Many leaders find themselves managing remote employees for the first time now. These tips can help.

In our recent article, Why Team Building With Remote Employees Is More Important Than Ever, we explored best practices for keeping a remote team engaged. The strategies we shared are high-level recommendations that anyone managing remote employees can benefit from, but they’re also exactly that: high-level. This article shares more actionable team building recommendations for leaders managing remote employees. From silly to serious, these things will help your team become the best it can be.

10 Things Leaders Managing Remote Employees Should Do

The ideas shared below will work for any all or partially remote team, but we especially encourage leaders of newly remote workers to keep them in mind as they strive to keep their employees united through a crisis.

1. Create a Communication Plan

One of the easiest ways to frustrate a remote team is through poor communication and the misaligned expectations that inevitably come with it. The problem is so pervasive that 88% of employees working remotely say they struggle with challenges related to inconsistent communication practices. Clarifying best communication practices should be your step one, especially if you’re managing a distributed team that has  previously been co-located. Address the appropriate way to use each of your company’s communication channels and document these guidelines in a centralized location so employees can refer to them often.

Clear communication is always a must, but especially when managing remote employees.
Clear communication is always a must, but especially when managing remote employees.

2. Make Goals and Plans Transparent

Anticipating major milestones helps employees focus as they work to bring goals to life. When members of your team point their focus in the same direction, they automatically develop a powerful shared interest. That’s why transparency around your roadmap and major business objectives is such an important factor when managing remote employees. Whether it’s the CEO or a regional senior executive, leadership should regularly communicate about these things with the rest of the group. When managing a remote team, you can use a recurring virtual all-hands meeting or periodic report distributed via email to ensure everyone stays in the loop.

3. Encourage Regular Check-Ins

Regular check-ins become more important than ever when you’re managing remote employees instead of co-located ones. Think about it: two members of the marketing team who normally sit next to each other every day might casually chat about recent projects and ask quick questions, but they won’t be afforded that same easy catch-up when working remotely. Managing remote employees means intentionally carving out time for everyone to check in. That means both manager to direct-report check-ins as well as department-wide ones.

When managing remote employees, be sure to maintain a healthy level of trust.
When managing remote employees, be sure to maintain a healthy level of trust.

4. Trust Each Other

Trust in the workplace can come in many forms, but if there’s one thing it definitely doesn’t look like, it’s micromanagement. For all the points about keeping your team aligned and up-to-date, it’s necessary to also emphasize the importance of letting employees work autonomously much of the time. Those managing remote employees for the first time due to COVID-19 have lost a significant degree of (literal) visibility into employees’ days. It can be tempting to ramp up involvement in their work, but beware employees will start to feel suffocated quickly when it becomes too much. Some managers do this without even realizing, so be sure to alert your leaders to look out for times they’re unknowingly tightening their grip.

5. Practice Great Project Management

When managing remote employees, excellent project management can help you strike the right balance between giving employees the autonomy they deserve and keeping them aligned and informed. Consider using a project management tool like Asana or Trello so your whole team can have insight into each other’s progress. This can help clarify responsibilities and deadlines, especially for projects with many moving parts. If you’re using this kind of platform for the first time, be sure to set aside time to make sure every member of your team is clear about how and when to use it.

Managing remote employees is a learning process for everyone.
Managing remote employees is a learning process for everyone.

6. Be Open About Challenges

Most of us are still learning how to function in a pandemic. There is no precedent to turn to for best practices, and mistakes are an expected (and necessary) part of the learning curve. It’s hard enough to open up about challenges at work, and it’s only harder in a virtual context. When managing remote employees, let your team know that these conversations are not only accepted, but valued. Whether that means designating a time when your team discusses areas for improvement or setting the tone by opening up about your own challenges, frank discussions around mistakes are critical when managing remote employees.

7. Be Open About Victories

As important as it is for your team to discuss ways they can be better, it’s essential to morale that you also celebrate each other’s wins. Especially with an ongoing health crisis, it’s easy to believe that everything is disastrous. Knowing that work is an exception — and finding joy in celebrating successes big and small — is a great thing to do when managing remote employees. The most streamlined way for leaders to do this is with a company-wide employee recognition platform. This enables peers to recognize one another with ease, and the rest of the team gets the chance to chime in with congratulations, too. 

Celebrating team wins is a great way to keep your morale high when managing remote employees.
Celebrating team wins is a great way to keep your morale high when managing remote employees.

8. Encourage Non-Work Related Banter

Most of the tips we’ve shared have been on the serious side, but light-hearted team building initiatives can be just as unifying when managing remote employees. Shared interests and experiences are what relationships are built on, so creating opportunities for employees to connect is a management best practice, especially when managing remote employees. One way to do this is by creating discussion threads on your communication platform of choice about non-work related topics. Favorite movies, family photos, and dream vacation destinations are among the many fun things you might use to start conversations among colleagues.

9. Host a Virtual Game Night

Virtual socializing can be fun, but a lot of people are still quite new to it which means it can also be awkward. Conversational cadence is stilted and technical difficulties don’t help things flow any better. For that reason, having a bit of structure can make the event more enjoyable for everyone involved. Organize a virtual game night — Scattergories, trivia, and classic card games all make great options and give the whole team something fun to do together. Alternatively, a mini version of this idea could be incorporating a virtual ice breaker to kickoff team meetings.

10. Talk About Mental Health

As of late, everyone is extremely focused on physical health — and for good reason. We’re in the midst of fighting an aggressive respiratory infection. However, the changes we’ve made to protect our physical health have incurred significant costs to mental health for many people. When managing remote employees, you should support the full spectrum of their wellbeing. 

When managing remote employees, it's important to look out for the full spectrum of employee wellness.
When managing remote employees, it’s important to look out for the full spectrum of employee wellness.

Don’t make talking about mental health taboo. Just like everyone needs to be in good physical health to bring their A-game to work, deteriorating mental health will prevent people from doing their best work, too. Let your team know you’re there to support them in maintaining both.

Bring Remote Employees Together

The most important thing to ensure when managing remote employees is making sure they know that even when physically isolated, they’re still part of a team. Each of these 10 ideas will help you get that message across and when used in combination with the high-level strategies in this article, you’ll quickly create an effective strategy for uniting your team.

Katerina Mery is a Marketing Specialist at Fond with a background in cognitive psychology and a passion for improving the way people live and work. She especially enjoys learning about how to accomplish this through rewards and recognition. In her spare time, you can find Katerina running outside, admiring art, and exploring the latest and greatest local restaurants.