7 Ways to Start Managing Virtual Employees Like a Boss

Effectively managing virtual employees will become second nature as soon as you have rules, expectations, and boundaries in place

Last year, 3.7 million employees—that’s not counting volunteers and self-employed individuals—were working from home at least half of the time. Remote working arrangements have grown by 103% since 2005.

Telecommuting and virtual teams are here to stay, and if current numbers are any indication, you’re going to be encountering more and more job opportunities that have a virtual component as the years go by. Are you going to ignore one of the biggest changes to the future of the American workplace? Or are you going to prepare yourself and learn to become a successful virtual manager?

Managing virtual employees isn’t equal to managing in-office workers. Yes, the idea is the same, but there’s a lot to be said for the differences between managing employees that are right in front of your face and those that live 1,000 miles away. A survey of virtual teams identified the desired skills, knowledge, and attitudes of an effective virtual manager—they include:

  • Interpersonal skills
  • Use of media
  • Results-oriented
  • Models a high-trust relationship
  • Fosters a collaborative culture
  • Stands back from the action

If you’re a virtual manager or thinking of becoming one, you need a well-thought-out plan for managing virtual employees. Reflect on the traits listed above that workers need from you, and also take some time to consider what you need from them.

Ready to begin managing virtual employees on your team like a real pro? Try these tips.

1. Set expectations and rules.

Your team may be scattered across the country, but that’s no excuse for not being on the same page. Virtual working is still in its infancy, so don’t expect anyone on your team to “just know” what you want them to do or what you expect. Depending on your team, company, and other individual factors, you may want to set a window of time that all employees are supposed to be at their computers and available. Clearly define how accessible you want your team to be, and communicate where you’re flexible—and where you’re not. Firm ground rules create a sound basis for virtual teams.

2. Use a project management system.

One challenge for not just virtual managers, but remote employees as well, is feeling disconnected from the work that’s being done. Bring everything together in one place and use a project management system, like Basecamp or Jira. This creates a central location where all tasks and projects are organized, and everyone on the team can see when work is uploaded and questions are asked. Platforms like these help you track the flow of work, and also holds everyone more accountable.


Are your interpersonal skills up to snuff? Sign up for our two-part online course about interpersonal communications. You’ll examine your personal style, understand your impact on a message, learn to connect over a distance and work on active listening. Learn more now.


3. Judge employees on the quality of output.

Micromanaging in an office makes for a stressful environment (and it’s stressful on you too), but it can be even worse when you try to do it virtually. Release control and realize you simply cannot nitpick what your team is doing every day. Employees need to feel like you trust and respect them, so evaluate them on high-quality deliverables that are handed in on time. If the work is good and they’re meeting deadlines, you don’t need to worry about what happens in between.

4. Schedule regular meetings.

Working remotely provides a ton of great benefits, but it’s also a lot easier for employees to feel isolated, depressed, and disconnected. Keep communication open at all times and schedule weekly one-on-one video calls (that face-to-face aspect is important!) and biweekly team meetings using a group video chat platform like Google Hangouts. Also, it may seem a little weird, but be sure to schedule a time just to talk, have fun, and get to know each other. Your team is missing that social piece of the workplace puzzle, so try to add it back in the best you can with team-building activities and casual chats before meetings.

5. Recognize accomplishments.

Praising workers for a job well done is common in the workplace, but it needs to be even more common when you’re managing virtual employees. Not having that physical presence in the office can make some workers feel like they’re not valued or meeting expectations with their work quality. If someone is doing a great job, tell them—a little encouragement goes a long way in a virtual team.

6. Ask your employees how they prefer to communicate.

There are several different ways to reach out to employees over the course of a work day, and everyone has their personal preferences. Ask each employee how they want you to communicate with them if you have a quick question—call, text, IM, e-mail, video chat, etc.—and do your best to honor their wishes.

7. Practice what you preach.

You’ve created rules, set expectations, invested in a project management system…but you’re just doing whatever you want. Your employees have a hard time reaching you during business hours, you keep canceling one-on-one meetings, and you’re sending documents via e-mail instead of uploading to Basecamp. Don’t be that manager! If you want your team to get on board with your management style, you have to have enough respect to follow your own rules. Employees will also feel like you’re working with them, not against them.

Making the transition from in-office to virtual manager can be slightly challenging at first, but once you understand what your employees need from you, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how smoothly things can run.

What’s one trait that you think the best virtual managers possess? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


Are your interpersonal skills up to snuff? Sign up for our two-part online course about interpersonal communications. You’ll examine your personal style, understand your impact on a message, learn to connect over a distance and work on active listening. Learn more now.


Photo by Brooke Lark