In many industries, remote work is becoming a popular option for both employers and employees. Studies show that employees are more productive, happier and more satisfied with their jobs when they can complete their work in their own environment.
But leading a remote team comes with unique challenges for managers. With daily interaction in the office, managers can stay on top of employee performance, but this isn’t possible with remote work.
And that’s not the only challenge. According to one report, 70% of employers found it difficult to adapt to remote work as a way of doing business. Part of the challenge was learning to manage a remote team, which requires unique and innovative solutions.
Lack of face-to-face interaction
Managers often worry that remote employees don’t work as hard as their in-office counterparts – but the research suggests otherwise. Employees also struggle without the support and communication from management, leading them to feel like their needs aren’t met and they don’t have support to get their tasks completed.
The best solution for managers is to establish routine daily or weekly check-ins. This is an opportunity for employees and managers to discuss any obstacles, issues or feedback without feeling disconnected from the office environment.
Managers should also create project milestones with strict deadlines. For longer projects, establish milestones that can be tracked to ensure that the project is running according to schedule – especially if it involves multiple steps with different teams that rely on a tight schedule.
Most remote workers mention an increase in productivity when working from home. This is common, but it’s not a guarantee. Some employees thrive in the collaborative environment of the office, and they may struggle to work from home without direct supervision. These employees may need additional support or unique approaches to tracking time and projects to ensure they’re meeting milestones and deadlines.
Another challenge related to productivity is on the part of the in-office employees. They may perceive low productivity from the remote workers, which isn’t necessarily true. This has to do with not physically seeing them working all week (or part of it). This can also be true of managers, which has been a historic obstacle to embracing remote or hybrid work culture prior to COVID-19.
Consistent productivity in any workplace is predicated on routine and structure. Everyone needs clear roles and responsibilities, established and strict timetables, and communication about which teams are doing what work. This helps everyone understand how deadlines and outcomes are achieved, rather than perceiving themselves as working harder than the remote team.
The office is an excellent environment for workers to share ideas or small talk, whether during meetings, as they first arrive at work, or in the breakroom. In remote environments, these face-to-face, spontaneous interactions all but disappear, reducing collaboration and communication.
If communication can’t happen naturally in an office, it can be nurtured with intentional efforts to facilitate engagement and communication between remote workers. Share collaboration tools, reserve a few minutes at the start of the meeting for work-appropriate small talk, and block out time in your calendar for short sessions to touch base with remote employees.
Lack of expectations
Employees may be clear on their job responsibilities when they’re in the office, but that doesn’t mean they understand how those translate in a remote environment. They may need guidance and directives to understand how they should accomplish their tasks and meet their goals, as well as guidance for communication and virtual meetings.
It’s important to set expectations early and often, especially around performance goals and milestones. Your procedures should be clear and documented to remove any question or ambiguity. Set boundaries but be sure to take a realistic approach to remote employees attending meetings or responding to communications after hours.
Lack of teamwork
Like communication, employees may struggle with team cohesiveness if they don’t have spontaneous interactions in the office. Worse yet, managers may struggle with managing teams of in-person training or remote online workers. In some cases, one team may receive more engagement than the others.
It’s up to you as the manager to make sure everything is fair. Eliminating bias can go a long way toward treating all teams the same. For example, if you treat the in-office team to lunches or dinners while they’re working on a project, offer gift cards to your remote employees to show the same appreciation. Similarly, if your remote team has flexible hours, try to establish that same benefit for on-site employees.
Some employees dread physically going to the office and think they would prefer to be at home. While this may be true, many people underestimate the value of human interaction and how much they may miss it when they’re no longer getting the social interaction at the office each day. And all humans – whether introvert or extrovert – are social creatures that need interaction with other humans.
As a result, loneliness is a common complaint from remote employees. They may feel isolated from others, especially if there’s an in-office team that gets to bond socially. Over time, these feelings of isolation can impact people’s mental and physical well-being or may challenge their feeling of “belonging” or “fitting in” to the group. This can lead to depression, anxiety, a lack of productivity, poor morale, low satisfaction and attrition.
It’s important for you to build social connections as much as possible. In your communication channels, open a separate chat that’s just for the fun conversations and separate from work. Organize virtual meetups or get everyone together once a year for a retreat or company fun day. When you’re together in this casual environment, prioritize lighthearted social interactions instead of shop talk.
Disconnected company culture
Company culture takes time to cultivate. You have to hire the right talent, foster healthy communication, and instill the principles of the culture in every interaction. When you have a remote team, it can be more difficult to cultivate a cohesive and positive company culture.
Creating a healthy company culture with a remote team requires a plan, like any other project. Though it may flourish on its own in an office environment, it must be consciously developed with remote and hybrid teams. And it must begin at the top with managers and virtual leadership, then trickle down to the workers.
For example, if you want a culture with an open-door policy, remote team members need to understand that this applies to a “virtual open door.” If your culture is more casual and fun, you can offer perks like movie gift certificates for everyone to attend a movie night in their local theater.
Lack of trust
When companies were forced to shift to remote work during the pandemic, a lot of managers who feared remote work and thought employees would just waste time learned that their employees are more productive in a remote environment. For some, this lack of trust is still an issue, even if remote work is well established at the company.
Remember, managers may worry about trust, but employees have a lot of concerns like whether they’ll be paid on time, whether they’re getting the same support and resources as the in-office staff and more. Transparency is important for trust in both parties, especially when it comes to payment timelines, project expectations, working hours and status updates.
Manage the remote team
Managing remote and hybrid teams has some differences with traditional management, but a lot of the same rules apply. Good communication has always been key to an effective manager. With remote teams, it just went online. The better you can communicate with your remote team, the better you can address the common challenges in the future of work.