7 Tips to Successfully Lead a Remote Team During Challenging Times

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This is a guest post Annie-Mei Forster.

Many team leaders and managers have been leading their teams remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and it hasn’t come without its challenges.

Many things that were once taken for granted, such as face-to-face interactions at the office and after-work drinks, are now only a distant memory.

While some companies had already allowed employees to work remotely before the pandemic happened, many teams have had to quickly transition from the office to a home working set up. Employees quickly emptied office supply store shelves as they made the fast transition to working from home.

Managers have had to adapt to new methods of leading projects remotely. While this hasn’t been easy, teams who are agile and able to adapt in these times can overcome new challenges and stay focused on their goals.

Below are seven ways to successfully lead a remote team.

1. Encourage team learning

People have needed to find new ways to keep themselves preoccupied during lockdown.

While wild haircuts are a good conversation starter, there’s definitely more productive things employees can be doing. Consulting firm Anywise encouraged staff to attend a Friday afternoon Python computer programming session run by one of their fellow employees who specialises in data analytics. While the classes aren’t compulsory, it’s not only a fun way for staff to learn a new skill but the classes are designed to use a programming language to automate daily tasks and gives employees a chance to interact with co-workers.

Many people may never have as much time again to learn a new skill or upskill at their job, and managers should encourage their staff to expand their skill set.

Of course, everyone has different interests and talents, so computer programming isn’t for everyone. But encouraging staff to learn together makes the process much more enjoyable.

There are many studies that show the benefits of peer learning. Harvard Business Review wrote that peer learning is great for the way people learn because it includes all four stages of the ‘Learning Loop’ – gain knowledge, practice by applying that knowledge, get feedback and reflect on what has been learned.

2. Be transparent with staff

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Navigating the way through the pandemic for businesses is difficult because there are so many unknowns.

However, it’s critical that team leaders and managers keep communication channels open with staff.

This is especially true to best lead a remote team during a challenging situation.

Agile teams can be especially successful because trust and transparency are crucial to workflow.

Many employees are worried about job security as the pandemic has caused many people to lose their jobs. While government stimulus packages help soften the blow, many businesses will be forced to close and the unemployment rate in some countries has skyrocketed with over 20 million jobs lost in the US during April.

Leadership teams can keep staff informed by sending out regular bulletins and holding video conference calls.

Being honest with staff and explaining how projects may change over the following months makes employees feel valued and creates better trust.

As restrictions start to ease in some countries, it becomes even more important for organisations to keep staff informed as the situation unfolds.

3. Don’t be deterred by roadblocks

It’s easy to become frustrated when unforeseen circumstances cause problems.

But no one could have predicted a global pandemic in 2020.

Many teams will put projects on hold or change direction due to social distancing or lack of funding. But managers should keep their team focused on accomplishments. Organisations can reward or praise staff for doing well, rather than overly stressing about what hasn’t been completed.

It’s important to still set deadlines. But if the team misses a deadline, use is as a learning opportunity and identify ways with the team to make changes and improvements.

When leading a remote team through difficult times, use challenges as learning opportunities.

Read this: How to Run a Successful Brainstorming Session for Productive Problem-Solving

4. Trust your team to get the work done

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Managing a remote team involves a lot of trust in the team. Team leaders and managers should be flexible during this time as each person is dealing with a different situation at home.

Some employees might be dealing with home schooling children while juggling work. Use empathy to understand that team members have various home and family situations that can impact their work schedule. Allow for flexibility to get work done.

It might be that a team member needs to work earlier in the day, or take a longer lunch break and work later into the evening.

Managers should be more concerned about productivity and getting the work done, rather than whether employees are working the regular eight hour day. 

Be sure your team members are clear on expectations and deliverables, and let them get the work done in the best way they can.

Read this: How to Develop Empathy for Better Work Results

5. Check-in with everyone daily

For managers who have large teams, they may not have enough time to check in with each person individually. But maintaining regular communication is crucial for remote work.

Good leaders keep communication channels open so staff can engage and ask questions.

Many people find the most testing part of working from home is the lack of social interaction. The spontaneity of running into someone at the office and grabbing a coffee together can’t be replaced via Slack or digital communication channels. So checking in for a five minute call just to see how everyone is coping in isolation is a great way to discover if certain staff are struggling and might need some extra help.

It’s good for organisations to find out about their team’s mental health and wellbeing, as this might not be a conversation that many individuals feel comfortable sharing with others.

If a staff member is less productive than usual, a good manager will find a way to encourage them to be productive rather than blaming them.

Not everyone enjoys working from home and some people find there are more distractions at home than in an office environment.

Sometimes it might just involve teaming that person up with another member of the team who they get along well with to offer support and encouragement. It might take awhile to find the right tactic but offering encouragement is better than making someone feel worse.

Good leaders keep communication channels open so staff can engage and ask questions. Find ways to help your remote team stay connected.

6. Be open to staff feedback

Not everyone takes feedback well. Some managers find it a personal attack on their ability as a leader.

Instead of resisting feedback, view it as information on how you can improve.

No one is perfect and good leaders are always looking at self-improvement not just for themselves but their team as a whole.

Anonymous feedback and creating an open and trusted environment is the best way for staff to provide honest feedback without fear of retribution. It not only informs leadership teams of what needs to be improved, but also what they are doing well.

7. Make sure your team has what they need to be successful

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You likely won’t be paying for wifi at your team members’ home while they’re working remotely. But you can check to see what they might need to be more successful while working from home.

You need to make sure that they have access to the information they need to complete documents and deliverables.

Make sure the expectations are clear on timelines.

Set up shared document spaces for successful virtual collaboration.

Ensure your remote team members have what they need to be successful, whether it’s information, access to documents, or some flexibility in the workday.

8. Build in some fun when possible.

You may not be able to take group outings together. But there are ways to build some fun into your meetings or into your day as a group.

Take time to have virtual coffee breaks.

Send pics of your pets.

Use any of these awesome virtual team building activities to have some fun and strengthen team bonds.


Organisations have many things to consider when it comes to leading a team, but building trust and transparency with staff is vital during this time.

Many staff may never return to working in an office full time as working remotely offers a more flexible work lifestyle. Businesses have adapted to this new model quickly and many organisations will continue to lead remote teams even after the pandemic is over.

So it’s possible you’ll need these tips to successfully lead your remote team for quite some time to come.

And if you happen to be new to a remote team, building rapport is still as important as ever.

Read this next to learn how to do it even if you’re not face-to-face: How to Build Rapport with Remote Team Members

Annie-Mei Forster is the Communications Specialist at Anywise. Anywise is a Certified B Corporation consulting firm that offers an alternative to large multinational consulting in an ethical and sustainable way.

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