Remote work isn’t new, but it is newly widespread. According to a Gallup poll, 56% of U.S. workers are working remotely all or part of the time. And while some may start returning to work full-time or in a more hybrid capacity, the trend towards remote work seems here to stay.
Upwork’s Future of Workforce Pulse Report estimates that by 2025, 36.2 million Americans will be working remotely, an 87% increase from pre-pandemic levels.
As more and more companies and employees embrace remote work, leaders and managers will need to re-learn and re-think some of the old ways of doing things.
From team collaboration and meetings to performance management and schedules, remote work is transforming how, when, and where we work.
Use the following guide as a crash course for remote work best practices, strategies, and tips so you can better lead, manage, and perform on your remote teams.
So what exactly is remote work? And how is it different from traditional office work?
To get a better understanding of how to best approach remote work in your business, it’s helpful to have a clear definition:
Remote work is essentially any work done away from a physical office location. Remote work gives employees the flexibility to do their work and stay productive and connected to their team and office from anywhere—whether on the road or at home.
For most, this means working from home or a favorite coffee shop. But others have embraced a “digital nomad” lifestyle—working and traveling across multiple locations.
The rise of cloud technology and improved communication and collaboration tools have allowed more and more teams to join the remote work movement. They are also starting to reap the added benefits and improved productivity that remote work can bring.
Despite initial hesitation from more traditionally-minded leaders to invest in remote work as a viable option for the workforce, most people now agree that remote work has compelling advantages.
Benefits of remote work include:
Employees want and value the flexibility and autonomy that remote work affords them. In fact, 54% of employees say they would change jobs for one that offered them more flexibility, which results in an average of 12% turnover reduction after a remote work agreement is offered.
And organizations benefit from happier employees who are more productive, engaged, and excited to work with the company.
Bottom line: Remote work is good for your bottom line—and your people.
Research proves time and time again the positive impact remote work can have on both employees and businesses.
Understanding how remote work impacts your teams will help you better address potential problems and prioritize the things that matter most to your employees—and that will make the biggest difference in long-term performance and engagement.
Here are just a few remote work statistics illustrating what the present and future of remote work might look like.
If you’re new to remote work, it can be a big shift from working in an office. Here are a few remote working tips to make the transition successful for you and your team.
With remote teams, it’s nearly impossible to over-communicate. Since you aren’t all working together in an office setting, you don’t have the opportunity to collaborate in person, check in at each others’ desks, or chat in the break room to stay up to date. This means you need to find other ways to communicate effectively and clearly.
Clarify early on how your team will communicate and the best channels for different types of work and topics (e.g., performance reviews vs. project updates).
These might include:
Frequent communication will help everyone stay on the same page and build better connections and trusted relationships across the team.
You can avoid a lot of frustration, confusion, and misalignment through clear expectations from the start.
Set expectations around:
Clarifying how, when, and where your team will work can improve efficiency, keep everyone aligned, and prevent conflict from the start.
Juggling communication and schedules across a remote team can be tricky—especially if people are working in different time zones. That’s why establishing a consistent feedback culture is so important.
Managers should regularly solicit feedback from their remote teams to understand how best to support individual employees, identify areas of potential conflict or friction, build trusted relationships, and drive performance.
Working from home can blur the lines between personal life and work life. Remote workers already work longer hours than office workers, putting them at risk for extra stress and even burnout.
Help keep your remote employees happy and well by setting healthy boundaries around work:
Just because you aren’t all gathered in an office doesn’t mean you don’t have a team or company culture. That’s why it’s important to focus on building a healthy and productive culture from the start.
Culture is made up of the attitudes, behaviors, and values of a group or organization. In other words, it’s the heart and soul of your company and its people.
When you add remote work into your company dynamics, that will impact how employees and leaders work together. For example, we know remote work can improve productivity and performance—but it doesn’t always translate to higher employee retention.
Building a strong remote work culture from the start can help you capitalize on the benefits of remote work while mitigating some of the risks and challenges that are unique to distributed teams.
When teams work remotely, culture can be harder to define and implement. But distance doesn’t have to result in disconnection.
Remote workers typically value and appreciate greater flexibility and autonomy over their work and schedules. This can translate to a positive culture of mutual trust and accountability. Plus, when workers have fewer organic opportunities to connect with their team members in person, they may be more engaged with team-building activities that foster connection.
There are also challenges to remote work that can impact culture. For example, distance and differing schedules can cause misalignment and miscommunication.
Additionally, with the line between home and work blurred, workers may end up working long hours and have difficulty taking breaks and signing off at the end of the day or on weekends. This can create an unhealthy burnout culture that stretches your team thin and makes employees feel like they have to be available to each other at all times of day or night.
Understanding these pros and cons of remote work and how they can impact your culture can help you strategically develop your remote culture.
Technology is your friend when it comes to remote work. And fortunately, there are tons of options and solutions to help remote teams stay connected and productive from anywhere.
Focus on tools that streamline communication, enable collaboration, and reduce friction for workers—whether that’s tracking work assignments or following up with coworkers.
You know culture is important. But how can you actually build a remote work culture if your employees aren’t physically together? Here are 4 strategies to get started:
To build a strong culture, you first need to understand what your current culture is and how your employees experience it. The easiest way to do this is to ask!
Send out an employee survey with questions and ranking statements like:
A culture survey can give you insights into what is working well and opportunities to improve so you can target your culture-building efforts strategically.
If you don’t have a plan, you’re not going to achieve the results you hope for. And this applies to company culture too. Culture is built with intention, so include remote work as part of your overall organizational and engagement strategy.
By prioritizing culture and approaching engagement, you can better address barriers to remote work and ensure your talent initiatives align with the culture you’re trying to create.
Working remotely doesn’t mean you can’t feel close to your team. Make time for activities other than work communication to foster team connection remotely.
This can be as simple as taking 5 minutes at the beginning of your weekly team meetings to share about your weekends or scheduling virtual team breaks together to get to know each other. Small steps like these go a long way towards creating a welcoming, inclusive, and positive hybrid team.
People want to know that they matter—and this doesn’t change when they work outside the office. But working remotely can make it easy for employee contributions to go unnoticed. Don’t let that happen.
Make employee recognition an integral part of your remote work culture and engagement strategy. Show appreciation for achievements big and small, both publicly and privately, so your employees know their work is valued.
A positive remote work culture won’t happen overnight. Create a plan and work on cultivating a strong culture for the long run.
Engaging employees from afar will look different than some of your go-to in-office initiatives. However, there are overlapping strategies and many shared principles.
Just like your in-house employees, remote workers want to feel part of the company culture and team. They want to know their work is valued and that their contributions matter. And they want to see a future at the company that allows them to grow and develop.
Of course, meeting these needs and expectations can be tricky when you’re not all gathered in a shared office. Below are a few ideas for keeping your remote employees engaged from day one.
Despite the many advantages and benefits of remote work, employee engagement isn’t a given. Engaging remote employees will require strategic efforts and ongoing evaluation.
In other words, it’s not enough to throw in virtual happy hours or remote perks. Real, lasting engagement goes deeper than that. It’s about knowing what your employees need and want and making sure your culture, processes, and policies support them.
Engaging remote employees isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. You’ll need a multi-pronged strategy to meet your employees where they are and ensure they have the tools and support they need to stay engaged long-term.
Here are 12 engagement ideas for remote workers:
Building an engaged remote team is an ongoing process. Keep these tips in mind when crafting your strategy for engaging remote employees.
Surveys play a crucial role in understanding your remote employees’ needs, preferences, and unique challenges.
In addition to regular one-on-one meetings and team check-ins, pulse surveys help leaders “get a pulse” of their remote teams to see how things are going. They give people leaders valuable insight into what’s working and what’s not, and help identify gaps or opportunities in performance and engagement initiatives.
Pulse surveys are short, focused questionnaires, typically just 5-15 questions on a given topic. A remote work survey could focus on:
Pick a focus for your survey and craft questions around that theme. Remote work survey questions might include:
Pulse surveys not only allow you to get feedback on a specific topic, but they also allow you to target specific groups or teams of employees so you can take strategic localized action.
Onboarding plays a fundamental role in engaging your remote employees and setting them up for long-term success with your company.
According to SHRM, employee turnover can be as high as 50% in the first 18 months of employment. That’s a huge cost for companies who have invested time and money to hire and train new recruits. But building a strong onboarding program can help reduce turnover and give remote employees the tools and support they need to do well—and want to stick around.
The next logical question, of course, is how do you onboard new employees when you’re remote? Here are few things to consider:
Since remote employees aren’t coming into your office, they won’t necessarily come equipped with all the tools they need to be successful. Before they even start work, make sure they have what they need to get started, such as Wi-Fi capacity, user logins, and access, conferencing tools. You might even include a stipend for workers to use to set up their own work-from-home office and desk station.
This includes any organizational charts, company benefits packages, training manuals, contracts, employee handbooks, etc. Make sure they have permission to access these documents and walk through them with your employee so they understand how to find the information they need.
During the first week, set up virtual introductory calls with team members and other leaders to help them get to know who they will be working with and start building those relationships from the beginning.
The main goal is to make sure your remote hires feel welcomed, supported, and included from day one. Don’t drop them in and let them sink or swim.
Give them the tools they need to succeed and regularly check-in and check up on them to see how they are adjusting, identify any challenges they may be facing, answer questions, and create opportunities for coaching and long-term development. These are the building blocks of engaged and productive employees no matter where they do their work.
One of the biggest fears and challenges for remote managers is how to lead their teams from afar. Keeping track of performance and building a strong team culture can feel daunting when you’re not all in an office together.
But ultimately, managing people remotely relies on many of the same leadership principles as in-house management.
People want to be trusted to do their work, they want to be recognized for their contributions and feel a sense of purpose in their work, and they want regular feedback so they can continue to grow and develop.
When leaders understand these core values and needs, they can better manage their teams no matter where they’re located.
Of course, the dynamics of a remote team are different from an in-house team. When people aren’t sharing an office space, they don’t have the same opportunities for connection, communication, or collaboration.
In other words, how, where, and when they work will look different from in-house employees (and maybe even from each other if they are on flexible schedules or different time zones).
That’s why remote managers need to pay special attention to managing and promoting positive remote team dynamics.
We’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again. The number one way to effectively manage remote teams is to prioritize effective communication.
Make sure you have clear processes in place for how and when your team will communicate with each other. This will streamline your workflows, build trust, and ensure accountability across the board.
People need to trust each other in order to do good work. Foster trust and connection through honest communication, feedback, and team-building exercises. Work with your team to establish clear expectations and boundaries so everyone is on the same page and can take ownership of their work.
Collaboration traditionally looks like everyone in a room brainstorming and meeting together. With remote teams, collaborating must happen virtually. Experiment with different tools and strategies for collaboration.
Collaboration can happen in real-time with meeting tools like Zoom or Lucidspark, but it can also happen asynchronously—with team members contributing to the conversation at different times of the day or week and following up on the work later. Try different tools and channels to see what works for your specific team based on workflows, goals, preferences, and personalities.
Meetings are your most expensive management tool. Make sure you’re getting value out of them by running effective virtual meetings—whether those are one-on-ones, group collaboration sessions, or team meetings.
Plan out regular meetings ahead of time on the calendar so everyone knows when they need to be available. Send out agendas so everyone is prepared. And choose and use your communication tools wisely—remember that sometimes simple is better, and not all shiny features are necessary for leading a productive, focused meeting.
Don’t let physical distance create emotional distance between your team members. Take time to intentionally build connections among your employees and cultivate a cohesive, remote team.
Remote team building doesn’t have to be complicated either. Here are a few simple ways to get the ball rolling.
People work better together when they know and trust one another. Break the ice and help your employees build stronger relationships with easy but fun get-to-know-you games that spark conversation like:
Just remember to keep it PG.
Collect facts and trivia about people on your team (and even the company in general) and see how well you each know your coworkers. This is a fun way to learn more about each other and build team spirit with some healthy, low-stakes competition.
Annual team or company retreats are a great way to bring people together in person for some deeper team bonding. If your company can afford to, set aside a weekend for a casual retreat to strengthen team connections and company culture and make shared memories.
Sometimes work breaks and meetings are too stuffy for people to open up and connect more genuinely. Virtual happy hours are a fun way to wind down at the end of the day and enjoy more casual conversation and company. You can host them on Zoom and invite the team to make their own drinks at home—bonus if they share their favorite recipes!
No matter where your employees are, managers are tasked with helping them do their jobs successfully. But managing employee performance remotely can be daunting. Here are a few ways to keep performance on track.
One-on-ones are a crucial tool in the remote manager’s toolbox. When your team is remote, you don’t have the same opportunities to connect with your team organically—from popping over to their desk for a quick chat to catching up in the break room.
This means dedicated check-ins are even more critical to building trusted relationships with your remote employees and taking the pulse on their work performance.
Stay connected and involved with regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings—we recommend at least once a month, but for remote teams, more frequent check-ins can be especially beneficial. This not only allows you to monitor and support individual employees’ performance, but it also gives you a clearer picture of the entire team’s performance so nothing falls through the cracks.
When your teams are distributed, it’s easy for the right hand to be ignorant of what the left hand is doing. Misalignment can lead to missed deadlines, unclear accountabilities, miscommunication, and lower quality customer service across the organization.
That’s why it’s important to align teams on strategic goals. When your teams are working together towards a shared purpose, this drives performance and accountability and makes it easier for leaders and their teams to prioritize their work and communicate from a place of unity.
In the office or at home, employee recognition remains a key driver of employee engagement and performance. When employees are remote, it can be easy to feel disconnected or even invisible to the rest of the team or organization—especially if your workforce has a hybrid mix of in-office and at-home employees. That’s why it’s crucial to build employee recognition into your team culture.
There are several types of recognition:
Incorporating all of them into your recognition strategy based on employee preferences will ensure you meet the needs of your team and recognize employees in the ways that are most meaningful to them. As you recognize your remote workers, you will build their confidence, motivation, and sense of purpose and direction resulting in better performance and stronger engagement.
Employees can’t improve if they don’t know what to work on. That’s why feedback is so important. Make sure feedback is:
Cultivate a feedback culture that goes both ways—top-down and bottom-up so that both employees and leaders have a chance to give and receive constructive input.
Ask for feedback during one-on-ones, team meetings, and through surveys to get insight on how your team members are feeling and identify ways you or the company can improve.
Regular, constructive feedback from managers, coaches, and peers can help remote employees understand what is expected, identify areas for improvement, and better align their efforts with the overall goals of the team and organization.
Professional development is a key driver of employee engagement—whether they’re in the office or remote. Professional development helps employees feel a greater sense of purpose and direction, increased motivation and sets employees up for successful long-term careers with your company.
But you can’t take professional development for granted. Developing your remote employees requires strategic planning, honest communication, and consistency.
Here are a few best practices to prioritize and optimize remote employee development:
When employees aren’t sharing a workspace together, it takes extra effort to ensure teams feel connected and build a strong culture of trust.
Steps both large and small can add up to make a big difference—from holding regular virtual team meetings and communicating via video and Slack channels for personalities to shine through to implementing organization-wide policies that promote connection, inclusion, and wellbeing.
Employees who feel included and fairly treated are more likely to stick around and will have an easier time connecting with their coworkers. Luckily, remote work expands an organization’s opportunities to embrace diversity and inclusion because the talent pool is no longer limited to a specific location.
Instead, hiring managers can look outside the immediate area surrounding the office to recruit workers from a diverse range of locations, backgrounds, experiences, and identities—all of which can bring new perspectives, improve the culture of your organization, and create an inclusive environment for people to do their best work.
Additionally, remote work also makes it easier for people with disabilities or workers who need more flexible schedules (like caregivers), to pursue and succeed in full-time employment.
Understanding this, companies can build more inclusive and equitable remote work policies that attract and retain top talent from anywhere in the world. From opening up the interview process to remote video interviews to allowing flexible schedules for remote employees, remote-friendly policies can transform and empower your business to include and value employees no matter where they’re from or how and where they work.
Burnout is a real risk for both in-house and remote workers. Although remote workers tend to report having a better work-life balance as a result of greater flexibility (including time to visit the doctor), lack of a grueling commute, and more time to exercise and get outside, remote workers also tend to work more hours than their office counterparts and are less likely to take time off.
This means leaders need to be extra conscious of how their remote teams are doing and take proactive steps to promote employee wellbeing.
Building remote worker wellbeing into your policies and work culture will not only result in happier, healthier employees, but also reward you with a stronger culture, and a more productive and engaged workforce.
Whether full-time or hybrid, for many organizations remote work is here to stay. And as employees increasingly expect and demand flexibility and remote options, leaders will need to adapt to a new normal for managing remote teams.
Luckily, with the right technology and employee engagement solutions, managing remote workers can be just as rewarding—and productive—as managing an in-house team. Learn how to manage your remote teams and lead the way (remotely). Explore our solutions page for more information below.