The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Everything's different, yet everything's the same – that's how we can now look at managing remote teams.
Yes, how, when, and where we work is entirely different, even from just a few years ago. But what makes a great team and how to motivate people to deliver their best still relies on the same fundamentals.
Online or offline, what makes a great team and how to motivate people to deliver their best relies on the same fundamentals.
And experts can lead the way based on decades of experience.
And the great news?
Managing remote team members well can increase your competitiveness in the market and command higher compensation, as you will get more out of your team through higher job satisfaction, engagement, commitment, employee retention, and other benefits of remote work.
Based on extensive research I've done, including conversations with top leaders, I recommend these 20 best practices for managing remote teams in 2024:
A: Start with the New Fundamentals
1. Build Psychological Safety
Amy Edmondson of Harvard states, "Psychological safety refers to the shared belief among team members that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking."
In other words, do I feel safe to be myself and do my best? Amy's research shows that psychological safety increases creativity, productivity, job satisfaction, and employee retention.
But sadly, according to McKinsey, only 27% of leaders create psychological safety.
"One of the things that we see in teams is that some people speak up very fast, while others need time to think. Try things like asking a question and having people write down their thoughts first, then asking everybody to share their written thoughts, so that you make sure there's room for everybody's voice, including introverts who need time to think." – Jennifer Dulski, ex VP, Google, Change.org, Facebook
2. Create Your Team Agreement
A team agreement is a set of rules that define how a team can work together seamlessly, especially when team members have different preferences for how, where, when, and why to work.
This agreement is especially beneficial in the context of your hybrid work schedule.
Setting rules may sound formal and rigid, but games need directions to ensure everyone can enjoy playing them. Unfortunately, research from Microsoft shows that only 28% of companies created clear team agreements.
To create your team agreement, answer critical questions, including why we work, when we work, and where we work, but also what everyone's communication preferences are or when not to bother someone. (See a detailed list of questions on our hybrid work policy page.)
"There are so many things that are the norms and habits of a team that if you're creating a team level agreement when somebody new joins, they get the document and review it. They can also start asking questions and saying, "I don't know what that means, so help me out."
3. Over-invest in One-on-Ones
One-on-ones between managers and employees are essential for remote teams. They help build trust, address isolation, foster alignment, and provide feedback.
To run better one-on-ones:
- Schedule and Prioritize the Meetings
- Communicate Expectations in Advance
- Ask Great One-on-One Questions, Listen Actively, and Give Constructive Feedback
- Set Goals and Boost Personal Development
- Follow Up and Support Your Team Member
- Use tools like Meetgeek to create automatic meeting notes and document them in a one-on-one meeting template for continuous employee coaching.
Once you get the steps down, one-on-ones become valuable and less time-consuming. As Professor Steven G. Rogelberg says in HBR:
“Consider the meeting a focused space for the direct report and make that explicit. The meeting should be dominated by topics relating to the needs, concerns, and hopes of the employee, who should take an active role in presenting them. As the manager, your responsibilities are to ensure that the meetings occur, actively facilitate them, encourage genuine conversation, ask good questions, offer support, and help each team member get what’s needed for optimal short-term performance and long-term growth.”
4. Have Best-in-Class Onboarding
Onboarding is a pressing issue, particularly in hybrid and remote teams.
Most new hires don't feel adequately prepared and supported post-onboarding. Research shows that 10% of employees left companies due to subpar new hire experiences.
"If your onboarding is terrible, your employees start in a disengagement hole because they bonded over your bad onboarding. And now you're trying to pull them out of that and demand performance. People will feel they made a terrible decision by joining this company."
Fortunately, employee onboarding can be improved easily with a few simple efforts:
- Start with pre-boarding: thoughtful messages and gifts ahead of the role will make people feel valued and welcomed.
- Create personalized and dedicated onboarding weeks covering organizational, technical, and social aspects.
- Provide an onboarding buddy throughout and beyond the onboarding period, and ensure the person has time to support the new hire.
Tools we love: Specialized platforms like Lattice, Pingboard, and Workable can help you deliver great onboarding, as do HRIS systems like HiBob, or Deel.
Check out our 30-60-90 Day Planner to Create a Customized Plan for Your New Hire.
5. Continuously Listen to Your Teams
As Anne M. Mulcahy, the former CEO of Xeros, says about listening:
"Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person - not just an employee - are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability." - Anne M. Mulcahy.
In a time where work is changing faster than ever, continuous listening is key. Are people still engaged? Do they have the tools to be productive? Are teams working together well?
This is why employee surveys to continuously listen to your team are key.
Also from Christie Hoffman:
“If you're new to this, it's really important not to make up your own questions because if you've never baked a cake before if I tell you to bake a cake from scratch, it will probably not be very good. It will be missing ingredients and might have mysterious ingredients.”
For this reason, Christie recommends the Gallup Q12, expert-crafted questions that get you the most helpful and actionable answers.
“Let them tell you what's bothering them, what gets in their way. Usually, you'll be able to find unanimous and universal frustrations. And those are the ones to tackle because those are the ones where you're going to get easy buy-in. If everyone is saying: I have no time to think, I have back-to-back meetings, I can't even meet with my manager until next week because their calendars are booked, that’s low-hanging fruit. That's what you can do. And everyone would be on board.”
Fore more, check out these free survey apps to create your own surveys, 19 curated employee engagement survey providers if you need help creating large surveys, and our guide to employee pulse surveys.
6. Measure and Manage a Strong Culture
Remote work means your team is logging into work, rather than traveling to an office where company artifacts and colleagues surround them, making company culture harder to experience.
This is exactly why it’s more important than ever for company leaders to invest in building and managing a strong culture, says bestselling author about company culture Josh Levine:
“In any remote situation, you don't have as many connections, and you don't feel as closely connected or as strongly connected to the company. You're just at home. Now, of course, you're seeing your colleagues and all this stuff, but you don't have those physical reminders of what you're doing and for whom you're doing it. It's almost like you've distilled it down to simple tasks. That is the opposite of what we're trying to do here.” – Josh Levine, Great Mondays
Fortunately for us, Josh has a great framework to follow when building and improving company culture. And it all starts with purpose.
Purpose, why you’re in business beyond making money, connects us and gives us meaning, which is one of the most profound ways of motivating people.
Besides Purpose (your North Star), Josh says we need to define and activate our Values (what you need to do to move the business forward), Behaviors (help employees make better decisions), Recognition and Rewards (linked to values-driven behavior), Rituals (to strengthen relationships), and Cues (reminders.)
Larry English, author of Office Optional, additionally advices to give people as much freedom as possible as soon as a strong culture has been established:
"To start building your remote culture, establish and share some basic rules. The first and most important rule is mutual trust between the company and its workers. The rules after that? As few as possible." – Larry English, author of Office Optional
B: Improve Collaboration
7. Encouraging Working in Public
Moving from local Word files to online, live documents and private conversations to channels helps everyone access the same information.
Still, there needs to be buy-in from the team first. Explain the 'why,' and show the how.
8. Embrace Online Collaboration Tools
Having the right equipment is essential to collaborate better online and through timezones.
With proper remote collaboration tools, you'll take the pain out of the typical challenges of working online from different places. Some must-haves include:
- Video Conferencing: tools like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Whereby, and Around are best-in-class for working together online.
- Communication. Software platforms that facilitate real-time collaboration and communication among team members, including Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Zoom.
- Documentation. These tools, including Google Docs, Notion, Basecamp, Coda, and Almanac, help you document and store knowledge.
- Project Management. Tools like Monday.com, Asana, ClickUp, and others are must-haves to track progress.
- Brainstorming. Whiteboarding tools like Mural, Miro, InVision, Butter, and FigJam will help you go beyond just meeting.
- AI Meeting Tools. Meeting transcription tools like Meetgeek, Fireflies, Otter, and Grain help you avoid information asymmetry without the extra work.
- Hybrid Work Scheduling Tools. Software tools that assist in scheduling and coordinating office days for hybrid teams can ensure that employees come to the office on the same days. Examples include Scoop, Cafe, Envoy, Robin, and Kadence.
- Proper hardware to capture audio and video well is highly recommended. Too often, the person or people joining remotely don't enjoy "AV Equity" and can only catch part of the conversation.
Check out our complete guide to Remote Collaboration Tools.
9. Meet Less
Meetings can be helpful, especially in distributed teams, but often get in the way of doing work.
"Throughout the pandemic, we saw people in more and longer meetings; they were in longer meetings. We asked this small team to delete all their small recurring meetings from their calendar for 48 hours. Then, we invited them to re-add the meetings to their calendar. Each participant in that pilot experiment saved 11 hours per month."
10. Meet Better
Have fewer and better meetings by relentlessly ensuring meetings:
- Are necessary
- Have a clear agenda
- Engage all participants
- Respect time zones and personal schedules
- Have clear follow-ups.
Especially for virtual meetings, making the most of your time together is crucial. Make sure that every meeting you have becomes more like a workshop where everyone is aligned to a goal to achieve.
Workshop-style meetings also means you probably could benefit from picking up a few meeting facilitation tips and tricks. Because keeping everyone engaged over the course of an hour or more is not an easy feat! Of course, using the right platforms helps a lot, too.
The FAIR framework for effective team meetings is a great place to start.
Check out our guide to the 13 best virtual meeting platforms.
11. Find Moments of Synchronicity
“I'm probably one of the few heads of remotes out there pushing for more synchronicity. We got so good at asynchronous communication that we forgot that we needed to actually connect with each other on a human level. We can get our work done, and we can have great work-life balance. But we want more: to feel team cohesiveness and connection with your teammates, and that starts with how you work together.”
Chase shared that it’s important to think about how people can connect with each other beyond the work.
Doist does this through mentorship trips, where a new hire gets sent to work with their mentor face-to-face for a week, a mini-retreat where direct teams spend a week together somewhere, and Doist Connect, a company-wide team retreat.
To create moments of synchronicity and collaborate better across timezones generally, Sacha Connor, CEO at Virtual Work Insider, has a helpful tip:
"Build a plan to create a location-inclusive mindset as part of your DEI strategy…Visually map out the geographic anatomy of the team so that you can see which team members are in each location and time zone, and which are fully remote and which are hybrid." – Sacha Connor, CEO at Virtual Work Insider
And getting people connected doesn’t always mean big group meetings. Mark Birch, a community-building expert and VP at Amazon Web Services shares an example of a simple engagement idea from his time at StackOverflow:
“We had this thing that we called Stack Roulette, a system that would randomly choose three people, not to chat about work, but just to get to know each other. That would help break the natural orientation towards just focusing on your team or group so you can get the engineer talking to a salesperson, someone in H.R., and so on. It was really good in bridging those gaps between different teams and departments in the organization to better understand who we are as people.”
C: Boost Performance & Productivity
12. Acknowledge the Importance of Performance
Performance is a must. If that sounds obvious, good. However, many people-centric managers can feel challenged to coach for and demand performance. They think being people-centric is at odds with the needs of an organization: to make money, innovate, and grow.
But as Dave Ulrich, the founder of modern HR and one of the world's leading leadership coaches, says: “leadership is about delivering results in the right way.”
He told me in our interview that we must navigate people-centricity and performance that moves the company forward. It's how our system works.
"I've got to care about my people, have compassion and empathy, and I've got to compete in the marketplace. And so the paradox you just laid out is so powerful. If I build a good organization and don't care about people, I've got a great system, but nobody's going to play if I have great people, and if they don't work well as a team, we don't succeed."
13. Focus on Outcomes, Not Hours Worked
Remote productivity concerns many leaders, but it doesn't have to be. To manage hybrid and remote teams, set clear performance goals, and provide feedback for improvement, but don't micromanage how people spend their time.
This means instead of focusing on time, you should focus on outcomes. An outcome-focused approach provides autonomy at work and trust for high-performing teams.
As Mitko Karshovski, Founder of Remote Insider, says:
"The only thing that matters is the output of your team. By releasing control over when and where someone works and only focusing on the results, you will create space for your team to get creative, find new ways of doing things quicker, and build a stronger culture."
“Marissa Mayer said what you need to make fully remote a success is performance evaluation tools. To be clear, this is not surveillance. It's not watching keystrokes and screenshots. Nick, have you met your sales targets? Have you produced your reports? or whatever your performance is? Then you say, Nick, you can work from home Monday-Friday week out, but I'm going to evaluate you and make sure that you're meeting your objectives.”
“The hours you spend at your desk do not determine the value you contribute to your organization for most white collar jobs. There are certainly roles where it does, but there are a lot of roles where a brilliant hour is worth 25 plotting hours. Your job as a manager is: how do you enable that one brilliant hour? How do you help your employees?”
She also added that working independently should be one of the main remote work benefits:
“In the pre-pandemic world, where people were mostly working in-person, we were functioning with the team as the fundamental unit. Working from home, it’s more efficient for teams to think less like Lego, where you have to all click together to become something, and more like a virtual assembly line.”
When the pieces of work are discrete, separate tasks that get passed in stages from one person to the next, teams are more productive as people are interrupted less and can do more deep work.
14. Track Performance Transparently.
Tracking performance transparently means you and your team members have equal access to the information needed to succeed.
For remote teams, this is crucial. In an office, we may get away with showing up and seeing what's most urgent, but our teams often work independently for periods in remote settings.
This autonomous way of working means we need to make goals incredibly clear and accessible, and transparently tracking performance goals helps everyone see their progress towards goals.
Tools we love: Centralized platforms to track and share performance data include Monday.com and Clickup.
15. Coach for Performance
We all know managers are busier than ever juggling executives’ expectations, their work, and team management – something Gallup researchers call “The Manager Squeeze.”
But, investing time and effort is key to getting the most out of your team. As Renee Kida, a Google HR veteran, shared in our interview, it's critical to stay very close to your team members' work to ensure performance:
"Google data showed that you must invest time and effort. You need to build time in your one-on-ones to say, "How is their day? Where are they stuck? Is there anything going on? Because accountability is a manager's job, and you need more conversations about that accountability."
In my interview with Jennifer Dulski, a VP at Google, Change.org, and Facebook, she introduced the 4Cs framework for successful remote team management. The second C stands for ‘Coach,’ which is essential for getting the most out of your entire team. As Jennifer shares:
“Great managers understand each person on their team as an individual. They know your preferences, working styles, talents, and how you want to be appreciated are unique. This is one of the most important things I teach in my class at the Business School at Stanford: you need to understand what motivates each person on your team, and don't assume it's what motivates you because it rarely is.” – Jennifer Dulksi
Jennifer loves coaching beyond performance: her entire philosophy is built around the idea that the best managers are like great sports coaches.
Tools we love: You can use Performance modules in your HRIS like Bob or BambooHR or a dedicated solution like Culture Amp or 15Five.
16. Check in Frequently
Annual performance reviews should be a thing of the past in most companies by now. The world is moving to fast to review only once a year if and how progress is being made.
Checking in frequently on individual and team performance helps spot issues early on and gives people more learning opportunities.
As Edie Goldberg, a leading management consultant and Chair at the SHRM Foundation, told me in our interview:
“If I just give you a set of goals and don't talk to you about them until the end of the year, those goals aren't really motivating. But if I'm having regular, meaningful conversations with you about your performance, how things are going, and what's getting in the way of you being able to do your best work to achieve the goals that you've set out for yourself or that we've set as a team, those meaningful conversations drive employee engagement and therefore drive performance, which is what managers and leaders care about.” – Edie Goldberg, SHRM Foundation
17. Embrace AI, Now.
Generative AI can increase productivity for remote and hybrid teams by taking over tasks and leveling up lower performers. It's the most significant performance booster we've seen in our lifetimes, but we must work to get teams to embrace it.
"I'm just gobsmacked by the number of organizations and the number of managers who are banning their employees from using AI. Either people learn how to use AI and get more valuable, or those four people get replaced by AIs that do twice what they do for a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of the cost."
She recommended that leaders allow AI to be used at work and give people plenty of time to experiment. In my recent interview with Rebecca Hinds, who heads The Work Innovation Lab at Asana, she mentioned that we should particularly pay attention to gaining collective productivity gains, not just individually:
"AI can help individuals become highly productive as they can auto-assign tasks to others and delegate their work. That can lead to a storm of collaboration overload. Organizations should focus much more on team and organizational-level productivity gains, which AI has enormous potential to help us crack."
To get started, see:
- How to use AI – a great guide for any team member new to AI
- Free AI Websites - 10 AI sites that help you work smarter, not harder
- Our Stay Ahead newsletter - with weekly new tools to explore
- Free AI Tools – 7 Tools to outwork everyone
- AI Trends – My predictions for AI in 2024
D: Learning and Development
I believe that nothing is 'stickier' (boosting employee retention) then your investment into growing people.
Unlocking people's potential is the one thing you can deliver as part of your employee value proposition that others can't compete with – as titles, pay, and benefits are easily exchangeable. Here's how to apply it in the hybrid and remote workplace:
18. Create Learning Plans
Learning and development plans fosters innovation, personal development, and resilience, increasing job satisfaction and retention.
To create a learning & development plan, pinpoint what skills and knowledge they need to excel, from better soft skills to learning how to use AI. Separate what can be learned on the job, collaboratively, or through formal training.
“Years ago, Dan Pink wrote a book called Drive, which talked about autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Mastery is about continuing to learn and grow, which is very motivating. Managers don't have to create some big new process within the company, but helping the employees continuously learn is really important.”
She also underscored why learning is so important:
"The world is constantly changing, and if you're not learning, you're falling behind."
19. Decide Learning Locations:
Determine which learning activities suit different locations.
Individual skills training might be best done online and asynchronously. Other training may be better delivered in person, for example, on hybrid in-office days or team retreats.
Blend different approaches, aligning with a hybrid work or remote-first style. Or consider alternative spaces for longer workshops or creative sessions: a change in environment can spark fresh ideas, including being creative with virtual meeting platforms.
20. Revamp Your Learning Formats
Learning and development don't always need to be stale and boring. With the advent of AI, people will learn more often through interactive knowledge bases like Notion IQ or proactively with suggestions from the tools they use.
The highly engaging TED Together Icebreaker is a fun way to infuse more L&D into your team.
"We know the things that need to be learned over time and that need to be introduced to help them get integrated into our company. We didn't leave it to the team or each individual manager to do in their own way. We created it the way we wanted it to be done and automated it with consistency and persistence for every employee."
Tools we love: Use tools like Notion and Coda to store your organizational knowledge online and let people learn on the fly.
I hope these twenty expert tips will help you in managing remote teams like a pro.
If you need more support, contact me and I'd be happy to help!