The Comprehensive Guide to Being Great at Managing Remote Teams

Remote work can be incredibly hard for managers. This guide is designed to turn it into an opportunity for you and your team.

Intro: Learning To Embrace the Remote Work Revolution

Remote work has changed everything.

It means we need to totally rethink how you manage your team, and what productivity and performance looks like. That's before you get to team dynamics, creating personal connections, leadership, and collaboration.

For remote managers and business leaders, the transition from traditional office spaces to managing virtual teams can be incredibly difficult, but also brings interesting opportunities (who doesn't like flexible work and being able to hire great people all over the world).

This guide is designed to navigate the intricacies of remote team management, with strategies to boost remote team productivity, increase velocity, and make managing remote teams a core strength rather than something that hurts your org.

10x Managers and Why They Matter To Your Company.

Before we go into the strategies for managing remote teams, let's focus a little bit on what makes a great team, and with that a great company.

We’ve all had a 10x manager. They set challenging goals, hold folks accountable, increase velocity, and care deeply about their team. The 10x managers foster and increase the potential of their team members. They're the ones that create missionary employees who will go above and beyond to hit insane goals.

Doing that well means a lot of listening and absorbing information - not just in 1:1s, meetings, and PPPs - but over lunch, a quick chat by the desk, or walking to the next meeting. Essentially, a great manager is the core of many great teams, and a great manager spends most of their time taking in information in order to create strong relationships, keep things on track, see around corners and unblock their team to reach their full potential.

Why It's Hard to Be a 10x Manager When You're Managing Remote Teams

The issue with remote and hybrid is that you take away all those moments to learn and listen and replace them with time consuming and transactional written updates, standups, or video meetings with remote staff. It’s gotten so bad in remote work that 54% of a manager’s time in now spent information gathering according to HBR.

That's a Massive Problem and Cost For Companies With Remote Teams

That much time spent on admin isn't only annoying for managers, it means some of your best people's time is not being leveraged towards making the org hum. It's also costly from a company perspective: managers are 15% of headcount, 40% of salaries. So that’s 20% of total headcount spent –and most of your best people’s time –going towards low-level admin.

Worse still, this has the negative side effect of slowing down your direct reports and other individual contributors because they are often the ones on the other end of all the updating and reporting. All the best practices for productivity and removing bureaucracy are basically thrown out the window. That makes remote or hybrid work incredibly worrisome for business leaders, business owners, and shareholders.

OK, That's a Lot of Problems. What Do We Do About It?

We've done a LOT of research on this topic. Here are some of the best practices, technologies and tips we've found, in addition to some of the remote team strategies we employ here at Village to successfully manage our fully remote team. You're also going to hear as talk about the magic of Atlas for managing remote teams - more on that later.

Rule I. Lay the Foundation: Set Clear Expectations and Ground Rules

A. Establishing Work Schedules and Availability in Different Time Zones

One of the first steps in managing a remote team effectively is setting clear expectations regarding work schedules, especially when navigating different time zones. This clarity is essential not only for maintaining productivity but also for respecting each remote team member's personal time and work-life balance. Often we don't just hear about folks not being online when they are needed, but the reverse: folks suffering burnout because they feel the need to be constantly on on video calls or Slack when remote working.

A good way to do this is with a solid directory that surfaces the timezone of individuals, so you can make sure you're being productive and respectful.

B. Goals, Deadlines, and Roles: The Absolute Backbone of Remote Team Management

Until you've made the shift to remote, you probably don't realize how many goals, metrics and responsibilities are managed informally through in-person interactions. Once you're a remote manager, it suddenly becomes clear that if expectations and responsibilities (eg a strong RACI model) has not been set, you're going to fail, even with the best communication channels.

For remote teams to succeed, defining clear goals, deadlines, and roles is paramount. This structure ensures that every remote team member understands their responsibilities and how their work contributes to the larger objectives of the virtual team.

There are a bunch of good tools for this - Monday, Trello, Notion, Asana - the key is keeping up hygiene and rigor. In a fully remote team, keeping up that consistency isn't always easy, see below for how Atlas can make that 10x easier.

C. How to Making Video Conferencing and Instant Messaging Actually Work. The Right Tools for Effective Communication.

It's no surprise that you should be using these tools. By now everyone has a Google Meet, Zoom, Slack or Teams set up.

In the absence of physical office space, tools like video conferencing and instant messaging become the lifelines of communication for remote teams. Establishing regular check-ins and daily check-ups through these platforms facilitates open dialogue and ensures that everyone stays aligned with the team's goals.

That is Usually Overwhelming

However, something that is all too apparent from hearing the struggles and stresses of managers trying to manage remote team members is that there can be Zoom fatigue and Slack overload. Often too many decisions are buried in Slack channels, and from a manager's perspective, that can mean hours spent wading through instant messaging or too many transactional and informational updates on video calls.

The Role of Auto-Summarization

A great way that I like to solve for this with my own remote team is with Atlas' auto-summarization tools. You can do a lot of things with them. I like to wake up with a summary of what happened in Slack overnight and then drill into specific conversations if I'm interested - Atlas is great for that and saves me at least 30 minutes every morning. 

Rule 2. You Actually Need to Spend Time Fostering Communication and Collaboration in Virtual Teams

A. Mastering the Art of Virtual Meetings (Hint: They Are Not Informational).

Virtual meetings, when conducted effectively, can bridge the gap caused by the lack of face-to-face interaction. Remote managers should focus on making these meetings engaging and productive, make sure your camera is on. Enhance understanding with body language. Remember to smile.

Do not make 1:1s informational

The key challenge that we hear most managers run into when managing remote teams is over-reliance on informational updates in 1:1s, eg. what are you working on, what progress have you made, what do you have planned. As a 10x manager, you should know this already and use your precious 1:1 time to foster personal relationships, build trust, vulnerability and actually coach your people. This time is WAY more valuable for remote managers, because you don't have all the touch points you normally have around the office.

A Cheat For Getting Your Information In Advance

We hear fairly consistently that most reports don't enjoy filling out 1:1 templates in advance of 1:1 meetings, and this can often lead to the first half of 1:1s being totally dead time. So how do you be a fully prepared supermanager? I also use a weekly auto-reporting feature in Atlas: it lets you get a clear, summarized picture of what progress has been made across a set of priorities I care about by looking at and synthesizing all the information and content that exists in the tools my team has been working in: Asana, Trello, Google Docs, Slack, Jira. It's also helpful for understanding where there are blockers, and what is planned for the coming week. It makes my 1:1 conversations 10x more effective.

Automated manager reports and alerting

B. Creating a Culture of Feedback and Collaboration Is Hard in Remote, But It Matters

Encouraging a culture where feedback is freely exchanged and collaboration is the norm can significantly increase the effectiveness of remote teams. Why? It's a little thing called radical candor. Most teams perform way more effectively when they feel that feedback is being delivered to make them better, because managers care about their success, rather than shooting them down. To do that requires honesty, and that in turn requires trust and vulnerability.

How to Create Trust

It all comes back to knowing someone deeply and creating personal connections. Who are your remote employees families? What do they like doing outside of work? What are their pets names. While establishing a personal relationship with remote team members can be tough, it goes a very long way to building trust, and that in turn builds the relationship needed to deliver feedback effectively.

There are a few org charts available in tools like Lattice, Rippling or even Slack. The problem with most of them is that they don't go into the level of personalization needed to let the individual shine. That's why I prefer the Atlas directory. It let's me share personal information on my profile page, some fun facts about me as well as some pics. When everyone in the org does that, it goes a long way to fostering connectedness.

Atlas creates a sense of connection.

C. Embracing Diversity and Inclusion Across Time Zones

Managing remote teams often means working across different time zones, which requires a management style that is adaptable and inclusive. You need to be on top of your game to deal with this. Recognizing and accommodating the diversity of your remote workforce can make your job harder, but it leads to innovative solutions and a stronger team culture. Embrace it. But make sure you have the right tooling support.

Rule 3. It Isn't Enough to Provide the Tech. You Need to Provide Support and Resources for Remote Employees.

A. Technology: The Enabler of Remote Work..Sometimes

Ensuring that remote team members have access to the necessary technology and project management software is a critical responsibility of remote managers.

But this support goes beyond just hardware and software; it includes ensuring that team members are proficient in using these tools effectively. I couldn't tell you the number of teams that come to us with 'all the gear but no idea' because folks aren't using the tooling correctly. Again, Atlas can help give you a birds-eye-view of engagement with your tools and where you have blindspots or need to focus training. Because it connects to all the tools your team uses everyday, it's able to give a complete picture for leadership on where to focus.

B. Continuous Learning and Development

It goes without saying that offering opportunities for skill development and professional growth is especially important in a remote working model. These opportunities not only motivate remote employees but also contribute to the team's overall capability and success. Companies like Coursera can work well here. Also consider newer startups that pair people on your team with experts in their domain like Atrium.

C. Navigating Challenges: Isolation, Burnout, Time Management

Feelings of isolation, burnout and not managing time effectively can be way more common in remote work. Remote managers need to be proactive in identifying and addressing these issues, ensuring that remote employees feel supported and engaged.

That can be really hard though, especially with less personal relationships. One solution is to keep a pulse (no pun intended) on regular pulse surveys, how engaged your team is through an engagement score (calculated by interaction with key tools like Workspace or Slack), or getting a sense of how much time your team is spending in meetings. Atlas can calculate all of these key stats. They aren't intended to be managed to, but rather inform conversations when the early warning signs of burnout start appearing and healthy work starts taking a hit.

Rule 4. Make It Fun with Recognition and Engagement: The Beating Heart of Remote Team Culture

A. Celebrating Success in your Virtual Workplace. The Importance of Rituals.

Acknowledging the achievements and milestones of remote workers is crucial for maintaining morale and motivation. Whether through virtual celebrations or public recognition in team meetings, these gestures make remote employees feel valued and part of the team.

Badges, Leaderboards, Rituals

This could be some fun badging based around your cultural values, having fun leaderboards for tasks that are usually thankless (catching bugs, doing weekend on-call shifts, consistently giving feedback), or having a regular day in the week where you encourage kudos. CultureAmp, 15Five, and Atlas all have great ways of effective communication of praise.

B. Professional Growth and Team Building in a Remote Setting

Fostering an environment where remote team members can pursue professional growth and participate in team-building activities is essential for nurturing a positive and productive team culture. Virtual work should not be a barrier to personal and professional development. This one can be harder, but the extra attention in figuring out how to pair your reports with other mentors in the company, and having a consistent cadence of offsites alongside virtual meetings is key for your remote staff. 

C. Building an Inclusive and Positive Remote Work Environment

Creating a work environment that is inclusive, respectful, and supportive is the cornerstone of successful remote team management. This environment encourages remote workers to perform their best work and fosters a sense of belonging and team unity - the kind you might have with friends or family in your personal life. Most of all it encourages employees to be themselves, and learn to trust their fellow remote workers. This can often be a huge blocker to team velocity and transparency. Whether for business owners, or a new hire, trust and vulnerability is a must in a flexible work environment.

Conclusion: The Best Way To Navigate the Future of Remote Team Management. Here’s Our Secret.

The journey of managing remote teams is going to keep changing. The strategies outlined in this guide, from setting clear expectations and fostering communication to providing support and recognizing achievements, are foundational elements for any remote manager or business leader.

But there is one tool that stands above all others in making remote team management successful: Atlas.

How does Atlas work?

Atlas connects easily to all the tools your team uses everyday - Slack, Jira, Notion, Hubspot, Google Docs, Trello, Spreadsheets, etc -  and takes that complex, unstructured data - not just content and updates, but the numbers too - and summarizes exactly the right information for employees and managers when they need it. This means perfect visibility into your team, priorities, performance and problems to coach, unblock, and set goals. It’s how our team has been able to be incredibly effective, even working remotely.

What can I solve with Atlas?

Atlas solves many of the problems of managing remote teams.

1. Visibility & Velocity

Get incredible visibility into remote work by generating rich PPPs (Priority, Progress, Problem reports) for teams or individuals, and generate 1:1 content, performance summaries, and coaching opportunities all at the click of a button when you need it by synthesizing all of your connected data. Leaders can also get highly actionable cuts of performance across their team. That means it’s clear to business leaders where their direct reports are more or less engaged, where they are spending time, and where and when they need coaching and support.

2. Connectivity

Atlas also has a fantastic directory and fully customizable personal profiles to keep the team super connected and build trust and team communication.

3. Celebration

Atlas actively encourages feedback and praise, and has a robust configurable badging and awards system so you can keep the positive reinforcement coming and boost remote team engagement.

4. Performance

This unparalleled access to both the quantitative and qualitative data in your organization means that performance management and coaching becomes a delight, not a chore. Atlas' feedback mechanisms means remote leadership get exactly the right insights at the right time, while employees are able to visualize their own performance in real time. Producing fair and objective readouts of performance come review time becomes a quick, easy and effective process (versus the 2-4 weeks most organizations spend here today).

4. The Bottom Line

Atlas means managers of remote teams can spend a whole lot less time on the busy work, and more on amplifying the effectiveness of their team. That means it'll turn managers into supermanagers, save at least 10 hours per week and dramatically improve your org's working model, not to mention increase your org’s execution speed. It did for us.

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