How to Create a Team When You're Managing Remote Workers

These 5 Ideas Will Help You Create Teamwork Across Your Remote Employees

Managing remote workers to creat a team requires creativity, technology, and a little bit of coaching.
••• B Busco / Getty Images

Managing remote workers and helping them become part of a team is becoming more and more necessary as many millennials demand the opportunity to telecommute a day or more a week. People love the convenience of commuting from their bedroom to their basements and working with all of the conveniences of a well-stocked refrigerator.

But, even with the growing popularity of remote work, you still need your employees to work as a team. If they all work in different locations, managing remote workers as a team can become extremely difficult. Managing remote workers

The first job you need to do is to switch your thinking—these aren’t individuals doing their jobs—this is a team. You can absolutely make teamwork happen even when your employers don’t see each other regularly. You may have some difficulty in managing remote workers as the process may be new for you and for some of your team. But, it’s not impossible.

You can do several things to help your remote workers bond, even though they don’t see each other regularly. Here are five ideas to help get you going.

Meet Face to Face Regularly When Managing Remote Workers

If everyone lives in the same metropolitan area, having a regular meeting may really help your employees become a team. Some managers find when managing remote workers that the best telecommuting relationships are enhanced when the team members work a couple days in the office each week.

But, this isn’t practical for a lot of teams, even those who are located in the same area. One of the reasons to support workers who work remotely is cost cutting: you don’t need office space for these workers. If they all have to come in every week, of course, you lose that benefit.

(Employers are experimenting with providing hoteling arrangements where employees who come into work take any open space to work; there are no permanent workspaces or offices provided for the telecommuter.)

Instead, you can use a weekly or every-other-week team meeting to bring people together and help them develop a sense of teamwork. Don’t meet just to meet, though. You need to have meaningful work or you’re wasting their time and cutting down on productivity. Ask yourself, how often would you have team meetings if you all worked in the office? If that answer is weekly, try that. If that answer is monthly, do that.

If your team, on the other hand, is scattered across the country or the world, regular face-to-face meetings are not practical, but it is still a good idea for everyone to meet. A quarterly or even yearly meeting where everyone flies into the head office is a great chance for people to meet.

Additionally, visiting the corporate offices can give remote workers a better understanding of how their jobs fit into the whole picture. Sometime’s that’s hard to see from three time zones away.

Use Video Conferencing When Managing Remote Workers

Managing remote workers in a way that fosters interaction is challenging since some people don’t like to see themselves on the computer screen. But, seeing people’s faces can go a long way towards team building. Why? Because body language strongly influences your understanding of what a person means. Were they joking? Being sarcastic? Absolutely sincere? Seeing a person, and not just hearing them, helps you to understand their meaning.

Additionally, people have a tendency to do other things while on conference calls. It’s easy to put your phone on mute and send emails or play Candy Crush. That means your whole focus isn’t on the meeting. If you’re using video conferencing, people are more apt to pay attention—because other people can tell when they are not.

Additionally, you get to see where other people work, what they wear, and how they generally act. All of these things help you understand that there are actual humans on the other end of those emails and text messages. It can help you be more understanding of failures as well. 

Use Ongoing Messaging Tools When Managing Remote Workers

Email used to be the fastest way to communicate with other people (without picking up the phone), but now there are instant message programs, and group chats, such as Slack. People can easily exchange short messages, either to individuals or to the group.

Some tools also indicate whether a team member is at her computer or not, which should help you contact people instead of playing phone tag. Of course, the fact that an employee is sitting in front of a computer screen doesn’t mean she can chat or talk right now—she’s working. But, you can see if a message has been received.

Encourage Off-Topic Conversations

When managing remote workers, you may benefit from encouraging your team members to participate in off-topic conversations. Say what? Every manager wants their employees to be on topic all of the time, right? It sounds logical, but a strong team needs to see each other as people, and that means getting to know each other.

In an office environment, people normally have conversations that aren’t work-related. “Hey, did you see the latest movie?” or “My brother is getting married and I can’t stand his fiancee.”

Managers of remote workers often discourage this type of discussion, but it’s actually critical to building relationships and seeing each other as humans and not just chatbots that produce some work product.

When the team is new, and people don’t know each other (and especially if you don’t meet in person regularly), try starting each day with a question on group chat. Don’t make the questions political or too personal, but try to make the questions fun.

  • How did your driver’s license test go? Did you pass the first time?
  • What do you do when you are bored?
  • Are you more of a Pinterest person or an Amazon Prime person?
  • What would you do if you had no electricity for three days?
  • If someone offered you $1000 would you give up all internet access for a month?
  • Which weekday do you like the best? (Not the weekend!)
  • Are you more of a dog person or a cat person?

The goal is to get people talking with each other—like normal coworkers would. Remember, your goal is to build a team, and that means building relationships.

Assign Work According to Skills When You're Managing Remote Workers

This is generally a good plan for any type of work, but sometimes when you're managing remote workers, managers like to assign whole projects to individuals, because they can’t see how people will work together. That’s fine if that works for your group, but to build a team, you need to ask people work as a team.

Don’t give a whole project to one person, assign the parts out based on knowledge, skills, abilities, and interests of each team member. Yes, cross train so that you aren’t devastated when an employee resigns or moves to a new job, but manage the projects the way you would if all remote workers were present.

Remember, communication can take place easily over the phone, video, and messaging. You may need to coach a bit and remind people to keep the communication up. Working on the same project helps people talk to each other and learn each other’s strengths. That way, when a problem comes up, they know who to ask—they don’t have to always go straight to the boss.

When managing remote workers, you can help them become part of a great team with a bit of coaching and a whole lot of technology. Plus, many people really like working remotely, and when people are happy with their jobs, they stay put. Retaining great employees is a benefit to any business.