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Managing staff who work remotely

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Use this page to help you lead or manage people who work remotely.

Understanding remote working

Remote working is a style of working where employees don’t travel to a single, central workplace.

Instead, remote working can involve:

  • working from home
  • working from a regional office or alternative workspace
  • doing outreach or community work.

Each of these styles of work can be essential to the success of an organisation’s mission, but they can also make it harder to lead and manage people effectively.

Tips for effective communication

There are lots of things you can do to communicate effectively with staff who work remotely.

Agree how you’ll communicate

Decide what tools you’ll use for regular and spontaneous communication. Phone and video calls are often best for urgent messages, collaboration and conversation.

Email and instant messaging services work better for detail, complex issues, and where you need to record/refer back to what’s been said.

Create spaces for socialising

Isolation can be a problem for people spending a lot of time alone. Consider how these individuals can have social contact through phone calls, and possibly trips to the local office.

‘Pairing’ or ‘buddying’ two colleagues can be a helpful way of providing reciprocal support. Let the people you manage know that it’s ok to ask for support and encourage team members to check in with each other too.

Ensure technology works

If you have any remote staff, you’ll need to invest in live meeting technology, like Microsoft Teams or Zoom. Make sure the technology you choose works well and your team’s trained to use it.

Setting clear agendas and nominating someone to chair each virtual meeting can help ensure everyone gets involved.

Read our guidance on choosing new software or tools.

Set clear expectations

It can be helpful to agree acceptable response times – for example, to emails and for comments on decisions. It can be harder to chase these things when you’re not regularly seeing people face-to-face.

Share regularly

Consider how you’ll share knowledge as a team and share achievements with the wider organisation. For example, could your team share updates in regular virtual all-staff meetings?

Encourage people to share their achievements and challenges within the team too, to create a sense of community.

Creating effective remote teams

Many processes that happen automatically and informally in face-to-face teams need to be consciously managed in remote teams. Here are some things to think about if:

  • you manage a team remotely
  • team works remotely.

Set clear aims and objectives

It’s particularly important for remote teams to have clearly defined aims and objectives, so team members are united on what needs to be done and when.

It’s a good idea to check in regularly with remote staff to make sure they understand exactly what’s expected of them – this will help everyone pull in the same direction.

Read our guidance on setting objectives.

Ensure roles within teams are clear

Clear roles are necessary for individuals to avoid duplication and confusion. Team members need to be very clear about the separate tasks for which they’re responsible.

It’s also important to clarify leadership and authority within remote teams. Who takes on leadership for a project or the different stages of a project? Who has the authority to assign work?

Create clear processes

Try to set explicit, transparent processes for decision making, work planning and other procedures. How will decisions be taken? How will team members update each other?

Clarify team expectations

It’s important to clarify expectations about ways of working, especially when local custom might vary between different countries. You may need to reach agreement on working hours/days, and when its acceptable to schedule meetings/send emails.

Build a sense of identity as a team

Having a sense of identity as a team generates feelings of belonging and makes success more likely. Research shows that teams who meet together face-to-face, even if only once, are more likely to achieve this.

If possible, have a team ‘launch’ giving time for people to get to know each other personally. Periodic face-to-face meetings also reinforce team bonding. Where this isn’t possible, use video calls.

Last reviewed: 01 August 2022

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 01 August 2022

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