With the entire world still battling the coronavirus pandemic, working from an office is required only of the most important positions. The rest have been working remotely for some time now, and will probably continue to do so until the conditions improve.
While working remotely isn’t so bad for some teams, others find it difficult to meet the requirements and deadlines. So, what is it that differentiates the successful remote teams from the ones not having such a good time with the new, remote, working arrangements? The answer is simple - management!
A well-managed team of remote workers can deliver results that far surpass their localized counterparts. With the right kind of leadership, and with the help of the right communication tools, you can get the most out of remote team members and create a stable remote working environment, no matter the project or the time zone.
Apart from the obvious counter epidemic advantages of working remotely, the other benefits of telecommuting are plenty for both employees and employers. And while working from home used to be considered a perk, it is becoming more and more popular.
Many companies are trying to make remote work a permanent arrangement because it provides a lot of solutions to problems employers have been encountering.
- It is cheaper for employers - not having to rent an office and compensate your employees for commuting to the offices is a great reduction of business costs.
- It’s more efficient - no time wasted getting to work means people will start their job in a better and more productive mood.
- A better work-life balance - remote staff usually have more time to balance their personal and professional lives
- More work gets done - people working remotely tend to work on tasks until they are completed, and not until the end of the workday.
All in all, there are a lot more reasons why telecommuting is a good idea for many employers looking to reduce their operations costs and help their business grow.
While a remote working policy can enable a company to expand its scope of business and improve its numbers, it will have a positive effect only if it is done properly. And, to ensure everything is going according to plan with these remote work arrangements, you’ll need to understand the obstacles you will face, as a remote team manager.
Knowing what you will be facing will allow you to prepare solutions to overcome problems even before they arrive.
Lacking proper communication
This is one of the most critical challenges a remote team manager will face. Sure, there are a lot of communication and collaboration tools and software out there that could help you. However, over phone calls or Slack, it is difficult to understand how people are feeling and what exactly they are trying to say.
This can lead to serious misunderstandings which will have a detrimental effect on both the business and the atmosphere in the company.
Hiring the right resources
Another challenge employers face when planning remote teams is one of hiring. While telecommuting has made it easier for the human resources department to conduct interviews online and virtually hire anyone, anywhere in the world, not all aspects of this are peachy.
It is very difficult to get a good idea of what someone is like only through online means. This makes the talent acquisition process especially difficult. Not to mention that the people you hire will have their onboarding online as well. Which will make it much more difficult to adapt to a new position and all the responsibilities coming with it.
In business, it is very important to respect everyone’s time. While any team can have scheduling challenges, it is crucial for remote teams to work past them. Since not all team members are readily available, or easily reachable in your office building it is of great importance to stay in touch through meetings. Likewise, as many remote teams are composed of people working from different time zones and cultures, respecting everyone’s schedule and honoring the set time of the meetings is a must.
Difficulty with tracking employee performance
Another challenge you might encounter when managing a remote workforce is figuring out how much work has been done and who did it. With remote employees, you will not be able to track their progress on a specific task, in real-time. All you’ll be able to see is the finished product with little information about your employees’ work process or the work-related challenges they had to face.
Lack of proper team cohesion
It is difficult to engage the entire team and promote proper teamwork when the team only communicates through online channels. Even though there are a lot of online tools available these days, nothing beats a face-to-face meeting with your team members. However, this doesn't mean that these tools won’t help with employee engagement.
Making everyone feel part of the team is another challenge when your team has only virtual meetings. You will need to find the best way to organize your team meetings to get the most out of everyone and improve team cohesion. In addition, you should set some time aside to organize virtual team-building activities.
Managing any team is challenging enough even when all team members are localized in the offices, managing remote teams opens entirely new horizons of difficulty. Not only is getting their attention more difficult through online channels, but also coordinating and synchronizing a remote team can be problematic when the remote workers are spread out or have different working habits. Here are some tips about managing a successful virtual team and what you can do to make it work long-term.
Set clear expectations and goals early on
Setting clear, measurable expectations from your team is the most important task a manager has, and it is especially important when working with remote employees. Since proper team communication will be more challenging, it is essential to let your employees know what to expect and how to expect it.
Apart from improving the relations inside your team, setting clear goals will help you track your remote workers' progress more efficiently.
Make regular one-on-one check-ins
To ensure your team functions properly and that everyone is satisfied and productive, you’ll need to dedicate some time to each of your remote workers. One-on-one check-ins are great for building strong relationships in the team, learning more about what your employees are going through as well as tracking their progress.
Additionally, one-on-one check-ins are perfect for small talk, as long as you don’t allow the meeting to become solely that. No matter how small and unimportant it may seem, casual conversation is essential for a good team. And since you can’t casually meet by water coolers and discuss everyday life while on a break from work, you’ll need to "artificially'' create those opportunities for small talk.
Be available for your employees
In the beginning, inform your remote workers that you’re there for them should they need to talk about anything work-related or otherwise. This, of course, doesn’t mean that you should become their therapist or confidante, just that you should help them facilitate remote working and assist them in finding a good work-life balance. Even if it’s to just give them tips for working from home or help them set up a home office properly.
Find the perfect mix of organization and flexibility
Remote work is about finding the best conditions for both the employees and the company. While this means making some compromises, such as working hours, there should be things that are not up for debate.
Unfortunately, there is no clear solution to this challenge, and you will need to figure out the perfect balance by yourself. Make sure you’re not too strict with your remote workers and that you give them some leeway. On the other hand, ensure that your employees understand that this is a business relationship and that some things, due to company policy, cannot be negotiated.
If you’re not sure how to proceed, you can use our comprehensive guide to remote work to better understand what both you and your employees are expected to do.
Equip your employees with the right tools
There is no trade without the right tools and if you want your remote team to work, you’ll need to provide your employees with the best remote work tools and software for their needs. With traditional, co-located teams, employees have all the tools they need to conduct their job from the offices. With remote teams, things work a bit differently, and you’ll need to provide your remote employees with the right equipment to conduct their job.
While most people know the basic remote work tools such as Skype for video calls and Slack for instant messaging, don’t be afraid to experiment with some other tools and if you find they work, you can introduce them to your remote workers.
If you want to make your remote employees more productive, you’ll need to start by limiting the distractions they’ll be facing while working outside the offices. The key to tackling this challenge is to properly set up a productive home workspace, with limited or completely absent distractions.
This is not an easy task in itself and it's made more difficult by the fact that everyone has a different work process. What one member of your team considers a perfect distraction-free workspace, another may see as "a prison" with no outlets when they take breaks or hit a wall.
Talking to your remote workers is the first step in solving this issue. You’ll need to understand their work process and help them find a place in their home where they can work undisturbed by any factors. This process will take some time, so make sure you’re open to your remote employees and that you communicate well with them.
Require video during meetings
Video is one of the most important aspects of managing remote workers. Ensuring everyone communicates with video on is a great way to improve both productivity and social interaction with your remote team.
Allowing you to see your teammates will let you know how they feel about what you’re talking about. It definitely provides more information than a disembodied voice over Zoom. Additionally, knowing that you’ll be able to see them means your employees will pay more attention to what you’re talking about during video chats. Since most remote workers would rather avoid video conferencing for various reasons, making this work could take some time and effort. However, in the end, it is worth it.
Build a culture of conference calls
Video conferencing is a great way to communicate and solve problems inside a team. This is why a good remote team manager shouldn’t be afraid to utilize it. Do not shy away from making longer video conferences from time to time or even adding people mid-way through them. If you start a video chat with one of your remote workers and you realize you’ll need another person’s expertise on the call, add them to the conference call. This will not only improve time management, but it will make brainstorming and decision-making much easier.
This method works especially well in time-sensitive projects where project management needs to be in constant communication with the teams and coordinate them in working together.
GIFF it up
Use memes and animated gifs to communicate your emotion more clearly. While these are not the most professional means of getting the message across, no one will blame you for using them since these are not casual times.
By employing GIFs in your everyday communication, you will not only make your message more understandable but will also contribute to a more relaxed work environment.
Keep your employees’ career paths in mind
Another important thing that anyone managing remote workers should remember is that your employees have a career path. You’ll want to support your team members’ professional development.
This means that apart from working for you, each of them is looking for personal or professional improvement by working for your company. As a team or project manager, it is your job to provide them with the best job opportunities suited for their needs and capabilities. In addition to this, some of your employees might need help or guidance in their professional self-actualization. As a manager of remote workers you’ll need to work a bit harder to assist your employees in this.
Send company swag to boost your remote team engagement
Your remote teams are still your employees, but, due to the nature of their working conditions, they are liable to forget that. So, make sure you send them some swag to remind them they are part of the team. A T-shirt with the company’s logo or a coffee mug can go a long way in reminding your employees that you appreciate all they do.
Not only will this serve as promotional material spreading your company’s good name, but it will also show your employees you appreciate them. This will boost their engagement, loyalty and thus, their motivation.
Get together annually (at least)
Since there are not many opportunities to enjoy those happy hours after work, you’ll need to make sure you organize a team retreat, at least once a year - preferably, once in three months.
Find the time for a weekend out of town for your team, and get away from work, in a place where you can relax together. This will allow your remote team to get to know each other better, which will create a more tightly-knit and efficient team.
Apart from this, your teammates will get a chance to go out and have some fun, fostering personal connections as a result.
Every manager knows that a motivated employee is at least as twice as productive as an unmotivated one. The same goes for remote teams. Some managers believe that because remote working is so beneficial for employees they don’t have to additionally motivate them. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Remote teams tend to drift away from the work they’re supposed to be doing, or take a longer time to complete tasks when unmotivated.
Motivating remote employees is as important as motivating in-office ones. And if you want your team to be productive, you’ll need to find ways of making sure they stay motivated.
Listen carefully to your team members
The best way to motivate anyone is to listen carefully to what they are saying or listen to their troubles when they want to share. This is why one-on-one meetings are so important with remote teams. But showing up for a meeting is not the same as actively listening to your remote workers. If you want to make your employees feel special and motivate them to work more efficiently, you’ll need to give them your undivided attention.
Trust your remote team
Another great way to motivate your remote workers is to give them more trust and more responsibility. It is important to show your team members that you trust them and their judgment. This is not easy to do as it may take some time to get here, and even in the end, you’ll still be making a leap of faith, but if your remote workers don’t let you down, you will have an increase in efficiency.
Unfortunately, this won’t always make them more productive, but it will build stronger team dynamics and create a closely-knit team, where employees experience less stress from their job and are ready to do more to justify your trust in them.
Engage your remote workers
When you’re talking to your team members, engage them with questions about their lives, habits, and future plans. Listen carefully to what they are saying, and be polite, but not intrusive. There are a lot of private people who don’t like to share a lot about their lives and who will feel battered by constant questioning.
In addition to this, try not to tell your employees things, but ask them instead. So, instead of saying: “I need this done by Friday.”, try asking “Can we have this completed by Friday?” or “What do you think? Is it possible to have this done this week?”.
These things will, of course, require you to trust your team and their skills. However, once properly utilized, engaging your remote workforce in this way will create a more motivated and efficient team.
Talk to your employees about their development
This doesn't only go for their professional development. Ask your remote workers how they’re managing to work in this way and what they are doing to develop themselves both professionally and personally. Offer help and advice where you can, and where you can’t offer any advice, at least lend an ear.
Hopefully these tips have been enough to help you manage your remote workers more successfully and overcome the situation created by the coronavirus pandemic. Who knows, you might even get used to it and continue managing your remote team even after the situation passes.