Managing Remote Teams
July 6, 2020
As a manager, it’s your job to make sure information flows smoothly within your team.
Without this, you can't build trust, get timely feedback, or empower your teammates. Projects get held up, team morale plummets, and productivity grinds to a halt.
Luckily, information tends to flow relatively freely in office settings via informal conversations, body language, and ease of access to your colleagues. Because of this, you can get away with a lack of structure and poorly-defined processes since so much information is conveyed implicitly within your team.
In remote settings, though, these implicit information sources disappear.
As a result, managing a remote team requires much more intentionality and preparation. It becomes your primary responsibility to put in place the right processes to keep information flowing smoothly within your team.
There is no silver bullet, but here are six things you can do to become a better remote manager:
When your team isn’t in the same building, it’s harder to make sure everyone’s on the same page.
To avoid misunderstandings or mismatched expectations, make sure you’re communicating often and explicitly with the rest of your team, no matter how unnecessary it may feel.
Trust me, they will appreciate it.
✏️ Write everything down
And when I say everything, I mean everything.
Documenting your work is important in any project, but it is especially crucial for remote teams.
With colleagues spread across several locations, clear and consistent documentation helps everyone stay up to date with what’s going on in your project.
⏳ Patience is key
In remote teams, you never know when someone’s gone to the bathroom, in a meeting, or otherwise unavailable. So be patient and don’t expect immediate responses all the time.
Not only does this give your colleagues room to breathe, it also frees them up to focus, get in the zone, and do their best work.
Fewer time-sensitive interruptions = better work & happier team.
🙋 Make time for friendship
When you’re working remotely, it’s harder to get to know your colleagues personally. No more watercooler conversations, shared lunches, or after-work drinks.
So set aside some time for team-building. Not only does it make work more fun, it also builds trust and keeps everyone happy and engaged.
A few ideas…
👋 Daily/weekly non-work video chats
❓ Teammate trivia
🎪 Fun/informal Slack channels
🎲 Online party games
📚 Book clubs
🎥 Movie nights
🍻 Local meetups
🎙 Embrace voice chat
Remote work can be lonely, but endless video calls are not the solution. They're inefficient, exhausting, and often completely overkill.
Instead, many remote work veterans I know default to voice chat for internal conversations. It offers the same level of presence, collaboration, and information bandwidth while reducing cognitive load and feeling less performative.
With platforms like Tandem, Presence, and even Discord, you can migrate your team online without sacrificing proximity or spontaneity. Your office may be virtual, but when set up properly it feels just like you’re working next to each other, minus the commute.
💯 All or nothing
If only some of your team works remotely, then you're setting yourself up for failure.
In "hybrid" remote set-ups, remote team members end up missing out on all the conversations that happen in person, and this uneven distribution of information heavily favours team members working in the office.
If you want to switch to remote (even temporarily), you have to commit all the way.
With your whole team working remotely, the flow of information moves from the office into the digital realm (email/Slack/Notion/Github/etc.). This ensures everyone is included and kept in the loop, and gives everyone an equal voice on your team.
👉 Bottom line
Ultimately, your job as a manager is to empower your team to do their best work, and in a remote setting this requires a lot more thought and preparation. From communicating more clearly to building stronger relationships, your success as a remote manager will depend on your ability to manage the flow of information within your team.
Every team is different and has its own unique needs, so hopefully these guidelines can serve as a helpful starting point.
This is my first foray into writing and I'll be sharing more thoughts on remote management in future essays, so feel free to reach out—I'd love to hear your thoughts as well!
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© Copyright 2020, André-Paul Johnson