After the many disruptions and uncertainties of 2020, one thing is clear: remote working isn’t going anywhere any time soon. 

In fact, a recent PwC survey found that 55% of executives plan to extend remote work options (for at least one day per week). These changes can cause big disruptions in work habits for some people, including an overall sense of disconnection from the company.  

On the flip side, 72% of office workers would like to work remotely at least two days per week. The positive news is that 73% of those executives said their shift to remote work during COVID has been successful. As we continue to evolve with the ‘new normal’, leaders need to leverage the right remote management strategies to connect and collaborate with their employees. 

If you’re managing a remote team in 2021 (either full- or part-time), consider using the following five strategies to optimize performance and help people adjust. 

1. Align your communication plan

Collaboration is a necessity in every business. A study from the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and Babson College shows collaborative organizations are 5.5x more likely to be high-performers. However, remote work can offer unique challenges for team collaboration. You want to make sure to avoid “Zoom fatigue,” but you also need to keep everyone in the loop. It all starts with a cohesive communication plan.

With teams using so many platforms to communicate (Slack, email, text, project management systems, and shared documents), it’s easy to be overwhelmed and confused. You can use these steps to align your communication plan and keep your remote team focused: 

  • Ground your communications in a shared purpose: The i4cp study identified a shared purpose as the difference between unproductive and productive collaboration. Ensure all business communication is rooted in your organization’s main goals, missions, and purpose. Don’t host virtual meetings just because you can. 
  • Define the use of specific channels: Create and share a clear plan of when, why, and how your team should use each communication channel. For example, you could use email for non-time-sensitive requests, and calls for urgent matters. 
  • Onboard your new hires: Your priority should be to make sure existing staff understand your new communication protocols. But don’t forget to include your communication plan when onboarding new hires.  

2. Focus on supporting employee wellness  

The impact of COVID-19 and the remote work shift are changing more than just our workflows. For a lot of people, these changes can affect mental health and overall wellness. That’s why leaders need to promote healthy practices for their teams. 

A Qualtrics survey found that 44% of remote workers experienced a decline in mental health during this past year. Make it a priority to reach out to your team to check-in and offer support. And if you’re worried about speaking to your staff about personal matters, don’t: more than half (57%) of workers surveyed said they were comfortable with their bosses proactively asking about mental health. Unfortunately, only 47% said their manager is attuned to their wellbeing. 

Key takeaway: Talk to your team. Ensure they understand the health benefits available to them, and make sure they’re taking advantage of them (especially mental health resources). 

These efforts shouldn’t stop with mental health, either; physical wellness is also essential for remote workers. Another survey by Ginger found that 91% of remote workers were stressed, and of those, 43% became physically ill due to stress. When the lines between home and work blur, it’s even more important to keep a healthy and balanced routine. 

Key takeaway: Lead by example, and encourage your team to prioritize exercise and movement throughout the day. This helps people to feel balanced, and also boosts productivity. 

In Exercise Your Way Into the Flow, the experts at Hubgets explain the science behind physical exercise and increased performance: “The endorphins released and a number of other exercise-related benefits directly correlate to your ability of being more focused, energized, and present at your job.” Share their tips with your team to inspire healthy living habits while WFH! 

3. Test new digital tools - and train your teams

When it comes to remote management, new technology and digital tools can help streamline and automate processes. This allows you more time to connect with your team and to focus on high-level tasks. 

Make it a priority in 2021 to test out new tools and platforms to level up your remote team’s performance. Here are a few options to consider:

  • Project management systems: Collaboration takes more than just a good communication plan. For teams working on complex projects, consider a digital platform to align your efforts. Browse through these nine popular options to find the best project management tool for your team. (Check out how the 360learning team uses Trello). 
  • Retraining tools: Use digital courses to retrain on existing processes. This ensures your team benefits from all the resources your organization has to offer, while letting people learn on their schedule. It also helps with retention, with 86% of millennial workers being more likely to stay with companies offering career training and development.
  • GPS tracking apps: If you have team members in the field or colleagues travelling for client/customer meetings, a GPS tracking app can ensure you stay in touch and allow them to work on-the-go. Refer to this review of five popular options for further insights.  
  • Workflow automations: Many third-party software platforms can integrate existing systems to save you time (and the effort of switching back and forth between screens and programs). For example, a tool like Zapier can combine all your apps into one location; check out these additional options.
  • Finance automation: Corporate finance management is riddled with compliance laws and complex processes which only get more difficult with remote teams. Consider automating processes like expense reporting, employee reimbursements, and corporate card reconciliation for efficient and accurate financial reporting.

4. Prioritize feedback

Giving and receiving feedback is one of the most important aspects of remote management. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the easiest things to fall to the wayside in virtual environments. 

A report from Achievers found the 72% of employees rank recognition as the most significant factor impacting their overall engagement. Office Vibe’s State of Employee Engagement report uncovered that 63% of employees don’t feel like they get enough praise. But it’s not just positive reinforcement they want - 83% of employees really appreciate receiving feedback, whether it’s glowing or critical. 

In 2021, strive to offer your team consistent and thorough performance feedback. While established feedback practices are important (for example, scheduled reviews and performance-based incentives), don’t underestimate the power of off-the-cuff feedback. Send short messages or emails to give recognition, and if you spot areas for improvement, don’t be afraid to bring them up. Your staff will want to know so they can adjust future performance. 

Lastly, make sure to prioritize team-based feedback. As i4cp chief researcher Kevin Martin confirms, “Most talent management systems are designed to reward individual achievement, not team accomplishments. Finding ways to recognize and reward individuals, leaders, and teams who engage in productive collaborative behaviors can pay off in a big way.”

5. Adapt your strategies and evolve as necessary

Having a deliberate remote management strategy is key. But more importantly, leaders need an agile mindset so they can evolve with an environment of continuous change. You need to adjust your strategy to fit your team’s particular demands and preferences. You also need to be ready to adapt in response to circumstances out of your control (see: 2020 global pandemic). 

Don’t be afraid to test out new approaches until you find the right cadence for your organization and team. Your communication plan can be a work-in-progress. Certain digital tools won’t work for your team, and others will. The frequency and length of your meetings will fluctuate depending on needs and time of year. Remember, feedback is a two-way street; ask your team for their thoughts on your new processes, and refine things over time. 

The bottom line? Remote management is here to stay - for 2021, anyway. Don’t be afraid to try out some new strategies and techniques - your teams will thank you.