Tips for managing a remote startup team

Tips for managing a remote startup team
Tips for managing a remote startup team

7 min read
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The coronavirus has sent the entire world home and that has had direct ramifications on how startups manage their teams. Though remote work has been a growing trend, most businesses have been caught blind-sided by the sudden and drastic switch from onsite to remote teams.

It not only requires adaptability on the part of the team members, but startup managers also have to adjust their management styles in order to thrive in remote culture.

From having the right attitude for the times we’re living in to learning the best communication skills for remote workers to having the right tools to enhance productivity to keeping up with office perks, here are our top tips for how to manage a newly transitioned remote team for your startup.


The switch to remote teams will require a shift in attitude.

Demonstrate empathy - Your team is going remote under rather frightening and unprecedented global circumstances. Don’t lose sight of that over anxiety about maintaining your startup afloat. It takes time to adjust to a different working style. Some of your team members may have children or other family members at home that make it more challenging for them to work from home. People may be anxious about losing their livelihood and about the state of the world in general. This is no time to crack the whip. Be supportive and understanding that this transition holds challenges for everyone.

Focus on accomplishments, not activities - At an onsite office, you’re able to see how employees are spending their time. With remote culture, they will be largely left to their own devices when completing tasks. That means that your focus has to shift from one of monitoring their activities to one of registering their results. Sales and marketing executive Donald Hatter gave this advice to Forbes, “Don’t worry as much about what is being done. Instead, concentrate on what is being accomplished. If we are meeting our goals, then great. If not, we need to look into the situation further. It is all about accomplishment, not activity.”

Do accountability right - You want to find that fine line between making your employees feel “watched” and making them feel supported. Accountability is important to keep momentum and to set expectations. It also helps employees to express their accomplishments and gives you the opportunity to acknowledge them for those accomplishments. And lastly, it ensures that things are generally moving forward at the pace they need to. Weekly check-ins with the whole team can be really helpful in building a culture of accountability so that each team member can express what they’d done that week, receive the support they might be needing if they’re lagging behind and be offered the much-needed recognition for a job well done. It’s also a good time to plan next steps so that the next week can go more smoothly.

Establish remote culture norms - This is an area where companies can really find it challenging to organize a remote team if they’re operating one for the first time. If you start out with a free-for-all and let everyone set their own hours and use their own communication means, you will soon find yourself in remote management hell. There will just be too many disparate threads to try to keep track of and you won’t be able to maintain accountability with your team members. Make sure everyone uses the same project flow platform. If you want people to communicate on that platform or via email, be very specific about the channels of communication that will be used from now on.


Having great communication skills specific to remote teams is key at this time.

Have face-time or voice communication, not just messaging - Take the time to connect with your team members through a voice call or a video meeting. Verbal and visual contact provide the human connection that many people may feel they are lacking at this moment of isolation. It can serve as a motivator and also help you get a more accurate read on how each of your team members is doing.

Weekly hangouts to promote camaraderie - Just as spending time together and interacting in the office builds a sense of camaraderie, virtual hangouts can help to maintain that. Don’t forget that your team are used to seeing each other on a daily basis where they share information about their lives. Organizing the weekly hangouts can help to maintain bonds. They can also provide a moment of levity during their week and an opportunity to share news, thoughts, ideas, activities and jokes.

Pair them up - One great way to offer support and make sure no one is left out there on their own is to create what Zapier calls “pair buddies”. By pairing up employees and having them “hang out” once a week on virtual platforms, you can strengthen the fabric of your remote team. You can choose consistent pair buddies or rotate them throughout your team. The point is that employees will have someone besides you to contact, to express concerns, ask questions and share ideas. The hangouts don’t have to be work-related, but in any case, they will give employees an extra sense of security.


Using the right tools can enhance communication, productivity and security for your startup’s remote team.

Project management software - Features such as time tracking, budgeting, task distribution and more can help you stay on top of your projects from start to finish. LiquidPlanner, Asana and Wrike are popular options.

Virtual office platforms - Platforms like Slack, Flock and Wire will help keep you connected with messaging features.

Conferencing tools - Tools like Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, GoToMeeting and others allow you to conduct video conference calls with team members.

Password managers - Use applications such as Meldium, Zoho Vault or Passwork to make sure your team has access to the applications they need without putting your startup’s security at risk.

File sharing - It’s important that your team members are able to share and access critical files quickly and easily. Try file sharing and storage apps like Dropbox, OneDrive or GoogleDrive.


Don’t stop the office perks just because you’re not able to give them face-to-face.

Give virtual gifts - For the moment, you won’t be able to have office parties or be able to celebrate employee birthdays or the company’s anniversary together. But you can still maintain a culture of celebration by offering gifts that would be useful to employees at this moment. Gift certificates for delivery dinners from their favorite restaurants, subscriptions to Amazon, iTunes, Spotify or Google Play or something as simple as a bonus can do the trick. Allow employees to choose which gifts they would like to receive. These gestures can help to maintain motivation.

As the majority of startups now make the shift from on-site to remote teams, managing these newly transitioned teams will present many challenges. Stay positive. Use empathy. Don’t be afraid of over-communicating. Use the tools that are designed to make this easier. Value your team members with gifts.

Entrepreneur Richard Branson had this to say about managing remote teams: “We like to give people the freedom to work where they want, safe in the knowledge that they have the drive and expertise to perform excellently, whether they are at their desk or in their kitchen. Yours truly has never worked out of an office, and never will.”