10 Skills Remote Team Managers Need

Sophia Bernazzani
Sophia Bernazzani  |  August 9, 2019

As technology makes it easier and easier for employees to work from home, coffee shops, and airplane seats, fewer employees are finding it necessary to commute full-time to their office.

Co-located, distributed teams are becoming commonplace, and employers are smart to increasingly offer remote opportunities to their employees to reduce real estate costs and attract top talent. Given that millennials will soon comprise 75 percent of America’s labor force, and technology continues to develop exponentially, the trend of remote employment shows no sign of slowing down.

But with these perks comes challenges, specifically that remote employees tend to feel undervalued compared to their onsite counterparts. When these feelings of underappreciation go unresolved, deadlines, company morale, and all-around productivity are negatively impacted. 

For organizations and employees to reap the rewards of remote work, a culture of open communication must be sustained in the workplace. The health and success of any team is determined by the quality of communication between colleagues. Here are ten skills managers must demonstrate to best support their remote employees.

This is part 5 of The G2 Guide to #WFHWeek.

Skills remote team managers need 

As a manager, you need to know how to manage remote employees. Although it can be tricky, we’ve narrowed it down to ten must-have skills.

For more information, just keep reading!

1. Set clear expectations

Everyone has a different idea of what doing something “quickly” or “well” means to them. Whether it be syncing your calendars with those working onsite and remotely or showing specific examples of what you expect to be done, making sure you have communicated your expectations to those who work remotely will only ease the transition from a fully onsite team to a hybrid one. And will keep all employees on the same tier of expected productivity.

2. Treat remote as local

And treat your onsite team members as remote while you’re at it! Make sure your remote employees have as much access to you as the ones you pass in the halls, eat lunch across from, and who you see at the water cooler. Create a virtual water cooler like a Slack channel dedicated to general chit chat where no one will get frustrated if the conversation turns from work to Stranger Things and back. When remote employees feel like they are barred from having the level access to you that is allotted to on-site workers, they can feel distant and their work can suffer.

3. Trust your team

Some companies are hesitant to embrace a remote workforce because they are uncertain about whether or not the work will be completed at the same level as if they were in-office. In fact a two-year Stanford study showed that remote employees were twice as productive as their in-office counterparts.

To combat this fear, set up remote work guidelines that you feel comfortable with, such as emails must be responded to within 24 hours and texting for urgent matters. These can also be incorporated into a remote work policy. Once these guidelines are communicated with your remote team, you will feel more comfortable with their absence from the office.

4. Focus on goals, not activity

When transitioning from exclusively in-office employees to remote workers it is important to manage your expectations and stay focused on the big picture. Train yourself to worry less about what is being done on a micro-level, instead concentrate on what it is that is being accomplished. Workplace flexibility is dependent on consistent performance from your team members. If your team is meeting the goals you have set, then great. If not, that is when you can look closer into what exact aspects of your remote team are lacking. More often than not, it is a communication issue that can be solved with an open dialogue between you and your remote employee. Which leads me to...

5. Schedule video-based coaching

It’s incumbent, especially with remote employees, to schedule a time to look at one another while you’re speaking. If you do not schedule time to talk with one another face to face, silence can become very loud and remote employees might end up wondering how they’re doing. Also, video conferencing is 30% more effective for communication than audio-only setups.

Since these are remote employees, the meeting need not be in person. Your remote employees are already comfortable with the video conferencing technology necessary to communicate with you effectively without driving to the office, allow them the freedom to meet you on their turf. That is to say, remotely.

Related: Not sure what video conferencing software your team should be using? Check out this roundup brought to you by G2!

See the Easiest-to-Use Video Conferencing Software →

6. Create a communication strategy

Managing a productive team remotely begins with a strategy for communication. First, arrange for the appropriate number of weekly formal report-ins. Second, set guidelines about daily needs. Some people work better with a shopping list of tasks while others need more freedom. An understanding of what is urgent will further mitigate inefficiency, leading to ultimate productivity.

Remember: not all remote workers are built the same.

Trial runs for communication strategies are not to be feared, in the long run you’ll be glad you took the time to adhere each means of communication to individual employees instead of settling on a blanket strategy that could stifle the productivity of your otherwise brightest employees.

7. Connect their goals with yours

The world is shifting quickly to a workforce more interested in learning and skills advancement than stability. This is especially true in regards to companies with a high percentage of hybrid or remote employees.

Take a personal interest in your team’s learning and life goals while connecting them to the goals of the company. Employee engagement and performance stay much higher when your team believes their work for your company is directly associated with their personal goals. And it will keep your remote employees from keeping a tab open to LinkedIn since no one but their dog is there to peek over their shoulder.

8. Reward achievement

When you’re in an office, it is easy to give a shout-out and recognize the hard work that a team member does. But if your team is scattered around the country, or even operating out of different time zones, it can be difficult to find the appropriate time to do so.

However, finding a way to acknowledge a job well done is important. Whether it's by sending out a company-wide email or notifying your entire team on a work messaging service, remote employees need to feel valued in the same way they would if they were working exclusively in-office.

Try using employee engagement software that allow your employees to send signed or anonymous “job well done” recognitions to anyone else at the company. You can then use this system to reward those who go out of their way to help others and who consistently get great feedback from colleagues. 

See the Easiest-to-Use Employee Engagement Software →

9. Prioritize relationships

Team building and camaraderie are important for any team, remote teams are no exception. The best managers go out of their way to form personal bonds with remote employees. They use appropriate check-in time to ask about employees’ families and hobbies.

Allow time at the end of hybrid video conference meetings for open, casual conversations that the whole team can use to create, strengthen, and sustain those personal connections that are necessary to keep a company functioning at the highest levels.

10. Use technology to build community

Building and sustaining community is crucial to maintaining an engaged remote workforce. Use the technology available to you to create a space dedicated to celebrating special days (employee birthdays), company milestones (months or years of service), as well as community recognition.

Whether it's a celebration-only shared calendar or a hump-day celebratory newsletter, being intentional about creating community helps develop a corporate culture that inspires connection, which results in increased productivity and a boost in team morale.

Apply these strategies to your team

Given the ease and rapidity of modern communication, remote employment is progressively alluring to both employers and employees. Unless managers make extra efforts to connect and engage in dialogue with their hybrid team, remote workers can quickly grow unproductive. However, if managers employ the above skills they stand a good chance of fostering collaboration, commitment, and cohesion.

The competencies required for successfully managing remote employees do not differ significantly from those in on-site management roles. As long as you maintain a strong level of communication and are comfortable providing feedback and supplying recognition, managing your remote team should be as easy as turning on your computer’s video feed.

Want to keep learning how to maintain morale and employee engagement throughout your virtual team? Download our free employee satisfaction questions to see how everyone feels about their connections to fellow team members and managers. 

Get free employee satisfaction survey questions Download Now, FREE →

Sophia Bernazzani

Sophia Bernazzani

Sophia Bernazzani is the Content Marketing Manager at Owl Labs, creator of the Meeting Owl, a 360° smart video conferencing camera. She lives and works in Boston, Massachusetts, and when she's not writing about leadership and remote work, you can find her doing yoga or taking pictures of her cat.