How to Manage A Remote or Hybrid Team

By Mairta Phelps

If you manage a team in 2021, it is likely you are faced with new challenges. Forty-two percent of the American workforce continues to work remotely, and an estimated 27 percent will still be working from home through 2021. This is an 87 percent increase in the number of new remote workers since the pandemic began. And by 2025, more than 36 million Americans (22 percent of the workforce) will be working remotely.

The capabilities necessary to be an effective remote manager are different from those you honed when managing an in-person team. If you want to inspire trust, lead with influence, and drive team performance, you must learn how to change the way you manage your people today. This includes managing what gets done, managing how things get done, and building a cohesive team.

Managing what gets done

One of the biggest shifts for a remote manager today is from helping your team manage tasks to helping them manage themselves. Delegation is a critical skill for any manager in our new virtual workplace.

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) is an approach used by large and innovative corporations such as Google and Zappos, and that we at PENN Creative Strategy recommend for managers learning to delegate. This process takes a big-picture goal (objective) and breaks it down to manageable chunks (key results).

  • Objectives focus on what is most important to accomplish in the period you are managing (usually at least 6 months – 1 year). They are qualitative, meaning they cannot be measured. They must be challenging so your team has to stretch to accomplish them. Most of all, they are inspiring so your team feels motivated toward achievement.
  • Key results are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound) objectives to deliver on in a shorter period of time (typically 1 quarter). They define the milestones that move you closer to accomplishing your objectives.

For remote managers, OKRs keep your team focused and aligned around top priorities, provide learning opportunities, emphasize progress toward results, and help to evenly distribute workload. OKRs can be created solely for an individual team, but they work best when connected to a broader organizational strategy, like in the following example.

Organizational objective: Increase constituent diversity by authentically engaging communities of color in the organization’s work.

  • Key result 1: Design 4 outreach initiatives aligned to key programs.
  • Key result 2: Secure 2 partnerships with organizations serving key demographics missing from constituents.
  • Key result 3: Host 3 talks with leaders of color around key program areas.
  • Departmental objective for marketing: Engage the community by highlighting the relevance of the organization’s work.
    • Key result 1: Increase click-through rates on all digital communications by 20%.
    • Key result 2: Produce 3 stories highlighting the programs, at least 2 featuring participants of color.
    • Key result 3: Produce 2 video spotlights on community partners.
    • Individual objective for development staff member: Ensure funders are inspired by the organization’s work and encouraged to continue their support.
      • Key result 1: Establish 3 funder check-ins throughout the quarter.
      • Key result 2: Develop an impact report by the end of the quarter, highlighting quantitative and qualitative storytelling.
      • Key result 3: Secure renewals of at least 2 major grants.

OKRs are intended to drive innovation and outcomes in an agile environment. This means objectives must be flexible enough so employees can freely adjust, revise, or even abandon what they are doing as their work evolves and as priorities change. This also means the achievement of objectives is not tied to compensation. Employees should feel comfortable taking risks and failing fast without fear of penalty. Finally, all employees within a given team must be held accountable to OKRs. A transparent and shareable online tracking system such as, Trello, Asana, or Jira allows individuals to update progress regularly.

Managing how things get done

After understanding the what of work, remote employees need to understand your expectations of them as representatives of your team. A competency-based performance management system is one tool that complements OKRs by managing the how of remote work. Instead of a focus on individual goals, there is a focus on individual competencies, or characteristics that speak to the high functioning of any group of people.

  • According to the dictionary, a competency is the capability to apply or use a set of related knowledge, skills, and abilities required to successfully perform critical work functions or tasks in a defined work setting. Some examples of competencies include:
    • Communication
    • Inclusiveness
    • Judgment/decision making
    • Partnering/team player
    • Problem-solving
    • Risk-taking
    • Drive for results

A competency-based performance evaluation focuses on the competencies that are most critical to an organization’s mission and then describes what it looks like when someone is missing expectations, meeting expectations, or exceeding expectations in each area. Here is an example of expectations for the competency of adaptability/flexibility:

  • Missing expectations
    • Often clings to established priorities when situations or emerging issues demand change
    • Fails to recognize or change outmoded procedures or systems
    • Doesn’t challenge established thinking or does so only for personal gain
  • Meeting expectations
    • Generally keeps work priorities aligned with changing environment
    • Recognizes when existing procedures or systems are outmoded and recommends changes
    • Identifies ways in which established thinking limits corporate success
  • Exceeding expectations
    • Leads reprioritization of work based on changing situations and emerging issues
    • Quickly changes procedures or systems when they become outmoded
    • Leads changes in established thinking with organizational success in mind

Establishing clear expectations around performance is important for remote managers as your team drives toward your organization’s mission with shared values and purpose, even from afar.

Building a cohesive team

Weaving a strong social fabric is the third component of effective remote management. It is critical that your employees feel valued and cared for—this in turn will help them engage in the what and how of their work. For example, start team meetings by asking people to take turns sharing how they are doing personally and professionally. This is an effective way for staff to get to know each other better and to connect on a level beyond work.

It is important to remember that during the pandemic, many people have been experiencing mental and emotional health challenges associated with being home, which are making them less productive than usual.  Create spaces to nurture your team, and/or anonymous options to connect them to mental health providers if needed.

There are a variety of collaborative tools to facilitate inter-team connection. Below are a few examples of our favorite solutions and how to use them:

  • A sign-in form, online meeting agreement, and anonymous polls foster accountability and engagement.
  • Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, or Slack help to create conversation through chats, threads, or channels. Often organizations use these platforms to help replicate the open-door atmosphere of an office. With Slack, an add-on called Donut randomly pairs people once a week for a quick non-work-related call to help them get to know each other.
  • Personal channels where people can post pictures of their pets or funny memes allow employees to show their personalities and preferences.
  • A “water cooler” virtual meetup is an informal place where people can hang out.
  • Optional virtual meetups in the form of celebrations or happy hours encourage socialization outside of work.

Allow your staff the autonomy to determine the ways they prefer to collaborate and interact while working remotely. This ensures they have ownership in creating the new cultural norms of your remote team.


As you continue to hone your remote management capabilities, PENN Creative Strategy is here to help.  Give us a call!Contact

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