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Future of Work
Managing a Remote Team: Tips and Best Practices for Today

Managing a Remote Team: Tips and Best Practices for Today

Alyssa Towns
June 4, 2024
Updated on:

Managing a Remote Team: Tips and Best Practices for Today
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Teams collaborating face-to-face interact naturally without thinking about it, including in whiteboard sessions, impromptu desk chats, and lunch runs. But when your team is working remotely, you’ve got to find ways to encourage the same level of collaboration and communication without hurting your team’s productivity.

That’s not to say that remote work isn’t as effective as sitting next to your colleagues in a shared physical space, but rather, it requires different skills, tools, and techniques to make it work. We’ve rounded up:

  • Some of the ongoing challenges of remote work 
  • Best practices for managing remote teams 
  • Tools to consider to manage remote workers more effectively 
  • Tips for building trust across dispersed teams 
  • Our favorite resources for staying on top of remote work trends  

What are the challenges of remote work? 

In early 2024, Atlassian published a report showcasing lessons learned after 1,000 days as Team Anywhere—Atlassian’s approach to all-in distributed work. Atlassian is experiencing many incredible benefits following their Team Anywhere commitments, including 92% of Atlassians indicating that distributed work allows them to do their best work. 

However, as most knowledge workers in hybrid and remote environments know, remote work has challenges. Atlassian summarized four significant challenges, including:

  • Productivity (Are your teams aligned to company OKRs and goals? Are you structuring your time around your most important work? Do you have best practices for synchronous and asynchronous connection?) 
  • Connection (How is your team connecting and making the most of face-to-face time?)
  • Offices (How are you creating a meaningful office experience and measuring ROI?) 
  • Culture (What are your company values, and how are you living and breathing them? What does leadership communication look like within your organization?) 

It’s a tough needle to thread, but these tips for managing a remote team can help.

Best practices for managing remote teams

Encourage asynchronous (async) communication norms

Remote work managers should set expectations among remote workers that most communication should be asynchronous (async) unless absolutely necessary. 

In synchronous communication channels, all parties expect immediate responses. These include in-person meetings, Zoom calls, and some online chat conversations. Participants should expect delayed responses in async conversations on channels such as email, Hangouts, Slack, texts, and project management software like Asana.

It’s not enough to assume that your team members will figure out whether to deliver their message via a synchronous or asynchronous channel. Help spell it out and clearly set team and company norms around these channels. 

Doist published a simple yet incredibly helpful communication pyramid that includes the tool they use and whether their remote team members should use the platform for asynchronous or synchronous communication: 

visual pyramid of remote tools
Leverage synchronous and asynchronous communication across remote teams | Image source: Doist

There are several reasons why async communication is perfect for remote teams. First, encouraging workers to replace calls with messages alleviates “Zoom fatigue.” Second, async communication facilitates collaboration across time zones (which we’ll explore in the next section). 

It’s also one step towards a more inclusive remote work environment. When workers expect immediate responses less often, it levels the playing field between workers with flexible schedules—including those caring for children and elderly parents—and 9-5 workers.

Of particular interest to us at Clockwise is that async communications foster deeper focus.

According to the authors of three productivity bestsellers — Deep Work, Indistractable, and Make Time, synchronous communication is one of the mortal enemies of team productivity.

Constantly responding to each ping from every platform turns everyone’s working hours into countless opportunities for conversation, essentially “meeting-izing” the entire workday.

This constant distraction can seriously disrupt your workday and dampen your focus and productivity. The average worker checks their email inbox or messenger service once every six minutes.

Getting out of the habit of reacting to every incoming message immediately gives workers the long stretches of uninterrupted time needed to do the kind of work that moves the needle for an organization. Cal Newport calls this “deep work.” The “number-one benefit” of asynchronous communication is “the ability to build large stretches of uninterrupted Focus Time,” according to Writer Blake Thorne.

Give each (communication) channel a purpose

Setting clear expectations for communication is a prominent theme in managing remote teams. Many of us added new communication tools left and right during the pandemic. Jared Ponchot, Creative Director at Lullabot (a fully distributed company), recommends that remote managers assign a designated purpose to each communication channel. Instead of letting each worker decide how to use each channel, establish guidelines from the outset. Perhaps you use different channels in Slack for synchronous versus async conversations. 

For example, at Clockwise, we use the prefix “fun_” before channels to differentiate them from channels where we discuss pressing work-related matters. Like Buffer and Hipchat, we also have a channel dedicated to sharing music. Automattic teammates discuss shared interests on dedicated microblogs. These channels encourage social interaction and help workers get to know each other, replacing the water cooler talk of the office.

“When remote workers have a game plan for how to best get in touch with teammates for each situation, everyone can avoid wasted time, frustration, and missed connections,” Ponchot writes.

Miri Rodriguez, Global Head of Internships at Microsoft and author of Brand Storytelling: Put Customers at the Heart of Your Brand Story, recommends creating spaces for team members to spend time together and have fun via “virtual morale” team-building activities. From “quarantinis” to Xbox online tournaments, it’s important that the team bonds over lighthearted activities. Team building doesn’t have to be all about problem-solving and developing communication skills. Simple get-togethers can do wonders for teamwork.

Promote a culture of documentation

A remote environment is fertile ground for silos, a.k.a. the bane of collaboration (recall Atlassian’s productivity challenge). An organizational or knowledge silo forms when an individual or team avoids sharing information, processes, or tools with another individual or team within the same organization. This “silo mentality” can cause all sorts of trouble across the company, including misalignment, duplicate work, a decline in customer satisfaction, and a toxic company culture. Let’s not forget that if a team member leaves the company, they could leave a knowledge gap that disrupts things.

It’s easy to see how remote work can give rise to, or worsen, the silo mentality. When team members don’t have the convenience of in-person, face-to-face interaction, holding onto knowledge is easier than sharing it. Not to mention that even if your team members try to share information, there’s a chance their message will get lost amongst a sea of unread (or skimmed) emails or buried in the Slack notification graveyard.

The solution is to facilitate knowledge sharing among your remote employees. That’s where documentation comes into play. Documentation includes SOPs (standard operating procedures), team wikis, human resource documents (e.g., employee handbook), and more. 

The idea is simple: When someone has a question, they can turn to the documentation for clarity instead of tracking down the right person with the right information. This cuts back on back-and-forth communication, supports new hires during onboarding, and increases standardization and alignment across the virtual workspace.

As a manager, there are a few things you can do to build a culture of documentation at your organization actively:

1. Establish what tool you’ll use to record and store your documents. (Hint: Our favorite tools are below.)

2. Create frameworks or templates for the documents you need. These can provide a helpful starting point for someone who has never written an SOP, wiki, or other type of documentation before.

3. Update documentation on a regular or as-needed basis, ensuring they remain living documents. Assign document owners when it makes sense.

Prioritize mental health

The remote environment affects employees' mental health in many ways. Improved work-life balance, greater autonomy, and higher productivity are potential perks of a remote workforce. But there are downsides, too.

Keep tabs on workload

For one, it becomes easier to overload remote team members with too much work. In a piece for The New Yorker, Cal Newport comments on the “social cost” of asking an employee to take up a task when communicating face-to-face. That social cost encourages us to be more thoughtful. 

He writes, “In a remote workplace, in which co-workers are reduced to abstract e-mail addresses or Slack handles, it’s easier for them to overload each other in an effort to declare victory over their own rapidly filling in-boxes.”

It’s essential to familiarize yourself with each person’s bandwidth status—to know how much they can handle at any given time. Our favorite tools for this are in the next section below.

Connect human-to-human without work requests

In addition to better workload management, leadership advisor Niamh O’Keeffe recommends implementing virtual coffee breaks. They promote team bonding while providing a nice mental break that can enable workers to recharge and ultimately increase their productivity.

Encouraging workers to take time for virtual coffee breaks “promotes the social and emotional health of the team and encourages the team’s social cohesiveness,” O’Keeffe told Forbes. “Leaders need to encourage informal bonding time and recognize that a lot of idea sharing, innovation and problem-solving takes place during informal time.”

Next, let’s discuss some tools to make your life easier as you manage a remote team.

Tools and technologies for remote communications

You know the basic necessities when managing remote workers: a video conferencing tool for your team meetings and one-on-ones, a team chat app like Slack, a project management tool like Asana, and so on. This section will cover other collaboration tools you might not have considered.

For stress-free scheduling

Regarding tools for managers, we obviously recommend Clockwise, an intelligent calendar assistant that uses AI to improve your calendar significantly. It helps you carve out the Focus Time you need to get real work done by moving your meetings to the least interruptive time possible. It also lets you spend less time scheduling and makes your life easier through integrations with Slack and Zoom. If video calls are a regular part of your schedule, Clockwise is a must-have.

For better communication

Another way to avoid wasted time, frustration, and missed connections when managing a remote team is to use the Clockwise + Slack integration. Let’s say you wanted to message someone with different working hours due to their childcare schedule or time zone. Clockwise integrates with Slack to show different emojis based on their working hours, meetings, and out-of-office schedules. 

One glance at someone’s Slack status will tell you immediately whether or not they’re available to respond to your message. And, thanks to the integration, you and your team members don’t need to update your statuses manually—Clockwise will see what’s on your calendar and update your Slack status automatically to ensure full alignment.

For async communications without all the typing

Loom is a video messaging tool that lets you record video and audio clips. It's a must-have for remote team members. Loom comes in handy when typing is taking too long, or you need to share your screen. It’s also a great asynchronous alternative to video conferencing. 

For daily check-ins without micromanaging

Having your employees take time to prepare an async status update helps ensure everyone is making progress toward the right goals. Ponchot recommends Todoist and Weekdone. Some managers at Clockwise use DailyBot. Daily check-ins also help keep everyone on the same page on tasks and projects.

For knowledge sharing

Notion and Slite are our top recommendations for creating a centralized knowledge base for your remote workforce. Both apps are powerful platforms that let you build collections of living documents that team members can refer to as a single source of truth. On the topic of knowledge sharing, we also want to give another shoutout to Slack. Team Slack channels are a great way to promote transparency and say goodbye to knowledge silos in your organization, as opposed to email and one-on-one direct messages.

For remote work culture

Social distancing from a home office might make you feel disconnected from your co-workers. Or you might feel like your work goes unacknowledged. This feeling of isolation is preventable. It helps when the whole team makes an effort to recognize each other’s accomplishments and point out the good work getting done at the individual and group levels. A quick shoutout on Slack (try a team or company-wide channels like #kudos, #humblebrag, or #team-shouts) or a thank-you email can make a big difference. Nothing energizes a team more (or leads to higher employee engagement) than feeling that they worked together to accomplish something.

We recommend Disco for remote culture/employee recognition and rewards. It makes it easy for anyone to praise and recognize colleagues' contributions and accomplishments within Slack. Disco tracks points based on who’s giving and receiving kudos. Disco will also nudge workers to recognize each other with prompts like, “Who lived the company’s values this month?” Disco also makes it easier for leaders to write and send out weekly Pulse surveys and displays the data in a dashboard.

Building trust and communication in remote teams

Trust is (arguably) more important than before and can be harder to build without spending time together in person regularly. At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge that trust looks different than it might have otherwise presented itself in an office scene. Below are some key tips for building trust in a distributed world. 

Be authentically transparent 

“Radical transparency” can vary from organization to organization, but Ray Dalio,  investor, entrepreneur, and author of Principles, suggests making important issues apparent across the team, exposing the good, bad, and the ugly, and having integrity while demanding it from others. It involves speaking up, having opinions, and feeling like you can share them broadly. 

Without transparency, remote work creates time and space for individuals to fill in gaps using the information they can access. If you hold some information close to the top, your individual contributors and mid-level people managers might start to hypothesize in the gray space. Being authentically transparent reduces the gray space, even when the information is tough to hear. Instead, it gives way to rally together and address the tough stuff more openly. 

Set clear expectations and priorities 

Leaders can lose team members quickly when expectations and priorities are unclear, undefined, or constantly evolving. This isn’t new or specific to remote work, but it’s more critical to ensure forward progress and alignment. 

Clear expectations include:

  • A defined role with unambiguous responsibilities 
  • Goals and milestones that are time-bound (use the SMART goal-setting method, OKRs, or something else) 
  • Clear working hours (even if you provide some flexibility, consider setting expectations around core “online” hours, must-attend meetings, and more) 
  • Clarity around paths of escalation and where to turn for help 
  • Expectations for synchronous and async communication channels (and turnaround times to ensure all team members are on the same page) 

Focus on outcomes over “green light” online presence 

In a BBC article, Bryan Lufkin wrote, “But in the pre-pandemic workforce, this kind of ‘presenteeism’ – being physically in your seat at work just to look dedicated, no matter how unproductive – was just another fact of office life.” 

Gone are the days of measuring “productivity” in terms of presenteeism for companies committed to remote and hybrid structures. (Were we really all that productive anyway?) Managers of remote teams need new (and improved) methods of keeping tabs on their teams without chair presence. One measure some companies are exploring is an outcome-oriented approach, which includes tracking KPIs, targets, metrics, and other goals as a form of success.

You should also develop remote work policies, including core working hours, expected response time, and a list of tools and supporting resources.

Future trends of remote work

Upwork conducted a study in 2020 that revealed 22% of the American workforce will be remote by 2025. McKinsey & Company’s 2022 American Opportunity Survey found that when employees are allowed to work remotely, 87% take the opportunity (anywhere from 1 to 5 days per week).

Remote work trends will continue to evolve as companies explore new ways of working, so staying on top of the latest data and information is essential. Below are some resources you can bookmark to keep an eye on the future trends of remote work: 

Going forward 

When it comes to remote work success, the key is to maximize collaboration while minimizing distractions. Encouraging communication to be asynchronous when possible, giving each channel a dedicated purpose, promoting documentation, prioritizing mental health, and getting the right tools (like Clockwise) for remote team management should help your remote team thrive

About the author

Alyssa Towns

Alyssa Towns has written productivity and time management content for Clockwise for several years. Early in her career, she dove into time management strategies to effectively manage her workday calendar and 10+ C-Suite officers' calendars across various organizations. She uses her training in change management to write time management, the future of work, and career content that helps people change their behaviors and habits. In addition, she writes about artificial intelligence (AI) and other technology for G2's Learn Hub. When she isn't writing, Alyssa enjoys trying new restaurants with her husband, playing with her Bengal cats, adventuring outdoors, or reading a book from her TBR list.

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