The Manager's Role in the Virtual Workplace

How is the manager's job changed by the rapid movement to remote working?

It’s a fact that the number of people working remotely has grown consistently over the last decade. And, there’s no denying that the current world health crisis drastically accelerated the move to remote working. One of the questions we’re hearing a lot right now is, “As a manager, what’s the one thing I can do right now to be most effective with my remote workers?”

In one sense, this answer is no different than it was before the epidemic. Managers manage people. To us, a manager’s most important job is to make sure that their team is successful. That means removing roadblocks and providing the tools the get the job done.

How does this look in the world of remote management?  What are the things you can do to achieve this goal?


What comes first? 

Probably the first goal for a manager is to understand the work being done by their team. Often, a manager will move into their role with an existing team and without any direct experience with exactly what the team does. So, it’s imperative that they learn as quickly as possible what the outputs are that the team is responsible for? How are those accomplished, and by whom?

Once they have that knowledge, the manager’s next step is to help their team craft a team working agreement. This will spell out not only who is responsible to which task, but will also define backups, mutually agreed upon methods of communication and escalation, and commitments for availability. This is always valuable, but even more so with a team that isn’t in close physical proximity to each other.

The manager also needs to make certain that their team members have the tools to accomplish their tasks. This could mean giving them the right technology, or the right processes, or even the requisite authority to get the job done. Managers should engage with the team to get input on their needs – remember, the team are the experts, they’ve been doing this job! They know what works and what doesn’t – and they’re the ones who can quickly identify where things are broken.


Keeping the team strong 

An important factor in managing a remote team is creating and maintaining strong and regular communications. Establish a cadence for team meetings to happen online using video-chat technology and make these occasions a priority. The frequency will depend on your individual business requirements, and you may occasionally have to schedule additional sessions, but the important thing is to make them happen. As a rule of thumb, one meeting a week is effective, but once again your circumstances will dictate the proper frequency for you and your team.

As a manager, it’s also important to maintain your connection with the individuals on the team. Schedule regular one-on-one online meetings with your employees and devote some of the time to casual conversation. Especially during the current crisis, your workers may be experiencing a lot of stress and disruption in their personal lives that you won’t know about if they don’t have a chance to talk to you. Since their wellbeing is your responsibility, it’s imperative that you make time for them. Don’t reschedule these meetings unless it is absolutely necessary; constantly shifting times and dates will send a strong message to the employee that you don’t consider them important. These sessions should happen weekly; if you have too many direct reports to reach them all in a week, appoint delegates to help you – but then, make sure you follow up with the delegates to get any important information. Also, cycle the roster so that all team members get to talk to you at some regular occasion.

Another thing you might consider, especially now while working remotely is so new to most people, is that your workers may be feeling very disconnected and at loss. Office camaraderie is an important feature in many corporate cultures. Being suddenly cut off from that can be traumatic. One way of dealing with this is to institute “virtual water cooler” sessions where team members can join an online conversation for 15 minutes or so just to see each other’s faces and share casual conversation. Once again, the cadence will depend on your situation and constraints, but some companies are making this a daily occurrence.


Learn more

There are some very good resources available to you that provide additional information, coaching, tips and recommendations. For instance, be sure to check out the new Leadership in the New Normal program developed by Qualians precisely designed around the needs that managers from various organisations have voiced in the last weeks. It's an intensive learning experience aimed at boosting the performance of managers in these challenging times. More about Qualians, one of the leading training and consulting companies in Romania, here.

These are strange and stressful times, and you may be feeling overwhelmed. Luckily, the health crisis is temporary. But things will never go back to the way they were before. By making changes and adjusting to the realities on remote working, you can not only help yourself and your team make it through today’s emergency – you will prepare them and yourself to succeed in the post-crisis business world.


Written by Andreea Udrea and Phil Gold


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