In recent years, the proportion of remote workers has dramatically increased. The rapid rise of remote work is not only a viable option, but in many cases, a preferred option. As a result, many work environments are now home to more remote workers than those who are on-site.
Managing a remote team can present unique challenges, as it can be difficult to effectively communicate and lead a team without the ability for face-to-face interactions. However, with the right tools and a well-structured plan, it is possible to successfully manage a remote team. In this article, we will discuss some of the common challenges of managing a remote team and provide 10 tips for overcoming them.
The Challenges of Handling a Remote Team
Managing a remote team presents a unique set of challenges that can be difficult to solve. This is why a key tip to successfully handling one is to know the factors that make managing them demanding and different from the physical teams you are probably used to.
If these challenges are not taken into account, both the managers and the employees would keep struggling and wondering what they are doing wrong.
1. Lack of clear communication
Communication in the workplace helps to build employees morale and productivity. However, communication skills can be challenging to develop and implement while working remotely. It is easier to remember what you want to ask your employee to do when you see them in the morning compared to when you have to send an email or make a call for even the tiniest information.
For this reason, some employers brush off certain information as ‘not important’ or assume their staff already knows what to do or will ask if they don’t. In the same manner, employees think it’s not important if their boss did not mention it.
The only way to manage this challenge is by deciding, along with your staff, which form of communication channel will be easier for everybody. Another helpful tip is making a detailed list of all the instructions you need to send to a particular employee before sending it.
2. Lack of Clear Expectations and Boundaries
Before transitioning into remote working, every employee already had and knew their roles. However, it would not be safe to still assume they know everything they are supposed to handle and when they should do so. This is because a remote working environment is different from a physical one.
An employee that had nothing to do with the internet formerly, may have to start replying to mails. It is your duty as an employee to set these expectations. Let them know how quickly they are expected to respond to communication, when to attend virtual meetings and any additional expectation working remotely has brought.
Boundaries could be like, “Employees are not allowed to attend meetings in a noisy environment.”
3. Absence of Trust
If your employees are people you haven’t met physically, especially if your team consists of freelancers that are very often not co-located, trusting them can be the hardest thing for you. You may feel like all they want to do is just earn. Thoughts like this can make you accuse them of lying about the hours they worked if you pay them hourly, and make you take drastic actions.
Lack of trust is bad for collaboration and productivity. Making your staff feel worthless or calling them what they are not would be the fastest way to lose dedicated employees and it may be hard to find a good replacement. If you do not trust your employees, you need to improve your hiring system.
It’s usually hard to separate work life from home life when you are working from home. This makes people work very long hours without noticing which can lead to burnout and low productivity.
Encourage your employees to take breaks. Give them reliable goals and expectations. As an employee, a timer may be your best bet if you often forget to stop and breathe or you can have someone remind you from time to time to help you achieve balance.
5. Lack of Face-to-Face Supervision
Not being physically or actively supervised can be a breeding ground for procrastination. Employees often think they have enough time when they are in the comfort of their home without monitoring eyes. They feel they can do the work ‘later’ until the work is heaped for them.
They might not notice but failing to do personal work might have an effect on the work of the next person which may slow down the entire work process. For example, if person A must review some files then send it to person B for their signature, the second person would be unable to do anything if the first person hasn’t started.
A useful tip to curb this challenge is setting deadlines and sanctions for employees that fail to meet the deadlines. Make sure the deadlines are as realistic as they would be physically.
6. Technology Issues
Managing a remote team would be unsuccessful if your team is not making use of the right technology. Does everybody have access to the internet? Does everybody have the right applications and software for team collaboration, virtual meetings, research, and connecting with clients? If not, what are they doing to meet up? If the majority of your team members find it hard to leverage a particular technology, can you provide an alternative?
Your answers to these questions will help you find out if you can successfully manage a remote team. Do not make the technology decision alone. You are going to be working along with your employees, seeking their opinion. Be willing to switch to new or unfamiliar technology.
10 Tips to Successfully Manage a Remote Team
These are steps to manage a remote team despite the challenges.
1. Set clear goals and communicate expectations clearly
The most important step to take while managing a remote team is setting clear goals and expectations. With remote or hybrid working, many teams may have to pivot which means the same employee may have to take up a different or additional task. You need to say, in clear terms, what you expect of each and every individual in the team. These expectations can range from project scheduling to research and virtual work hours.
Setting expectations helps the team to be in alignment. Do not assume everyone knows where to channel their energy.
2. Schedule Weekly Team Meetings
Team meetings are as important in remote working as they are on-site. It is important to bring your entire team together at least once a week. This is critical for collaboration and better planning. Team meets help the team come to a decision about major work changes, for example: Some team members work from different time zones. These meetings provide a chance for everyone to suggest a common time that will be comfortable or at least bearable, for everyone.
Ensure that there’s room for catching up and humor while maintaining professionalism and productivity.
3. Schedule Individual Check-in Daily
Aside from the weekly meetings, make sure to connect with everyone individually. It’s hard for many people to admit their struggles in the presence of other people. Reaching out to them one-on-one and building a connection with them will make them feel free and help them open up to you on ways in which you can help them.
When you text, call or send an email to them, do not only ask them how their work or project is going. Doing that can make them feel pressured or scared. Endeavour to ask them about their well-being and encourage them to ask for a break when they are not faring well or are burnt out.
4. Provide Support
If you want to succeed at managing a remote team, take it as your responsibility to provide support in every way you can. Provide resources. Provide emotional and mental support. Encourage them to seek assistance. Be patient and empathic, especially if your team members are new to the system.
They cannot figure out everything at a goal. Give them time to learn and to grow. At that point, you may be feeling like things are not moving at the pace that you would want but it will pay off in the end. Remember that, when a staff feels safe at their workplace, they are more productive.
5. Encourage Open Communication
Managing a remote team successfully requires all the team members to be emotionally, mentally and physically fit. For this reason, encourage open communication and social interactions. You do not want your employee or employees to be going through social isolation.
There should be a “Coffee Break” every single day employees work. This could be an avenue to interact and share information. And who knows, they might be able to ask help or suggestions from their colleagues in ways they couldn’t ask you directly.
6. Create Well-documented Systems and Processes
No good master sends their subject on a journey without giving them what they would need to arrive safely. Unlike in the physical office, employees cannot work over to the desk of other employees to ask for an explanation or assistance. It is your duty to provide your employees with a solid ( including audios, images, text and videos) system and processes document that is easy to understand.
Desist from just telling what the goals are without showing how it should be accomplished. Giving procedures makes things easier for you, your employees and future employees who would be carrying out the same task.
Check out our step-by-step guide on “How to Create Systems and Processes“
7. Encourage Work-life Balance
Just as I said before, there is little to no boundary between home life and work life while working remotely. With this knowledge, encourage your employees to not exceed the usual 8-hours work time and take breaks like they normally would. Also, acknowledge the fact that there would be distractions at home – the kids, guests, cooking, a quick nap, etc. This shouldn’t bother you as long as they end up doing the day’s work. One extra tip for you is: Focus on output rather than the activity.
8. Use Technology to Stay Connected and to Collaborate
Your remote team is not far from failure if you and your employees fail to leverage technology. It’s a digital world. Many applications and platforms have been created to bring people together. Taking advantage of these technologies can make working remotely very similar to physical work. It can also make collaborations, meetings and research easier.
It might be uncomfortable at first but with time, everyone will adapt. Some applications recommended for successful remote work are Zoom, Microsoft team, Slack, Google sheet, etc.
9. Provide Feedbacks
In an office setting, it’s easy to commend your staff after a work well done but it may skip your mind when they are not in sight. Send a thank you message as soon as you receive satisfactory work. Highlight the things you loved particularly about their work and tell them what you should improve.
This is important to managing a remote team successfully because employees do not get to see each other to measure their success with that of others. They may think to themselves that others are doing way better than them and end up feeling discouraged. Hence, providing feedback will go a long way to motivate your employees.
10. Make Sure Everyone Participates in Meetings
Similar to in-person meetings, some team members may be hesitant to participate or contribute. This can be due to various reasons such as shyness or lack of confidence. However, it’s important to make sure that every team member is included in the conversation to maintain alignment among the team.
While you cannot force participation, you can foster an environment that encourages it. One way to do this is to start each meeting by asking team members about their current state and what they hope to gain from the meeting. Additionally, at the end of the meeting, ask for highlights from each team member. If you have a larger team, make a point to actively include quieter members by directing specific questions towards them.
Managing a remote team can be challenging, and it’s not always easier than managing a team in-person. As a manager or business owner, you may find yourself in a position where you have to hire a remote team at some point in your career. However, by following the tips above, you can navigate these challenges and lead your team effectively.
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