The 4 Laws of Managing Remote Employees They Don’t Teach You in Business School

Managing remote employees requires you to take what you know about leading a team and adjust that knowledge to the virtual world and its unique challenges

No one probably ever taught you about managing remote employees. It feels like an underground course that other seem to have taken, but never ended up on your course agenda.

Yes, your work experience managing teams and much of what you learned in business school can be applied to a virtual environment, but it’s more complicated than that. There are unique considerations, challenges, and situations when you’re leading a team that isn’t working together under one roof.

Tips for managing remote employees that your teacher never told you

1. Set expectations about timing.

In an office, you’re all expected to be there during certain hours. However, when a person’s home becomes his or her workspace, and you throw different time zones into the mix, the definition of “work hours” can get a little murky.

There’s no right answer when figuring out how your team is going to work—it depends on the company, the employees, and what is needed on a daily basis—but you do need to decide and set those expectations. Will everyone work the same eight-hour day? Will you accommodate for time differences? Will deadlines all be in the same time zone? These are all questions you need to answer and then communicate to your team.

2. Shift your view of productivity.

When your employees work in the same building as you, you probably don’t worry very much about people not doing their job. Of course they’re working—you can see them typing 10 feet away from you! However, according to a survey from TINYpulse, 91% of remote workers believe they get more work done when they’re working remotely. Many other surveys and research back up this finding.

Instead of measuring productivity by how hard employees seem to be working, create a deadline-driven environment. If your employees are meeting your deadlines, then there’s no reason for you to worry about what they’re doing every second of the day.


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3. Prioritize communication.

Communication is important in all aspects of life, but it’s possibly the most essential component of managing remote employees.

“If you, the manager, don’t create good, open communication channels, the remote worker will feel, well, ‘remote’ and forgotten,” says Keith Ferrazzi, CEO and Founder of Ferrazzi Greenlight.

You must decide how often employees should be communicating, what platforms they should be using to communicate in different situations, and making it clear that the use of these platforms is not negotiable. If an employee consistently isn’t logging into your Slack channel, don’t let it slide—nip the problem in the bud immediately so they realize the importance of staying in touch.

4. Have a process for termination.

Just like in the traditional office environment, there are situations in which you may need to lay off or fire an employee. Doing so virtually, however, requires you to create a detailed process ahead of time.

Letting an employee go is hard, but don’t hide behind e-mail or a termination letter sent via FedEx. Have respect for the employee by scheduling the talk ahead of time and speaking to them face-to-face via video chat. You will also need to plan out what happens next, especially if your employee has a company computer, proprietary information, office furniture, or anything else that needs to be returned.Photo by Bethany Legg

Ways you can be a better remote manager right away

There’s a learning curve when you jump into managing remote employees, and that is understandable. As you figure out all the details and how to shift the way you lead, there are a few easy things you can start doing right away:

  • Practice what you preach. If your employees are expected to use certain tools and platforms or be available during specific hours, you need to be too. Don’t be the manager that makes a lot of rules and doesn’t follow any of them. This is how you gain respect and trust.
  • Schedule regular one-on-one conversations. When you’re managing remote employees, it’s important to know each worker on an individual basis. Have weekly, one-on-one video chats with your employees and let them chat about anything that’s on their mind. This helps you understand what makes them tick and how they work best.
  • Watch for warning signs or red flags. If you have an employee who refuses to sign into Slack, keeps missing deadlines, or is generally unreachable, don’t just wait to see if it gets better. Contact them right away to see if there’s anything you can do to make their lives easier—you may find they’re simply not very tech-savvy, or it could be that they’re burned out.

You’re already a great manager, so don’t forget that as you make this transition. You have the foundation in place to do great things, and once you’ve adapted to the remote work environment, you’ll wonder how you ever worked in an office in the first place.

What’s the biggest difference you’ve found between managing remote employees and managing an in-house team? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


Learn what your business school never taught you. Take one or all of our online courses and
discover expert tips for becoming a world-class virtual manager. Sign up now.


Photo by Bethany Legg