7 tips for managing a remote team that actually work

A colleague asked me how my day was going yesterday, and I gave her what’s become my standard response. “Oh, you know, just Zooming around.” She nodded sympathetically. Back-to-back virtual meetings seem to be the norm for most people these days. Even though we “see” each other during these calls, it’s not the same as connecting IRL.

Almost a year into the pandemic means nearly a year of remote working. It’s completely changed how we work and manage others. We’ve had intimate glimpses into the lives of colleagues through video calls and virtually met each other’s babies in the “boardroom.”

As a new mother myself, I’m grateful for the extra time with my baby and the moments between meetings when I can give her a quick hug. Yet, this intimacy also is testing boundaries, between work and personal lives. Meetings can start early and extend into the evening with no buffer zone in between.  

For some team members, remote work is particularly hard, as it brings with it many challenges, including isolation, loss of focus and a lack of visibility. And as a manager of a team of creatives, I know the challenges that arise when we try to find inspiration and collaborate on ideas across 22 remote offices.

A manager’s job is to remove as many barriers as possible, help team members feel connected and drive positive results. But it’s not easy in the middle of an enduring lockdown. This raises the question: How do you manage a team when the only certainty is uncertainty? 

Here are a few tips to help you manage your remote team and keep them inspired. If you have any others, I’d love to read them in the comments. 

  1. Check-in regularly. Take time to connect with team members individually and ask how they are doing, daily or weekly, as they need. Recurring meetings provide stability. Think about organizing informal catch-ups to give employees the chance to chat about more personal things. Don’t forget that last-minute meeting cancellations can have a negative impact on some team members.
  2. Read the Zoom. As we are not meeting in person, we have fewer opportunities to read body language. But you can still pick up nonverbal cues during a video call. Your team is reading you, too, so don’t forget to be fully present.
  3. Lead with empathy. Be a compassionate colleague and mentor for teammates. Acknowledge stress, listen to anxieties, and empathize. Our lives have been turned upside down, and everyone deals with things differently.
  4. Share vulnerability. Your colleagues might look to you for encouragement and confidence, but you don’t have to have all the answers. A combination of the ongoing pandemic, an ever-present climate emergency, social justice movement, and an increasingly divided political landscape make for challenging times.
  5. Be inspired and inspiring. A manager’s job is to inspire, but keeping teams motivated from afar can be challenging. How can you get employees to experiment and play? Weekly creative challenges are a great way to engage colleagues. Setting aside dedicated time for employees to read and create (and share) is also beneficial. Some companies have meeting-free mornings or even whole days. At Day One Agency, we enacted “Fresh Thinking Mornings” every Wednesday to think creatively and inspire each other to bring fresh ideas and perspectives to our work.  
  6. Set boundaries — for you and the team. Zoom fatigue is real. It’s okay if people don’t want to be on camera all the time, give team members the option to keep their camera off for some of those internal meetings. Encourage breaks. A whole day of virtual meetings is draining. Build time into the day so employees can refresh between meetings, grab lunch or take a walk. Ask about their work-life balance, they will appreciate that you care. 
  7. Stay optimistic. Focus on strengths and solutions. Keep an eye on the big picture and actively seek opportunities to celebrate team wins — big and small. And take time to reflect together and acknowledge how far you have come on a regular basis.

The pandemic has taught us valuable lessons about management that should be retained when we return to office life. Lead with empathy, respect work-life balance, check-in one-on-one, and schedule time for creativity and inspiration. Most importantly, think positively and remember we’re all in this together.

Victoria Gates-Fleming is VP of Digital Strategy & Creative Insights at Day One Agency. She currently lives with her husband, new baby, and rescue dog Buddy in Los Angeles.