Since the start of COVID-19, many workplaces have had to move online and get used to working remotely. This has posed a challenge for many employees and managers alike as everyone has had to learn to navigate new work norms. But remote work is here to stay even after the pandemic ends, so it’s worth getting comfortable with managing remote teams.
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Whether you’re new to leading remote teams or it’s something you’ve become familiar with, there are always ways to improve your workflow and make you and your team’s jobs easier. For example, we encourage you to consider using task management tools, or perhaps creating a website that all employees can refer to for updates and information. This article will dive into more tips like these as well as some of the common challenges faced by remote teams and what you can do to better manage your remote employees. For even more HR tips, check out our human resource guidebook.
Common challenges of remote work
As a manager, remote work may seem like a much bigger headache than it’s worth, especially if you’re used to working with a tight-knit team. While it’s true that there are some significant challenges to overcome, that doesn’t make remote work impossible. Let’s take a closer look at some of the challenges that arise from remote work so that we can have a better sense of how to tackle them.
01. Difficult to manage face-to-face
Many small business owners and managers think that their employees won’t work as well if they’re not there to visually supervise them. It’s a lot easier to track an employee’s work when they’re working next to you as opposed to at home where they might be slacking off. However, while you may have the odd employee who takes advantage of a work-from-home model, that’s certainly not the case for all of your workers and there are ways you can make sure to stay on top of what your employees are accomplishing.
02. Tricky to onboard new employees
Perhaps it’s easier for you to trust your existing employees with remote work as you’re already familiar with their work style and know what kind of output to expect. But, when it comes to onboarding new employees, there’s a lot that’s lost when you do that remotely. New employees likely need extra attention and closer supervision to help them learn the ropes, and oftentimes jumping straight into remote work can feel unnerving and confusing.
03. Hard to maintain company culture
It’s not only the work and productivity aspect of your team that you need to worry about but also your company culture. If your team is used to weekly happy hours, regular outings, or having lunch with their co-workers, then the lack of socializing when working remotely can have a negative impact on their job satisfaction.
04. Working remotely can be distracting
Many employees prefer the freedom and flexibility of working from home, but for others, the potential distractions might be a nightmare. This can mean getting distracted by those that live with you, not having the right work-from-home setup, or employees easily losing focus because of their surroundings. It can also be difficult to know how to motivate employees to work well within these difficult environments.
05. Lack of communication
There’s no doubt that getting clear and instantaneous answers is easier when all your employees are under one roof. Remote work might lead to some communication breakdowns where your team isn’t aware of what to prioritize or what others are currently working on. It’s easy to miss an email with a quick question from your co-worker, but much more difficult if they come up to your desk in an office.
8 tips for managing remote employees
The challenges might seem insurmountable, and while it’s true that you’re likely always going to face some distraction or miscommunication, that doesn’t mean remote work needs to be difficult. With the right mindset, a few useful tools and these tips, you can get your remote team to operate as smoothly as they would from the office.
01. Set expectations and review them frequently
Take the time to sit down with your team to set out clear expectations and guidelines on how they can effectively work from home. These guidelines can include instructions like letting others know when they are stepping away from their workstation or being consistent in their use of collaborative tools.
You may have an open-door policy in the office, or you’re used to speaking with your co-workers regularly throughout the day, but you won’t have this opportunity for in-person discussions anymore in a remote work setting. That’s why it’s important to take time to regularly check in with your employees and get feedback, especially if you’re just transitioning to remote work. Collect feedback on what has worked and what hasn’t. From there, you can amend your remote policies and guidelines to make them more comfortable for everyone involved.
02. Communicate with your team often
Whether it’s a quick 5-minute call in the morning to plan out tasks for the day, a weekly or monthly meeting, or texts to check on the progress of a project, make sure you’re regularly engaging with each employee. A good way to do this is to schedule video meetings at regular intervals and at the same time each day or week. This will allow your team members to get used to communicating on a regular basis so they don’t feel like they’re working on their own.
03. Don’t over-communicate
While communicating with remote teams is essential, make sure you’re not over-communicating. Since the start of the pandemic when many teams shifted to a remote work model, many employees reported “Zoom fatigue,” where they felt exhausted by the excessive use of virtual platforms and the constant need to be available. Emailing, calling, texting, or holding a business meeting too often can have the adverse effect and leave your employees feeling burnt out, uninspired and irritated.
To avoid this, make sure you define what communications are essential or time-sensitive, and which are less urgent. By striking the right balance between video calls, meetings and other types of less immediate messages, your employees won’t feel overloaded.
04. Schedule remote social events
While many people will love the shift to working remotely and the benefits it affords them, others may miss certain aspects of working in an office, particularly the social ones. Set aside time to continue with your office traditions, or make time for new ones. Here are a few ideas:
Schedule a virtual happy hour.
Send your employees a nice lunch to their homes.
Hold occasional in-person training events.
Plan a company outing or retreat once or twice a year where all your employees can get together in one place.
Celebrate company success, accomplishments, or personal and professional milestones of individual employees with things like email shoutouts or virtual hangouts.
Encourage team members to have one-on-one chats when a new hire joins your company.
A common difficulty with remote work is that employees feel like they’re “out of sight, out of mind.” By maintaining your company’s social culture, you’ll be able to keep your employees happy and ensure that they continue to feel appreciated even when you’re not always together.
05. Give your team the resources they need
You can’t send your employees home with a laptop and expect that everything will run smoothly. In order to ensure remote teams function at their peak, you need to provide them with the right tools and resources. Of course every remote worker will need to ensure they have reliable WiFi and a comfortable working environment, but you also need to be sure they have access to tools that help guarantee a good workflow.
When it comes to software, if you weren’t already using any project management, time management, or collaborative communication tools in your office before, now’s the time to start. Try out tools like Slack, Salesforce, Zoom, Trello, or Asana to see what your team works best with and be sure everyone can access these platforms remotely.
05. Focus on project outcomes, not individual productivity
Stay goal-oriented instead of micromanaging your employees’ productivity every day. It’s easier to be focused when working from an office than at home where you might have unavoidable distractions. Sometimes your employees may seem unproductive on certain days, but that doesn’t mean they’re slacking or that they won’t complete a project on time. Instead of focusing mainly on your team’s day-to-day production and work activity, check-in with employees to see what the status is on a goal, task or overall project.
06. Stay flexible and understanding
When working from home, your team isn’t only managing your expectations, but also their own struggles that you might not be aware of. That can be a sick kid that they need to care for, ongoing repairs in their home, or anything else that impedes their ability to be 100% focused on their work.
The best thing you can do for your remote team is to offer flexibility and understanding. You might have set work hours, but sometimes life gets in the way and an employee needs to finish up their tasks on their own schedule. Each employee is likely handling remote work differently, so be sure to be flexible with your employees who need it most, while also reiterating your expectations so that certain exceptions don’t become habits.
07. Encourage new ideas
Some people feel most creative when they’re around others and are able to draw inspiration from multiple sources. Others feel more innovative when they’re on their own and able to reflect. Don’t assume that just because your team isn’t together to regularly brainstorm that innovation should take a backseat.
Once you and your team start to get more comfortable with working remotely, encourage them to explore new ideas or projects. That might mean asking them to share new processes or programs they’ve used while working on their own, or diving deeper into mistakes, either their own or the team’s, to see what can be improved. This type of self-reflection promoted an environment in which employees explore their own entrepreneurship and aren’t afraid to take risks. It’s a lot more engaging for employees to feel like they have the freedom and trust to be creative and take risks, especially if they’re not around to ask for your permission or feedback every step of the way.
08. Provide recognition
Recognizing your employees’ accomplishments isn’t only for remote teams and should be done regularly regardless of where your team works from. However, it’s especially important when you’re not around your team often. Workers want to feel like they’re still contributing to the team and company, and they want to know that their managers are happy with the work they’re doing. In other words, they want to feel seen, even if you’re not seeing them do the work in person.
Aside from recognition for their accomplishments, it’s equally important that you give your employees the space to voice their concerns or stresses about remote work. If they’re feeling anxious about balancing their personal responsibilities while working from home, make sure to ask how you can help. Sometimes simply airing their concerns so that you’re aware of their circumstances is enough to make an employee feel more at ease.