I’ve worked on distributed (or partially remote) teams for almost six years. I’ve also managed a distributed team for almost two years. I’ve seen when it works well, and I’ve seen it fail spectacularly. For certain organizations, a remote workforce can be a massive benefit (and at Friday we would love to empower you to make the most of this), but it’s not for every organization.
I’ve created this guide for managers of virtual teams. My hope is to save you time, headaches, and money.
Side note: we're writing a book on distributed work if you'd like to learn more.
The first thing you need to do is to create clear job responsibilities. If you’ve inherited an existing team, spend some time in the first 1:1 meeting clarifying roles and responsibilities for each person. Make sure to take notes and publish them in Google docs or a location where it’s visible to you AND the employee. This will serve you well in the future if you need something to reference. Many management problems can be solved if you write things down. Don’t leave important details up for interpretation.
SEE HOW EACH PERSON LIKES TO WORK
It’s not a difficult process to create clear roles and responsibilities, but it’s much tougher to understand how each person likes to work. We recommend taking a personality test (take a free DISC assessment here) and discussing the results. People are different, so you need to understand what that actually means.
In addition, we recommend answering questions like, “what gives you energy?” and “what drains you?” and making the answers visible to everyone. This will go a long ways in helping establish communication/behavioral norms as a group.
Make sure to document and share the results. As a remote team, we can’t stress enough that you need to write things down and make them easy to access (and reference). If you’re a new manager this is especially important.
DOCUMENT COMMUNICATION NORMS
Next, you will want to establish communication norms and write them down. For example, we recommend establishing the following items:
- Meetings – which ones are required? What is the format? What are the expectations?
- Communication channels – Should we default to Slack for communications? Or email? If the employee receives an urgent message during off hours, what is the protocol around that?
Make sure to adapt this over time, adding information as you go. As a bonus, this can be used when onboarding new members.
HAVE 1:1 MEETINGS
If you manage a team remote team, having weekly 1:1 meetings is the most important thing you can do. This short, 30 minute meeting with each person on your team allows you to understand what’s going on – you can also discover ways to improve productivity and happiness. We strongly encourage you to use video for these meetings, as you can pick up a lot of unspoken cues (like body language).
I would go so far and say that you will 100% fail as a remote manager if you don’t have these meetings. They are the bedrock to your success.
MEET UP IN PERSON (PERIODICALLY)
I’ve found meeting up in person to be extremely helpful (especially when onboarding new hires). There’s a variety of benefits to this approach, including:
- Knowledge transfer (especially if you don’t have great internal documentation like many organizations)
- Accelerate relationship-building (there’s nothing like hanging out with people in-person)
- Building a personal connection (like going out to a team dinner, etc)
For existing employees, if you can afford it, try to meet up in person once per quarter for a few days (organizations like Buffer and Zapier have great insights on this). I’ve found this cadence to be ideal both as a remote employee and as a remote manager. It’s frequent enough to keep everyone on the same page, but infrequent enough so it doesn’t disrupt your personal life.
HOLD DAILY STAND-UPS
Daily standups are a great way to stay in sync and remove roadblocks on a daily basis. As a remote team, you can’t all meet in one room, but you can do this asynchronously. We recommend setting a Slack reminder in a room that asks the questions.
The first few days you’ll need to encourage people to respond (if they aren’t), but we strongly encourage you to implement this process with your team.
HOLD WEEKLY RECAPS
Creating consistent feedback loops with your team is one of the most important things you can do. That’s why we recommend holding a weekly review (or check-in) in addition to standups. There are things people won’t tell you in-person during a 1-1 meeting, but they will behind a screen. In a weekly recap, you ask a few questions (using a tool like Friday). Questions can be:
- What was the best part of your week?
- What was the most challenging part of your week?
- Is there anything you’re stuck on?
These basic questions can unlock what makes each employee tick. You can also understand what roadblocks exist (and help remove them to drive productivity). You will be shocked at the feedback you get…you only need to ask.
This is a super simple tip, but recognition is hugely important when managing a distributed team. It’s important to recognize good work – it could mean the difference between an employee staying at your company (or leaving). Don’t only invest in prizes or spot-bonuses, but implement a peer-to-peer recognition system to facilitate saying thank-you (also available in Friday Feedback as part of a weekly check-in). Finally, don’t make it contrived. If you setup an effective system for saying thanks, it will be something that everyone jumps on board with. This shouldn’t be forced.
We’ll keep this post updated as we learn more about managing remote teams. This is still unexplored territory, so there’s a lot to learn (and share).