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Managing remote teams

Do we need to relearn management theory?

The elective form of working in remote teams has become mandatory, but are managers sufficiently prepared to lead them and the main question: how is managing a virtual team different from a real one?

Approximate reading time: 5m 25s

The leadership styles in the thick books, present their theories through face-to-face communication, and process management depending on the situation, need and human resource. When this is not possible because we are not in the office, how do we apply these principles and do we need to relearn management theory? 

In short, no, but it would be good to look at it from another angle. 

Teams and remote teams have commonalities - as well as being 'teams' they are also people working together towards a common goal. However, the differences are at the expense of the leader who has to put in more effort to keep them motivated. 

The physical location holds employees accountable to work because 'there is someone to keep an eye on them', outside the office however, this feeling diminishes along with their desire to maintain results. 

Here are a few factors to consider when managing your remote team.


Let's not kid ourselves that work seems more when we do it from home. Of course, that's not always the case - some manage to get more done than they do in the office. However, as the leader of a remote team, you need to make sure that everyone manages to complete their assigned tasks successfully and on time. This is where the issue of motivation comes in. 

How to keep your employees motivated outside the office? 

A key point in motivation is the feeling of commitment, closeness and importance, especially in a remote team. Timely feedback and frequent meetings to track progress are ways to boost it. Diversifying the work process too, such as virtual team building. Yes, it is possible. Being at home and away from each other doesn't stop us from having fun together and bringing our team together. Here are some suggestions:

  • Organize a Friday gathering after work or a quiz afternoon. Divide into teams and come up with questions for the others, or get ready-made ones from the internet - on a topic you decide. The winner can solve the topic next time, or get to choose a similar game for next time. Play with your imagination and that of your employees.
  • Home office bingo - instead of numbers, as is generally the case, have activities such as "I'm wearing trousers", "I work at the table, not on the sofa" and anything else you can think of that might lift the spirits of your virtual team.
  • A game of association, via video chat of course. Choose the rules you're going to play by - there are so many variations so be sure everyone plays by one. The video chat element adds one aspect to the game, which is not making a sound - whoever explains with movements can turn off their microphone and so isolate any noise of their own. Well, it depends on which rules you play by.
  • You can also do "5 minutes of lunchtime glory" where anyone can share anything they want in that time - from a favorite recipe, to the most awful movie, and even how they want to get back to the office. Who knows, different people, different interests.

Task management 

You may have also encountered a lack of initiative regarding a task or responsibility you presented to your employees during a large meeting. This is a psychological phenomenon that once you understand you will be able to minimize such situations:

The Bystander Effect is an effect in which a person's behavior depends on the amount of 'witnesses' around them. In teamwork, this means that if a task or responsibility is presented to a large group of people, there is less motivation at the individual level to take initiative. The reverse is also true - the fewer people given the information, the greater the propensity to accept the task. 

For example, if you state that you want to organize a virtual teambuilding and you need help, they would probably nod in agreement, but depending on how large the group is, the chances of strong initiative vary. 

A preventative measure you could take is to assign the task to a specific person. Use the imperative form of addressing him to increase his sense of responsibility. As for more complex tasks where several people are needed to complete it - appoint a person in charge and helpers. 

When managing remote teams, task management is crucial to ensure successful execution and achievement of your goals. Distance from each other and lack of physical proximity make the process difficult, so:

  • During meetings, write down and assign tasks to a specific employee, put due dates as well. This way it is clear to both parties what is expected of him/her and by when. Also, increases the chances of it being completed.
  • Track progress on a weekly basis, so if any task falls behind you will be able to react in time and re-organize the workflow if necessary.
  • Use task tracking software - we'll talk about the technology side of it in a moment. In terms of reporting on who did what and when, you can implement an application that fits the specifics of your job. A program that both you and your employees will be able to trust. Many of these software allow you to create teams and sub-teams that can be assigned tasks and their progress. To share necessary files and everything you need for your virtual team to function.

The tech side of things

Undoubtedly, technique and technology play a major role in remote team work. Employees' knowledge and capabilities can vary according to their age and field of work, which should be a determining factor in the applications you want to implement. You should also consider the following questions before taking this step:

  • Is there a real need for such software? How will it change the work process - will it make it easier for good or will it burden the remote team with one more thing to think about?
  • Does the application you've chosen meet your needs or is it because of a trend - every remote team uses it.
  • Are its features easy to get used to and use? How long will employees spend learning it?
  • Does it meet one or more needs that the virtual team has? If it only addresses one, what are its advantages over choosing another with the same and more functionality?

You know the saying - "Sometimes more, means less" - it's in full force here. If you overload your employees with a bunch of software programs whose functionalities are not completely clear to them or they find them overwhelming - then their work will suffer, and so will you as their leader. Choosing a program that "makes work easier" should be similar to choosing a new member of your virtual team. Carefully selected based on need, ability and potential benefits to the common good.

Finally, a reflection on video chat and remote teams 

At a time when physical proximity was entirely limited, video connection with family, friends and colleagues proved to be the most powerful weapon with which to communicate and keep in touch with one another. 

In the sense of virtual teams, it has also proven to be the most effective way to communicate as it is also the most intimate (of those allowed). Video meetings also prove to be the most engaging way of communicating with employees because of the "someone is watching you" factor. It brings the team together because of the 'stark' proximity to colleagues' intimate world - their home, as well as casual dress and not always combed hair. For some it acts as motivation to get out of bed and work at the table, even to fix their hair - but that's not the point. What matters is that it engages people, makes them conscious and pay attention to the speaker. 

In conclusion

The methods for "standard" leadership and that of remote teams are not significantly different. The manager must lead to the goal, keep his employees motivated and make decisions that help the work process. It doesn't sound complicated, but in practice things are almost always different. In order to be successful, a virtual team manager must also develop himself along with others because he is the oil that "lubricates" the engine. 

Our Virtual Team Management training addresses and provides the much needed 'know how' these days, namely what is the essence of our team and how to manage it. It will confront you with the challenges of managing a remote team to prepare you for the inevitable clashes in reality.

Let's not forget about the people in the team, our training - Business Academy is focused on developing employees and the skills that will help them work as a team. What's better than increasing knowledge and skills as team building?

Don't hesitate to contact us with any questions.