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How to Manage and Evaluate Remote Teams

Lakshmi Hutchinson profile image

Lakshmi Hutchinson

woman video chatting with colleague

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work. That means day-to-day management and leadership—including annual or quarterly review protocols—may have to be adjusted as well. And with many of working remotely for the first time, including managers, it's time to explore how we can effectively lead and stay on top of performance and engagement, while also planning for fair and relevant performance reviews.

Clear expectations and communication

When you’re not seeing your direct reports everyday, it’s important to make very clear what your expectations are for deadlines, ongoing projects, and communications. 

  • Be upfront and honest about the status of programs that may have been affected by the pandemic. Staff may be worried or unsure about whether they are expected to continue their work on a particular program, especially if it was reliant on outside funding.
  • Familiarize yourself with—and train staff on—the use of digital collaboration tools to help your team stay connected. Be aware that many people are suffering “Zoom burnout” and decide which methods work best for your team. Remember—just because we’re at home doesn’t mean that every communication has to be a video call.
  • Schedule individual and team checkins on a regular basis. Again, find a method that makes people feel comfortable. It may be a phone call for one person, and a Google Hangout for another. Always remain open to feedback and be willing to make adjustments to your protocols as everyone gets acclimated to a new way of working and communicating. 

Be proactive

One of the most challenging aspects of managing staff remotely is keeping track of what people are working on and how they are doing. Being a remote leader requires taking proactive measures and obtaining constant feedback.

  • Ask for status updates from your direct reports. In addition to getting individual updates, a shareable to-do list for the team is helpful because then you are all aware of where everyone is on shared projects. This is a good way to see if team members are collaborating and on schedule to meet deadlines.
  • If you find that someone is unresponsive to emails, reach out to them to see what’s going on. Strive to be an empathetic leader, particularly during challenging times. 
  • Give your staff the opportunity to take on new challenges. Keeping them engaged during this time away from the office is especially important for morale. Look into virtual conferences, training, and other professional development opportunities that may be beneficial (or encourage them to do this research and bring you their findings).

Make adjustments when needed

Although many studies have shown remote workers to be more productive than their in-office counterparts, the pandemic presents a unique situation. In many cases, in-office teams did not have sufficient time to prepare for the switch to remote work. So how might this affect performance reviews?

  • Managers must take into account that their team’s remote work environments may be extra-challenging due to family dynamics or roommates sharing a space. As in any review, discuss setbacks but keep in mind the sometimes complex logistics of working from home.
  • If punctuality and hours spent at the office were a consideration previously, it’s now a good time to think about better measures of productivity. The ability to meet predetermined goals by a deadline is more important than accounting for hours. 
  • If COVID-19 affected any programs that were in your direct reports’ goals for the year, make sure that you revisit those goals, paying special attention to how else you might measure progress and success. 

Pro Tip: Working successfully through this unexpected and difficult time is an accomplishment in itself, and should be written up in any reviews.


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Lakshmi Hutchinson profile image

Lakshmi Hutchinson

Lakshmi Hutchinson is a freelance writer with experience in the nonprofit, education, and HR fields. She is particularly interested in issues of educational and workplace equity, and in empowering women to reach their professional goals. She lives in Glendale, California with her husband, twin girls, and tuxedo cat.

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