8 Tips for How to Manage a Remote Team Like a Boss

Employee Experience 4 min read

So, your company’s just made the announcement: Amid coronavirus-related public health concerns, your office is shifting to full remote workHere’s the kicker: Your team has never worked from home before. And you’ve yet to manage a remote team.

Let us help put your mind at ease.

Kazoo’s guru of remote management, Director of SRE, IT & Security Scott Barber, has been working remotely for 9+ years — and manages remote teams of engineers. Here are his 4 key philosophies for making remote teams thrive, plus 8 actionable tips.

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Overcommunicate, and make your online presence felt

Good communication is the #1 key to successful remote work. Active communication ensures that you and your team are aligned on deadlines, challenges, and everything else that matters in the office. 

“I tend to be more active on Slack than people who aren’t remote, and I look for my workers to do the same,” Scott says. “It can be really easy to go dark online. Don’t just go away and come back three weeks later with a bunch of crazy projects. Be online, be communicating.”

So how do you facilitate that, especially with introverts or junior employees who might not be as comfortable speaking up?

“That’s part of the job of a remote manager,” Scott says. “Set your expectations for communication up-front. And sometimes you do have to go in and say hey, come on out of your shell, let’s try to talk a little more. Recognize that it’s not easy for everybody. Be sure to model the communication you’d like to see, and include different modes, like chat and face-time. I love to make it fun.”

Action items:

  • Exercise remote communication tools. If your company doesn’t have them already, set up both a team-based chat client (like Slack or Discord) and a video-based client (like Zoom or Google Hangouts) for face-to-face meetings.
  • Make your expectations clear. Before your team goes remote, establish your expected working hours and communication levels, and model that behavior online. (Scott shares a “manager readme” explaining his working style with all new members of his team.)

Meet about things other than just work

So you’ve re-established your regular meeting cadence online. But the work isn’t done yet! Because our office social lives are more than meetings. Water cooler chats, conversations over lunch, and little hellos in the hall are part of our social web — and without them, it can be easy to feel emotionally isolated.

“That’s why you supplement with face-time programs like Zoom when you manage remote teams,” says Scott, who does stand-ups with his team through Slack and/or Zoom every day. “It helps me get a feel for how you’re doing — to see your face, if you’re looking sad or depressed. You have to make sure you’re communicating at whatever level you can. I’ve had to do it to survive.”

But Scott recommends going above and beyond — once a week, the entire engineering team is invited to a get-together via Zoom where they don’t talk about work. At all.

“It’s important to take the time to just say, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ and find out what people are doing outside of the work environment,” Scott says. “You can play fun remote games together, like quiz games or Bingo. Or you can just chat. It’s necessary to keep your team together.”

Action items

  • Establish daily stand-up meetings through Slack, Zoom, or whatever tool is the best culture fit for your team.
  • Make time for fun. Besides the weekly social gathering on Zoom, Scott actively cultivates a fun workspace for his team. Scott’s team culture thrives on emojis and GIFs, so he leans into it. “I added maybe 3,000 emojis to our workspace,” he says, “And we’ll sometimes do little challenges, like we can only communicate in emojis or GIFs for a whole day. It’s fun.”

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Measure the same work milestones you’d measure in the office

A common question for both employees and managers transitioning to remote work is: How do we ensure we continue to meet deadlines and goals?

Scott says it’s simple: “Just keep measuring the same great things you measure in the office.”

Technology’s made it easier than ever to manage a remote team. HR platforms like Kazoo are increasingly agile and easy to use, enabling teams to set and track goals, share feedback, and stay connected, even across long distances. 

“One of the first things I say when people are considering remote work is, ‘Is the job itself a good candidate for remote work?’” Scott says. “With today’s technology, I’m seeing less and less of a barrier for any job to be remote.”

Action items:

  • Clearly define your success metrics. It’s hard to track metrics if you don’t know what they should be. Take this opportunity to think about how you define success in the office (i.e., deadlines, website traffic, sales, and more) and communicate your expectations to your team.
  • Assess your tech solutions. In a time of uncertainty, let automation take some of the work off your plate in setting goals, asking for feedback and more. An all-in-one solution like Kazoo can do the heavy lifting, freeing you up to focus on managing your team for success. 

Develop a philosophy of trust

One of the most frequent anxieties Scott hears from managers about to manage a remote team, “How will I know if my employees are actually working?”

This has nothing to do with managing a remote team, and everything to do with trust.

“In my opinion, if you don’t feel comfortable with somebody working remote, you need to ask yourself if there are some trust issues with that employee that would affect their work remote versus in-office,” Scott says. “You shouldn’t have to be looking over their shoulder while they’re in the office, right? So you shouldn’t have to do it when they’re remote, either.”

Have a frank conversation with your team — but first, take the time to think about what you’re doing to contribute to a psychologically safe workplace, and equip yourself with the tools to create a culture of trust.

Action items:

  • Initiate fearless feedback. Resist the urge to micromanage or install creepy surveillance software. Instead, institute regular 1-on-1s (not just when you need to issue corrective feedback), and make sure feedback goes both ways. We’ve got more tips here.
  • Track the metrics that matter, and let the rest go. If your employees are communicating clearly and meeting goals and deadlines, what’s not to trust? If you still don’t feel comfortable, do some deep digging to figure out why.

You’ve got this.

Going remote doesn’t mean everything’s about to change — at the heart of it, your work is still your work, and your relationship with your employees is still based on trust, communication, and a shared commitment to success.

Found this post helpful? Check out the others in our remote work series: 12 Remote Work Tips: How to Work From Home Like a Pro, 25 Custom Reward Ideas to Boost Remote Worker Morale, and Your Company’s Gone Full-Remote for Coronavirus: What To Do Next. Or, see what Kazoo can do for you.

Because at Kazoo, we’re passionate about bringing together all the tools you need to make work work better for everyone. That’s why the Kazoo Employee Experience Platform brings performance management and recognition and rewards — including Goals, Feedback, Conversations, Recognition, Incentives, and more — into one simple, easy-to-use platform.

If you’re ready to align, connect, and engage your workplace, check out our Kazoo overview. Or, schedule a personalized demo today.

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