Managing Remote Teams: Mistakes to Avoid and Tips

PUblished on: 

January 25, 2023

Updated on: 

Written by 

Lucy Georgiades

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Whether people are working remotely or in-person, managing them is not wildly different. People are still people. They need praises, feedback, connection, and community. However, remote managers need to pay more attention and be more proactive in certain things.

In this article, I'll share some remote team management common mistakes to avoid and some practical tips to help you keep your remote team on track and engaged. So whether you're a seasoned remote manager or new to the game, stick around for some valuable insights.

If you're a People leader and you find this helpful, feel free to share this article to your managers!

Want to upskill your managers on remote management?

Try watching our free 10-minute video training on ‘How to Manage Remote Teams’.

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Five Common Mistakes Remote Managers Make and How to Avoid Them

Five Common Mistakes Remote Managers Make and How to Avoid Them

1. Not Building in Enough Unstructured Time for Personal Connection

One thing we have lost moving to remote work environments is the opportunity to connect in informal and spontaneous ways. You bump into your teammate while you both are grabbing a much-needed cup of coffee and commiserate over frenetic holiday plans. Or you pop over to your colleague’s desk to get their personal take on how a project is progressing.

These unplanned social interaction help build trust and a sense of belonging. As a manager, consider scheduling a 30-minute video call every couple of weeks with your team to just chat and connect about anything that isn’t work related.

2. Jumping Straight into Work at the Beginning of 1:1s

Similar to the tip above, it’s critical to set aside 5 to 10 minutes at the top of every 1:1 to check in with the folks on your team and share what’s going on in your life too.

We have lost some of the ability to see each other as multi-dimensional individuals with lives outside of work when we only connect online. The beginning of every 1:1 can be a casual check-in, but also be open to deeper conversations, too.

Imagine that your team member shares that they are feeling overwhelmed by taking care of an aging parent. How can you, as their manager, bring empathy and offer support? It’s important to know what else is going on that might affect how someone shows up at work.

3. Assuming Your Team is “Always On”

One benefit of working remotely is that we have a bit more flexibility in how and when we work. However, a potential outcome is that people on your team may end up feeling like they are always on and there is an expectation to respond at all hours.

Many employees can easily burn out at work and personal/work boundaries bleed into each other. [Plug in Research] As a manager, it’s critical to set clear expectations for remote working hours and check in with individuals and collectively as a team on how it’s working.

Check your own behavior too. Are you sending emails over the weekend? 9pm on a Tuesday night? Your team will follow your lead so make sure that you are role-modeling a healthy work/life balance.

4. Giving Preferential Treatment to In-Office Teammates or Teammates in Similar Time Zones

If your company works in a hybrid capacity and you come into the office consistently or time-to-time, those on your team who also come into the office are automatically granted more “face time” with you. This may unintentionally create some unconscious biases.

Make sure that you are constantly checking your own biases. When a project comes along, do you automatically think of the person on your team who you see most often? How do you ensure that opportunities are given equitably? Make sure to also advocate for your remote team members with your peers and stakeholders who are in the office.

If you manage a geographically dispersed team, make sure to not default to your local time-zone when scheduling 1:1s and team meetings. Doing so will make it simpler for virtual team members living in various time zones to participate and demonstrate that you value inclusion.

5. Under-Utilizing Coaching and Training

Managers often use coaching and training as a last resort option to solve a problem. Instead, it’s best to use it as a proactive lever to support high-potential talent, drive performance, and get ahead of any challenges that may come.

A benefit of remote work is that you can engage your team in development opportunities with ease and flexibility. Though in-person training is powerful, remote learning oftentimes is more inclusive, accessible, and quicker to implement!

3 Bonus Tips for Managing Teams Remotely

Tip 1: Create Team Rituals

You’ve probably heard this a thousand times but we are here to offer a different perspective.

Team rituals are effective to bond people together because it provides meaning at work, which is a critical factor to enhance motivation, and improve well-being and work performance.

But many managers struggle with creating team rituals because they are simply too busy. So, these are 2 realistic options we suggest:

Option 1: Delegate this task to a team lead or direct report. You don’t have to come up with the rituals yourself. Don’t take this all on your own.

Option 2: Don’t overthink. Start with something simple. Pick one of the ideas below and start implementing it. Observe your team’s reactions and go from there.

Here are some practical team ritual ideas to get you started:

  • At the beginning of each team meeting, do a colored mental health check (i.e. green, amber, and red.)
  • 1-minute deep breathing or meditation before the meeting starts
  • Share wins at the end of the week. Allocate 1 - 3 minutes for each person to share their personal and professional wins.
  • Make the first 2 minutes of the meeting “shoot the breeze”. This period is for anyone in the meeting to talk about non-work-related stuff. Let them catch up with each other.
  • Start the meeting with a light, fun icebreaker question like, “If you had to make a living from your hobby, what would you be doing” or “What did you want to be when you were a child and why”. And timebox people’s answers to 1 minute.

Tip 2: Over-Clarify Expectations

How to succeed, how to communicate, how to treat each other, how to report, how to run projects, and others need to be documented and communicated across the board.

They may sound “simple” but not everyone gets you what you expect.

The best way to over-clarify expectations is to write all of them down, document them in a shared folder, and verbally communicate them to each person in your team.

If you’re constantly dealing with team issues caused by misunderstandings or confusion, this strategy is for you.

Tip 3: Check-In Deeper

A simple “how are you” question will give you a simple “I’m good” answer.

If you want to dig deeper and find out how your direct reports are really doing, do better than “how are you”.

Say something like, “I want to allow some time now before we dig into the rest of the agenda to really check in with you on how you’re doing at the moment. I know it’s not been an easy time.” Then stop talking and let the other person say what’s on their mind.

Refrain from trying to fill in the quietness. Your direct reports need the silence to speak their truth.

Free 'How to Manage Remote Teams' Video Training

In this video training, you’ll learn 3 managing remote teams best practices that’ll give your managers the confidence and skills to build productive and inclusive remote teams.

Many remote managers have already used this simple model to:

  • Set clear expectations across the board
  • Build a sense of belonging and community
  • Manage their direct reports’ emotional well-being

Lucy Georgiades

Founder & CEO @ Elevate Leadership

In London and Silicon Valley, Lucy has spent over a decade coaching Founders, CEOs, executive teams and leaders of all levels. She’s spent thousands of hours helping them work through challenges, communicate effectively, achieve their goals, and lead their people. Lucy’s background is in cognitive neuropharmacology and vision and brain development, which is all about understanding the relationships between the brain and human behavior. Lucy is an Oxford University graduate with a Bachelors and a Masters in Experimental Psychology and she specialized in neuroscience. She has diplomas with distinction in Corporate & Executive Coaching and Personal Performance Coaching from The Coaching Academy, U.K. She also has a National Diploma in Fine Art from Wimbledon School of Art & Design.