I Have Never Managed People Remotely. How Do I Even Begin Now That My Team is Working From Home Because of Coronavirus?

Because of the coronavirus pandemic and many states’ mandates to shelter in place, millions of managers across industries are managing remote teams for the first time.

This can feel like a brand new challenge, but my hunch is that you are more prepared than you think.

Have you ever worked with a supplier based in another state?

Have you ever had a website designer share their screen with you over a conference call because they weren’t an in-house employee?

Have you ever worked with a client without ever meeting them face to face?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these, then you’ve already managed people remotely! You do already have some skills you can apply to the unprecedented work-from-home experiment taking place right now.

Still, I know it can feel stressful knowing your entire team is working remotely, all the time. As a manager, you might feel powerless to keep them focused. You worry about their mental health during isolation. You wonder if your instructions are clear enough.  

To help you navigate remote management, here are three practical tips for managing remote teams.

Tip #1: Be Visible

I recently spoke with an elementary school teacher who told me that the principal of her school spent the first week of the Coronavirus crisis holed up in her office. While teachers had a million questions and concerns, the principal essentially hid. 

That is a perfect example of what NOT to do.

Even if you don’t have all the answers – which you won’t because nobody does right now – your job as a leader in this crisis is to be visible, accessible and as helpful as you possibly can to the people you manage.

The leaders I’m admiring right now are the ones who are communicating frequently with their people. 

The ones who are visible. 

The ones who are transparent. 

The ones offering comfort and support.

I recommend continuing or beginning one-on-ones with everyone you manage and then supplementing these with group team calls. Make sure you schedule these in advance. Do your best to ask your team members where they need support, how they are doing and how you can help.

Tip #2: Overcommunicate

Communication is always an important skill for a good manager. But when managing remotely, it’s more critical than ever. Try to get in the mindset of overcommunicating.

As my communications consultant Amanda Schumacher says, “If you question whether your colleague or employee will want to know something, share it.

In addition, tell your team specifically how you want them to communicate with you. Since they can’t pop into your office or run into you in the halls, should they call, email, text, IM, Skype, Slack, Zoom, WebEx, WeChat? Don’t assume they know.

Now that you can’t rely on normal office rhythms, you also need to let people know when they can reach you. Do you want people to check in with you first thing in the morning? Should they send a daily or weekly update on what they’ve been working on? Clarify!

One manager, a working parent overseeing and homeschooling her kids, now lists her daily working hours in the signature line of her email. I think that’s a great best practice right now.

Tip #3: Be easier on yourself

Take this transition step by step. Every day, aim to get a little better at remote managing – and get your team a little better at remote working, too.

For so many managers and teams, the move to a fully remote team happened pretty much overnight. This means you will get a lot wrong, and that is normal and to be expected. 

Leaders must be mindful that your employees are new to this as well and they will get a lot wrong too. So be patient and kind and forgiving, as much as possible. 

Kids will interrupt their parents during conference calls. Expect it. 

Some people will take longer than others to figure out how to use Zoom and other technologies – provide as much help as possible and be extra patient.

Finally, and especially if you are new to managing remotely, ask your colleagues for regular feedback on how the situation is working out. As HR expert Jaime Klein advises, track what is easier and what is more difficult when working remotely. This data will help you now and in the future when you find yourself managing remotely again. 

There is no doubt in my mind that this unprecedented global situation will lead many organizations to allow and even encourage more remote work situations in the future. Everything you learn and improve now will only help you in that new reality whenever it arrives.

Did you learn something new from this post? Share with a colleague or friend who is managing remotely. You can also share the link to the related episode of The Work Remix podcast.

Share this post

hi, i'm lindsey!

Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


Learn 25 Practical Ways to Manage Across Generations