People love remote work. While not everyone prefers it, many workers claim that the ability to perform their job duties from home or another location makes them more productive and improves their work-life balance.
Remote work does present its challenges, though, especially if you’re a manager. Keeping track of projects, communicating expectations to team members, and fostering collaboration are more complicated when large distances and time zone differences are involved. How can you give your employees the support they need? Let’s talk about the top challenges of managing remote employees and how to solve them.
One of the most significant obstacles in remote work is communication. You can’t slide your chair over to someone’s desk and tell them something verbally; you have to send them a direct message, email, or schedule a call.
Communication is also difficult when your team's tools aren’t up to the task. Maybe you use one platform that doesn’t offer te full functionality you need, or you have too many that cause confusion. Plus, time zones present an issue: you might be in one hemisphere while your colleague is in another, so you have to wait several hours for a response that lengthens a conversation by several days.
One of the simplest ways to streamline communication is to make sure you’re using the right platform(s). Email is a given, but what are you using for project management, an online workspace, or conference calling? Do they integrate with each other? Be sure each offers the features you will take advantage of most, too. Spot, for instance, transcribes calls in real-time so you can review conversations later.
Social isolation is a common complaint amongst remote workers. Though their work-life balances are better, sometimes it’s fun to have colleagues to chat with in the breakroom or get drinks with after work. Remote employees might feel inclined to shut themselves away during the workday because they have nowhere to be, but that’s not a healthy approach to a workday.
As a manager, it’s up to you to make time for social interaction. Employees might have a few friendly chats here and there when they have meetings, but you have the ability to bring everyone together for virtual happy hours, games, or other team bonding activities. Set aside blocks of time for your team to get to know each other and talk about non-work subjects. The better everyone likes one another, the better you’ll work together and feel less isolated.
Another example of remote teams challenges is unclear priorities. Team members may not know what you expect of them or what their objectives are. It’s easy to fall out of sync with your coworkers when you work too isolatedly, so it’s up to you as a manager to make sure everyone knows what the whole puzzle is and what their individual pieces are.
Use a project management platform like Asana or Trello to assign tasks to the right individuals. Discuss what’s on everyone’s plate during team meetings: what are their immediate priorities, do those priorities align with everyone else’s, and what do they need support on? You can even use one-on-ones with employees to make sure they know what they need to accomplish and by when.
Building company culture is a challenge in remote organizations. The team vibe is different without casual face-to-face time because you’re more disconnected from each other. It’s easier for people to feel more tangential to the organization if all they do is get their assignments, complete them, and log off. This model works for some people but not everyone.
Go out of your way to bring people together and personally exemplify your company ethos. Praise employees for their work, facilitate team bonding exercises, mail out swag so people feel like part of a team, and find other ways to express appreciation. While you should never be so pushy with a company culture that it feels forced, distracts employees, or takes too much time away from their workdays or personal lives, making the extra effort to foster a positive environment makes a significant difference.
No one likes to be micromanaged. Having a manager scrutinize your every move is uncomfortable and impedes your productivity, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, one of the challenges of managing remote employees is that managers may feel tempted to do just that. Because they can’t monitor their employees in person, they overdo it with virtual communication, conference calls, and check-ins. It pays to let your team members self-direct and take ownership of their roles.
However, it’s important not to fall into the other side of the trap, too. You may feel inclined to let your employees figure things out without direction because it’s easier to put them out of sight, out of mind. In this case, workers might not be able to finish what’s expected of them.
Try to strike the right balance between supervising your team members and leaving them to accomplish their tasks. This balance will vary among individual employees, so meet with them to determine how they like to be managed (which is more important than whatever managerial style you think you have) and how you can provide them with necessary guidance, structure, and accountability.
Onboarding new remote employees is uniquely challenging because you often have to leave employees alone to learn the ropes. Sure, you’ll likely guide them through team processes and tools, but new hires may feel lost if they don’t know the rest of the team quite yet, what their individual roles are, or if they need to get familiar with a product they’re new to.
If possible, put considerable effort into creating a streamlined and unified onboarding process that sets new employees up for success. This could look like an online course, a series of videos, meetings with coworkers, or a combination of these things and more. Check in regularly to make sure they’re learning everything they need to and feel welcome at the organization.
The challenges of managing remote employees are many, but they all have feasible solutions that can make your organization stronger than ever. Check out Spot’s blog to learn more about how it can help you manage remote team members more effectively.
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