Business Health

Effective Ways to Manage a Remote Team

By Jon Rumens on 11 May 2021

Boost employee productivity, morale, and efficiency while working from home.

Managing a team can be difficult at the best of times, especially when you’re in charge of a large team. But the global pandemic has made things much worse. As remote work became a necessity, most managers face an entirely new team dynamic. Imagine trying to boost productivity and maintain a strong relationship when faced with:

  • A lack of face-to-face communication.
  • Less information about your team and their results.
  • Social isolation.
  • Entirely new technology and frameworks, as businesses adapt to remote working.
  • Distractions at home.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM,) 71% of employees are finding remote work difficult. But it’s here to stay: in a recent Gartner Poll, it was revealed that 90% of employers are letting their staff work from home, despite a vaccine being available.

Most of us were thrown into the world of remote work. If you’re a manager, you’ll need to work to keep your employees engaged and productive.   before the pandemic, a quarter of US workforces already worked remotely, so there is plenty of advice out there.

Here are research-backed ways to manage a remote team.

1. Establish Accountability by Having a Daily Check-In

Tracking employee progress can be difficult. But a lack of direct communication could make it near impossible. If your team has a deadbeat worker who doesn’t care about the task, they’re going to feel less accountable when working from home. With no in-person reviews, they might think they can get away with less work.

Alternatively, if you have staff members you can’t trust – and have to frequently monitor their work – then without supervision, standards might slip. While at home, lazy staff might think their subpar work will go unnoticed.

For that reason, leadership strategist Brent Gleeson (Forbes) believes it’s essential that remote workers have daily check-ins. They’re an opportunity for you to set tasks, track progress and hear feedback. If someone is behind, you’ll quickly clock it. 

Not just any check-in. Lazy and deadbeat workers might try and hide behind emails or experience a diffusion of responsibility over text. So face to face video calls are crucial. There’s nowhere to hide, and employees will feel accountable for something if you directly ask them to do it. In-person chats are also a great way to build an emotional connection with your employees.

Set Rules for Engagement

Having rigid daily meetings isn’t realistic. When you’re in the office and have a question, you can walk over to your colleague and have an impromptu meeting. Or if something urgent comes up you just reschedule. For that reason, setting meetings at a certain time might not be beneficial.

On the other hand, not having any set check-ins might leave employees not communicating, and you in the dark about their productivity. For that reason, Gleeson recommends each manager defines their rules for engagement. His research indicates that doing so makes remote work becomes more flexible and efficient. It outlines expectations regarding frequency, means, and ideal times that everyone should be communicating.

For example, your team might have the following rule: “We have daily check-ins at 4 PM via Zoom, unless you’re with a client. In cases like these, you can send urgent matters via Slack.”

These clearly defined rules are a happy medium. They’re rigid enough to punish deadbeat employees who are too lazy to stay in touch, while simultaneously offering the same flexibility you have in the office.

2. Use Objectives to Increase Focus

The disruption of the pandemic has made it difficult for people to focus. Consider the distractions of mobile phones, family members, and TV in the house. Or the sleepless nights caused by serious worries of unemployment and personal sickness. 

With so much going on, some members of your team might lose sight of what they are working towards. In a remote business, you might see:

  • Instances where an employee’s supervisor is made unemployed, leaving them without a clearly defined project or team leader. 
  • Role definitions becoming blurred. As communication starts to fail, employees become unsure of what is their responsibility and lose sight of their goals.

In cases like these, a team might experience a decrease in productivity. Without a clearly defined goal, staff will become easily distracted, or worse, unknowingly prioritize unimportant work and neglect urgent tasks.

It’s essential that you set clearly defined objectives. Research shows that having a time frame and a goal will motivate staff, as they have a clear sense of direction. In addition, breaking down larger tasks into smaller, more manageable objectives will help employees stay on track. 

Just as importantly, clear objectives offer you a measurable way to keep track of your team’s progress. Even when at home, you can pinpoint who has failed to meet deadlines and work harder to motivate these members.

Focus on Outcomes

The global lockdown influenced a lot of people’s routines. Without the morning commute, some prefer to lie in and work till later in the day. Because everyone is different, you should put less emphasis on how your team works and more focus on outcomes. Once your objectives are defined, give them room to plan and work in a way best for them.

Because you’re not seeing your team in person, leaving them to get on with a task might be a bit daunting. It does require a level of trust. But you must resist the urge to micro-manage. Research shows that employees with greater autonomy are more motivated and experience higher levels of job satisfaction.

So long as the task gets done, does it really matter how an employee works?

3. Use FocusMe

Giving employees autonomy and regularly checking in are great for tracking whether goals are met. But how can you be sure your team is as productive as they can be?  If your staff is easily hitting targets, what’s to say they aren’t taking hours off work? Your daily check-in won’t pick this up when all their deadlines are met.

To find these areas for improvement, we recommend using FocusMe. Our business tool is split into two interfaces. As the manager, you have access to an online dashboard that reports on your employee’s usage. FocusMe software is installed on your team’s computer – automatically logging in on startup – tracking and blocking apps outlined by you.

This will help you boost productivity and engagement in two ways.

Tracking Progress

As the manager, you get to dictate which apps FocusMe monitors and for how long. But typically, users track business apps (like teams, word, safari,) during working hours. It’s less intrusive than other tracking tools, as it won’t monitor outside these times or beyond the scope of these apps.

From your dashboard, you can then:

  • See how long your team is spending on each app and pinpoint their most used.
  • Analyze teams and individuals, to closely monitor those you’re concerned about.
  • See what your employee’s first interaction of the day was, and which app they used last.
  • Spot when someone’s laptop is in idle, and they are away from work.

You can use these findings to pinpoint areas for improvement. Is a team using a particular app they shouldn’t be? Does someone keep having unexplained absences? Better still, this software acts as a deterrent, as research shows people work much harder when they know they are being monitored.

Killing Distractions

When you’re working from home and nobody’s watching, it’s all the more tempting for your staff to flick over to Netflix or browse Facebook. But FocusMe helps kill those distractions. As the manager, you can block apps on your teams’ computers for certain periods of time. Doing so guarantees that work has their full attention.



4. Take Steps to Improve Welfare

With your team working from home, it’s natural for them to feel isolated and alone. During the pandemic, mental health problems are on the rise, so you need to take additional steps to protect the welfare of your team. A few ways to do include by:

  • Promoting team collaboration. Group tasks will encourage social interaction, emulating the sort of experiences they might have around the office. Better still, collaboration correlates with high performance: research by professor Edward A. Madden companies that encouraged collaboration were five times more likely to be high performing.
  • Celebrating success. With your team stuck indoors, it’s hard for them to see the impact that their work is making. That can leave them deflated and demotivated. Celebrating wins and showing them their work is appreciated will go a long way.

Final Thoughts

Managing a team is difficult at the best of times. But the pandemic has caused a whole host of additional challenges. If you’re managing a remote team, then we recommend adopting these research-backed tips:

  • Have a daily check-in to monitor progress and hold people accountable.
  • Set objectives to hone your team’s focus and identify when employees are struggling.
  • Use FocusMe to identify areas for improvement and block team distractions.
  • Take steps to promote welfare and improve your team’s mental health.

Taking these steps will boost your team’s efficiency and productivity, while simultaneously boosting morale and job satisfaction when they are away from the office.