How to Manage a Team Remotely – A Guide by Remote Year

12. Nov. 2021

Remote work

More companies are evolving to have remote teams as a standard part of their organizational structure. Statistics show that 69% of younger general managers have individuals in their teams who work remotely. Up to 73% of all organizational departments will have virtual workers by 2028. 

Modern technology has made it possible for workers to do their jobs outside the traditional office environment – virtually from any location in the world. 

For all their advantages, these changes come with unique challenges. Therefore, when managing remote teams, managers must devise means to nurture, guide, and support team members to keep them productive and happy. 

There are no hard and fast rules for remote team management, and managers must continuously adapt operations to the unique needs of their remote environment. 

Every manager must understand the factors that can make remote work demanding and develop the skills required to keep their remote teams as effective as possible. 

Remote Year is a platform for workers who want to take their job on the road. We have a fully remote global team and community of 5000+ workers in 80+ destinations. In this guide, we will explain the challenges of working with remote teams and how to manage teams remotely. 

Key Takeaways

  • Remote team managers coordinate a group of professionals working on the same project from different locations.

  • Systems are necessary to ensure team members deliver optimum performance. 

  • Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals for each team member helps to improve overall team efficiency.

  • Goals are more likely to be on schedule when there’s a system periodically checking on team members.

  • Remote managers need to create time for non-work discussions with team members to foster an enjoyable company culture.

What Is a Remote Team?

A remote team is a group of professionals working on the same project from different locations. The remote team members may have diverse skills and be in different time zones, with the job at hand being the only thing they have in common. They share the responsibility to achieve team goals and report to the same manager or organization. 

There is a big difference between working in a traditional office and being part of a remote team. Yet, some of the principles for managing in-person teams still hold true. Remote team managers implement systems that ensure that team members deliver maximum results. 

Overcoming Challenges When Managing a Remote Team

The most common challenges you’ll face when managing a remote workforce include the following: 

Encouraging Communication 

Communication is vital to the success of any remote team. Each member of the team must know what others are working on at all times. In a traditional office, team members can easily discuss projects during breaks or before work. While remote employees may not have this luxury, enabling enhanced water cooler-type conversations and other forms of informal interaction can help keep team members in touch with one another.

Remote workers on the same project may operate from different time zones. Having transparent communications with members of the team and setting clear time zone boundaries can help mitigate this problem. 

Lack of Face-to-face Interactions 

Knowing the people you work with personally makes going to a physical office enjoyable and something to look forward to. Workers can discuss non-work issues like the previous weekend’s game or trending political topics. This kind of bonding is difficult with remote teams, with members living in different cities, countries, and even continents.

Remote teams can use more video communication to help co-workers simulate physical contact as much as possible. Another approach is to plan physical company getaways a couple of times each year. This ensures that co-workers are not just distant pixels on everyone else’s screen. At Remote Year, we use Slack, “donut” dates, breakout rooms on zoom, and informal social hours to create communication. 

Creating a Healthy Company Culture 

A healthy work culture is necessary for every organization to thrive. Creating a healthy work culture is more challenging in a remote setting, as you can’t simply breeze in and out of the office to chat or see how the employees are doing.

A healthy remote work culture begins with building foundations for trust and psychological safety. The behavior of leaders and a structure that enables constructive feedback are key points in this regard. As a manager, you may want to communicate during the onboarding process that workers are free to contact you with professional and personal challenges they may face on the job. Encouraging employees to maintain a healthy work balance can also help foster a positive work culture. 

Hiring and Onboarding 

Hiring and onboarding the right talent is challenging enough in a traditional office setting. For remote teams, managers must devise ways of optimizing their hiring and onboarding process so workers feel at home and deliver maximally.

Steps to increasing time to value through onboarding include developing a 2-week plan to help them get familiar with the demands of their new job. In addition, you can onboard groups of remote workers rather than doing it one worker at a time. 

Lack of Clear Goals and Expectations 

It’s easy for managers to assume that remote workers are like in-office employees and know what they’re supposed to achieve. However, this isn’t always the case, and it’s up to remote managers to define goals and set expectations for every team member.

The S.M.A.R.T. goals framework is an excellent tool for determining and sharing definite, measurable, and actionable goals. Managers may also state employee key performance indicators (KPIs) and organize periodic reviews to assess employee performance. 

Social Isolation and Loneliness 

The thought of working remotely with all its perks can seem exciting at first, but remote employees can become isolated and lonely with time. 

Managers may want to encourage remote staffers to build relationships with people around them. Having a life outside of work generally enhances physical, mental, and emotional well-being. 

Difficulty in Tracking Employee Performance 

It’s more challenging to track what is getting done and what’s not in a remote setting. Being unable to monitor employee performance effectively can delay the progress of any remote team.

However, having regular stand-up meetings and maintaining digital communication boards (Slack, Jira, Trello) brings a level of transparency in terms of who’s done what, what’s left to do, and how far the project has gone.

Unseen Distractions or Interruptions 

Employees who work from home or on the road with a Remote Year program can face distractions or interruptions, which the manager has no control over. Managing remote employees means that you must devise a system that ensures these interruptions do not hinder productivity.

Remote-first companies such as Automaticc (makers of the WordPress CMS) support remote workers with a stipend for workspace effects that minimize distractions and enhance productivity. At Remote Year, we offer co-working workspaces designed to help workers perform at peak levels. 

Employee Burnout 

In a traditional office setting, there is usually a clear line between work and home life. Remote work blurs this line and can cause burnout and diminished productivity if poorly handled. Scheduling specific times for breaks and relaxing activities can help prevent burnout. 

Remote Year recommends going on local experiences, like kayaking in Cape Town or hiking an active volcano in Antigua. Taking a break can also help remote workers unwind and recharge for a new work cycle.

Factors to Keep in Mind When Setting Goals with Your Remote Team

If you’re already setting individual goals among members of your distributed workforce, you’re on track to having a relatively smooth transition to setting goals for your company. However, if your company operates on a per-deliverable basis, it may be better to set clear expectations for each remote employee. This gets everyone on the same page and working towards the same goals.

Remote workers tend to be self-motivated. A study by And Co and Remote Year reveals that fewer than 7% of respondents thought they needed to have a manager present to be productive. Nonetheless, it’s still important to ensure that every team member feels like they have enough managerial support to prioritize their work.

Goal-setting enhances efficiency when leading a remote team. Every organization has a unique goal-setting system, and you need to consider these factors when creating milestones and benchmarks for your remote employees. 

Knowing Your Desired Outcomes

The first step in starting the goal-setting process is to determine the specific outcomes you want for you and your employees. Do you want to focus on personal or professional goals? Are your organizational goals focused on the employee as an individual or part of a larger team? What results are ideal for you (as a manager) and your employees? 

Having clear answers to these questions is crucial to successful goal-setting. You may need to dedicate time for a physical or virtual meeting with your employees to discuss your monthly, quarterly, or annual goals. It helps your employees feel confident that they’re working on projects that will help them become successful. As the manager, you’ll also feel comfortable knowing that your workers are making progress towards goals that will meaningfully impact the company.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals are Better

There is more to goal-setting than choosing a sales target or a “right-sounding” goal and asking your team members to hit it. Setting and implementing S.M.A.R.T. goals is a more effective approach if you manage remote workers.

S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Each element in the acronym is integral to setting goals that are effective for each employee, based on actionable data, and easily identifiable as “completed” or “not completed.”

The process of S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting allows managers and employees to take desired outcomes and flesh out the details. 


Clear Metrics

When working with remote teams, determining clear key progress indicators (KPIs) for each of your employee’s goals is one of the most important steps of goal-setting, which is why we’re giving it special attention!

If you’re creating quarterly goals, use the KPI that best represents the outcome you expect from your employee. If it’s a year-end goal, you can break down the metrics your employees should focus on each quarter.

This type of “retro-planning” can help your team members focus on short-term goals that will help them achieve their year-long goals in the long run.

How Often Should You Check in on Your Goals?

In remote team management, you don’t have the means to walk by team members’ desks to ask how their goals are coming along. You need to set a time on your calendar to check in and catch up regularly.

At Remote Year, we suggest holding weekly one-on-one meetings where managers chat with each team member via video call to discuss current projects and deliverables. In addition, it is helpful to hold a weekly meeting using the same medium for the entire team to align on collective goals. Monthly sessions are best for reviewing all of your team’s goals and the progress they’ve made so far and discussing any setbacks they may be experiencing. 

This process helps you ensure your remote employees are productive and on track and allows you to check in on their well-being and feelings about their position. 

Pro Tips for Managing Remote Teams

Now that you know how to set goals when managing remote workers, you’ll likely want tips and resources to help you become a more effective remote manager. You’re in luck. Here are some of Remote Year’s best practices for managing remote teams:

  • Schedule regular time with employees for non-work discussions to maintain an enjoyable company culture. This will help replace the traditional “water cooler talk” experience that happens in conventional offices.

A great way to implement this strategy without having awkward, drawn-out conversations just to have them is to show up a few minutes early for video calls and catch up with your employees and colleagues then. You’ll have just enough time for human connection with them without it feeling forced. 

  • Always discuss working norms and expectations with your remote employees upfront. Many companies allow remote employees to not only work from any location; they also allow them to choose when to work. However, you should make it clear if your company operates on a strict schedule and your remote employees need to be available at a specific time. Communication is key in remote work, and it’s critical that your entire team develops a common understanding of issues.

  • Technology makes remote work possible, but you must adapt your company’s communication channels to reflect that so you don’t wind up with missed signals or over-communication. Use channels like email and video calls, but also consider integrating an instant messaging channel like Slack for quick, one-off questions or non-work-related banter.

Speak with your team to determine what channel(s) should be used for different purposes to help everyone communicate effectively. 

  • There are tons of digital nomad tools to help your remote team stay organized and productive. These are especially useful if you have team members who want to explore the world while working. Project management tools, cloud storage software, and time zone calculators are a few examples of such tools.

You’ll want to look into what’s available, suitable, and cost-effective for your team.

Final Thoughts

Remote work is still a developing phenomenon, and all involved, including remote managers, are learning ways to become more effective. Better technology and best practices are inevitably emerging to help managers and employees deliver peak job performance.



What makes a successful remote team?

A successful remote team has a system in place that enables workplace productivity while workers maintain a flexible lifestyle. Successful remote team members trust each other and communicate effectively to deliver expected results.

How do you energize a remote team?

You can energize a remote team and keep everyone motivated through regular communication and a focus on their well-being. Try to know your team members personally and find ways to help them grow in their professional and personal endeavors. Members of remote teams also want flexibility and freedom to express themselves, so you need to give them room to showcase the full spectrum of their skills and talents. 

What makes a good remote manager?

A good remote manager is able to build a support system for your employees while getting them to deliver the highest possible results. They should communicate frequently, build trust, maintain transparency and ensure a conducive remote working environment that ensures success. 

How do you make employees feel valued virtually?

Communication is the secret sauce to making employees feel valued virtually. Remote managers must maintain open communication channels and let employees know they value and appreciate their work. You can show your employees that you value them by thanking them often, celebrating their birthdays and milestones, and sending them gifts as a show of gratitude for their contributions to company growth.

How do you train employees virtually?

The best way to train employees virtually is by incorporating ideas and processes that best fit the company’s objectives. When planning training for your employees, you first have to decide what you want from training and participants. You’ll also need to outline your short and long-term training goals.

After this, you’ll plan your method of presentation and deliver your training content. You also need to devise a feedback system to help you monitor the response to your training. 

How do you find the best remote talent globally?

For those looking for remote talent, the Remote Year Job Board simplifies recruitment by connecting you with a diverse pool of top-tier talent from around the globe. Say goodbye to conventional hiring and embrace a new era of recruitment where every hire brings a unique perspective, enriching your team in ways you never imagined. And for now, Remote Year is offering recruiters and HR professionals free job postings. Click here and start hiring!