Today’s businesses are embracing remote work trends. It’s partly due to the advancement of internet communication and partly due to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. And remote work means geographical limitations no longer bind you. You can recruit remote workers from anywhere, working from the comfort of their homes.
As an employer, it’s your job to supervise, nurture, guide, and assist your remote team members. The fundamentals of running a remote team are the same as any manager overseeing an office-based team. But there is a stark difference and massive adjustment needed given the physical distance and possible time zone difference.
When you start building your remote team, you’ll probably want to know ahead of the challenges you may face and address them upfront. Unlike a traditional face-to-face office, a remote team could encompass continents, cultures, nationalities, and time zones. And as a manager, it’s up to you to keep the group cohesive and work as a single unit.
So here’s a guide to help you effectively manage remote teams.
What is a Remote Team?
Like in any other business organization, remote team members are responsible for particular tasks and functions. Each member strives to meet the goals and objectives of the company. A remote team comprises people with varying but complementary skills who dedicate their time and effort to advance a common purpose.
Working remote means not physically together and are connected primarily by communication tools and collaborative project management software. The team members are spread across the world and sometimes may not physically see each other despite working together for a long time.
Challenges in Managing a Remote Team
As I’ve mentioned already, outsourcing and building a remote team isn’t a walk in the park. It could be challenging, especially for newbies and business people without a single background in outsourcing.
Before you decide to build a remote team, you must know the most common complaints that you’ll encounter from your virtual staff. These complaints may have a direct impact on the overall productivity and engagement levels.
In the 2020 State of Remote Work report by Buffer and AngelList, the following are the primary challenges and difficulties that remote employees or virtual staff may regularly face:
- collaboration and communication (20 percent )
- loneliness (20 percent )
- the frustration of not being able to disconnect (18 percent)
- everyday distractions (12 percent )
- socially being out of sync with one’s colleagues (10 percent)
- demotivation (7 percent )
- planning a trip (5 percent)
- internet issues(3 percent )
- others (5 percent )
You must consider the challenges mentioned above as you navigate your outsourcing journey. Many of these problems are some of the most frequent obstacles that business owners and managers may encounter when managing remote teams.
But some challenges are independent of the virtual staff that you can quickly address to avoid compiling problems that may explode in the future. Here are some examples:
- Implementing good communication
Even though we’ve recently seen significant advancement in communication technology, business owners and managers still face substantial challenges concerning effective communication with remote teams. Some of the communication difficulties are listed below:
Different time zones and schedules
The length of time it takes to receive a reply to a message you’ve sent may be crucial where decision-making is time-bounded. While it’s possible to work in separate time zones, time differences may cause a wide disparity in productivity peak periods.
For example, you are at your most productive in the late morning, and when you send inquiries or e-mails to your remote team members, you’ll expect the same energy and motivation. Thus, you’ll be looking forward to immediate response.
But your staff in the Philippines or India working on a graveyard shift could be already near exhaustion. So reply gets delayed or somewhat less enthusiastic. Thus, it’s essential to identify time zones and design work schedules to allow common ground for all team members.
A restricted view of your team’s diversity increases the likelihood of misunderstandings, which may affect overall work engagement. Without considering diverse communication styles, personalities, and lifestyles, misconceptions are almost certain to occur.
A single recurrent technological issue may lead to significant communication challenges, even if you are the world’s most outstanding manager. When your remote team members have no solid and stable wifi connection, this is a challenge that goes beyond your control. You may ask your virtual staff to subscribe to a higher-tier internet plan and reimburse the incremental increase from the old internet plan. But if the problem is already structural deficiencies of the country, even the best remote owners or managers can’t address it.
It’s possible to over-communicate with your remote team if you are used to constantly checking and monitoring employees in a physical office. You’ll see a significant impact on staff productivity and engagement if you fall into the trap of micromanaging your remote team members. Remote micromanagement is completely inappropriate both in an office and remote setup.
Lack of physical signal
In an office, people’s communication boundaries and preferences are typically defined by visual cues. If you’re unable to see the obvious signs and cues that indicate a team member’s well-being, how can you get in touch with them? A business owner or manager must be more receptive to the staff’s attitude towards work despite the visual cues or the lack thereof.
- Monitoring and tracking productivity
How can you monitor the productivity of your remote team members without micromanagement or violation of employee privacy? How can you avoid burnout from individuals who are working from home? These are some of the questions you need to address to monitor remote team productivity efficiently and successfully.
It is easier to track productivity when you are working in the same office and are physically together. To monitor, you may use time tracking applications and screen recording software to establish accountability early on.
But bear in mind that not all virtual staff are comfortable with software randomly screenshotting the work laptop. So reaching a compromise at an early stage of the working relationship may prove fruitful in the long term.
- Promotion of company culture
Promoting the culture of your business while some of its most essential components are not present is one of the most severe challenges faced by remote managers.
Daily face-to-face contacts and an office’s overall environment are two factors that influence the workplace culture, and these two variables are absent in a remote workplace. The absence of these components frequently leads to the “loneliness” with which many remote workers identify.
- Developing trust
The lack of trust in remote work is a significant threat to your capacity to manage a remote team effectively. Sadly, this mentality impacts a large percentage of managers. A study carried out by the Harvard Business Review during the COVID-19 pandemic states, “a significant percentage of managers have little confidence in their distant leadership abilities, have rather unfavorable opinions of the business activity, and mistrust their employees.”
- Keeping security in place
From a technical standpoint, safety is an enormous issue in managing remote teams. Indeed, many studies have warned that new remote employees would not get security training and many cyber assaults on the business sector after COVID-19.
Overall poor practices, including increasing exposure to unsecured wireless access points and a lack of basic data security encryption, have worsened these problems. As a result, enforcement of security and data protection is another issue for a remote workforce.
Manage Remote Team Effectively
There are several ways you can manage your remote team effectively. Although there’s no perfect formula, here are some ways you can do it with your team:
- Clear your expectations and set boundaries
“The provision of rules, limits, and basic reviews are one of the main stages in laying up your project,” said Scott Bales, Vice President of Delivery and Solution Engineering at the San Francisco Bay-based time management system provider, Replicon. “Questions will be made available and clarified about priorities, milestones, performance objectives, and more. Identify the availability of each team member and guarantee that you can contact them when necessary,” he added.
And like at work, managers must keep employees up-to-date on changes in policy and personnel, business success, and job advice at home. They should also exhibit model behavior such as setting expectations about responding to emails and messages after hours.
Remote teams typically require some limits and clear differentiation between their job and personal lives. In a remote team with varying work schedules, colleagues may disrupt another’s sleep or disrupt family time by alerts, chat messages, or emails. Talk to each team member about working plans and emphasize the respect for each other’s time away from work. This helps to establish good connections with workers to make sure nothing is too complicated for anybody.
- Have a daily check-in
There should be one-on-one and face-to-face contact through video whenever feasible. Phone chats, email, and Slack are only going so far as to communicate and see each other, even in a virtual setup. Services like Zoom and Google’s Hangouts make it pretty much possible. It should be every day at the start of the work shift, then gradually decrease to 2-3 times a week. The objective is to quickly establish the work agenda while offering your team members feedback and resources.
- Take advantage of the technology
As a manager, your job is to keep your team connected. Communication tools are a simple way to keep everyone engaged. While email and text messages might be a short-term solution, tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams are far better suited for collaboration and communication. Some of those collaboration tools are even available for free right now.
- Grow a positive company culture
The company’s culture is essential because it influences how you view your staff and customers — and this defines how successful your company is. Since remote teams are geographically distant, creating a culture is a significant issue, but the need to build culture is much higher without contact between them. If a business meets its fundamental principles, its culture enhances the employee’s wellness. Here’s how you can grow a positive company culture in a remote setup:
- Communicate the company and goals clearly
- Be clear on work policy
- Prioritize meaningful work
- Establish regular communication with the team
- Collect team feedback regularly
- Find creative ways to keep your team engaged
- Find time for a mentorship program
- Be flexible
Understand that your team has a lot going on, particularly in working remotely. You can trust your team and offer them the freedom and flexibility to work on the schedule to make them the most effective. As long as they can commit to the deadlines and deliver quality output on their tasks, they can give them flexibility in their working hours (if applicable).
There are many additional challenges you may encounter when working with a remote workforce. These difficulties include adapting your business to new and updated remote work-related laws, monitoring your remote team members’ general well-being and psychological problems, and offering intelligent solutions to workers who may require help while working from home.
Building a robust remote work strategy is a process with numerous difficulties. However, if you want to embrace success, you must develop solutions and strategies that assist you in addressing the challenges described in this article. If you can start there, you’ll be well on your way to establishing a virtual place where you can easily set and achieve your objectives while nurturing a healthy, dynamic atmosphere that empowers your remote team.