Even before the hysteria of shelter-in-place and social distancing orders swept the globe, remote work was becoming an increasingly necessary and popular job option. Employers have seen increasing value in letting their teams work from home, including lower overhead and happier employees. Similarly, having the option to live anywhere, ditch the commute, and balance the day job with childcare or dog walking duties is majorly attractive to employees.
The case for remote working is strong, and there’s a lot to love about it. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges too.
Whether you’ve been doing it for years or have just dipped your toe in, effective remote management is the key to making it work. Here’s everything you need to know about this growing trend.
What is remote work?
Remote work (sometimes known as ‘teleworking’) is any kind of work that’s done – you guessed it – remotely. So instead of employees working on-site in an office, they’re at home, a cafe, or a coworking space. And remote management is the process of leading that team, either from the office or elsewhere.
Obviously it’s not suitable for every role. But for jobs usually done at a desk with a computer, it’s totally possible – and in some cases, preferable.
Why do people work remotely?
Remote working is on the rise because:
- workers value freedom,
- bosses don’t necessarily need everyone on-site, and
- technology has made it much easier to stay in touch.
Remote working can be something people do full-time or part-time. Sometimes people work remotely out of choice. At other times, it’s a necessity due to childcare duties, a disability, or a national requirement, as we’ve seen with the coronavirus pandemic.
3 common remote management challenges (and how to fix them)
To tackle issues effectively, you need to know what you’re up against. Here are the three main problems remote managers face.
1. Remote workers lack supervision
If you can’t see employees working and walking to meetings, how do you know they’re not just napping / binge-watching Friends reruns?
The good news is, research indicates most remote workers are just as productive – if not more so – than office workers. That said, some do struggle with a lack of supervision. Free from the watchful gaze of their managers, the lure of social media, naps, and TV may prove too much. Meanwhile, a lack of managerial direction can leave others feeling demotivated.
You might not be able to measure how long your employees are at their desks, but you can measure productivity – which is arguably a much better thing to measure anyway.
Project management software is a great way to keep teams on track because it allows managers to track everyone’s progress on one dashboard. It also fosters transparency within the organization, which boosts trust, purpose, and collaboration.
2. There’s a communication breakdown
Rather than just wandering over to someone’s desk, remote workers have to wait until their colleague gets back to them. That’s fine if the person replies quickly, but when there’s silence, the lack of information can be frustrating at best. Other people are brusque over email, which, without the recipient hearing their tone of voice, could spark friction.
Set clear expectations with remote workers, including what’s an acceptable response time for emails and chats.
Consider asking employees to let others know when the best time to contact them is. And ensure everyone knows to limit background noise and interruptions during calls. Meanwhile, project management software is a great (and transparent) way to help you communicate deliverables and the timeline for completion.
You could also encourage employees to communicate with each other in a variety of different ways.
Some people love to chat on the phone. Others have a real phobia of it. A range of communication options – including email, phone, instant chat, video conferencing, and project management software – can help everyone stay in touch in a way that works for them.
Reiterating how to use each channel can also help employees communicate more effectively. Email is fine for formal requests if you don’t have a dedication collaboration tool, but instant messaging is better for day to day communications and informal messages. Video conferencing can help make collaboration feel more personal, but only when all parties know what to expect, so they can come prepared.
3. Remote teams have no sense of community
It’s tougher to build and strengthen rapport with remote teams when people don’t see each other face-to-face regularly. Some people don’t talk about how they feel unless asked, which can lead to built-up resentments. Others feel lonely and isolated without regular catch-ups with their friends.
Managers can encourage employees to talk about non-work topics. Some organizations like to have a “Watercooler” topic on their team chat app designated for talking about anything non-work related, like the weekend or the weather. You could let your team know you’re setting aside 10 minutes each day for everyone to discuss exclusively non-work items. Think of it as a supplement for those all-important chat’s you’d usually have when refilling your coffee.
It’s also a good idea to check in on team members more regularly than you usually would – not to make sure they’re working – but to see how they’re feeling. Ask them how they’re doing with work, listen to their answer, say it back to make sure you’ve understood, then talk with them about what you can do to address any issues.
If someone seems to be struggling with loneliness or anxiety, you could ask them how they’re doing and offer additional support – such as a video call each day or free/subsidized access to meditation apps or virtual workout classes.
3 more ways managers can support their remote teams
1. Schedule catch-ups to keep your remote team on track
When working remotely, it’s tricky to see what projects are happening around the company. Set out a timetable for catching up with employees throughout the day, like a quick team call each morning. Encourage your employees to do the same, especially if their work requires a high degree of collaboration.
2. Provide regular feedback
Providing feedback helps remote teams feel valued. Get to know how each person likes to be addressed (some love a big public shout-out, others would prefer a thankful DM), and deliver praise accordingly. It’s also useful to encourage regular conversations about performance and career growth, which can help boost motivation.
3. Lead by example
Employees are often sensitive to the mood of their manager, so even if you’re stressed, try to remain positive and supportive while acknowledging the difficulties your workers may be facing. Your job is to provide confidence and support, which will help your team step up to the challenge.
Being positive and detailed when communicating with the team is essential. But what will really help you get the most out of your remote team is utilizing the multiple channels of communication available to you.
This means phone and email, but also team chat apps, collaborative diagramming apps, video conferencing tools, and project management software that helps teams feel in-control with defined responsibilities and objectives.
When it comes to remote management, the more you can do to boost collaboration and communication, the happier and more productive your team will be.