6 key aspects of managing a remote team

Managing remote teams is very different to managing in-person teams.

2nd Apr 2024

Managing remote teams is different to managing in-person teams. There’s no getting around that. 

But does that mean you should drag your team (kicking and most probably screaming) into the office 5 days a week?

Absolutely not. 

What’s needed is a bit of management training, a willingness to try things out and change, and commitment from the entire organisation to make remote work equally, if not more successful, than in-person work. 

What makes a great remote leader?

As teams become more distributed than ever we need to start thinking about Intentional leadership. 

An intentional leader is conscious and deliberate with their actions, decisions, and interactions with others. They are capable of managing teams from different backgrounds, with different perspectives, and with different goals. 

Here is a summary of what makes someone a brilliant, intentional, remote manager:

1. Having a clear vision

Intentional leaders have a crystal clear understanding of their goals and the purpose behind their actions. This clarity gives their team a real sense of direction and purpose in everything they do. They know what they want and how to get the most out of the people they work with to get there. 

2. Being comfortable with change

Intentional leaders know how to adapt when things don't go as planned. By staying open-minded they understand that challenges are part of the journey. Instead of getting stuck, they see these challenges as chances to learn and grow. This makes them more resilient, ready to tackle whatever comes their way.

3. Prioritising learning

Being curious is a fundamental trait of intentional leaders. Their appetite to learn from others and drive to grow personally and professionally is what sets them apart. They love a challenge and instead of avoiding demanding tasks, intentional leaders jump at the chance to develop new skills and build their knowledge.

4. Being empathetic

By actively listening and adopting a people-first approach, leaders can gain a genuine understanding of their employees' perspectives. This helps them become better connected with their team. It’s important for employees to feel seen, heard, and supported.This isn’t just about individual preferences, but knowing the best combination of people to get a job done well.

5. Focusing on the outcomes

Intentional leaders focus on results, trusting their teams to deliver. This creates autonomy, allowing for diverse opinions and ideas to flourish. By embracing this diversity, leaders encourage innovation and their teams to achieve their goals more effectively.

6. Empowering their teams

By moving away from the control and power dynamics in traditional leadership, teams can feel empowered. By providing clear direction and continuous feedback, teams become more motivated to take charge of their work, share their thoughts, and get involved in decision-making.

7. Being direct

Clear and direct communication is crucial for intentional leaders who want their teams to perform at their best. Being direct is often a challenge for new leaders, and can be even harder in a distributed team, but without learning how to communicate in a direct, yet still empathetic, manner leadership styles often fall short. 

Now you have an introduction to how you can be a more intentional leader for your remote team, we can look at how you can put this to practise when managing your team. 

Now let's look at 6 ways you can become an intentional leader.

1. Listen to your teams - why do they want to work flexibly?

This means thinking beyond systems and tools and getting a real understanding as to why your team wants to work remote or hybrid in the first place. Once you take the time to understand the ‘why’ you can then focus on the how and put the right tools and processes in place to help them thrive. 

Focus on

Listening : Get a good understanding of the reasons behind why employees are wanting flexibility. Talk openly with your team to figure out their individual needs and preferences.

Clarify Definitions: Clearly define what flexible working means within your company. Make sure there is a shared understanding among both management and employees. Document your policies and share them with the team.

Ask yourself…

  • Why are my team asking for flexible working? 
  • What does flexible working mean to them?
  • Do we have the tools in place for them to work remotely? 

2. Set boundaries and expectations - Do your team know what is expected of them?

Flexible working doesn’t mean no boundaries. If you are a remote first company make it clear what your expectations are when coming into the office. At Flexa we adopt a remote first way of working meaning meeting once a month in our London office is non-negotiable. By being intentional with this expectation from the start we’ve been able to create an open and honest culture that has empowered our team to work with autonomy. 

Focus on 

  • Setting clear expectations : Define remote work expectations and, if applicable, specific guidelines for in-office attendance so it’s crystal clear. 
  • Communication : Clearing communicate your flexible working policy so everyone is on the same page. 

Ask yourself…

  • Does my team understand the company’s flexible working policy?
  • Does my team understand what the different flexible working options are? 
  • Have I been clear in setting boundaries and expectations for the team?

3. Promote well-being and mental health support

For almost 70% of people, their boss affects their mental health more than their therapist or doctor. This might be surprising, but it shows just how important a leader is, especially when managing flexible teams.. Working from home can make it hard to separate work and personal life, leading to burnout and stress. As a leader, you need to prioritise your team's well-being and create a culture where they feel okay talking about the struggles they're facing. 

Our 2023 flexible working report highlighted that the proportion of candidates expressing a preference to work at a company which offers mental health support has risen +10% since January 2023; and comparing where we were at the end of November 2023 to this time a year ago, we’ve seen an even greater increase of +16%.  

We know that mental health support is not just the responsibility of leaders but it is something that should be at the forefront when managing a flexible team. 

Focus on 

  • Creating a Supportive Culture: Create a culture of support where team members feel comfortable speaking to each other. This sense of community can positively impact mental well-being.
  • Stay Connected Socially: Introduce informal virtual gatherings or coffee breaks to maintain a sense of social connection among team members. Our Thursday afternoon ‘Slacking off” chat gives the team a chance to switch off and have some well deserved fun together. 
  • Training & Upskilling: Take part in training and skills to help you  address mental health concerns effectively. It can sometimes be overwhelming when you don’t know what to say or worried about saying the wrong thing.  
  • Promote Work-Life Balance: Lead by example and emphasise the importance of maintaining a healthy balance between work and personal life. 

Ask yourself…

  • Does my team have access to mental health support if they need it?
  • Does my team know who to speak to if they are not comfortable talking to me? 
  • Have I checked in with my team and how they are doing, beyond performance and KPI’s?
  • Do I have the tools and resources to help my team with their mental health?

4. Focus on outcomes, not tasks

One of the biggest misconceptions about flexible working is that there will be a dip in productivity. However, research has shown us time and time again that flexible and distributed teams are, in fact, more productive. There is no denying that the way of working can become more challenging, especially if the right tools and systems are not in place. However, having a clear KPI and goal-setting system can help with productivity, and without intentional leadership, this is hard to put into practice.

Let's take Atlassian's "Team Anywhere" approach as a prime example. Atlassian employees have been operating under a distributed working model since 2020, with the freedom to work from home, in one of their 12 global offices, a mix of both, or somewhere else entirely. 92%  percent of Atlassian employees say that the way they work makes them more productive. They have achieved this by focusing on outcomes, not tasks, and setting clear, ambitious goals that are visible to all teams and employees.

Focus on 

  • Clear Goal Setting: Define and communicate specific goals and KPIs to provide a clear direction for the team.
  • Being open & Transparent: Be open and transparent with your goals and expectations, means everyone understands their role in achieving team goals.
  • Testing & Learning : Encourage a culture of innovation by experimenting with different work structures to enhance productivity.

Ask yourself…

  • Does my team know what they need to achieve?
  • Does my team know where they need to improve and how?
  • Does my team know what the priorities of the business are?

5. Create a feedback culture

Building a good feedback system is super important when your team works remotely. Especially when the traditional dynamics of in-person communication are replaced by digital interactions.  Here are a few ways to keep the feedback flowing with your team.

Focus on 

  • Regular 1-on-1s: Have regular one-on-one and team discussions to stay connected and openly share thoughts.
  • Clear Communication: Use simple tools like messaging or video calls for easy feedback sharing.
  • Be prompt: Give feedback promptly to keep everyone on the same page and resolve issues quickly.
  • Express Appreciation: Regularly express gratitude for good work to keep everyone motivated.
  • Ask for Thoughts: Conduct quick surveys to understand team dynamics and identify areas for improvement.

Ask yourself

  • Do I regularly encourage feedback on my own work?
  • Do I know how each person in my team likes to receive feedback?

6. Implement the tools to help you connect and collaborate 

When you're managing a flexible team, having the right tech, tools, and processes is key. They not only make managing easier but also let you stay connected and collaborate smoothly with your team. Tools like Slack and Teams create a virtual workspace where your team can chat about work and have the same fun interactions you'd usually have in person. Working remotely doesn't mean missing out on these genuine connections; if anything, it opens up more chances for them.

Focus on 

  • Collaboration tools : Having these set up will make interactions and collaboration with your team much easier to manage
  • WFH equipment :  Your team's work from their desks 8+ hours a day. Giving them equipment like a high-quality ergonomic chair is going to make them more comfortable, reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injury, and show that you value their health and wellbeing.

Ask yourself

  • Does my team have the right technology and tools to work remotely?
  • Am I staying connected with my team even though we’re not in the same office? 
  • Does my team still feel my presence even though they can’t see me?