leading a remote workforce

The Manager’s Guide to Leading a Remote Workforce

This week we sat down with Heidi Barson, Division Administrator Employee Engagement for Wayne County, MI, for a discussion about keeping employees engaged and productive while working remotely. She provided lots of valuable tips for keeping employees engaged and productive, and you can check out the full video here.

An important question that came up during the roundtable was: “What are some strategies to help managers lead effectively as remote work becomes the new normal?”

Although remote work may feel like old news to some, it appears that leaders are still trying to adapt. Below is a set of suggestions for leading a remote workforce that may be helpful as you continue to navigate this unprecedented situation.

1: Set Clear Expectations

Let your employees know how often you want them to check-in.

  • Daily? Weekly? Monthly?
  • Do you prefer they touch base before they end their workday?
  • Should employees track their time?

Use departmental or individual objectives to create clarity

  • Clarify the frequency of specific tasks that need attention: for example, daily vs. weekly.
  • Communicate and monitor important deadlines for employees.

Be clear with deadlines and feedback

  • Instead of, “I need this done quickly,” write, “I need this by 5pm today.”
  • Instead of “Put a bit more detail into this report,” write, “Please add examples and figures in the sections I’ve indicated.”

2. Promote Team Culture

Reinforce organizational values

  • Build trust through communication, continuity, and follow-through
  • Make sure you have a way to track the progress of delegated tasks and assignments.
  • Encourage innovation. Ask for suggestions for solutions and adopt them when appropriate and recognize the employee whose suggestion it was.

Encourage connection and collaboration

  • This is not where work happens; it is a minor social outlet to create team bonding. Jump in and share a challenging riddle!
    • Have team members run team-building exercises (find suggestions for ‘remote team-building’ online). It helps employees feel there is a sense of shared leadership and creates active engagement.
    • Create a shared “chat” thread for your team. Even a simple group email helps keep the team connected.

Give employees a sense of the “big picture”

  • Explain how the work they are doing fits into the department’s objectives, your project, or your team’s role.
  • Send a weekly email where you provide a quick summary of what everyone is working on. This helps ensure your team members are all on the same page.

The little things matter.

  • Remember birthdays.
  • Share positive quotes during these tough times. Keeping morale high and employees engaged is critical!
  • Introduce any new members to your team via email or video conference

3. Clarify Communication Protocols

Clearly set and share your communication needs. Remote work becomes more efficient and satisfying when managers set expectations for the frequency, means, and timing of communications for their employees/teams.

  • Explain which type of questions or issues necessitate a meeting or video call, versus a quick message or email.
  • If response time is important, provide details about timing and responsiveness, such as how soon you expect a reply.
  • Make sure employees know the preferred way to contact you with truly urgent matters.
  • Ensure that team members are sharing information and including all appropriate people.
  • Schedule team meetings (conference calls) to keep employees connected and informed. They will feel more inclined to cooperate and communicate with one another if you set the example.

There is no need to manage every communication protocol.

  • Allow your team members to establish their own methods of communication with other remote employees or team members so that they can share information.

Keep information readily available

  • Encourage using a shared document drive. To function at optimal performance, remote workers need easy access to the information and resources they need to do their jobs.
  • Encourage employees to create folders in their Outlook to stay organized.

4. Manage Performance

“The conventional definition of management is getting work done through people, but real management is developing people through work”- Agha Hasan Abedi

This is a good time to review your processes but always stay focused on results & accomplishments

  • Ensure you are available as much as possible during the workday via text, phone, or email.
  • Remember: Employees new to the department may have frequent questions and need extra guidance to do their jobs.
  • Ask and help employees who need support with productivity.
  • Step in quickly to address any difficulties between team members. This is even more important when working remotely.

Incorporate occasional face to face meetings

  • Schedule time to talk face to face by video conference to build a stronger connection with employees. Provide guidance, encouragement, and support during the face to face meetings.

Request Self-Evaluations

  • Ask your employees to provide feedback on themselves in three categories: What would you, Start, Stop, and Continue doing? Use this as a conversation starter.
  • Remind them to focus on behaviors, not personality.

Recognize Employees

  • Take the time to acknowledge and thank them in a public way (e.g. a group email or group text) for peers to see that you appreciate them.
  • Send a physical note or card to let a remote employee know how much you appreciate their work beyond the virtual boundaries.


What have you learned about managing a remote workforce during this time? Let us know in the comments, and share this guide with other leaders if you found it useful!

Information provided by Heidi Barson, Division Administrator Employee Engagement for Wayne County, Michigan. Thank you, Heidi!