Smiling woman in a yellow sweater holding a brown and white beagle dog while working from home on her laptop.Remote Work

Managing Remote Teams Effectively: Tips For Managers With Virtual Workers

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Managing remote teams is becoming more common as businesses move to smaller footprints in physical buildings and workers spread across geographic locations. Plus, with the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing lockdown, companies are forced to have many of their employees work remotely.

Direct face-to-face interactions and social bonding opportunities are now limited. Thus, managers and workers have to adapt their best practices for effective collaboration to meet our changing world.

But all is not bad. Managing a virtual team can have its upsides. If you learn what those are, you can leverage them for successfully managing your remote employees and teams.

How To Manage Remote Employees Successfully

There is a fine needle to thread when managing remote teams. You have to provide just the right balance of personal interaction with the independence for certain individuals to drive their own success.

Whether onsite or remote, some basics always stay the same with team engagement and management. But here are some things to do differently and keep in mind if you are managing a virtual team in the age of COVID-19.

1. Create Strong Emotional Connections With Your Virtual Team

A smiling woman in a gray coat with red earphones on a video call managing her remote team.

Make the start of every interaction you have with your remote team one that gets them to smile, laugh and feel good. The simplest way to lead people to positive feelings is to smile yourself on a video call. A genuine and contagious smile is one where you smile enough that the wrinkles around your eyes show. Like the woman in the picture above.

Positive vibes can also be achieved by using their names often. Everyone likes the sound of their own name. And give them heartfelt compliments when appropriate. If your virtual team feels good about their manager and can bond with you, they rest will essentially take care of itself.

2. Don’t Try And Fix What Is Not Broken With Your Remote Team

Flat screen computer monitor on a wooden desk that shows the time, 12:43 am displayed on the screen to show someone who is working from home late in the night.

Most of your remote employees can manage themselves and their work schedules. They may not need extra help in this area when being managed remotely.

And they probably don’t need as many check-ins as you might think. Remember that they are balancing kids and spouses at home. Too many unexpected calls to them may disrupt their rhythm. Or could make them feel like you don’t fully trust them.

Allow them to set their own rules, particularly if all is going well. Let them know that you are available if they ever need you.

3. What You Say And Mean Is Not What They Hear And Understand

A woman sin a red sweater with her head resting on her laptop as she is tired and working remotely from home.

When you manage your team remotely, extra effort is needed to avoid miscommunication. Personal and facial cues from one-on-one interactions are absent or not so strong.

Telling someone that you want to review their plans or work might be your way of saying you want to help them. But to them it may sound like you don’t think they are good enough to do their job.

Checking in often may be your way of showing your support for them. But to them it will imply that you don’t trust them to be busy in their work from home setting.

Learn the art of thinking like the other person you are communicating with. Appreciate the different ways your remote team might interpret your message as. Either don’t say or do some of these things that could be misinterpreted. Or find a clear way to convey your precise intentions.

4. Managing Your Remote Team To Success With Praise Rather Than Feedback

A lighted sign that says, "you got this" on a desk with a book and laptop in the foreground.

Giving feedback, even in an onsite setting, is more harmful than most people think. In fact, it causes your staff to doubt themselves. It’s not that people don’t need to improve in weak areas. They do. It’s that they don’t need someone else to point it out to them. Usually, they already know what their weak points are.

When managing workers in a virtual setting, feedback is going to hurt your team more than help. Avoid it completely. It is glorified criticism.

What works better is if you find any praiseworthy elements of their weak areas. There will always be some good in the things we do poorly. As a manager, it is your job to recognize even the slightest good and praise it profusely. This will spur your remote employees to seek help and get better in this area on their own.

5. Validate Feelings And Make Your Remote Workers Feel Important

Girl sitting on stairs with her hands on her face and eyes closed to represent a remote employee who is scared.

When it comes to people’s feelings and fears, most managers engage cautiously. In a remote setting it will become more difficult to gauge the full range of emotions your team might be experiencing. Good and bad feelings.

When someone tells us they are afraid or hurt, our impulse is to give them reasons why they don’t need to feel that way. This is what comes natural to us humans. But you have to stop and check yourself. No one wants to be told how to feel. Do this instead:

Let Them Know You Understand Their Feelings

The most therapeutic thing you can do as a remote manager is to validate and repeat back (in slightly different words) what they are saying to you when they are overwhelmed with emotion. Let them know it is perfectly right for them to feel that way. Believe it or not, your job will be mostly done at this point. All people want to know is that they are not paranoid for feeling the way they do.

In some cases, after you validate their feelings, the employee will on their own start to discuss ways to change things and move forward. Now you can manage them and provide a better direction and solutions, if needed.

Give Your Remote Teams A Sense Of Importance

Since you don’t get to meet and manage your remote workers in person, make sure you don’t forget to let them know how important they are to you and the organization. Send them unsolicited praise often and don’t let any opportunity for thanking them go unheeded. If they feel good and appreciated, they will reciprocate and do more good for the company.

6. Don’t Manage Your Virtual Team By Giving Orders, Ask Questions

Woman in yellow turtleneck sweater using laptop while managing her team remotely.

Again, this is something to do with onsite employees too. But it is more critical when the team is remotely managed. Don’t be a taskmaster supervisor and order your remote team around.

Pose questions. Ask indirectly. Say, “I really need your help with this. Will you be able to take this on?”

The Key Philosophy For Managing Remote Teams

Let your remote team know that you are there for them anytime but let them make most of the contact with you on their terms. Give them independence and allow them to manage themselves.

Instead of direct coaching and guidance, look for what might be hindering them. Your job is more to identify and remove interference so they can reach their full potential.

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How To Manage Difficult Remote Employees

Some employees are difficult to manage onsite. Managing these team members remotely will be even more challenging. Don’t immediately jump in and try to fix them. It is essential that they not sense that you are trying to change them. Instead, let them think you are on their side.

Here are a few counter-intuitive approaches that work with difficult direct reports, in person and also when managing them remotely.

Businesswoman working on her laptop while sipping coffee and working from home.

Make Them Think The Fault Lies Elsewhere

Nothing relaxes a person more than learning that they are not to blame for any outcome. Find genuine things that hinder most other people in similar situations. Or something in the process or system. And put the blame on that.

People are then more motivated to find things that they can do to improve things, now that they know no one is blaming them. It is an easy way to get people going in the right direction, without them having to feel as if they are dragging everyone else down. Or feel as if they are under the microscope.

Don’t Try To Shake Their Worldview

People see in themselves what they want to see. Almost no one thinks they are shirkers or poor performers. In their bubble, they construct an elaborate facade. Many managers try to develop people by breaking their bubble. Has it ever worked successfully, though? I doubt it.

Confirm even their most bizarre explanations. What do you lose by saying, “Yup, that could be happening.” Realigning their worldview is telling them they are crazy. Who would listen to someone who thought they were crazy?

Identify And Remove Things That Are Interfering With Their Success

Once you have won them over to your side, don’t directly teach them how to do their job better. Look for what might be blocking them from meeting their goals.

Sometimes it is a home or personal situation. In other cases, it could be a fear they have about a software system or process. And that could be making them procrastinate and put off some of their assignments.

Help Them Create A Better Version Of Themselves

Young businessman in a blue suit adjusting his tie and feeling good about himself.

Look for even the slightest improvement and effort they might show. Then heap praises on them. And make it public, if appropriate.

Use words and phrases to describe them to others that will compel them to raise their game. If you introduce them to an outsider as one of your most reliable team members, it might be a bit of a stretch. But they now have to live up to this new reputation.

Additional Reading For Managing And Influencing Your Remote Teams

Many of the teachings described above come from Dale Carnegie’s classic book, “How To Win Friends And Influence People.”


Some are based on Blair Warren’s “The One Sentence Persuasion Course.”


If you want to get deeper insights on how to lead, influence and inspire people, here is a reading list that will help you.


Shaun Mendonsa, PhD is an influencing expert and pharmaceutical development leader. He writes on the topics of influence and persuasion, and develops next generation drugs in human pharma by advising international pharmaceutical CROs and CMOs. He can be reached at smendonsa@master-influencer.com.


Keywords

Managing remote teams, Managing remote workers best practices, How to manage remote employees, managing virtual teams, Business communication, Company culture, Influence, Persuasion, Coaching, Motivation, Coronavirus lockdown.

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