- With remote work gaining so much traction, managers need to implement strategies to ensure that their employees still function like a team.
- There are both challenges and benefits associated with remote employees, but with some care, those challenges can be mitigated.
- Increasing communication and autonomy can have positive effects on employees’ satisfaction, engagement and productivity when working remotely.
Over the past few years, the curiosity about working remotely has greatly increased in popularity. Even prior to COVID-19 forcing the majority of the workforce home, the amount of people who worked remotely at least part of the time was rising substantially. Now, with new regulations and restrictions, people across the world are faced with the new territory of moving their office home.
Regardless of the implications caused by COVID, the trajectory of remote work was bound to end up this way. With new technology and improved Wi-Fi, it makes it easier than ever before to work from home. But, with all of these employees working virtually - how do managers ensure and maintain their team’s success?
Challenges of remote work
It would be unfair to say that remote work doesn’t come without challenges. Without the right people, strategies, or tools in place sometimes unproductivity and disengagement can happen without managers noticing.
Some of the challenges arise from not having an everyday physical prompt for small talk and social activity. Without the intention to continue socializing virtually, collaboration and communication can falter - leaving employees feeling disconnected from their workplace, or even lonely.
Likewise, without a controlled work environment there tends to be more distractions and the inability to ‘unplug’ after a day's work. However, these obstacles can be mitigated with some planning and support from leadership - even so far as to turn them into benefits.
Despite these challenges, and the extra work to remedy them, still 51% of American workers say that they’d quit their current job if it offered the opportunity to work remotely.
Benefits of remote work
Even considering the potential challenges, remote work comes with a wide breadth of advantages for both employees and their managers. Besides the obvious benefits like no commuting and lower business expenses, one of the most notable advantages is the location and schedule flexibility. This allows employees to work productively, and even spend more time with their family.
The autonomy employees receive when working from home plays a role in their satisfaction and well-being. It’s evident that throughout research done on virtual teams, studies have concluded that at least 90% of employees felt that their family and personal life improved, 85% said that their stress was reduced, and 80% said that their morale and engagement increased.
The benefits derived from remote work rely on the quality of systems and protocols in place. To keep everyone productive and happy, managers must assume responsibility and build a culture that empowers remote employees.
8 ways to lead better remote teams
With some planning and the right advice, managing remote employees shouldn’t be any harder than when done in person. The following are 8 strategies to ensure success while managing a virtual team!
1. Set expectations early
Workplaces would not function effectively without a collection of guidelines and procedures. Boundaries must be set, and expectations outlined to ensure that all employees are doing their duties, and that everyone is on the same page. A great way to achieve this is to create a document that outlines each positions’ responsibilities, tasks, guidelines, and procedures.
Just as it is in a physical workplace, managers should be sure that employees are kept up to date on information that pertains to them. Similarly, employees should make available important details like their working hours and preferred method of communication.
2. Check in daily
For virtual employees to be kept in the loop, daily communication is required. An expectation to check in every day allows managers to engage in small talk, relay any important information, and track attendance. This also prevents any isolation or disconnect between employees and keeps collaboration strong.
Organizing a daily “stand up” meeting in the morning is a great way to touch base on projects and activities that require constant collaboration. This daily guidance allows employees to structure their day as efficiently as possible to get everything accomplished.
3. Emphasize all forms of communication
Arguably the most important pillar of managing a remote team is communication. Without it, it's easy for employees to feel isolated and disconnected from their colleagues - giving rise to lack of motivation and engagement. Luckily, the popularity of remote work brings forward much needed technology to ease the transition.
Leading effective remote teams means that email is no longer sufficient for adequate communication. It requires a multitude of methods of messaging (through platforms like Slack, or Microsoft Teams) and video conferencing (Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Skype). With so many free and inexpensive solutions, it’s not hard to find the method that works for your team.
4. Ask for feedback frequently
Managers know that feedback is a crucial aspect of leading a happy team. This becomes even more important as employees no longer have the opportunity to bring up issues in informal, passing discussion.
Successful remote teams require a culture of feedback that allows their thoughts, opinions, and preferences to be heard - even from differing time zones. The key to collecting feedback from virtual employees is having defined strategies in place to encourage the exchange of information in an efficient way. Easy ways to do this are to make feedback standard during 1-on-1 meetings, or consider implementing a team health survey to monitor changes consistently.
5. Be available and willing to build connections
To run an efficient, productive team requires there to be some level of trust and connection between employees and leaders. Achieving this kind of relationship is tougher through a computer, but still possible with the right mindset and tools available.
Building a healthy workplace relationship requires you to dig deeper than work related information. Show that you care about employees well-being outside of work by taking interest in their personal life, hobbies and interests.
Some ways to reach out and build connections with your team are to start meetings with intentional small talk, create a dedicated space for informal conversation (like a “general/random” channel on Slack), and take initiative to remember important dates like birthdays.
6. Resist the temptation to micromanage
Despite research that says otherwise, managers may be concerned about the potential for unproductivity with employees out of sight. However, this is not the case. Research has found that when comparing those who work remotely to employees in-office, virtual employees completed about 13% more work overall.
The tendency to micromanage can be mitigated by adequate communication, planning, and trust in your team. To keep everyone accountable and doing their job, review weekly/monthly tasks, set goals and establish deadlines.
7. Have 1-on-1’s regularly
As previously mentioned, 1-on-1 meetings are a great opportunity to stay up to date on employees’ projects and responsibilities. Since managers aren’t able to walk around a physical office or read body language, having more extensive meetings mitigates the lack of in-person communication.
To keep meetings productive, consider creating an agenda or plan that details conversation topics, projects, and other important information like staffing changes, etc. During the 1-on-1, touch upon questions that are specific to remote staff, like their workspace set up, daily routine, and how you can better support them. If time permits, try to lengthen these meetings to include small talk and general camaraderie.
8. Make recognition common
The saying “out of sight, out of mind” is a concern for remote workers. As one of the challenges of virtual work is employee visibility, getting appreciation for their hard work can become difficult.
It’s essential to keep this in mind when managing virtual teams, as lack of appreciation can cause disengagement with their work. Since employee recognition can have such an impact on influencing key behaviors, making it common practice has profound benefits.
While remote employees are now mainstream, managers all over the world are faced with the new challenge of virtual leadership. In theory, it’s daunting. However with the right procedures, technology, and management, remote teams can be incredibly successful.
With a team management platform like Simplteam, it’s incredibly easy to stay on top of remote employee’s progress and receive insightful feedback from anywhere in the world. Try for free today.