Managers need training to lead remote teams—but most still haven’t gotten it

In the last few years, many workforces have transitioned to remote settings and later into hybrid setups. Despite that dynamic shifting expectations of and environments for managers, a new study finds most people leaders haven’t been properly trained for this new reality.

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According to TechSmith Corp.’s 2024 Workplace Flexibility Trends Report—conducted in collaboration with Global Workplace Analytics and Caryatid Workplace Consultancy—nearly 75% of respondents indicated their employer has not offered managers specific training on leading remote and hybrid workers. The firms polled 900 U.S. leaders in HR, real estate, IT and product roles.

“The pandemic forced the majority of organizations into hybrid work practically overnight, with no time to consider how to support new practices,” says Wendy Hamilton, CEO of TechSmith, a provider of visual communication tools for the workplace.

According to the company, less than 5% of American employees had the option to work remotely on a regular basis just five years ago, a figure that now stands at 58%. Some of those organizations are turning to return-to-office mandates after struggling to meet the needs of this reimagined workforce—a challenge that, Hamilton says, could be met with better training for managers.

“Organizations need to redesign meeting protocols, tech stacks and collaboration approaches,” she says. “Returning to office full-time instead of investing in flexibility will hurt productivity, recruiting and employee engagement.”

Building a manager training program

While leaders are “fretting” over whether employees should work remotely, in-office or some combination of the two, they should instead be asking themselves, ” ‘How can we empower our people to do their best work wherever they do it?’ ” says Kate Lister, president of consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics.

That’s where manager training can come in, adds Tracey Malcolm, global leader, Future of Work & Risk at WTW.

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She says remote-specific manager training must go beyond covering company policy. Most importantly, managers need to be prepared to identify the opportunities and challenges their team members face in remote and hybrid environments and then decide the tools and actions most effective for their team.

This requires managers to expand upon traditional leadership skills—learning how to build trust with their reports, be more precise in their communication and excel at applying technology to their teams’ experiences, for instance, Malcolm says.

“Developing remote-specific manager capability needs to address both the work and employee experience requirements,” she says.

As HR leaders design this training, Malcolm says, they need to be cognizant that remote work—just like on-site work—has both “heads-down and heads-up” activities. For example, heads-down work may include independent activities like working on a report, while heads-up activities are interactive, such as collaborating or inviting feedback.

“Training should give managers a success profile to lead around both of these types of work,” she says. A written playbook can help guide managers on the value of staying connected, dedicating time to establishing rapport, providing insights and managing tasks as work progresses—not just at output time.

“Training can also help managers better understand the remote employee experience,” Malcolm notes.

Remote work: an individualized experience

Ultimately, Malcolm says, remote work is a unique experience that needs to be personalized. For instance, some employees value remote work and see it as a key reward. Here, managers have the opportunity to emphasize and “play up” being remote as part of the employer’s total rewards. Yet, others may struggle with remote work. In this instance, Malcolm says, managers can be key to helping them network, drive career growth and gain access to leaders and peers for mentoring and recognition.

Malcolm says that remote-specific manager training can also connect to the company’s wellbeing strategies.

“Equipping managers around the wellbeing of remote workers can include being a coach to access available resources on ergonomics, business etiquette and the overall use of technology,” Malcolm notes.

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Tom Starner
Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at [email protected].