It is out of the question that remote work becoming popular was a massive step ahead for our society․ Remote work provides us with a new and exciting vast range of opportunities that were unimaginable before: 50 years ago, who would have thought that sentences like “I am in Thailand but I work in France” would ever make sense?
That being said, it is also true that remote work comes with its own shortcomings and setbacks, specifically for managers who are responsible for directing their teams with empathy and understanding. Simultaneously, they are expected to satisfy the executives and stakeholders with the results they produce. As if this wasn’t challenging enough to pull off in an offline environment, it became even tougher to do in a remote one.
In this article, let us explore some challenges that remote work introduces into the lives of team managers. Then, let us try to provide them with solutions they might want to use to fix those problems.
What Are the Challenges of Managing Remote Teams? (H2)
Academic papers even from a decade ago pinpointed the problems that remote team management almost promised to bring with it. 6 of the challenges that get in the way of managers when they are working with a remote team are:
Due to the team members and managers being provided with the opportunity to collaborate while living in different time zones, they rarely have matching work hours. That could mean a lot of things. The first one is that feedback takes an extra day to process. The follow-up changes take an extra day to get there, too.
2.Tough Time with Monitoring and Absence of Presence
It is within the responsibilities of a manager to consistently monitor their team and make sure they get the best out of each employee. In an office, a manager can always walk around the office and glance at what the employees are doing: it allows the manager to track the performance of the team and help them if need be. A look and a question are perfectly enough to get information about an employee’s performance and to help them do even better.
Well, managers are not in a similar position anymore after they switch to remote team management. Naturally, they are still responsible for monitoring and tracking the performance of their employees and helping them anytime. But it’s not as easy with a remote team as it is in an offline setting.
Aside from that, a remote team manager doesn’t have the opportunity to show emotional support and presence for an employee who might be feeling the need for either. This risks having the employee feel detached from the company. That’s just a theoretical situation that might or might not ever happen, but just the knowledge that the manager is on the side of their employee might add to the connection of an employee to the company.
3.Passing the Values of Company
An often disregarded point that might be especially important for companies that take their branding and values seriously. In a remote setting, their managers are going to have a tough time passing the values and the culture of a company to the employees. The reason is that the employees are not getting to spend time being physically present in the environment where the mentioned values have developed.
In an office, you have the equipment ready to be used by the employees. It’s simple: you buy the tech and tools, you put it there, and the person comes and works with it. With remote teams, you often have to ship the equipment to the location of the remote employee’s place of residence or provide the employee with the resources to buy the equipment by themselves. This might always take more time than a company would ever want it to take.
Being a remote worker means a person can work from anywhere. A potential problem is that we constantly face all types of distractions in places we identify as our comfort zones, be it a favorite cafe, our home, and so on.
Regardless of what stage of life an employee is in, it is always highly possible that when they are working from a place where they generally do not work. It is going to feel dissonant for them in the first place, and offer a wide range of distractions in the second place. A remote employee could have a dog that wants to play, chores to do at home, or loud children. This list can stretch forever.
6.Overuse of Video Calls
It makes sense why a manager would prefer video calls above texting and audio calls. Video call is the closest thing to a real-life meeting that we can afford: it allows the remote team member and the remote team manager to see and hear each other in real-time. It results in extra informative communication. After all, they can show and see each other’s body language cues and hear the intonation of voice.
Still, it might be hard for a manager to admit that video calls feel less authentic than real-life interactions. Constantly being on a video call with the camera on, constantly looking at yourself, or even just listening to your teammates talking might be more exhausting than one would want to admit.
Zoom fatigue is a real thing. Despite it allowing for higher amounts of information exchange, we have to keep in mind that constantly receiving visual and auditory information for extended periods is draining.
How to Manage Remote Teams
Exposing that there are this many challenges in remote team management is probably enough to have aspiring managers quit university. However, the purpose of mentioning these challenges is to rather prepare prospective managers for those challenges, and not demotivate them: “knowing your illness means being halfway into your recovery”.
Now that you are aware of the issues and setbacks you might be facing when managing a remote team, you are prepared for them to a degree, and ready to take a look at possible solutions.
Some of the problems cannot be addressed at our current technological advancement level. You might want to ignore those that can’t be fixed and focus on those that can.
The benefits of remote work exceed the benefits of working offline to a level where they are not even up for comparison. For that reason, it is certainly in our interests to do our best and cover the leaks that remote work has.
Methods of Managing Teams
Here are a few basic tips to get you going:
- Be available and act proactively whenever you can.
Bringing your energy to the team is so important because you have to earn their trust to navigate them efficiently. Also, as a manager, you represent the face of your company to your employees, and the better the impression you leave on them, the more the chances that they will stick with your company.
Do your usual manager stuff: check in on your employees. Approach them with empathy instead of judgment, so that they feel free to share with you the good and the bad news equally. Conditioning an employee to trust you enough to share the bad news is an underrated point. When you are aware of their mess-ups as soon as they happen, you have more chances to take appropriate action early.
So, stay active and available for your team. Speak to them in private and in groups, ask about their progress and their wellbeing, and do not shy away from using humor.
- Provide the team with the necessary tools.
Aside from taking care of the equipment, there are a few other essentials and conveniences that would improve the experience and workflow of the employees.
Stationery, necessary software/apps, and remote work tech are only the basics. It is recommended to treat project management tools and time tracking tools as essentials because they provide pretty much everything a remote manager would need. That is if you choose one that works for your team.
An option we want to introduce you to is WebWork, a time tracker with screenshots. Webwork offers roughly a dozen features that any remote worker and employee would appreciate. Features range from attendance monitoring, time tracking, and real-time productivity reporting to invoicing and billable hours.
Something that sets WebWork aside from other time trackers is that its versatility comes at a very low price. The basic version, which offers pretty much every feature that makes WebWork special, costs $2.99 per user/month. It comes with a free 2-week trial too, so in case you are reluctant to make the purchase, you can always try the product before buying it.
- Utilize each communication method appropriately.
“Use email to inform, create a record, or handle detailed issues. Use online chat to ask a quick question. Pick up the phone when it is time to get off chat and have a one-on-one conversation. Use all the channels, and model this for your team as well.” Those are the words of Suzanne Bates, CEO of Bates.
These tips will help you if you want to rely less on energy-draining video calls.
- Set clear productivity standards and plan with a margin of error in mind.
Naturally, setting productivity standards will be time-consuming because you will be designing separate ones for each specialist. For example, designers have to submit deliverables once in 3 days, and recruiters have to hire 4 new specialists in 4 weeks, but it will prove itself an excellent investment in the long run.
Also, make sure your planning is forgiving and allows for some margin of error: if a developer claims his work can be done in 5 days, give him a week to hand it over, because unexpected obstacles pop up for everyone, all the time.
Well, that about wraps up everything we wanted to deliver relating to remote team management.
As you saw, it is particularly tough for a team manager to do their job remotely, but any manager intending to switch to remote work who is armed with all this knowledge is a few steps ahead.
Experiment with the tools, tips, and methods and see which combination works for you best.