how to oversee a remote team’s work

When your team is spread out and working remotely rather than all sharing the same space, how can you track everyone’s work and make sure you know where projects stand and whether you’re hitting your goals?

1. Ensure that you and your team are tightly aligned on what successful work looks like for the year – as well as for the month and the quarter. If you create clear goals with measurable milestones along the way, everyone will know what they’re working toward and what progress markers they need to be hitting at any given time. Make sure that each member of your staff has a set of key success indicators, and check in regularly on where they are in meeting their goals.

You might even set aside a portion of one check-in meeting each month to assess how well your staff member is doing against the measures you’ve laid out, and you might think of data that you can review that will help illustrate that progress. That way, you’ll quickly be able to spot it when work is off track – and hopefully course correct.

2. Put the onus for tracking and reporting on work on your staff members, not on yourself. If the tracking all falls on you, you’re going to have to juggle that along with everything else already on your plate, and it’s likely to get short shrift when other priorities are more pressing. Instead, put your staff members in charge of tracking their progress and reporting to you on regular intervals. For example, you might say ask a staff member to ensure that you receive specific types of data showing progress toward monthly goals and that they should schedule meetings with you quarterly to assess that progress. In addition…

3. Set clear expectations for when and how you want to be kept in the loop. Managers will often ask their teams to keep them in the loop about important developments or significant changes to timelines. But if you don’t talk explicitly about specifically what sorts of things you want to be in the loop about – and how quickly – it can turn out you and your staff member each envision that differently. That can lead to situations like you only hearing about an angry client a week later, if your employee figures it can wait for your next weekly check-in, when you would have preferred to be alerted immediately. Or you might never hear about developments you consider significant simply because your staff member has a different understanding of what falls in that category. This is true even when you’re not managing remote staff, of course, but it’s more of an issue when you are – because you won’t have the same opportunities for ad hoc conversation in the hallways or during other informal interaction. So be really sure to talk through what kinds of things you want to be alerted to, and on what kind of timeline.

4. Take advantage of technology — don’t reinvent the wheel! When you’re tracking the work of a geographically distributed team, you need a system that helps you track your team’s work in one centralized place. When you need to centrally organize documents and conversations; track progress, deadlines, and outstanding tasks; and store shared materials, relying on email or spreadsheets almost certainly won’t cut it. And of course, once you select this kind of system, make sure your whole team actually uses it, or you’ll defeat the whole purpose of having it!

I originally published this at Intuit QuickBase’s Fast Track blog.

{ 10 comments… read them below }

  1. The Cosmic Avenger*

    I can’t really address the work management issues, Alison already did a stellar job anyway, but as far as communicating online goes, have in-person meetings or at least a videoconference as soon as possible, because one of the reason the Internet has so many trolls and flame wars is because people don’t have emotional context and can’t read into a person’s reactions. For the online communities I’ve managed over the years, they’ve always gone smoother after I met with fellow moderators/managers in person, as I felt I had a feel for that person’s “voice”. Not as in literally the sound from their vocal chords, but their patterns and quirks of communication that are so important if you want to avoid misunderstandings.

    I also found that, even for people that know each other well in person, to avoid that disconnected feeling you get when on a teleconference, it’s great if you have a small enough group to do a video conference. Then you can read the visual cues of people who have something to say, or just in general how people are reacting to you when you speak during the meeting. And the participants feel much more connected and noticed, and so are less likely to zone out.

    1. Virtually_Employed*

      Ditto! And I would add to that to build in some down time for your team to get to know each other.

      When you are in an office, you chat by the water cooler, learn about Birthdays, hear about each others weekend, and pick up little personal details that help you work better as a team. Oh, Jane comes across as harsh in emails, but she’s actually great work with and always likes to help others. Wakeen sounds bored on the phone but he’s really engage in his role…. etc.

      I was once the only remote member of a team (I do not advise this method at all) and it caused a lot of unneccasary drama and lost productivity simply because my manager was unwilling to give me a chance to get to know the other team members as people and vice versa since that wouldn’t be “productive”

  2. TheLazyB*

    I’ll be joining a remote team in June for the first time ever. Won’t be managing it but this will still be very helpful. Thanks!

  3. OfficePrincess*

    Reading this, I realized how much of this applies to my team as well. Everyone is on-site, but spread over three shifts. I make an effort to adjust my schedule when possible so I can see each shift face to face once a week or so, but it’s not always possible with meetings etc. I had really been struggling to find a better way to keep up with what happens when I’m not around, but it finally clicked that I can think of them as a remote team to a certain extent and suddenly a whole new world of advice opens up. Thanks!

  4. Emmie*

    I’m now managing a group of remote employees working from home and I don’t yet fully understand their work. How did you become familiar enough with their work to effectively lead them and manage performance? I implemented a few things, but want to hear what others have done.

  5. LeaderAsCoach*

    Do you do One on Ones with your staff weekly? You could do them over Skype (or whatever). I found the advice on One on Ones given here: to be incredibly useful in understanding more of what is going on with my team. Here’s another one particularly on remote one on ones Here’s another one on improving accountability with remote directs. Hope this helps!

  6. _ism_*

    A big part of my role is communicating and directing five different shipping warehouses in five different states, on truckload-by-truckload basis. They’re not my staff, they’re third party contractors technically, and they don’t report to me. They report to my boss. She gives the final decision on special situations, but I am in charge of making routine decisions and giving them directions, and being the go-between for all parties involved (my plant’s production schedule, our customer’s shipping requirements, our third party warehouses’s needs, and all the minute-by-minute communications with truckers and their dispatching offices). This is what my role was created to do and what I was hired to do most of the day. It’s really frustrating because I’m the newest person here, everyone is senior to me, I can’t make any decisions on my own without going to someone higher-up. When dealing with our third parties this can snowball into massive email threads and paperwork with managers at all the different organizations involved in getting these orders shipped!

  7. Clueless Employee*


    This is a very good topic to discuss. The company that I work for, has around 47% of their employees working from home (total employee 55000). In my case I have been working remotely for the past 5 years. And I understand that sometimes it’s little hard to track things, but we do follow certain process when dealing with a remote team. I have team members working from 4 different states. The best way to handle this is to make sure we have a weekly meetings to check status, have regular email or phone calls. The key thing here is to establish a process that everyone can follow. So in that way we can make sure that everyone is making progress. It may sound little odd or difficult, but its working for us.

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