Remote teams have become more commonplace now as the COVID crisis and the clamor for more work-life balance shifts the business landscape. While the benefits are many – ranging from cutting down on overhead office costs to reducing carbon footprint – managing remote teams also comes with its own set of challenges.
Many companies now have a hybrid in-office and off-site setup that give employees the option to work from home or at the office with their colleagues. Others, meanwhile, have leaned into the new normal and gone fully remote. To make this shift work, managers will need to make major adjustments.
The reality of challenges managing remote employees begs to be addressed, lest a company lose its anchor, go adrift, and face the risk of sinking. Moving from the familiar shores of office walls and cubicles needs the skill of capable captains that can keep the sails steady.
Managing Remote Workers Toolkit
Everyone, from the top management to the rank and file, must be prepared and equipped to navigate the remote collaboration challenges they are bound to face in this new normal. Because let’s face it, any major deviations from established processes could cause disruptions and difficulties, especially if rules and expectations are unclear.
To seamlessly transition to or maximize a remote set up, you’ll need to craft a thoughtful strategy that addresses the challenges managing remote employees bring.
Here Are 7 of The Common Challenges of Managing Remote Teams And How To Counter Them:
1. Communication Can Go Amiss
Remote interaction requires clear communication. Aside from slow internet connections that can cause meetings to go from Zoom to zzzzz in a hurry, non-spoken messages can also lead to communication gaps.
Written messages like emails or chats don’t deliver the tone, nuances, and body signals that face-to-face contact offers, which means some messages may not always come across as intended. And when instructions and responses are not clearly communicated and understood, delays and mistakes could ensue, lowering remote team performance levels.
Off-sync communication is one of the leading challenges managing remote employees brings to the fore.
How To Solve It
Encouraging and training employees to use organizational communication tools appropriately, whether it’s a web-based application or an office system, can help address this. Remember that your employees will have different comfort and familiarity levels when it comes to technology and communication. Proper training in using your tools’ features and troubleshooting issues will promote smoother communication.
Make sure that everyone can easily access IT support during work hours to minimize disruptions and sustain remote team performance.
Employees must also be trained or reminded to keep their written communications professional, clear, concise, and contextualized so the message is efficiently sent, received, and understood.
2. Productivity May Dip
Keeping remote team performance high or at an acceptable level while running a company remotely isn’t easy. Overseeing your staff without actually seeing them working could also lead to micromanagement, which can create a controlling, suffocating atmosphere in the company’s digital workspace, and further affect productivity.
With less eyes on them, your virtual workers may be more easily distracted and fall behind schedule. While you don’t want to harbor trust issues, you’d be remiss as a manager or company leader to not want to find ways to maintain your team’s productivity.
How To Solve It
Ensure that the right mechanisms are in place to help employees stay focused on set targets. There should be clearly defined rules of engagement for virtual teams so nothing falls through the cracks of ambiguity.
The challenges managing remote employees present can be minimized by strengthening a seamless and systematic workflow that has no room for weak links. Regularly emphasize your goals and define your expectations to your team. Anticipate and prevent possible hiccups like coordination issues within units, which can lead to a chain reaction of delays, before they drag productivity down.
Have a remote team performance tracker so you can keep your team within project timelines and set budget. If something seems to deviate, reach out to your staff right away to help with issues that might not have been communicated.
Keep your people motivated and create a positive work atmosphere so they can be more productive and take ownership of their work, wherever they are.
3. Trainings May Not Be As Effective
In-person training allows for more engagement and focus. Coaching remote employees through screens and headsets may feel less participatory, which could reduce their interest and attention span.
Proper engagement during training is critical to ensuring that new remote employees start on the right foot. In turn, smooth visual and audio connectivity is vital to making training effective and engaging. In a remote work setup, you’ll be competing for your audience’s attention against dogs barking, babies crying, and other distractions. And when procedures and policies that are meant to be conveyed during training are not well understood, lapses are not far behind.
How To Solve It
Learn the best practices for training remote employees. You can use videos and virtual classrooms to simulate in-person, face-to-face training sessions. Also, design training courses to be compatible with mobile devices so remote workers can still join important training sessions when they can’t access their computer.
If you’re worried your team hasn’t grasped the training, making materials available on demand will also give your staff opportunities to review the training anytime and get up to speed.
Managing virtual teams training courses effectively means engaging your staff before, during, and after the activity. Send timely reminders, encourage active participation through Q&As, quizzes, or even a little game, and make yourself available for post-training feedback and assistance.
Keep up to date on training ideas for remote employees and apply them to your courses to make them more appealing and easy to digest.
The various challenges managing remote employees present can be managed when there is a vibrant exchange of ideas in an atmosphere conducive to feedback, learning, and improvement. When each employee is supported, they can help elevate remote team performance.
4. Setting Schedules May Not Be As Easy
This is especially true when your remote team works in different time zones. In addition, different time zones can lead to issues around respecting people’s schedules and letting them unplug after work hours.
As a manager, you want to keep everyone’s hand on deck without encroaching their private lives.
How to Solve It
So, how do you balance control and breathing space? Through mutually agreed schedules and access policies.
Having a remote access policy for employees defines what, when, where, and how work matters are addressed. This helps managers coordinate activities, assign tasks, and set deadlines based on an employee’s availability and schedule.
Such policies also help employees accomplish their tasks, attend to personal matters, and deliver results within set timeframes while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
5. Corporate Culture May Suffer
Physically working together in one place can foster teamwork, culture, and stronger bonds.
However, in a remote work setup, keeping your team working as one unit may be a challenge. While working independently has its advantages, performing tasks in isolation may reinforce individual priorities rather than remote team performance.
According to a study, many companies face the challenge of maintaining their work culture in a remote work setup.
How To Solve It
Always incorporate and reinforce your corporate values in meetings, communications, and goal setting. Make sure that everyone imbibes the company ethos in the way they work and reward those that share your values and vision. To continue to build your culture, let your staff share recent experiences that demonstrated how they upheld company values in their work during your weekly or monthly meetings.
6. Lack of Connection and Motivation
Staring at a screen for a whole day with no in-person interactions can make employees feel detached and lonely. According to the Harvard Business Review, people who work remotely tend to be less motivated. Challenges managing remote employees extends beyond their work performance but also to their mental health, in keeping motivation up, and cultivating a sense of community and belongingness.
How To Solve It
Implement a mentoring and support system that makes it easy for employees to approach their colleagues and superiors for help. This could take the form of a chat group for employees with the same hobbies, structured one-to-one sessions, or monthly chill-out meetings.
Establishing an intranet-integrated live chat system can also help you put a finger on the pulse of your employees’ needs and provide appropriate resources such as invitations for career counseling. Being attuned to your employees’ needs is similar to providing high quality customer service to clients. Both will build your brand and foster loyalty.
Check for signs of lack of motivation like sloppy work or frequent tardiness that could negatively affect the employee’s mental health and eventually, remote team performance. By being on the lookout for early signs of disconnection, issues can be addressed before they escalate, having a detrimental effect on the company and the employee.
Your HR Department may also occasionally provide a care package for remote employees with food packs and wellness products to make them feel more connected to and appreciated by the company.
7. Technical Limitations
Some of your employees may live in areas with weak internet or mobile phone connection. This could affect online meetings, data downloading and uploading, and report submissions leading to potential system delays, decreased work outputs, and dips in overall productivity.
How to Solve It
Try arranging a hybrid work set-up where employees come to the office on days that are expected to be busy or when work requires more collaboration, and that lets them work off-site for less demanding tasks.
Of course, you can also provide them with good laptops and other devices, as well as allowances for internet or mobile subscriptions, to ensure everyone stays connected.
Remote Work is Here to Stay
Up to 56% of global companies have embraced remote work and hybrid arrangements due to the pandemic. And the U.S. is following suit.
There are advantages and disadvantages of managing virtual teams. The key is to leverage its benefits and create strategies to mitigate its challenges.
The challenges managing remote employees brings to the fore also covers professional, social, and legal concerns. For example, managers must clarify how performance will be evaluated or taxes will be computed in a remote working setup.
It is important to determine for your remote employees which state law applies based on where they work. Learn about managing a remote workforce proven practices and apply them as you go along.
“We’re In This Together”
When it comes to remote working, at the end of the day, what matters is that employees don’t feel disjointed or left in the dark to figure things out for themselves.
As a manager or company leader, you can guide them through the transition. The birth pains of shifting to a remote working setup may linger for a while, but with the right tools and strategies, everyone can ease into the new work paradigm and thrive.