How to Successfully Manage Remote Teams

Stay connected virtually by learning new etiquette and ideas for team building.
By Lindsey Marlowe

Last Updated: December 31, 2020

Published: March 16, 2020


With the increasing need to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 by working from home, M13 held a webinar on remote work hosted by M13’s Partner and Head of Talent Matt Hoffman featuring:

  • Jessica Marucci, Head of People and Places, Catalyst Software
  • Mark Frein, Chief People Officer, Lambda School
  • Megan Wheeler, Director of Recruiting and Leadership Trainer, LifeLabs Learning

    We’re navigating a space where this isn’t everyone’s chosen path.

    Megan Wheeler

Here are a few key takeaways:

  • Acknowledge the anxiety of going remote and that it isn’t people’s chosen path; we’re doing this in the interest and the safety of our community.
  • Be mindful that work setups may not be optimal. Some colleagues have young children at home and they neither the child who wants their attention (see BBC dad) nor the parent did not anticipate work to be like this.
  • Accept the learning curve of going fully remote (“people didn’t sign up for this environment!”), encourage questions in the ramp-up, and give colleagues tools to gain confidence and succeed. Identify and practice digital etiquette such as being okay with awkward pauses as we wait for our colleagues to speak up on video chats.

    For a lot of people, this is a first-time experience, and we’re in a world where there’s a lot of anxiety in general.

    Matt Hoffman

What are some best practices for keeping remote teams connected?

Intent matters. For remote work to be successful, you have to want to connect.

Overcommunicate as much as possible. Make workflows visible, create feedback loops, and recognize the limits of making decisions over Slack.

Try a test run. Facilitate a one-day test trial of everyone working from home. What did we learn about what our colleagues need to be set up for success?

Lead through your actions. Model working from home as well to help with communication flow and trust.

Make time for socializing. Host virtual lunches and happy hours, “munch 'n learns” that aren't about work, and games like in-home scavenger hunts or pet parades.

Adapt your new-hire orientation techniques. Experiment with virtual onboarding, and include or introduce other team members.

Keep the cameras on. You may not have the ideal work-from-home setup, but the environment and how we truly are will foster trust and collaboration.

What (tech) tools enable remote work?

  • Electric AI is ideal for clients transitioning to remote work for outsourced IT side.
  • Provide information and training, support for how to use the tools, and encourage questions (“How do I create breakout rooms in Zoom?”).
  • Learn COVID-19 etiquette. Embrace the pause, and avoid side conversations.
  • Make tech as simple and interconnected as possible. That may require making hard choices about simplicity. Physical companies can give more local autonomy and collaborative tools but remote requires centralization for tools like video technology.
  • Create boundaries. Develop processes for young children (a sign on the door with red for please don’t come in and green for welcome) and family. Remind friends and family that just because you’re home doesn’t mean you can catch up or do the laundry and the dishes right away.

How do you manage performance when you can’t see it?

Productivity looks like how someone achieves their outcomes. What’s important is whether or not they arrive at the destination not if they’re working “now,” or at a computer, or on a walk.

Establish a cadence of team meetings and stick to them.

Be explicit about expectations, role, and responsibilities.

Understand the psychological elements of trust.

Don’t underestimate reliability and having consistent 1:1s. Consider catching up by phone while on a walk instead of defaulting to Zoom.

Show benevolence. Ask “Am I showing up for you?” and be ready to change how you demonstrate your support for your team during these times of uncertainty.

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