Managing a remote team: Tips and best practices

managing a remote team

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.

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

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 in-person and online chat conversations. Participants expect delayed responses in async conversations on channels including email, Hangouts, Slack, texts, and project management platforms like Asana.

There are several reasons 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 get into in the next section).

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 fosters 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 take a serious bite out of your workday, and put a damper on 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 Timeaccording to Writer Blake Thorne.

Give each (communication) channel a purpose

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 matters. Like Buffer and Hipchat, we also have a channel dedicated to sharing music. Automattic teammates discuss shared interests on dedicated microblogs. These channels help workers get to know each other and bond, 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 having fun via “virtual morale” activities. From “quarantinis” to Xbox online tournaments, it’s important that the team bonds over lighthearted activities.

Must-have tools for remote managers

When it comes to tools for managers of remote workers we obviously recommend Clockwise, an intelligent calendar assistant that uses AI to significantly improve your calendar. 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 enables you to spend less time scheduling and makes your life easier through integrations with Slack and Zoom.

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 who has different working hours, because of their child care schedule or their time zone. Clockwise integrates with Slack to show a different emojis based on their working hours, meetings, and out-of-office schedule.

Having your employees take time to prepare an async status update helps ensure everyone is making progress on 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.

When you’re social distancing from a home office, you might 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, both at the individual and group level. Even a quick shoutout on Slack or a thank-you email can make a big difference. There’s nothing that energizes a team more 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 give colleagues praise and recognition for their 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.

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.”

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, and getting the right tools in place for each task should help. Read next: Remote desktop software you need in 2022.

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