Even before the pandemic, remote work was growing in popularity. However, COVID-19 forced companies to accelerate the move to using remote teams quicker than many were expecting. There have been some growing pains.
Many organizations have learned that remote work doesn’t have an entirely new set of management challenges. It is required for organizations to apply the same management principles that work for in-office teams but in a different environment.
A significant challenge for management teams is keeping their remote workers productive. To do this, they need to keep them engaged and happy.
Clear Communication and Instructions
Working remotely does not mean working independently. Your remote workers are still part of your team, and they require constant communication and instruction from you.
As a manager, your job is to create an environment where communication is encouraged. The last thing that you want is for your team to feel that they have been left dangling. This can be a challenge in larger companies with a hybrid environment where some of their team is remote and others aren’t. Another difficulty is where several remote teams work on the same project separately.
Management is responsible for keeping the flow of information about what is happening on individual, team, and company levels easy for everyone to see and understand. New hires should be informed about the communication guidelines as part of the onboarding process.
This includes specifying what in an office setting could seem like minor things. For example, when will meetings be held? This consists of the date, time, and adjustment needed for time zones.
Also, what is your email turnaround time expectation? New hires and existing employees working remotely should know what emails are a priority, how quickly they should respond to priority emails, and what emails can be put on the back burner.
Train Yourself to Be a Good Manager of Remote Teams
Undoubtedly, you remember the challenges you faced when you first had to manage a group of people in an office environment. You made your share of mistakes, but those served as stepping stones to make you the manager you are today.
The same is going to be true of working with a remote team. Management is responsible for being educating on the challenges they will likely face in a hybrid or remote work environment. You will have to equip yourself to handle these challenges quickly and efficiently if you want your employees to be happy. One of the biggest challenges you will face is keeping your employees engaged.
Your goal should help your team feel that they have not lost direct supervision. It is easy to establish relationships with employees in an in-office setting and maintain them. But it can be a challenge for managers to achieve this same relationship when their staff is working in different parts of the globe.
The tendency, especially for managers who feel that they don’t 100 percent trust the remote work environment, is to micromanage. In most cases, micromanaging is a recipe for disaster.
You may find that remote workers are more inclined to be productive if they are given the freedom to take advantage of their remote setup. This means only setting deadlines when they are a must. Instead of trying to control everything, except the fact that a remote worker’s schedule might not be the same as normal office hours. Don’t stress over that as long as the employee gets the work done.
Your teams will be happy if you give them the autonomy to work in a way that harmonizes with their remote work environment. People are more productive and produce greater quality work if they are allowed to foster a work-life balance.
This doesn’t mean that you have a carefree and anything-goes attitude. It is going to be good for you to check-in with your team informally at least one time a week. You can do this with one-on-one video chats and as team chats. The motto for managers of remote teams should be to delegate, trust, and hold accountable.
Take Steps to Mitigate Employee Isolation
For many employees, most of their daily association is with the people they work with. When they find themselves in a remote environment, it can feel like they are all by themselves, especially if they don’t live with their family, partner, or roommate.
A crucial part of keeping your remote team happy is ensuring that they are doing their work but that they also have the tools to reduce feelings of isolation and maintain a solid work-life balance. This means that remote workers should have a tangible link to the primary office. When they accomplish something, recognize it. Show them you appreciate them.
While it is not the same as a real pat on the back, virtual recognition can go a long way. Use collaboration tools to help workers feel connected. Make sure that no worker has been left out. If people feel marginalized, it may be time to consider an organizational culture change towards a more inclusive style.
Help Workers Stay Focused
Your remote workforce will be bombarded with distractions that can impede their workflow. Everything from Amazon deliveries to children to social media can distract. While it is up to the employee to exercise self-discipline and tune out distractions, it is also up to managers to recommend ways that employees can avoid these interruptions.
For example, you can suggest that your remote team workers break their day up into periods of work and periods of relaxation. You can encourage organizational-wide coffee chats, virtual walks, and other things that are scheduled at a set time to help your team take breaks in between their work and stay focused on their tasks.
Few things motivate people like reasonable goals. Goals let workers focus on the most critical aspects of their tasks. Goals should focus on the result and not necessarily how your team members get there.
Encourage your employees to establish boundaries within their homes. This can help your team concentrate on the work at hand. Additionally, keep nonwork-related windows closed. This means no Facebook or checking your cryptocurrency accounts during working hours.
Remember the Importance of Nonverbal Communication
Videoconferencing is nice, but nothing replaces face-to-face communication. This is because there are a lot of nonverbal cues that people give and receive that add context to what they are saying. To keep your team happy and prevent unwanted misunderstandings, you will have to find a way to compensate for the loss of nonverbal communication.
When possible, face-to-face videoconferencing is best. If you have a large team, you may want to break meetings into smaller sections and encourage all participants to have their cameras on. At the same time, too much video conferencing can lead to fatigue.
The clearer the guidelines you lay out, the better the conversation will flow. This means establishing procedures about who talks and when.
Limit emails to topics that do not have a nonverbal side to them. This includes sending charts or short chats to make immediate decisions.
Set the Pace for Remote Work Productivity
Each one of your remote workers has a unique circumstance. They may choose to work at different times of the day.
Because of this, you need to set some standards that can be used to measure productivity. For example, you could set time frames for how many hours a day, week, or month you want them to work. Or you may have set KPIs for production. With larger projects, set milestones. This gives your workers the freedom to make their schedule and stick to deadlines for accomplishing specific tasks.
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Don’t Overwork Your Team
Many remote workers complain that their workload has increased drastically since they have started working from home. As a manager, you can relieve your workers of some of this stress by not imposing tight deadlines or assigning too much work.
Encourage your team to set limits for how long they will work before they take a break. Encourage them to hold themselves accountable.
This means having set work-life boundaries. Work time is not the time to answer personal phone calls, deal with family situations, or repair something around the house.
Throughout the day, encourage your team to clear their minds by going out for a walk or exercising. Encourage your workers to do all that they can to minimize burnout and fatigue.
Ask for Feedback
Being a manager over a remote team is new for you. Likely, being remote employees is new for your team. This means that everyone is learning. Getting feedback from your team is a key part of making sure that everything is working well for them.
Listening closely to feedback helps you find areas that need to be adjusted. Some of the ways that you can do this include the following.
- One-on-one meetings with individual team members. Individual meetings give you the chance to ask your team specifically what they feel about the current remote work process. You may find that some people who are reluctant to speak up in a group can provide valuable feedback in a one-on-one setting.
- Anonymous polls allow you to gather data from the entire team. The anonymity aspect improves the chances that the responses you get will be truthful and not just what your team thinks that you want to hear.
Give Your Team Emotional Support
As discussed, isolation can be a major problem for some of your team members. Your team needs you to show that you support their psychological well-being.
This requires you to be proactive. Don’t wait until your team members tell you that they are feeling down. Ask questions. Really listen to what they say. It doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes for you to ask a team member, “How are you holding up with remote working?”
Encourage support networks. These can help your team members deal with personal issues. Set up online meeting groups that are only there for the staff to let off steam in a judgment free environment.
With every team and organization, there are people who get neglected. Pay special attention to your team so that they feel like they are included. Ask team members how they feel about their current role and how it aligns with where they want their career to go or their future goals.
Plan Physical Get-Togethers
Getting together and breaking bread can make your team stronger. As long as the circumstances allow for it, schedule time for your teammates to be together in person.
When you hire a new employee, try doing in-person training sessions. This can make them feel like they are part of the team, get acquainted with everyone on the team, and settle into their new work environment.
When people who have spent a lot of time working together over videoconference see each other in person for the first time, they are surprised at how close they feel to a person who they have never actually met face-to-face. As a manager, look for ways to bring your remote team face-to-face when possible. This is a key aspect of building strong relationships among team members who don’t see each other every single day.
Be Culturally Sensitive
Managing a remote team likely means that you will be working with employees from different cultures. Cultural sensitivity includes deciding in advance what language will be used during videoconferencing and phone calls. You may need to invest energy and time to understand employees’ communication styles from different parts of the world, what is considered polite or rude, and how they view punctuality. Managing people from different backgrounds means that you will need to learn to embrace different cultures without compromising your organization’s core values.
You Can Successfully Manage Remote Teams
The differences between office work and remote work may mean that you will need to start looking at how you hire employees differently and how you onboard new employees. If you have clear expectations, trust your employees, have a strong line of communication, and find the right people, you can successfully manage remote teams.