COVID-19 turned many aspects of our lives upside down. As a result of the lockdown, the routine of almost all companies and organizations was disrupted. Many business owners were caught off guard as they had to switch to remote working with no time to prepare or understand the unexpected situation. It’s hard to face the challenges of remote team management even for experienced managers, let alone for those who have never dealt with it before.
However, as humans are naturally and inherently adaptable, it can be said that remote working has already become the new normal. By now, most business owners and managers are more or less successfully handling the management of their remote staff. This doesn’t mean that the challenges have been cancelled though.
Usually, it is the transition and adaptation periods that appear to be overwhelming both for managers and team members. To help you in your remote team management journey, we have gathered the most common challenges that remote working culture brings and come up with the most efficient solutions to help you balance the gap that the abrupt office-home transition creates.
So, if you feel like you are losing the grip on your team, keep reading to find out the right remedy for your remote work pains.
The Most Common Challenges of Remote staff Management Are As Follows:
Remote communication can lead to multiple misunderstandings unless you have a solid and well-thought-out communication system in place. When you are in an office, you have the opportunity to make announcements and then discuss them with your team in the meeting room. Later on, if any questions arise, your team can simply approach them on the spot. Things get difficult when this process has to be carried out via online communications platforms.
You might think that exchanges of information on micro-updates are not that important. But it’s always these minute misunderstandings that escalate to serious issues later. Thus, it’s better to adopt a flexible communication platform (e.g., Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, etc.) right away to ensure clear messaging between your team members and you.
It goes without saying that email is not going to be the most efficient way to communicate. It is simply not fast enough and is meant for formal messaging. That’s why a dedicated communication platform with two-way messaging is encouraged for your employees not to feel isolated.
In a remote working environment, you cannot be over communicating. Feel free to have regular one-on-one calls with your team members, check if they are aware of what’s going on in the company, and end the meetings with double-checking if people know what the next steps in their work schedule are.
- Differences in Language and Culture
A remote team does not necessarily have people who live in the same city and speak the same language. You can have employees from around the world who speak a different language from you and have been raised in a totally different culture.
These differences between team members can cause communication problems and misunderstandings. To avoid this, it’s best to get to know each of your team members thoroughly and note the points where possible misunderstandings can happen.
- Learn the basics of your colleagues’ cultures’ business communication styles.
- Do more video-conferencing. Face-to-face interaction helps understand people better through physical signs and gestures.
- Always clarify your idiomatic phrases and statements if anyone from your team seems confused hearing them.
Remember that misunderstandings should be avoided from the very first meeting with your new international employee. For instance, you may hire a web developer from another country whose experience and knowledge are the perfect fit for a project of yours. You should think of the fair web developer salary that you are going to pay an international employee.
You want them to feel valued and appreciated at your company because that’s how top talent should be treated. A good start for a long-term collaboration would be finding the best option for both you and the new hire.
E.g., there are two main ways international employees are paid: the global approach and the local approach. The former presupposes payment based on the web developer salary rates in your country. While the latter means that you will pay your employee based on the rates in their country. Choosing between the two should be appropriate for all sides involved.
This is just an example of how communication starts between you and your foreign hires. Make sure it is successful and forms a solid foundation for the future.
- Productivity and Work Tracking
It’s important to make sure that your remote team is getting the work done properly and on time. You need to know whether they are slacking off or not, or if they are using their time effectively and working enough on each project. Checking on all these points is hard when you can’t see your employees every day in an office.
Remember that building trust with your staff is of crucial importance. This is why you should find the balance in your management strategy. Don’t micromanage but be sure to track your team’s productivity. Each of your team members needs to know exactly what you expect from them. In any case, asking them for regular updates on their progress is not micromanagement.
You need to have a well-established productivity tracking strategy. E.g., you can determine metrics for how much work you expect each team member to complete on a daily basis. It’s also critical to be clear and straightforward when you are not content with what someone is doing.
- Company Culture
It’s quite a challenge to preserve and promote a company culture in a remote working environment. Face-to-face interactions on a daily basis and overall office atmosphere are what form workplace culture. Both these elements are not present in the remote workspace. The latter results in feelings of isolation and loneliness for most employees working from home.
In a remote working environment, company culture is shaped and promoted through the way you interact with your team. Communication is the key here because it will allow you to keep the team spirit in place. Spice the work routine up with some fun events, e.g., a virtual movie night.
- Security Monitoring
Since the start of the pandemic, the number of cyber-attacks has essentially increased. Hackers and cybercriminals are taking advantage of the vulnerability of companies due to the quick office to home transition. When your employees use their personal computers for work or connect to insecure public Wi-Fi points, they endanger the safety of critical business data.
Ensuring a secure work process is another huge challenge for business owners trying to manage their remote team. Have your employees:
- Use a VPN,
- Run timely software updates,
- Manage sensitive data carefully and securely.
Additionally, cooperate with third-party vendors, and train your team members on how they can detect a possible cyber threat (e.g., email phishing).
- New Hires
Hiring new employees remotely and ensuring they integrate well into the work processes can be a tough task. A wrong candidate can cause misunderstandings between the team members leading to missed deadlines and poorly completed projects.
Keep in mind to include who the culture fit for your company would be. During the interview check for their remote working experience and include other team members in the interview as well.
Once you hire a new employee, provide them with a detailed guidebook on your company culture and work ethics. Encourage them to ask questions whenever they are not sure about something. Stress the importance of communication for your team.
- Late Feedback
Feedback exchange is totally different when you work in an office. When you have an issue, you simply turn to your colleague sitting next to you or in the same room with you, discuss the problem and address it immediately.
A similar situation in a remote working environment can be completely different. If your co-worker lives on the other side of the world, you cannot expect an immediate reply from them.
Even living in the same city does not guarantee that you will get feedback right away. Constant delayed feedback will lengthen the execution of both simple tasks and complex, long-term projects. As a result, the whole workflow of your team will slow down.
To avoid this, we highly recommend you to:
- Know your team, where they live and what their main working hours are. This is especially crucial if you have hired new freelancers from around the world. Pair those people together who are either in the same time zone or have similar preferred working hours.
- Record all your meetings so your team members don’t miss any information.
- Keep in mind that everyone should have more than one project to work on. This way when one project is on hold because of delayed feedback, another can still be in process.
Following these 3 simple rules, you will be able to highly eliminate the possibility of slow work processes, delayed projects and stagnation.
Tips for Better Remote Team Management Summed up
Now that you know the main challenges remote working comes with, it’s high time to give you some more essential tips and help you make the most of your remote staff management experience.
Here we go:
- Ensure to have well-structured and obligatory daily check-ins. You can do this either by scheduling one-on-one calls or if your employees’ work is essentially collaborative, you can have a team call every day.
- Have various communication technology options in place. Written or audio-only means of communication are great, but having a video conferencing system would highly benefit the company culture and employee interaction.
- Implement remote employee monitoring and time tracking software to keep an eye on work progress and employee productivity.
- Organise fun virtual events to encourage company culture and team-building: every now and then catch up on each other during calls before sticking to work-related stuff, have virtual pizza and office parties.
- Provide emotional support and check on your team members’ emotional state regularly. Listen to their worries and concerns and empathise with what they are going through by asking simple questions, like if they need any help handling the remote work situation.
- Don’t micromanage and show trust to your team. If an employee is performing well, meeting the deadlines and goals, you have nothing to worry about. Micromanaging can be quite demotivating for your dedicated employees.
- Be available for your team. Let them know the exact hours when they can freely contact you.
- Communicate and Listen: As already mentioned, there is no overcommunication in a remote working environment. Additionally, as a good manager, you should be able to listen to your team members. Pay attention to what they are saying, how they are responding to your questions, understand their needs and make them feel appreciated. At the same time, make sure to let them know about your worries and the aspects which you think they need to work on harder and improve. Communication is the key.
As the co-founder of Reddit, Alexis Ohanian once said: “Remote work is the future of work.” So, brace yourself and improve your remote working journey by following our handy tips and suggestions. It won’t be too long until you find yourself reaping the rewards of your hard work.
*Photos by Marta Wave