Managing Remote Teams in the New Age of Work [20 Best Practices]
Flexjobs reports that remote teams grew by 44% in the last five years and 91% in the past ten years. But making the move to permanent remote work is a massive shift for many companies. It requires fresh thinking about how to lead and manage remote teams effectively.
That’s where Ninety can help. Companies upgrading to Ninety’s platform are experiencing a 50% increase in year-over-year growth as a result.
This list provides proven ways leaders manage remote teams effectively by understanding the nature of remote work, the challenges they face in leading and managing remote teams, and the integrated tools required to build great companies.
Table of Contents:
- A Note from Mark Abbott, CEO + Founder, Ninety
- What Is Remote Work?
- What Is a Remote Team?
- 5 Types of Remote Teams
- Challenges of Managing Remote Employees
- What Is Asynchronous Work?
- Do You Know How to Lead and Manage a Remote Team Effectively? [Follow These Tips]
- How Can HR Support Remote Employees?
- 7 Tips for HR Leaders on How to Support Remote Workers Better
- Lead and Manage Your Remote Teams on Ninety
A Note from Mark Abbott, CEO + Founder, Ninety
This article was originally published in 2022 as businesses continued to examine in-person, remote, and hybrid working arrangements in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s hard to quantify just how much the world has changed since the pandemic's early days, but from a business perspective, we all learned how to work differently… and how to work from just about anywhere.
What’s more, we learned that it works rather well for companies with a solid foundation, a guiding set of Core Values, and a culture built on trust and agreements. Yet, for all that, the debate rages on about the effectiveness or need for a work-from-anywhere model. Given all we’ve learned, I’m not sure why. But I had an opportunity to write about it as a counterpoint to those who insist that “getting back to the office” was of paramount importance. You can read that article in MarketWatch, and I welcome your feedback.
What is Remote Work?
The work that remote teams do was once referred to as “telecommuting.” Popularized in the 1990s as a way to retain workers who wanted to ditch a daily commute, remote work recently solved the immediate challenge of working during pandemic quarantining. By 2021, one in four people was working remotely.
Before the pandemic, a report by freelancing platform Upwork found only 12.3% of American workers had the option to work remotely full-time. Almost 9% were able to work remotely part-time. But by 2025, Upwork predicts an 87% increase from 2019 levels: 36.2 million Americans are expected to be working remotely.
What is a Remote Team?
Remote teams can Work from Anywhere™. This means people choose to work in locations away from their company’s physical office space. They can work from home, in an office, in a different country, or anywhere they can be productive.
Remote teams are also called “virtual,” “dispersed,” or “distributed” teams. Some workers are full-time remote employees. Others have the flexibility to work remotely as part of a hybrid work program, meaning they also work in the office for at least part of their work schedule.
5 Types of Remote Teams
Leaders can categorize their remote teams based on objective, team member roles, relevancy, or project lifecycle. Here are the five most common types:
Networked teams work together for a common goal. Team members participate based on their skill set. Once their contribution is met, they may leave the team while others join. Consulting and technology firms often utilize networked teams to get work done.
Parallel teams are problem-solving workers. Team members are tasked with developing creative solutions to immediate challenges. Parallel teams are common in the research and development industry.
Product Development Teams
Product development teams bring subject matter experts together to share their knowledge and industry experience on a new product or service design. Produce development teams are common in nearly every business sector. Their lifecycle is often dependent on the scope of the project.
Service teams are common for implementing customer service programs. They often have international members who work in different time zones to provide a seamless service experience for a company’s customers.
Action teams execute solutions designed to deal with specific and immediate situations. Actions teams have short life cycles, disbanding after the problem is alleviated.
Challenges of Managing Remote Employees
It can be challenging to lead remote employees who work across different locations and time zones. Especially during your transition to remote work, it’s important to identify key concerns your teams may face and how to address them. Here are three:
Building an Efficient Communication Strategy
Remote teams must overcome the unknowns and distractions of distanced communication. Relying on in-person meetings for creative brainstorming, problem-solving, and decision-making is now less effective than flexible, often virtual and asynchronous solutions that are agreed upon and available to all.
It can be difficult to keep employees engaged without the help of an energized office environment. Yet one of the keys to improved productivity is consistent employee engagement. You want to ensure your remote workers contribute as much as they would if they were working on-site. Assigning clear accountability with defined roles and responsibilities will help keep remote workers engaged and productive.
Business transparency can unite remote employees who are expected to work independently. Instead of allowing information silos to form, leaders and teams can embrace the free flow of knowledge to benefit their entire organization. But even a slew of virtual meetings for keeping everyone up to date on critical information will eat away at productive work time.
When you enable remote work technology like Ninety.io, you’ll have a single-source platform to solve all three of these challenges and more. With Ninety’s integrated tools, you can create alignment and easier execution for your remote teams to support a shared vision, and your remote teams can thrive.
What is Asynchronous Work?
Asynchronous work is work that doesn’t happen simultaneously for everyone. Asynchronous work can be a powerful way for remote teams to get work done without being online simultaneously in meetings all day. However, it’s not yet the standard. A recent survey shows that only 38% of respondents say their company has an asynchronous work policy.
According to Remote.com, a company that facilitates international payroll, benefits, taxes, and compliance for big, small, and medium-sized businesses, asynchronous work:
- “Maximizes productivity by decoupling work from synchronous communication, [which forces] teams to halt progress on projects when one of the team members is unavailable due to different work hours or time off.”
- Relies more heavily on documentation and transparency.
- Puts more trust in employees and their ability to perform.
- Improves communication and documentation practices.
- Helps companies move projects forward much faster than their competition.
Ninety’s platform enables remote teams to work autonomously and asynchronously, providing team members with the trust they need to do so.
Do You Know How to Lead and Manage a Remote Team Effectively? [Follow These Tips]
Much of how to help on-site teams flourish is the same for remote teams. The execution just needs flexible options, top-notch organizational skills, and different tools. These tips will help:
Use technology to make work more comfortable for remote teams.
Tools like Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, and other video conferencing software; messaging apps like Slack; and digital collaborative work environments like Ninety make it easier for remote teams to get smart stuff done.
Organizations need a comprehensive framework, integrated tools, and robust data tracking to ensure scalable growth. Ninety’s cloud-based platform is built to help with these business operations. With Ninety, remote workers can get meaningful work done in less time, with less miscommunication, and build thriving companies.
Understand how documentation supports remote work.
Remote teams benefit from working from a Single Source of Truth (SSOT), documenting information kept in one place so everyone will use the same data. An SSOT consists of up-to-date information relevant to a company’s decision-making processes. People in the company can access SSOT data when they need it, whether it’s a document, core process, or an instant message. Everyone will know exactly what should be followed.
Ninety serves as the SSOT for remote teams, providing a virtual hub of information and collaboration.
Use asynchronous communication correctly.
Create a remote team communication strategy that includes both asynchronous and synchronous communication methods. Learn how each helps remote teams communicate and use them appropriately.
Asynchronous lets people communicate effectively with one another regardless of their different work schedules. This can be an efficient use of everyone’s time. Scheduled, real-time, or synchronous interactions by phone, video, or in-person take advantage of seeing people face-to-face. This can create team- and culture-building experiences for remote employees.
Always be goals-focused.
Remote workers tend to operate as self-starters. They will thrive with a goals-focused direction that’s clearly communicated and attainable. They’ll also encourage one another in the process. Provide clear metrics around stated goals and milestones for projects, with clarity and context around how team members contribute to the overall company or team goal. Using an online hub like Ninety lets them view the team’s overall progress against goals no matter where their work is performed.
Find ways to support company culture remotely.
When workers understand how your company operates, what you value, and what you believe in, it’s easier to be inspired and engaged no matter where they work. To get remote teams on board, make sure the company culture lives through your thoughts and actions as their leader. Infuse company culture into virtual watercooler conversations, awarding gifts and company swag, in-person retreats, weekly group calls, and any other fun activity you can do together. Simply supporting company culture remotely will evolve and grow into a stronger remote company culture.
Avoid overloading your employees.
It’s more difficult to spot an employee who’s spending too much time at their desk when they work remotely. Discuss their workload during one-on-one meetings. Ask about other deadlines or obligations they might have and distractions they may need to control. Take them into consideration when assigning projects. Devise a suitable time frame to complete the work.
Track your team’s productivity.
If you have a results-based approach to getting work done, you’ll undoubtedly be making periodic checks on the status of projects to ensure your team can successfully deliver results. You don’t have to track this data on paper, though. Ninety’s cloud-based platform makes it easy to run productive meetings, assign and track tasks, give and get feedback, and more – without spreadsheets and hand-written notes. You’ll have the tools to predict trends and make data-driven decisions.
Say no to micromanaging.
To be an effective leader of remote teams, you want to establish trust in your team members. Trust starts with creating healthy accountability among team members that drive growth:
- Make transparent agreements that help people know exactly what they are supposed to be doing when they are working.
- Give transparent direction, so teams know where they’re headed and what they need to achieve. No one is scattered and moving in the wrong direction.
- Practice transparent communication so everyone can avoid confusion or misaligned action. They can collaborate easily and envision valuable results.
Run killer meetings.
Whether virtual or in-person, your meeting time will only be half as effective if you don’t improve the way you run them. Great meetings have 1) an agenda, 2) a time limit, and 3) an endgame action plan. Bad ones don’t. Group meetings that focus on brainstorming opportunities, solving challenges, and creating value can inspire unique ideas and contributions.
Make time for one-on-ones.
Remote teams have fewer opportunities to discuss ideas and solutions on the fly. That’s why regular one-on-one meetings are important for leading and managing them. It’s a powerful way to build better relationships, resolve issues quickly, and coach individuals who need help self-managing.
Hire people who excel at working independently.
When building remote teams, the ability of someone to manage themselves has great value. Your own schedule may be full, leading teams that work at the office, from a home office, or in different time zones. You may be working from anywhere, too. Often during the day, team members aren’t going to have direct access to you. You need to trust that remote team members can make good decisions independently.
Look for qualities that demonstrate the ability to self-manage, including:
- Good time management skills and the ability to work with deadlines
- A strong commitment to goal setting
- Previous experience in a remote work environment with proven success
Create ways to cheer for remote teams.
The celebrations of team achievements and individual successes in an office need to be translated to a remote work environment. This means scheduling special virtual events for this purpose. Sending cards or small gifts through the mail may seem old-school, but these gestures of appreciation become richer because they’re rarely done anymore. Virtual (or in-person) all-hands celebrations are another one of the easiest ways to support genuine connection-building.
Tweak career opportunities for a remote audience.
To build great relationships with your remote workers, it’s important to treat them like all other employees. Remote teams deserve the same opportunities for career progression as everyone else. While remote workers may not always want to follow a traditional career path, they likely will want to pursue any opportunity for growth. This is a great topic to include in one-on-one meetings.
How Can HR Support Remote Employees?
A 2022 report by social network management company Buffer indicates at least three-quarters of companies support their employees with the “transitional basics” required for remote work:
- 77% have the systems and technology in place for remote team collaboration and communication.
- 75% have regular one-on-one meetings.
Yet only 51% are helping remote workers connect with colleagues with opportunities to socialize. Human resources departments need to do better. Why?
In the same report, people say they continue to struggle with issues brought on by working remotely for long periods:
- 25% grapple with unplugging from work
- 24% have feelings of loneliness
- 17% struggle to communicate and collaborate
How can HR leaders help make remote work a better transformation? By supporting the health and well-being of employees and the overall business simultaneously.
7 Tips for HR Leaders on How to Support Remote Workers Better
Be open to change.
Adaptability is the name of the game for HR leaders. Be willing to listen to remote employees’ concerns so you can help them stay productive. Implementing digital solutions for more frequent communication will help both leaders and teams understand how the transition to remote work affects people. You can then adapt company processes to reflect the real-time challenges of your remote workforce with relevant solutions.
Put people first.
When you focus on improving employee engagement, you steer everyone toward a more aligned, thriving, purpose-driven culture. Prioritizing people on an individual level drives engagement. Giving them space to grow into the newness of working remotely can result in more collaboration and higher performance.
Check in frequently.
The transition to remote work can be stressful. Many start to feel disconnected or lose interest. Find out how employees are dealing with their new work routines. Encourage them to share their thoughts on remote work policies and other HR initiatives. Listening to what they have to say makes them feel valued. They’ll also feel more connected with you, the company culture, and each other.
Act on feedback.
Once you ask for regular feedback, incorporate what you learn into relevant strategies and processes for building a seamless workflow. Implementing changes based on worker suggestions can improve productivity and boost happiness while supporting business stability and growth.
Step up virtual events.
Consider running more events for a remote workforce, such as virtual all-hands meetings, town halls, professional development seminars, and social meet-ups. Their purpose is to provide a broader sense of community and information sharing. Employees can interact outside their normal work roles. You can support a sense of camaraderie and teamwork that creates value for the company and positively impacts growth.
Update HR policies, onboarding remote workers, and training.
- Include new or different skills and competencies for recruiting new hires, such as self-motivation, initiative, and effective virtual communications.
- Consider whether adjustments in compensation for remote workers are warranted.
- Adapt benefits to reflect a shift from traditional on-site perks to options for remote workers.
- Offer training and retraining that focus on remote work's social and relational aspects. Skills include establishing working norms, building trust, effective virtual communication patterns, and incorporating social elements into virtual work relationships.
- Recent surveys show that 64% of executives plan to invest in training leaders to run a virtual workforce. Training in leading hybrid teams will be valuable in maintaining equity between remote and on-site employees.
Treat all employees fairly.
In hybrid work models, remote teams can often miss out on in-office benefits like team lunches. Make sure leaders budget for remote employees to have that same perk, albeit reimagined for them. On-site workers may enjoy some of the flexibility that remote team members have. Figure out ways to reimburse employees for using personal devices, internet service, or home offices when working remotely.
Lead and Manage Your Remote Teams on Ninety
Now that you know what your remote teams need to thrive, it’s time to put your knowledge into practice:
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