Managing Distributed Teams

Every Director of People Operations needs these 5 qualities to manage remote teams

These skills are in high demand for remote leaders.
February 11, 2022
Oyster Team
Every Director of People Operations needs these 5 qualities to manage remote teams

Distributed work is here to stay. And while more businesses hoover up top talent from different countries, it’s worth noting that this model isn’t without its difficulties.

One of the most prominent issues being remote employees frequently experience loneliness and a sense of alienation from their coworkers and company culture. When these emotions go unresolved, deadlines, company morale, and overall productivity suffer.

This is where people ops managers come in, but the skill set required for the job isn't what it used to be. If you used to be a master of people management but now find that the same rules don't apply because your team members work remotely, you’re not alone. As a director of people operations, here are five essential qualities that you need to manage your remote team effectively.

Graphic that says 5 top qualities of a Director of People Operations

Stellar communication skills

Communication is at the heart of effective leadership. And even doubly so for remote teams, where clarity of communication is critical. When some (or all) of your team members are working physically alone, it is easy to unintentionally withhold information or provide insufficient context to explain decisions or actions.

Virtual communication lacks the nuance and visual cues that physical contact provides, so people ops leaders must take note of how and when they share information and look for ways to improve transparency. As a general rule, communicate more than you believe is necessary, not less. 

You'll save time otherwise spent clarifying your point to team members who don’t get it. Remote teams are typically regionally or racially diverse, so it is important to use a communication platform accessible to and convenient for all team members.

Heads of people operations must foster an environment that allows for continuous engagement. Aside from creating separate chat groups for each department, consider creating several channels based on different topics—wellness, productivity, feedback, celebrations, and so on—so that team members can continue conversations about things other than work.

This fosters camaraderie, keeps the wheels turning and team members happy. The best team leaders understand this is the recipe for a winning team.

Last but not least, directors of people operations must be excellent listeners to communicate effectively. Communication is a two-way street, and it’s impossible to provide accurate feedback if you don't understand the other party.

Emotional intelligence

To be an excellent virtual leader, you must connect emotionally with your team members—leading with empathy and fostering trust. 

When you lead with empathy, you add a human element to the virtual environment. This reduces the sense of isolation that virtual workers may feel, allowing them to feel like part of a real community.

Check in with each member of your team to see how they're doing, especially since some people may struggle to adjust to remote work. Ask about their families, pastimes, or what they thought about something interesting that happened that week. Empathize with them to demonstrate a shared understanding, letting them know that you see them as people, not just employees.

Team managers must be exceptional at connecting with every member of the team, which can be difficult, especially if you have a large staff. 

To balance things out, consider establishing mentoring programs for new hires. They may struggle to adjust to full-time remote working without first meeting the team in person. Research shows that 75% of employees say they feel more socially isolated after the pandemic outbreak. 

You can set up a mentoring program for these employees by pairing them with more experienced team members. This is a great way to foster more personal relationships among coworkers, eventually influencing team spirit and building a sense of camaraderie.

The ability to manage by results

It’s important to shift your focus from activity to results when managing a remote team.

A focus on activity can lead to team dependency and micromanagement. Instead, be clear about the outcomes and deliverables, and then step back and let them do their job. Don't tell your team how to do their job; instead, state what needs to be done and watch their creativity blossom.

Employees who work remotely prefer the flexibility to work when and how they want. Embrace flexibility, trust your team, and give them the freedom to work in the way that best fits their schedules, as long as they meet deadlines and keep the company’s bottom line in mind.

The ability to maintain accountability

It is difficult to hold employees accountable from a distance, so remote people operations leaders must be able to set clear goals and expectations. They should also establish solid systems for monitoring progress and providing feedback through the appropriate channels. 

Create a solid structure that keeps your team in the loop about work hours, communication systems, scheduled meetings, key projects and deadlines. 

Get very clear about who is responsible for what tasks and when they must be completed. Employees generally perform better when there are clear performance expectations in place, rather than just vague milestones. According to a Gallup study, only 36% of U.S employees are engaged at work. And we all know that low employee engagement results in low productivity and low employee retention rates. 

Setting goals improves productivity by making it easier to determine key performance indicators (KPIs), reward outstanding performance, and provide feedback for improvement. Giving team members regular feedback can help them improve their work and reduce the likelihood of delivering poor quality work. 

Give positive feedback for what they've done well, as well as corrective feedback when they've strayed from the path. Put your emotional intelligence to use here, and be mindful of how you communicate feedback or criticism to your employees. Focusing feedback on an employee's weak points can reduce their performance by 27%.

Availability

Because it is often difficult to determine someone's availability in a remote work setting, people leaders must make it simple for remote employees to contact them. It’s not like your team members can pop into your office to ask a quick question, as is possible in physical workplaces. 

It is your responsibility as a people manager to replicate that level of availability on your remote communication channels as much as possible. You can do this by:

  • Scheduling regular office hours when you’re available, and welcoming phone calls or video chats during that time
  • Calendar sharing
  • Organizing regular check-ins
  • Holding frequent team meetings (not simply for the sake of it—set an agenda to stay on track and ensure your team is getting value out of the face time)
  • Schedule weekly one-on-one meetings with employees to discuss projects and goals, track progress, or simply catch up

Whatever the medium, a virtual team manager must be proactive in staying in touch with the entire team and staying up to date on what they're working on, how projects are progressing, what obstacles they're encountering, and what they need. Your employees will feel valued if you make yourself available to them.

Your company is as good as your people

The most important part of building a lasting, profitable business is assembling and managing a team that embodies your company culture and propels you forward. 

The best people operations managers MUST have all five qualities we've discussed because they're all complementary. You must be emotionally intelligent to communicate effectively, just as you must also be able to maintain accountability to track results and measure the progress of the team towards the company’s goals.

Grow and take care of your global team from a single platform with Oyster. Contact us today to get started!

About Oyster

Oyster is a global employment platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, hire, pay, manage, develop and take care of a thriving global workforce. It lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve, without the usual headaches and expense.

Oyster enables hiring anywhere in the world with reliable, compliant payroll, and great local benefits and perks.

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