The exponential growth of remote work is changing how many businesses operate.

According to a study by software comparison site GetApp, the number of professionals who work remotely at least once per week has grown by 400 percent since 2010.

Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, organizations around the world are advising workers to telecommute to adhere to social distancing guidelines and limit the spread of disease. One recent survey found that 67 percent of employers are taking measures to allow employees to work from home who don’t normally do so.

Related: Resource Roundup: Tips & Lessons to Help You Navigate Through the Coronavirus Crisis

This uptick in remote work has prompted business leaders across industries to adapt their methods and techniques to manage their teams.

In the online course Leadership Principles, Harvard Business School Professor Anthony Mayo says overseeing remote workers presents unique challenges for managers.

“With a dispersed or distributed team, the role and responsibilities of the team leader are heightened,” Mayo says. “The leader must ensure ongoing communication, reinforce team norms, encourage collaboration, and actively solicit the input and perspectives of everyone on the team, especially those who aren’t co-located.”

If you want to thrive in the face of these challenges and equip your employees to succeed, here are 12 tips for managing remote teams.

How to Manage Remote Teams

1. Establish Team Norms and Expectations


Research shows that only about half of all professionals understand what’s expected of them at work, which can be detrimental to their engagement and commitment levels.

To boost motivation and engage your remote employees, it’s vital to establish team norms that dictate how they should interact and collaborate.

“One way in which dispersed teams can ensure they get off to a good start is to engage in a formal launch process,” Mayo says in Leadership Principles. “Even if a face-to-face face meeting isn’t possible, it’s critically important to be deliberate and intentional in launching the team and collectively agreeing upon norms to govern the work you do together across locations. Through this process, team members get to know each other in a meaningful way, and that helps lay the foundation for working together more effectively in the future.”

2. Hold Regular Check-Ins and One-On-One Conversations


Regularly checking in with your remote employees is a highly effective means of boosting their engagement.

According to management consulting firm Gallup, employees who regularly meet with their managers are three times more engaged than their peers. Studies also show that employees are four times more likely to be disengaged when they don’t meet one-on-one with their supervisors.

3. Leverage Technology


When scheduling check-ins and one-on-ones, use technology to facilitate face-to-face communication whenever possible. A study detailed in the Harvard Business Review found that face-to-face communication is 34 times more effective than correspondence via email.

Leverage videoconferencing tools, such as Zoom and UberConference, to create opportunities for face time with your team. In a survey of over 300 executives by Forbes Insights, 62 percent said videoconferencing significantly improves the quality of communication compared to audioconferencing tools, and 50 percent said it increases the level of understanding.

In addition to videoconferencing tools, use project collaboration platforms like Trello and Slack to foster information-sharing among your team.

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4. Communicate Constantly


Clear and consistent communication is paramount to effectively motivating and guiding your remote employees. In a recent study by the Association for Talent Development, 83 percent of business leaders said communication is the most important skill for managerial success.

“As a general guideline, leaders often feel they’re communicating enough, whereas their teams often feel they’re getting insufficient communication,” Mayo says in Leadership Principles.

In the online course Management Essentials, Meghan Joyce, COO at Oscar Health and former Uber executive, says it’s crucial to reiterate key messages to your team in a variety of settings, such as:

  • At the start of every meeting
  • During one-on-one conversations
  • Via email following a team huddle

“It’s incredibly important to overcommunicate,” Joyce says. “It will not only ensure the message gets through, but help solve and re-solve a lot of the challenges organizations run into from miscommunication.”

5. Be Transparent


Transparency is among the essential communication skills every leader needs. Data also shows it’s the top factor when measuring employee happiness.

When communicating a key initiative, such as organizational change, fully explain the rationale behind why certain decisions were made, and invite your employees to ask questions. Doing so can help you ensure everyone is one the same page and build a stronger foundation of trust.

6. Instill a Sense of Purpose


Purpose can have a profound impact on individual, team, and business performance. According to research by Google, setting a team vision is one of the top behaviors of high-performing managers.

In a survey by PwC, 83 percent of professionals said purpose brings meaning to their daily work.

To instill purpose among your employees, provide concrete examples of how their collective efforts advance important organizational objectives. When doing so, employ the principles of the “Commander’s Intent,” a concept that’s detailed in Management Essentials and serves as a means of unifying individuals around a goal.

The primary purpose of the Commander’s Intent, according to US Army doctrine, is “to focus subordinates on what has to be accomplished in order to achieve success, even when the plan and concept of operations no longer apply, and to discipline their efforts toward that end.”

Learn More about Management Essentials

7. Trust and Empower Your Employees


Employee empowerment is an essential ingredient of successful, high-trust teams. According to a report by Great Place to Work, organizations with trust-based cultures have higher levels of innovation, customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and agility.

To empower your remote employees, avoid micromanaging, delegate tasks that provide opportunities for growth, and consider involving your team in decision-making.

By entrusting your employees with important projects and involving them in key organizational processes, you show that you value their contributions and can develop a more robust working relationship.

8. Provide Support


Beyond delegating tasks to your employees, support their professional development and assist them with goal-setting.

Research by Gallup shows that 69 percent of employees whose managers help them set work priorities and performance goals are engaged.

If one of your employees wants to bolster their business skills, for example, suggest that they consider taking an online course and outline some of the ways doing so can position them to advance their career.

Related: Should You Take an Online Class? 9 Things to Consider

9. Solicit Feedback


In addition to giving feedback and guidance to your employees, you should seek their input on how you’re performing.

Gaining insight into how others perceive you can not only sharpen your emotional intelligence, but equip you with a growth mindset.

Research shows professionals with a growth mindset are:

  • More mentally prepared to take on challenges
  • Use feedback to their advantage
  • Highly adept at problem-solving
  • Effective at providing developmental feedback to employees
  • Persistent in their pursuit of goals

By heightening your self-awareness, you can identify your weaknesses and craft a stronger leadership development plan, enabling you to become a better manager and set a positive example for your remote team.

Related: Emotional Intelligence Skills: What They Are & How to Develop Them

10. Foster Empathy and Cultural Awareness


Empathy is a major driver of work performance and a foundational element of emotional intelligence.

In managing your remote employees, you may find yourself interacting with people who are from various countries and backgrounds.

When overseeing a global, dispersed team, it’s critical to be cognizant of cultural differences and facilitate an inclusive environment.

Take time zone differences into account, and strive to be aware of important holidays and days of observance.

Leadership Principles: Unlock your leadership potential. Learn more.

11. Make Time to Connect and Socialize


One of the main challenges of managing a remote team is cultivating the kind of connections that come from in-person social gatherings and casual conversations that happen day-to-day in a shared office environment.

A recent report by software company Buffer shows that 19 percent of remote employees report loneliness as their biggest challenge. In a survey by cloud services provider CoSo Cloud, it was found that more than half of remote employees feel disconnected from their in-office colleagues.

“You need to create substitutes for the casual hallway conversations, meals, and accidental interactions that typically happen in the course of a day and week when everyone is geographically in the same place,” Mayo says in Leadership Principles.

Help your remote employees feel like they’re part of the team by organizing online gatherings, such as a virtual happy hour, and allow time for small talk before team meetings. Research shows it’s an effective way to strengthen bonds and develop trust.

12. Promote Work-Life Balance


Work-life balance is one of the top drivers of attraction for US employees. Data shows, however, that unplugging after work is the biggest challenge faced by 22 percent of remote employees.

Lean into the norms and expectations you established at the outset and encourage your employees to adhere to a set schedule and step away from work when operating hours are done.

In doing so, you can help your employees avoid feelings of burnout and boost your team’s performance.

Enabling Your Remote Team to Succeed

Managing remote employees isn’t without its share of challenges. With a clear set of norms and expectations, the right tools, a high degree of emotional intelligence, and adherence to management best practices, you can be an effective leader and equip your team to thrive.

Do you want to become a more effective leader and manager? Download our free leadership and management e-book to find out how. Also, explore our online courses Leadership Principles and Management Essentials to learn how you can take charge of your professional development and accelerate your career.

Matt Gavin

About the Author

Matt Gavin is a member of the marketing team at Harvard Business School Online. Prior to returning to his home state of Massachusetts and joining HBS Online, he lived in North Carolina, where he held roles in news and content marketing. He has a background in video production and previously worked on several documentary films for Boston’s PBS station, WGBH. In his spare time, he enjoys running, exploring New England, and spending time with his family.