Managing remote teams
We don’t work the same way we used to, that's a certainty by now, since remote work is the norm rather than the exception. A study by Buffer found that 95.3 percent of people who started working remotely due to COVID-19 said that they would recommend remote work. Part of that is down to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic changing the world. The way we work and do business has changed to the point that if someone from a few years ago was to suddenly jump into management today, they could be lost at sea. You can’t build teams the same way anymore. Social distancing meant we couldn't meet face-to-face, we couldn't do team-building exercises, we had to use zoom calls and the internet and access new and emerging technologies to get things done with our teams from afar. Remote employees took over from team members on the ground and in the traditional workplace. This all added up to increased stress on managers and leaders in organizations, and a shifting landscape of company culture.
Your team has to be on the same page and if there is any distance between you because it has an effect on the way you work and the way things get done. It affects your ability to foster an amazing work environment if you can’t meet and communicate face to face. It’s very difficult to create a great place to work if you don’t have people there to check in on and look after. When the pandemic struck our lives were flipped upside down. We couldn’t commute to a physical office or meet people in person. This threw up challenges to organizations all over the country, and all over the world. Right before the pandemic the National Compensation Survey (NCS) from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 9.8 million of the nation’s approximately 140 million civilian workers have access to a “flexible workplace” benefit. This means they could work remotely if they chose to do so. This also works out at just 7 percent of civilian workers and most of those were in a management position.
Once the pandemic was in full swing and the economy had to effectively shut down, leaders were suddenly scrambling to access teams remotely. Many challenges arise when you start working remotely.
What is remote team management?
Remote team management is a different skill set to performing as a standard team leader. Project management is not an easy task in a "normal" setting, but when you add in the fact that you can't meet up and discuss pertinent points or solve challenges together in the same room, it becomes an even bigger job. Virtual teams have to be set up.
A virtual team is a group of people who communicate together using technology and online tools. To be a good remote team manager you need to be able to communicate and coordinate from a distance. Remote working brings with it its own set of problems. Running a team of people who are in different locations and even different time zones means you have to be even more organized than if you were all in an office environment where you can just call everyone into a conference room. Meetings have to be scheduled in a different way and people have to be managed differently, expectations have to be managed differently, productivity has to be monitored differently, and time management is of the essence.
The challenges of managing remote employees
Before we get into how to manage remote employees effectively, we need to understand the challenges that will be faced when you are changing over from the usual way of operating. Shifting to a new way of working where your team work from home vs office is not an easy task. There are many challenges that will be faced when you need to manage remote workers.
Communication is the foundation upon which success rests. If you don't have excellent communication between your team members you will never be able to navigate the pitfalls of managing remote teams. If you as a leader can't communicate effectively with your remote workers you can't expect to generate results. 88 percent of remote workers face inconsistent leadership and miscommunications with other team members.
When the pandemic struck, our lives were flipped upside down. We couldn’t commute to a physical office or meet people in person. This presented new challenges to organizations all over the country. Before the pandemic, a comparably small 7 percent of the approximately 140 million workers worked from home. That number is exponentially higher now.
Here are some common communication issues faced when managing remote workers:
- Lack of connection: If your team members have a poor internet connection, it can be incredibly frustrating. If their connection goes down they can't talk to you or get clarification if needed. They can't report back on work completed and their productivity can become hamstringed.
- Overcommunication: When your team members can't just pop their head into a room and have a chat, it can breed email chains or chat threads that are incredibly long, which are not productive. According to Saaslist 83 percent of employees report feeling burnt out by a high volume of emails.
- Information can get lost. Multiple messages about one subject can be confusing and ineffective.
- Lack of collaboration: A successful team requires collaboration. If you can't communicate effectively you cannot work together and you can't collaborate to solve problems.
When you are working across multiple time zones like we have to do in the United States, the simple task of virtual meetings become more complicated. Scheduling a 9am meeting on the East Coast (6am on the West Coast) means your employee engagement is difficult. You need them up far earlier and it could become untenable. This in turn affects your day if you are East. You may end up starting later and working into the evenings rather than clocking off at the end of a traditional business day.
Managing a virtual team internationally is even more difficult. Calling or messaging someone that you need to communicate with at 10am your time could mean you are waking them up in the middle of the night. Being aware of the time zones where each of your team members reside gives you a better chance of getting results from a remote team. A study from Buffer discovered 73 percent of those surveyed revealed that the company where they work operates in multiple time zones. 74 percent said that people on their immediate team are in multiple time zones.
Managing team members who are using a home office rather than a traditional workspace can potentially lead to delays and lower productivity if not managed well. Issues while trying to get tasks completed leads to a poor client experience. If you don't have excellent collaboration tools, project management software, and a team that works well together remotely, it can easily turn into a time suck activity that ties up team members and causes havoc with your delivery schedules.
Remote team management
Managing work from home employees throws up its own set of challenges and being prepared to meet the problems head-on will stand you in good stead moving forward. While social interaction is cut down due to remote working, you can still create a virtual workplace that can address the work-life balance and still assist remote team members excel at their jobs. Daily check-ins and video calls can help make the tasks more manageable and personal. Zoom and other video conferencing technologies are readily available. Make the most out of your remote working experience and strive for success.