing communication helps managers to guide employees, acknowledge employee success, help resolve issues, and provide timely feedback. 

Here’s how you ensure balanced communication between leaders and team members in your teams: 

  • Establish Rules of engagement. Remote work communication is more satisfying and effective when managers set expectations for the frequency of meetings, tools the teams should use, and the timing of said meetings. For example, town hall meetings can be conducted via Zoom whereas pressing project-related issues can be discussed using Slack and in extreme cases personal phones. Also, every employee should know what’s the best time they can reach out to leaders during the day. 
  • Conduct regular 1-on-1 meetings. One-on-one meetings offer plenty of benefits for both managers and employees such as focus, guidance, and issue management, to name a few. No wonder studies show that high-performing managers favor regular 1:1 meetings more often than low-performers.

  • Make your 1-on-1 more efficient. Although 1-on-1s offer many benefits, to reap all the advantages managers have to make sure they come prepared for these meetings: What should the meetings focus on? How can I help my colleague? How do I track the result of these meetings? Answering these questions before the meeting starts requires a lot of preparation, so managers tend to skip these meetings or improvise.

    There’s no way to automate 1-on-1 meetings as both managers need face-to-face communication, but Geekbot 1-on-1 feature dramatically improves the efficiency of these meetings as it automates preparation and logging.

    Before the meeting starts, Geekbot automatically sends a list of questions that employees can quickly answer directly in Slack and MS Teams. Their answers are stored in a designated channel so managers can review these before the actual meeting starts and understand what to focus on.

    As a side benefit, all the past responses are stored in the same place so it’s easy to track the progress of these meetings. 

Address Remote Specific Challenges

State of Remote Work surveys consistently reveal the same three challenges that have been occupying remote workers for years: flawed work-life balance, loneliness, and distractions at home. 

These challenges are known to every remote team and each impacts the management of a remote team in its own way. Let’s discuss how managers should be approaching them. 

Remote work challenge #1: Work-life balance

The problem of unplugging from work is familiar to many remote workers, especially those working from home. For years unplugging from the office was as easy as leaving the site and taking a commute back home. The change of a physical location facilitated the switch as many work-related and leisure-related habits used the physical environment as a trigger. 

But when you work from home, you never leave the office. Even after the work hours end, you are still in the same environment, use the same computer, and have the same thoughts. There’s no “commute” ritual to unplug you from the working environment. Eventually, the absence of said switch affects both how people work and how they rest as they can neither totally focus on their work nor relax and restore their energy before the next day starts. 

While there are many remote productivity tips that employees can follow to become more productive on their own, here’s how managers can help employees unplug from work more efficiently:

  • Establish rigid work hours. Managers need to establish clear working hours for every member of their team and proactively encourage people to shut down outside of these ours. For example, even when a pressing issue arises and the person responsible was not available during non-work hours, managers should never blame them and instead work together on how to prevent said issues in the future. 
  • Conduct asynchronous meetings. Team members in globally distributed teams often operate within different time zones. For example, your daily standup meeting is scheduled at noon, but for someone, it’s evening already.

    Instead of forcing people to come up to the meetings during their non-working hours, conduct meetings asynchronously. For example, Geekbot can be set up so that every person on the team, regardless of their time zone, receives standup questions at 12:00 in their local time zone. 

Remote work challenge #2: Isolation

According to a study conducted in 2011, loneliness has a negative impact not only on a person’s emotional health, but also on their performance, both as an individual and as a team player.

How to solve remote isolation:

  • Team building sessions. Schedule regular team-building sessions where employees can talk about non-work topics and get to know each other better. If you struggle to keep these meetings engaging or regular, consider conducting them directly in Slack or MS Teams.
  • Add icebreakers. Icebreaker questions are typically designed to help team members to learn more about each other in the workplace to improve the trust and depth of their communication. But their main advantage is that these questions don’t take much time to answer and can be injected into other meetings.

    For example, if you observe that people are not engaged during daily stand-up meetings, consider adding an icebreaker question at the beginning of every session.
  • Group retreats. Meeting with your team members is a great opportunity for team bonding, and these meetings help battle social isolation. Note that your group retreats don’t have to be grandiose, but they surely need to be properly organized to achieve the desired effect. 

Remote work challenge #3: Distractions

Productivity-killing distractions plague remote and non-remote teams alike, but remote distractions are harder to deal with as often there’s not much that managers can do. 

After all, what are you going to do about kids constantly distracting their parents when they are working from home?

However, here’s how managers can help employees deal with work-related distractions:

  • Outsource mundane or administrative work. There are two kinds of work: one that inspires and the other that the manager told you to do, and mundane work is a distraction in itself. With today’s abundance of freelance marketplaces, managers can easily outsource mundane administrative tasks and help their employees focus on things that they are actually good at.
  • Automate routine tasks. Many of the repetitive tasks can be automated using tools such as Zapier and Geekbot. If your employees spend too much time doing the same things every week that’s a good sign there’s room for improvement.
  • Encourage Pomodoro sessions and DnD statuses. The Pomodoro technique is a world-known productivity booster for anyone who struggles to focus on certain tasks. For maximum efficiency, combine the techniques with a DnD status in your messenger so that no one on your team can interrupt your flow.

    Geekbot’s Focus Mode allows team members to launch Pomodoro sessions directly in Slack and automatically update DnD status when you’re running Pomodoros.  

Use Agile Methodology

Agile methodology was first ideated by developers who wanted to release better software faster.

But because of their transparency and efficiency, over time Agile frameworks such as Scrum become globally popular among non-development teams as well.

Scrum with its clearly defined set of meetings and ceremonies resolves many remote team issues such as lack of communication, lack of purpose, and non-transparent management.

Although Agile is easy to understand, it’s hard to master so use the following tips when your remote team decides to implement Agile in their work:

  • Agile doesn’t mean “flexible”. Flexible is the result of being Agile, but Agile frameworks themselves are far from being flexible. Learn more about every Agile meeting’s structure and purpose before making any adjustments as even small adjustments (e.g. let’s make our daily standups a bit longer) can have long-term negative consequences. 
  • Use tools that simplify Agile ceremonies and make it easier to stick to them. For example, use Geekbot to optimize your daily standups, use whiteboard tools to make your retrospectives more engaging, and use Zapier to automate announcements, notifications, and much more. 
  • Double down on transparency. When your first start implementing Agile in your team, many changes will follow. This is a very delicate time period so listen carefully to what your employees say and try to record as much feedback as possible to understand how your team feels about Agile in general and if there is any misunderstanding that can affect your implementation. 

Inspect Your Tools

Tools that your employees use in their work have a major impact on every aspect of your team, from cooperation to management. 

In a way, the tools you choose define how the work will be conducted in your company and how it will be managed. And tools can simplify remote management A LOT.

Here are the three main categories of tools that affect how your team works remotely. 

Project management tools

Services such as Asana, Trello, and JIRA allow remote teams to deliver projects from start to finish. But each one of them is different and more suited for certain types of projects than the other. 

For example, Trello is better suited for smaller projects or projects that need to be simplified. Asana, on the other hand, is a more complex tool that acts as a platform for all project-related communication and execution. Its many features allow teams of any size to carry out even the most complex projects by breaking them into boards, sub-projects, and timelines. 

JIRA is on par with Asana in terms of functionality. However, it’s more suited for development teams with features revolving around sprint execution, bug management, and source integration. 

Make sure your team uses project management tools that fit your team’s size and project types so you won’t be spending money on unused functionality of spawn unneeded complexity. 

Communication tools

Communication tools that your team uses define a lot how your teammates talk to each other the depth of their collaboration.

Make sure the tools you use allow your remote team members to express themselves fully and timely. For example, Zoom facilitates effortless face-to-face real-time communication but doesn’t support asynchronous communication that helps team members continuously discuss projects over long periods of time.

Other tools such as Dropbox or Google Docs are not communication tools per se, but can vividly enrich team communication as they allow team members to comment on files and documents, allowing team members to discuss specific deliverables (a presentation, a data-sheet) where they are stored. 

Lastly, consider using communication hubs such as Slack and MS Teams that help teams store all communication data in one place. Using tools such as Zapier you can broadcast comments and messages from other tools such as Google Docs, Asana, and Trello into Slack channels and store the communication in one place instead of messages being spread across different services and tools. 

Productivity tools

Productive teams are easier to manage as you mainly have to focus on issues that can disrupt said productivity. 

There are many tools that claim to boost remote productivity, but few of them live up to the promise. 

Before you start using tools that claim to simplify certain aspects of remote work, ask yourself what problem you are trying to solve and what metrics can you use to check the efficiency of a solution. 

For example, the team at Zapier was able to measurably reduce the length of their daily standup meeting from 15 minutes to 1 minute without sacrificing its efficiency. For that purpose, Zapier engineers used Geekbot to conduct asynchronous daily standups directly in Slack. 

The team at Github, on the other hand, was able to drop inefficient 30-minute status meetings entirely in favor of short asynchronous Geekbot meetings twice a week. 

Tools such as Geekbot, Zapier, and Pomodoro were tested by thousands of teams and proved their efficiency in a remote environment, so check out if these tools can help you achieve similar results.

Try our free 10-member plan at Geekbot and conduct no-nonsense asynchronous meetings and surveys directly in Slack and MS Teams. 

Frequently asked questions

What tools help you to manage your team remotely?

Three types of tools will help you manage a remote team more effectively: communication tools, project management tools, and productivity tools. Communication tools such as Zoom and Slack will make your remote communication rich and organized. Project management tools such as Asana, Trello, and JIRA will help you streamline remote project management. Productivity tools such as Zapier and Pomodoro will help you keep your employees focused and productive.

How do you lead a team meeting remotely?

When leading a remote meeting make sure all employees have no problems connecting to the meeting and there are no internet or audio issues that might affect meeting performance. After that share the meeting agenda and what contribution is expected from everyone present. If during the meeting most of its participants end up listening rather than talking consider replacing the meeting with a recorded message or asynchronous meetings to save everyone time and effort.

How do you motivate remote employees?

Remote workers experience several remote-specific challenges that affect their motivation: lack of communication with teammates, social isolation, lack of purpose, distraction at home, and lack of acknowledgment and guidance from management. Make sure to surface these issues during 1-on-1 meetings with employees or surveys and resolve pressing issues one by one.

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