Managing Remotely

Find tips and resources for managing employees and teams when the members are working remotely.

Working remotely offers a unique set of opportunities and challenges. As a manager, you play a critical role in supporting employees who may be new to working remotely. HR is pleased to provide services and resources to help managers develop skills and confidence in leading an organization, managing a team, and engaging staff who are working remotely.

What's New

  • A Manager's Guide to Team Norms: This guide is intended to help positional leaders create a welcoming environment for remote and returning staff, using a best practice that can help teams work better together in general.
  • Fostering Psychological Safety in Virtual Meetings from Harvard Business Review (MIT Touchstone login required): Meeting virtually can make it harder for employees to raise questions, concerns, and ideas without fear of personal repercussions. This HBR article describes ways managers can build psychological safety in virtual teams, leading to improved engagement, collegiality, productive dissent, and idea generation.

MIT Managers' Roundtable

In addition to exploring the Essential modules, we invite you to engage with managers from across the Institute each month to:

  • Gain insight into possible, practical approaches to advance everyday management challenges
  • Build and share best management practices with a peer network of managers across MIT
  • Grow your peer manager network to support your professional and career development goals

Visit the Atlas Learning Center to learn more and register.

Learning Bundles

Expand your knowledge through a variety of self-directed, just-in-time learning resources in the MIT Learning Center. Remote work topics include:

Virtual Consultations

Receive individual consultation on how to lead an organization, manage a team, and engage staff who work remotely in addition to our current consultation services. To reach a consultant, email tdrequests@mit.edu.

Customized Learning Resources

Request a customized set of learning resources to share with your staff on how to work remotely based on your area’s needs. To request a customized set of learning resources, email tdrequests@mit.edu.

Learning Resources available to MIT managers and staff

The following are just a few examples of the resources available to MIT staff through LinkedIn Learning:

Onboarding New Employees

A positive onboarding experience is particularly important for newly hired employees working remotely. Tips for Onboarding New Employees to a Remote Work Environment is a guide for hiring managers to help navigate the challenges inherent in remote onboarding.

FAQ on Managing Remotely

How do I monitor work performance?

The best way to monitor productivity is to start with clear goals and deadlines. Select a shared file/folder in which updates will be stored. Schedule regular status meetings; these should be scheduled for the same time and day each week depending on the task or goal. A good rule of thumb is to have a copy of the meeting material sent to you ahead of time so you can see the progress and speak intelligently to it during your discussion. In the meeting, inquire as to any milestones or roadblocks that were encountered and provide insight and assistance, as needed. At the end of the day, this is about trust and the relationship you have with your employee. It is always better to error on the side of positive intent.

Resource:

How do I make sure our team is fulfilling its responsibilities, while respecting that it can be hard for employees to be as productive as they would be under normal circumstances?

It’s important to recognize that, during extraordinarily challenging times, we need to have both achievement of goals and an adjustment to our expectations. During these times, not only have living and working conditions changed, but also our priorities often change. Employees need time to align themselves with the new priorities, along with adapting their established patterns under the new living and working conditions. It can be challenging for managers to know what’s reasonable to expect, as well as for employees to adapt. Managers can help their teams be productive and pivot towards new orientations by communicating their expectations clearly, checking in with employees on their progress, and calibrating their expectations in real-time as everyone settles into the new setting.

Resources:

How do I maintain collaboration and a sense of connection across the team?

With a change in priorities and conditions on the ground, methods for collaborating and connecting have likely changed too. Technology plays a greater role than ever before, and it turns out there is a possible silver lining: these tools can result in greater participation than usual and allow for more diversity. Having shared goals is key to collaboration and connection across a team. Ironically, it is often in times like these that shifting priorities and new, urgent tasks are the vehicles for those intersections. Try to step back from the way you usually think about work to think outside the box and find new ways for team members to work together. Start off team meetings by sharing struggles and break-throughs, particularly during the early days of big changes. While it may seem “squishy” or time-consuming, the investment you make in helping team members learn and care about each other’s situations pays off in helping members to settle in and distribute supportive behaviors.

Resources:

How can I continue to have productive team meetings?

Using MIT’s Zoom and Webex licenses, managers can and should continue holding regular staff meetings. In fact, with teams dispersed remotely it is especially important to meet as a team. More frequent, short team check-ins are a good practice, such as a morning huddle or an end-of-day check-in. Best practices for in-person meetings also apply to remote meetings. Meeting leaders should set a clear agenda, with a goal and time-frame for each agenda item. Managing participation can be difficult with remote meetings, as it can be challenging not to talk over one another. With that in mind, a good practice is to “go around the table” to make sure everyone has an opportunity to contribute. Also, encourage participants to use the “raise hand” feature in Zoom and Webex. Meeting remotely is a different experience, but with time teams will find remote meetings can be as effective as in-person meetings.

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How do I keep the team focused on our goals and priorities?

It is always important to set and communicate clear goals and priorities. This is especially so when teams are dispersed remotely and even more so in times of uncertainty. Having clear goals and priorities help employees stay focused and grounded. It gives them a sense of purpose and meaning, which is stabilizing. Focus on short-term goals and priorities. Set weekly team goals and priorities. Allocate individual tasks that are tied to those team goals and priorities. With remote teams, transparency and shared understanding are important. Include all team members in communications related to goals, priorities, and task allocations. This will make sure work is aligned and help employees see their role in the team’s work. Celebrate individual and team accomplishments. This will reinforce each person’s importance to the team and help build momentum.

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How do I give employees feedback?

Regular feedback helps employees adjust their focus and performance to meet the needs of their roles and the team. With remote workers, feedback is best given using a video meeting with Zoom or Webex. Avoid giving feedback by email. All feedback, whether positive or constructive, should be specific and follow the MIT model for providing feedback (below). After the feedback is delivered, offer the employee an opportunity to give their perspective, as they might have valuable information to share. As always, give regular and timely feedback.

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How do I help my team avoid feeling isolated?

Working remotely can create a sense of isolation which impacts mood, morale, decision-making ability and productivity. There are four important tactics managers can use to help staff feel connected, focused, and part of a team.

  • Make sure your team creates ways to connect on a regular basis.
  • Remember the higher purpose we serve—why our work is important.
  • Use technology to engage for both work and social connection.
  • Don’t be afraid to take short breaks throughout the day to cognitively relax and take time to connect to others.

Keeping the human aspect in our day is critical to our ability to avoid feeling isolated.

Resource:

Need Support?

Through MIT MyLife Services, you can consult confidentially with Master’s- or PhD-level counselors by telephone, video, and message-based platforms on helping employees and teams navigate personal and work responsibilities during a crisis.