How to manage a high-performing remote team

Krista Krumina 12.05.2020
manage remote team

Not to dwell on the current crisis for longer than we need to, but, let’s face it:

Right now, for many organizations it’s do-or-die. 

If your team can work remotely, but is instead choosing to shut down for the time being, your business is going to suffer.

So, the obvious benefit of transitioning to remote operations is that your company will be able to continue operating during such times of uncertainty.

But, the truth is, working remotely actually benefits organizations at all times – in a few different ways. Let’s take a look at how to manage a remote team in a way that’s beneficial both for you and your employees.

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What are the benefits of building a remote team?

We’re glad you asked because there are several benefits to transitioning to remote operations such as:

Remote teams show an increase in productivity

No matter which way you look at it, teams and individual employees are more productive when working remotely.

On a macro level, operating remotely can have a huge impact on your organization’s productivity. According to Global Workplace Analytics, if only half of US employees who are able to work remotely did so only half the time, they would generate an additional five million man-hours per year. That’s an extra $270 billion injected into the economy on an annual basis!

On an individual level, modern employees agree that working from home allows them to be more productive. According to one study, 79% of employees stated that one of the main reasons they preferred to work remotely was due to an increase in productivity. 

The ability to even work remotely once per month found 24% of employees more likely to feel happy and productive in their roles as opposed to those who didn’t work remotely. 

So, even once the world has gotten “back to normal,” you’ll still want to have a solid approach to remote operations in place as you move forward.

Remote teams operate more efficiently

Operating remotely also allows your team to be more efficient across the board.

In other words, your team won’t just be doing more; you’ll be doing more and spending less.

Again, this applies on a bird’s-eye and granular level.

In looking at your organization as a whole, operating remotely clearly allows you to save a ton of capital on expenses such as:

  • Real estate/office space rent
  • Office furniture and equipment
  • Maintenance and custodial operations

The amount you save can pile up pretty quickly. Ctrip, for example, saved $1,900 per employee simply by providing the opportunity to work from home. Remote operations have also allowed Dell—an obviously much larger entity—to save a whopping $12 million per year on real estate expenses alone.

On a personal level, being able to work from home means employees won’t be spending thousands of dollars a year on gas and other travel-related expenses. Similarly, they can likely reduce tangential costs, such as childcare fees and other family-related costs.

In addition to these monetary savings, remote teams are also more efficient with their time. Typically, this is because remote employees can work when they know they’ll be most productive; not just during “normal business hours”. While the average employee in a traditional setting actually does less than three hours of work per day, remote workers are inclined to be much more productive and efficient with their time on-the-clock.

Of course, since remote workers get more done in less time, that leaves even more time to get even more done. Whether this means moving onto the next project ahead of schedule, lending a helping hand to other team members as needed, or anything else to move your team forward, they wouldn’t have been able to do it had they not been so efficient in the first place.

Remote teams recruit and retain high-quality talent

Given the current global shutdown, recruiting new employees probably isn’t on the table for the time being.

Still, it’s worth noting that the highly-qualified candidates of 2020 and beyond actively look to work with companies that offer remote work opportunities:

  • When looking for a new job, 70% of candidates say remote employment options are “somewhat” to “extremely” important
  • The younger working-age generations (Gen Y and Z) are more apt to place importance on remote working options than older generations
  • Of those who place importance on remote work options, 78% have earned a college degree (with 28% having earned a graduate degree)

Operating remotely also allows you to bring your recruiting efforts to a global scale. Since your team is able to work from anywhere in the world, you’ll be able to recruit talent from all over the world. While this is possible when operating in a single location, it’s certainly easier to do when operating remotely.

Offering remote working options also makes employees more likely to stick around, too. Case in point, 74% of workers say the ability to work from home plays into their decision to remain loyal to an organization. 

Global Workplace Analytics got the employer’s side of the story: 95% of owners and managers say they’ve seen an increase in employee retention since introducing remote working options.

Again, the current situation has forced businesses large and small to make a decision:

Transition to remote operations and survive, or shut operations down for the time being—and possibly forever.

But, more than just surviving the current crisis, bringing your operations online will allow your business to thrive once things get “back to normal.”

In other words, if the crisis were to somehow miraculously end tomorrow, you’d still do well to heed the advice we’ll be giving throughout the rest of this article. 

3 tips for transitioning to remote operations

Making the leap from the physical to the virtual office successfully just won’t happen without proper planning.

(And, while things may be a bit hectic at the present moment, rushing the transition to the digital realm may end up doing more harm than good.)

But, by taking a step back and making a plan of attack, you can make the transition as seamless as possible for your team.

Here’s how to make it happen.

Set expectations for your employees

Working from home will likely be a completely new experience for your employees.

They may or may not know what to expect—or what will be expected of them. So, it’s up to you to set these expectations in the first place.

The first thing you want to address is your employees’ newfound flexibility. 

On the one hand, you do want to provide them more freedom in terms of how and when they work (especially during the current crisis). On the other hand, they still need to complete their tasks as expected—and meet the standards of your organization, overall.

Basically, you need to instil in them the idea that working from home doesn’t mean working “when you want to work.” Rather, it means “working when you’re able to be most productive.”

Regarding the employee’s work environment: Though comfort is important, it shouldn’t detract from their ability to do their job. They may be home, but they’re still “at work.”

The other side of this is ensuring your remote employees know how to “leave work at work,” despite living and working under the same roof. This may mean allowing your employees to block off their individual schedules as needed. Or, it might even mean revisiting your PTO and other such policies altogether.

Any changes you make—in cooperation with your employees, of course—should immediately be reflected in your employee handbook. This document will help guide your team members, and your organization as a whole, as you begin the transition to remote operations.

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Amend workflows and processes

Needless to say, your business will be operating quite differently as you make the leap to digital operations.

In looking at the specific workflows and processes that will need to be changed, you’ll want to identify:

  • What parts of the process need to be changed (and what parts don’t)
  • What teams and team members are involved in the process
  • What tools and other resources are needed to complete the process or task

You may need to amend how your teams communicate for different purposes, as well as how they share documents and files. Or, you may require your employees to track their progress differently via your newly-adopted project management tool

Whatever the case may be, you need to make crystal clear what the change entails—and what it will require of your employees.

The importance of focusing on what hasn’t changed can’t be overstated. With so many changes being thrust upon your employees, it’s crucial that you keep them grounded in some semblance of normalcy.

You can add another layer to this comfort by discussing the rationale behind—and benefits of—any major changes made to your team’s workflows. The goal is for your employees to see how operating remotely will allow them to be more productive and efficient. In turn, they’ll be a bit more open to the upcoming changes to be made.

As with changes to your employee policies, any changes made to your workflows should be reflected within your standard operating procedures. That way, you provide clear instruction as to the new way of doing things—allowing your team to follow their new workflows to the letter.

Enable your team via technology

Your team’s ability to succeed when working remotely hinges on their use of digital tools and technology.

To be sure, there are a number of available tools your team can adopt for a variety of purposes.

A few examples:

Internal Communications. For real-time, on-the-fly communications, Slack is a popular option for remote teams as you can chat one-on-one or in groups as necessary. Other choices to consider include Twist and Chanty.

Video Conferencing. Zoom is perhaps the trendiest video chat tool around right now, however there are a number of video conferencing tools that may better suit your team’s needs like Skype, Jitsi Meet, or ProDay.

Time Tracking. Tools like the DeskTime time clock app allow your employees to automatically track and report their time spent on-the-clock—meaning they won’t have to spend valuable time manually filling out timesheets. Not only that, but DeskTime can help employees identify and eliminate inefficient habits, helping further with improving productivity to create high-performing remote teams.

Project Management. Make collaboration easier with project management tools like Trello, Asana, or Basecamp which can help your team members focus on the right tasks and keep one another on the same page at all times. (Note: You can streamline the way your team manages its projects by integrating your project management tools with Desktime.)

Team Management. One-on-ones and team meetings can be a great way to check on the wellbeing of your employees as well as a way to engage with them. Check out tools like Soapbox or Fellow to help with making the most out of these meetings.

Knowledge & Document Management Systems. A tool like Helpjuice provides organizations with the ability to keep their data and knowledge in one centralized location allowing remote employees to be more productive and efficient. You can use Filestage to help with content review and proofing for teams.

Training & Professional Development. A great way to keep remote employees engaged while also enabling them to grow within your organization is by providing professional training and development opportunities. You can use ClickMeeting or Demio to help with creating webinars as well as LMS software like GoSkills, LearnWorlds, or TalentLMS to create and present courses that will help with developing your employees’ skills.

Now, simply adding these and other tools to your tech stack isn’t enough to ensure your remote employees use them successfully.

To truly enable your teams in this regard, you need to provide opportunities for them to learn about, experiment with, and use the tools being introduced. 

While each tool will likely have onboarding experiences of their own, you’ll also want to work with your team to develop internal processes and workflows for their specific use cases. This will allow you to get to the heart of why using a given tool is essential—and how your employee can use it to maximize their productivity.

Transitioning to remote operations can be a turbulent time for your organization—if your team isn’t prepared.

But, by setting your employees’ expectations and guiding them through the changes to be made, you’ll help make the shift as smooth as possible for your team and for yourself.

3 keys for managing a remote team

Once you’ve gotten your team onboard with the shift to remote operations, there’s still a lot you can do to optimize their efforts.

Here, we’ll discuss some of the key things you’ll need to do over time to keep your remote team headed in the right direction. 

Note that the following tactics stem from the foundational tips we discussed in the previous section. Without this solid foundation in place, none of what we’re about to discuss would even be possible in the first place.

That said, let’s take a look at what goes into creating and managing a high-performing remote team.

Hire and retain best-fit employees

As we talked about earlier, companies that operate remotely are much better able to recruit high-quality talent from all over the world.

Of course, during the current global shutdown, bringing aboard new employees might be the furthest thing from your mind.

So, for the time being, you’ll want to at least match your current talent with the right roles and responsibilities. While you ideally won’t have to make too many drastic changes, here, you definitely want to be sure your team members are in the best position possible to help your organization succeed.

You’ll also want to connect your remote team members who may not have been able to work together when in a traditional office setting. Since all team members can now interact with relative freedom, you’ll be able to experiment by creating different groups and partnerships in order to maximize overall productivity.

(We’ll talk more about this in the next section.)

Once you’re back in a position to recruit additional employees, you’ll want to look for those who specifically know how to work best in a remote setting.

This means finding candidates who are:

  • Autonomous critical thinkers: With minimal direct instruction and guidance, these individuals can quickly get moving on whatever task lands in front of them. If a problem or obstacle arises, they’ll be able to handle it on their own without checking in with you (unless absolutely necessary). Most importantly, if they see something that needs to be done, they do it without question—knowing that doing will benefit the organization as a whole.
  • Trustworthy: Since you won’t have complete visibility of your remote employees at all times, you need to know you can trust them to always complete their assigned duties as expected—and to always adhere to the guidelines set forth in your employee handbook.
  • Communicative: Because remote team members are even more isolated than in a traditional setting, it’s essential that your employees are natural communicators—and that they know how to use different communication-based tools for different types of engagements. The last thing you want is to bring aboard a talented individual who doesn’t care about keeping their teammates in the loop.

Speaking of communication…

Facilitate communication and collaboration

No matter how communicative your team members may be, though, you need to be the one to facilitate cross-team engagements when operating remotely.

You’ll likely want to schedule daily one-on-one meetings with individual team members to stay apprised of their progress, and of any upcoming tasks they have on their plate. You’ll also want to schedule regular team-wide video conferences as needed to ensure everyone is still on the same page and headed in the same direction.

In addition to scheduling such meetings, you should also build communication and collaboration into your team members’ various tasks and processes. Your team should always know who they’re working with throughout a certain task, and who they need to communicate with as they complete said task.

(For example, if Employee B is waiting on Employee A to complete a task, then A needs to know to contact B once they’ve done so.)

More than knowing that they need to communicate with other team members, your remote employees should know how to communicate with each other for specific purposes. Using the scenario from above, Employee A would likely need to tag Employee B within your project management software to notify them of their progress.

(Yes, they could send a quick, private message via Slack—but posting the same message within your project management tool allows for much greater visibility for both the individual employee and your team as a whole.)

Similarly, your team members should know the best tools to use when collaborating on a project, in real-time or otherwise. Again, the goal is to ensure all information is received loud and clear by all involved parties—and that any information received is as accurate and up-to-date as possible.

Leaving messages to the team on DeskTime.

Finally, it’s important to facilitate extracurricular communications between your virtual team members, as well. 

Because of the inherent isolation of remote work, it can be easy for your team members to slip into a “business only” mindset when engaging with each other. Unfortunately, this can lead to a lack of camaraderie and shared responsibility—which can hinder your team members’ ability to work together at all.

There are a number of ways to combat this sense of isolation, such as:

  • Creating “water cooler” chat rooms within Slack or your preferred messaging tool
  • Hosting virtual events, such as happy hours or gaming sessions (or any other remote team building activities)
  • When possible in the future, developing team-building summits and getaways on location

Though you technically will be making cross-team communication mandatory (by building it into your new remote processes), you don’t want your team members to feel like they “have to talk to each other”. By giving them time to interact in ways not related to their work, you’ll make them much more comfortable when communicating for professional purposes.

Automate processes whenever possible

One of the main reasons remote teams are able to be so efficient is they have so many opportunities to automate their various processes.

Whether by introducing new tools to their tech stack, or by further integrating these tools with one another, you should easily be able to streamline the more menial tasks you and your team are responsible for.

A few examples:

  • Schedule recurring meetings and collaborative sessions for various teams
  • Auto-send reminders and notifications for upcoming tasks, projects, meetings, etc.
  • Trigger notifications to be sent to involved team members once a task has been completed

More than likely, you’ll want to enlist the help of AI-driven tools to improve your efforts in automation. For example,’s software can analyze your team’s various schedules to identify the optimum time to hold a team-wide conference. This tool can also be used to schedule one-on-one meetings, both internally and with clients.

By eliminating the need to perform these more nitty-gritty tasks, your employees will be more free to focus on their “big picture” responsibilities—and on being as productive as possible.

Wrapping up

Transitioning to remote operations is a tall order—whether you’re doing so during a global pandemic or during “normal” times.

But, with the right approach—and the right technology on-hand—you’ll be able to streamline the transition and get your remote team moving in the right direction from the get-go. From there, it’s a matter of continually tweaking your processes to ensure you stay headed in the right direction at all times.

This is a guest post by Josh Brown. Josh Brown is the Marketing Manager at Helpjuice – knowledge base software that can be used to promote agile knowledge sharing and collaboration among remote employees. In his spare time, Josh enjoys reading, BJJ, and doing arts-and-crafts with his daughter.

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