How to manage a remote workforce: A guide for People leaders everywhere

Take a closer look at how best to lead a remote team.

Remote manager on a Zoom call with her team.
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With remote organizations, where your workforce is distributed across different locations, laying the groundwork for effective management can be complex. As a remote People leader, you’ll probably get less in-person time than you would with an office-based team. However, it’s still just as possible to coach remote managers effectively, help them to overcome the challenges, and even embrace the opportunities offered by a remote setup.

Here’s a closer look at how to lead a remote workforce successfully and empower your managers to build a thriving distributed team.

The challenges of remote team management

In order for the managers at your organization to reach their potential, you have to first recognize the challenges they face. Here are a few of the more common challenges, along with suggestions on how to deal with them.

Expectations and boundaries

Setting clear expectations and boundaries can be difficult as remote teams often work on different schedules, and team members need the self-discipline to work autonomously. It’s important to establish guidelines that balance team autonomy and accountability, while also ensuring that all team members are treated fairly and have access to the same information, regardless of their working patterns. Ensuring that everyone is aware of the guidelines and adheres to them will help to both build trust and improve productivity.

Communication

Communication is often one of the biggest challenges of managing teams remotely—but it doesn’t have to be. It’s true that the lack of in-person interactions can make it harder to pick up on nonverbal cues, so misunderstandings can occur if your organization doesn't have healthy communication practices in place. 

It’s important for all managers to be deliberate in their communication, setting up processes around team syncs and 1:1 meetings, and regularly checking in with team members. They should look into using technology and tools that facilitate effective communication and collaboration—check out the list below!

Isolation and siloed work

It’s possible that remote workers may feel more disconnected from their colleagues and the company as a whole, which—if left unchecked—could lead to feelings of loneliness, decreased motivation, and difficulty building a strong team culture. Additionally, remote workers may become more focused on individual tasks, leading to siloed work instead of healthy collaboration. 

To address this challenge, encourage managers to foster a sense of community in their teams through regular communication, virtual team-building activities, and opportunities for social interaction. Allowing team members to share ideas and feedback, and acting on their ideas, is also a crucial element for creating a culture of inclusion.

Trust

Trust is often a significant challenge for managers of remote teams. Without the ability to see work being done, some managers may feel that they don’t have a clear picture of what their team members are actually doing. But if they end up micromanaging, their team members may feel like they aren’t being trusted, leading to decreased morale and motivation. 

To improve trust in a remote team, you should establish clear expectations and goals, for both managers and their reports, and encourage a culture where managers provide regular feedback and recognition in order to create an environment of transparency. It’s important for everyone to trust remote teammates to complete tasks on time and to communicate effectively, while also providing the necessary support and resources to help them succeed.

Building trust with remote workers takes time and effort, but it’s essential for building a productive remote team.

Burnout

Left unchecked, burnout can be a major issue on remote teams, with negative consequences for both team members and the company as a whole. Without good discipline, remote work can blur the boundaries between work and personal life, leading to longer working hours and a constant feeling of being “on call.”

Additionally, remote workers may feel isolated and disconnected from colleagues, which can contribute to increased stress and burnout. Proper support and guidance from the leadership level is required to help managers and remote workers maintain a healthy work-life balance and not become overwhelmed by the demands of the job. 

Acknowledging this issue and addressing it is the first step, but you should also lead by example—a burned-out People leader is definitely not as effective as one with a healthy work-life balance.

Time zone management

When team members are spread across the globe, it can be difficult to find a time that works for everyone to have meetings, collaborate on projects, or simply communicate. This can lead to delays in decision-making and project completion, as well as frustration and miscommunication among team members.

To overcome this challenge, remote teams need to establish clear communication protocols and scheduling practices to ensure that everyone is on the same page. This may include setting regular meeting times that work for all team members, using tools like shared calendars to keep track of schedules, and prioritizing asynchronous communication to minimize the impact of time zone differences. By being proactive and intentional about managing time zone challenges, remote teams can work together effectively and efficiently, regardless of their geographic location.

Take a look at our time zone crossover calculator to get a better idea of the countries you can hire in with time overlaps.

Tracking productivity

Keeping track of productivity on remote teams can be both a challenge and an opportunity. On the one hand, the lack of direct supervision and increased distractions outside of an office could potentially lead to decreased productivity. However, remote work can also provide team members with increased flexibility and autonomy, allowing them to work during their most productive hours and in environments that best suit their needs. Additionally, the use of digital tools and technology can help streamline workflows and increase efficiency. 

With the right support and guidance, remote teams can leverage these benefits to achieve greater levels of productivity than traditional, office-based teams. It's important for companies to recognize the potential productivity gains of remote work and provide employees with the resources and training they need to succeed in this environment. By encouraging a culture of accountability and empowering team members to take ownership of their work, remote teams can overcome productivity challenges and thrive.

Building morale

Without regular opportunities for team members to connect and build relationships, it can be difficult for managers to foster a sense of community and shared purpose. Remote workers may struggle with feelings of disengagement or lack of recognition, which can affect morale and motivation. 

To address this, encourage managers of remote teams to prioritize communication and collaboration, provide opportunities for social interaction, and recognize the accomplishments of individual team members. This can include virtual team-building activities, regular check-ins, and public recognition of achievements. By creating a positive and supportive culture, remote teams can boost morale and create a sense of belonging among team members, leading to increased engagement and productivity.

Avoiding micromanagement is also essential for managers to build morale. Enabling team members to make decisions in their field of expertise will help empower them to upskill and look forward to their future at the company.

Best practices for managing remote teams

With the challenges outlined above, it’s clear that remote managers need to put in a lot of effort to ensure that remote teams function to their true potential. As a People leader, you can help by offering coaching, guidance, and resources for managers. Here are a few tips on best practices to promote within your organization.

Great onboarding

Onboarding is an essential practice for managing a remote team as it helps new team members to get accustomed to the company's culture and work environment. By having a structured onboarding process, new hires can have a clear understanding of their role, duties, and how they can contribute to the team's success. 

The onboarding process helps to establish goals, set expectations, and provide necessary resources and tools for remote workers. By investing in a solid onboarding process, remote managers can ensure that new hires feel supported, motivated, and confident in their ability to work both independently and collaboratively with their peers.

Asynchronous communication

Asynchronous communication is a must for remote teams as it allows team members to work in different time zones without losing productivity. Unlike synchronous communication, which requires team members to be available at the same time, asynchronous communication allows team members to communicate and collaborate on their own time. This means that they can have a flexible work schedule, which is especially important when working across different time zones. 

Asynchronous communication can also reduce the number of meetings required, which can be a major time sink for remote teams. Instead of having real-time conversations, team members can communicate through email, messaging, or shared documents. This approach also allows team members to take the necessary time to gather their thoughts and provide thoughtful responses, leading to more effective communication and collaboration. Overall, asynchronous communication is an essential component of managing a remote team and can facilitate increased productivity, better communication, and a more flexible work environment.

Structure and planning

Structure and planning are important in every workplace, and crucially so in remote organizations. To start, it's important to establish clear and concise communication channels that everyone can access easily. This includes setting up regular check-ins and defining communication expectations such as response times and preferred methods of communication. 

It's also crucial to establish a clear project management system that outlines the deadlines, responsibilities, and timelines for each task. This helps to keep everyone accountable and ensures that projects are always on track without the need for regular in-person check-ins.

Measuring outputs over inputs

Measuring outputs instead of inputs allows teams to focus on results rather than the irrelevant metric of time spent working. This provides a more accurate assessment of an employee's productivity and performance. When remote teams are held accountable for their outputs, it motivates them to prioritize tasks and complete them more efficiently. 

Measuring outputs over inputs also creates a culture of trust and autonomy, empowering team members to work independently and take ownership of their work. A focus on outputs will drive team success and growth in remote work environments.

Documentation

Documentation is essential for remote teams because it provides a central source of information that team members can refer to at any time. Since remote teams work in different locations and time zones, documentation serves as a critical communication tool to ensure that everyone stays on the same page. Documenting decisions, processes, and procedures helps to ensure consistency and reduce errors or misunderstandings. 

Thorough documentation promotes collaboration and knowledge sharing within the team. By making all information easily accessible, team members can contribute to each other's work and make progress seamlessly.

Great documentation also makes onboarding and training new employees easier, creating a smoother transition into the team. Overall, documentation is a vital asset for remote teams, supporting communication, collaboration, and effective decision-making. At Oyster we use Notion to document all our processes and store all our relevant information in an easy-to-access, easy-to-edit system.

Regular check-ins

Scheduling team check-ins at a mutually convenient and consistent time helps to establish a routine and ensures that everyone can participate, regardless of their location. During the check-in, managers should ask open-ended questions and actively listen to team members to understand their concerns, progress, and accomplishments. 

Encourage managers to also provide feedback and guidance to their direct reports on current projects, as well as overall career development. By providing regular feedback and recognition, managers can motivate and engage remote team members, boosting morale and encouraging productivity. Overall, regular check-ins help managers build a strong rapport with their remote team, making it easier to foster trust, communication, and collaboration.

What skills do remote managers need?

Managing remote teams requires strong people skills, emotional intelligence, and self-awareness. People leaders at distributed organizations should look for these attributes when hiring managers. You can also provide ongoing training and support to help managers develop the skills below so that they’re equipped to lead remote teams effectively.

Empathy

Empathy is the foremost skill remote managers need to succeed. It's important to understand that each team member has unique needs and circumstances that can impact their work performance. Remote workers may feel isolated or disconnected from the team, which can affect their productivity and morale. An empathetic manager can help alleviate these feelings by actively listening and trying to understand their individual struggles. 

By showing concern and offering support, an empathetic manager can help boost morale and increase job satisfaction. Empathy also helps foster trust and rapport between managers and team members, which is essential for effective communication and collaboration. 

Ultimately, remote managers who practice empathy create a more positive and productive work environment, leading to higher job satisfaction, employee retention, and overall success for the team. Empathy can be an invaluable tool for overcoming the challenges discussed earlier.

Self-awareness

When managing a remote team, it can be challenging to gauge team members' mood or morale as there are no physical cues. A self-aware manager understands their own strengths and weaknesses, how they affect their team, and how they respond to different situations. By cultivating self-awareness, remote managers can identify any communication issues, biases, or blind spots that may negatively impact their team’s performance. They can adjust their management style to meet the team's needs, empathize with their struggles, and offer support when necessary.

Remote managers with a high degree of self-awareness are also better equipped to handle stress and work pressure, allowing them to remain calm and composed during difficult situations. As a result, self-awareness helps remote managers build stronger relationships, foster trust, and create a positive work environment for their team members.

Servant leadership

Servant leadership is a leadership philosophy that prioritizes the needs of team members and empowers them to grow and succeed. Servant leaders aim to support their team members by providing resources, guidance, and mentorship. They focus on removing obstacles rather than micromanaging or directing their team's work. 

Remote teams often require more autonomy, and a servant leader approach allows team members to take ownership of their work and feel supported in doing so. By prioritizing the needs of their team, remote managers can create a positive and productive work environment that inspires growth and creativity.

Detailed and concise communication

The nature of asynchronous communication and limited 1:1 time requires clear and concise instructions or feedback that can be easily understood by team members. Being detailed helps to ensure that team members have all the information they need to complete tasks accurately and efficiently. 

Additionally, being detailed and concise allows team members to quickly understand what is expected of them, which can save time and prevent miscommunications. It also promotes accountability by offering a clear understanding of expectations and responsibilities. Ultimately, it helps ensure that team members are on the same page.

Benefits of a successful remote team

As we’ve seen already, managing remote teams is not without challenges. But with the right approach, and with the help of training and enablement from People leaders, a skilled manager can not only overcome these challenges, but rise to meet the many opportunities offered by a remote work environment. 

Productivity

Managing remote teammates effectively will empower them to become productive and self-sufficient members of the organization. Maintaining strong communication, offering feedback and acknowledgment for the work they do, and trusting their ability to get tasks done successfully will help them feel more connected to the company. Since remote employees don’t get the traditional in-office experience, it’s even more important for managers to cultivate a sense of connection and strong working relationships. 

Fortunately, guidance from managers can help remote team members avoid feelings of isolation, help them stay focused and engaged, and encourage them to do their best work. 

Access to a global talent pool

Remote work allows companies to tap into a global talent pool. By allowing team members to work from anywhere in the world, remote teams can hire the best talent without geographic limitations. This enables companies to access highly skilled professionals who may not be available locally.

Want to find out more about how to hire globally with ease? Find out more about Oyster’s global employment platform and start tapping into the global talent pool today.

15 tools to help you to manage your remote team 

Enabling managers with the right management skills can help them overcome the challenges and tap into the potential of a remote work setting, but People leaders also need to choose the right tools to enable a healthy and productive team culture within their organizations.

Every company will rely on a different set of tools depending on their setup and needs. With so many options available, it can be overwhelming to decide which tools to use. Here are 15 of the top tools, broken down by function, for you to consider. 

Tools for employee bonding and team culture

Remote teams need opportunities to foster relationships and have fun in the workplace so they can feel connected.

1. Clockwise

If your organization has employees that work across time zones, digital tools like Clockwise can help with scheduling meetings. By keeping track of the local time zones of employees, managers can develop best practices for working synchronously and asynchronously. Coworkers can also use this information to help plan for informal virtual lunches or hangouts.  

2. Tandem

To help team members who miss the in-person interactions that an office provides, managers can recreate the office experience using digital tools like Tandem, an app that promotes virtual collaboration. Employees can even create a virtual coworking space to simulate working alongside colleagues in the office. 

3. Kona

When teams feel connected, they’re more effective and collaborative. Tools like Kona that provide daily mental health check-ins can provide opportunities to engage with coworkers, thus increasing team bonding and decreasing loneliness. 

Communication

Using the right tools will remove the communication barriers that remote teams sometimes face. The fast-paced nature of communication requires that companies use the latest tools to stay connected in real time. Both video conferencing software and instant messaging platforms can achieve these goals. 

4. Zoom

Video chats provide a synchronous form of communication that can help remote employees feel connected. Unlike instant messaging, video allows you to pick up on tone and visual cues to interpret nonverbal messages. Zoom is one of the most popular tools for video conferencing, with useful features like reactions, screen sharing, meeting rooms, scheduled calls, and password protection. Because of its popularity, it can also be integrated with many other digital tools.

5. Slack

Slack is an instant messaging platform that teams use for internal and external communication. Slack messages are more informal than emails and can allow for faster response times and conversations. Teams can separate conversations into different channels based on topics and projects, as well as send direct messages. 

Slack integrates with other apps to make it easy to share files, search messages, and host video calls. It’s a very useful supplement to other communication tools. 

6. Loom

Sometimes it’s easier to explain ideas over video rather than type out long paragraphs. Videos can capture nuance better than text and can be a more dynamic method of communication for complex topics. Loom offers a digital tool for easily recording and sending videos to colleagues and clients.

7. Airmeet

Airmeet offers a hybrid events platform to host engaging and interactive experiences. As conferences and trainings move online, employers can prevent digital burnout and fatigue by offering immersive experiences. When employees are engaged, they are better able to retain information from a webinar or conference. 

8. Culture Amp

Culture Amp helps employers get a pulse on what their team needs. It’s important to offer a safe space for remote employees to deliver feedback. When teammates feel heard, they’re more likely to remain active and engaged with their work, as well as build stronger relationships with their managers. 

Project management

When employees and teams need to collaborate on a project, it’s important that all parties can track the progress of the project and clearly communicate who is responsible for each task. Project management tools help with the full project cycle, from planning to execution and delivery.  

9. Asana

Asana and similar project management tools make it easy to track projects and break down departmental silos. Employees can easily reference projects to identify who is involved with tasks at different stages of the process. There are multiple project views available to accommodate different types of projects, as well as templates for those looking for help getting started. With Asana, team members can clearly understand what needs to get done to keep a project moving forward.

Collaboration and document-sharing tools

When teams need to work on a deliverable together, they need a tool that allows for live document editing, commenting, and shareability. Online cloud storage solutions make it easy to create, store, and share important files with team members. 

10. Dropbox

If you need to find a fast and secure location to store and share files, consider Dropbox. The shared drive offers a secure space to collaborate and streamline remote work. Dropbox can quickly sync and integrate with third-party tools such as Slack, Zoom, Google, and Asana, just to name a few. 

11. Notion

Notion offers a centralized workspace that makes it easy for teams to collaborate. It integrates with many tools and applications so teams can create and share a variety of files—from documents to spreadsheets and presentations. Its live editing capabilities also facilitate collaboration, and Notion can sync across devices so everyone is always updated.   

Productivity and goal tracking

Productivity tools make it easier to keep projects and tasks on track by creating checklists, assigning tasks, and encouraging accountability for each member of the team. When the breakdown of responsibilities is made visible, employees can be more efficient at getting tasks done. 

12. Doist

Managing a global team can require a lot of coordination. Tools like Doist make it easier to check in with different team members and track the progress of their work. Employees note their accomplishments each day, as well as any barriers they faced. If a project gets held up, there’s a clear pathway to move the project along. 

Training and performance management

People managers can set their team up for success by ensuring that employees are trained to work effectively and efficiently. Companies can also retain top talent by encouraging ongoing professional development and growth. Setting up a process for performance management and continuous feedback can help employees identify areas for improvement. 

 13. Workramp

Workramp helps remote managers provide effective training and coaching for their employees. People teams can use Workramp to onboard new employees as well as provide ongoing learning and development opportunities to help current employees gain new skills. Workramp even lets you build modules to create customized lessons.  

 14. Pando

Remote teammates can benefit from receiving structured feedback since there may be limited opportunities to receive informal feedback. Without a structure in place, remote employees might struggle to know if their performance is satisfactory. Pando ensures that employees receive continuous feedback.

15. Lingo Live

It’s important to find tools that are built with distributed teams in mind. Lingo Live offers skills-based coaching specifically for distributed teams. Employees receive a customized curriculum and can track their progress through a dashboard.

Unlocking a world of potential

Managing remote teams can be challenging, but with the right skills and tools, you can help to unlock a world of potential, enabling your managers and their teams to operate above and beyond the capacity of an office-based team. Ultimately, remote managers can create a work environment that empowers employees to succeed, leading to improved team performance, higher job satisfaction, and overall success.

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 distributed workforce. Oyster 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.

FAQ’s

Is the Oyster platform free?

People Builders is an exclusive community that serves the needs of People professionals and leaders dedicated to building people-centric organizations in a globally distributed world of work.

How does the annual subscription work?

People Builders is an exclusive community that serves the needs of People professionals and leaders dedicated to building people-centric organizations in a globally distributed world of work.

How does the annual subscription work?

People Builders is an exclusive community that serves the needs of People professionals and leaders dedicated to building people-centric organizations in a globally distributed world of work.

How does the annual subscription work?

People Builders is an exclusive community that serves the needs of People professionals and leaders dedicated to building people-centric organizations in a globally distributed world of work.

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