It’s safe to say that remote work is the new normal in 2020.
If you’re a team manager, the transition period can feel overwhelming.
You might be wondering how to:
Sure, there are many perks of working remotely, but most of those come at the individual level. The flexibility of setting your schedule, no commute, and a better work/life balance are all great. But managers have to accommodate all of those perks while still making sure work gets done.
Even if you’re a seasoned pro at managing a remote team, you’re going to face some challenges. Without the face-to-face interaction you’d get if everyone was in the same office, it can feel like you’re losing a grip on your team.
It’s going to take time to adjust to working remotely. If you want that process to be a little smoother, keep reading. You’ll find a few of the most common challenges remote team managers face and ways to fix them.
If your entire team is remote, you probably have a system for keeping everyone in the loop. But what if part of your team works in an office while the rest is remote? How do you keep remote workers just as informed as your on-site team?
While you may be sending out announcements for the big things everyone needs to know, there are plenty of details that may never reach your remote team. That quick announcement in the office? The conversation in the break room that slightly alters the trajectory of a project? Those may never be captured and passed on.
Keep in mind that your remote employees have no way of finding these things out unless you clarify them. It may seem like the effort to keep everyone informed about micro exchanges isn’t worth it. But even the smallest gaps in communication can lead to:
Sporadic email updates and occasional phone calls aren’t going to cut it when it comes to keeping your whole team up to date. Even partially remote teams are going to need some kind of communications software that they know is their source for staying informed.
Whether you adopt Slack as your main communication network or opt to organize updates in a project management tool like FunctionFox, your remote team relies on you to create a clear system so that nothing falls through the cracks.
In the remote work space, over-communication is a good thing. So schedule those regular one-on-one Zoom calls, ask if people feel like they know what’s going on, and double-check at the end of each meeting if people know what their next steps are.
2. Delayed feedback
In an office, it’s simple:
In a remote team, that 1-2-3 might not be as fast. If the co-worker you’re working on a project with is on the other side of the globe, you might not be able to ask them a question and expect an immediate response.
Even if that co-worker is in the same city as you, not everyone can be expected to always be responsive. This may make them more productive, as they’re able to focus deeper on a specific task, or have a better work/life balance, as they can arrange their work schedule to fit their family life.
But if you’re constantly running into delayed feedback, simple and straightforward tasks may take way longer than they need to. And complex projects may stagnate in the first stages of development.
This slows the whole team down.
So what can you do to make sure that everyone’s workflow stays efficient but accommodates different timezones and schedules?
3. Tracking work and productivity
As a remote team manager, you might be wondering: how do I know if my team members are:
Without the ability to see your team in person, you have far less insight into how work is getting done.
You know you have to build trust with your team. You don’t want to micromanage but still need some way to track their productivity.
Having a tracking system in place isn’t just for your peace of mind. If there’s some snag in workflow — one person is working too much while another feels like they are under-utilized — you’re on track for bigger problems like burn out and resentment.
Remember how over-communication is a good thing? This is especially true when it comes to tracking productivity. Each member of a healthy remote team needs to have a clear sense of what you expect from them. You’re not micromanaging if you tell someone how many hours you expect them to log and ask for regular updates on progress.
If you’re not happy with what they’re doing, you can say exactly why and avoid the resentment that comes with ambiguous accusations. Clear communication = no hard feelings.
Yes, getting to grips with some of these tools might take time. And maybe you have your system in place. But when you’re faced with issues like an employee struggling to get their work done or looking for who to promote, you’ll be glad you did.
4: Noticing and dealing with conflict
Have you ever dreaded this situation?
You think your remote team is getting along. Meetings are going well, virtual happy hours are happening every week, and you’ve heard no complaints from anybody.
Then one of your team members talks to you about quitting because "their values don’t align with the team’s value’s anymore." You read it as: "I hate the people I’m working with."
You’re blindsided and wonder what signs you missed that lead up to this point.
In an office, it’s much easier to spot conflict. You have body language cues to tell you that there’s tension in your team. But in a remote environment, all you have are messages and virtual meetings. Arguments might take place in private messages and emails that you’re never aware of. Even the most perceptive of us would miss signs of tension or conflict.
Left unresolved, tension and infighting are guaranteed to make your team members not look forward to work every day. That’ll make them less productive and less willing to contribute to new projects. They might even start to think about quitting.
It’s up to you to read between the lines and detect signs that something isn’t right. While things may be going well on the surface, there might be clues to the contrary if you pay attention.
One of the biggest clues to look out for? Silence. Many times, if two people on a team stop communicating as much as they used to, or a team member is more quiet than usual in a meeting, it might be a red flag. The issue could be personal: they may be struggling with mental health or they might simply be less excited about the direction their work is taking. Or, there might be an underlying work-related conflict that is making them prefer silence over an argument.
Either way, it’s best to check in right away and get clarity on what’s wrong.
If a conflict does escalate, set up a meeting to discuss the issues with everyone involved. It might be scarier than trying to make peace individually, but it could also be a lot more efficient to clear the air once and for all.
5: Growth and development
As a manager, you want to reward good work.
More importantly, you want your team to know that the work they put in is recognized and appreciated.
Now, we might not all want the corner office, a plaque outside our door, and a wall of awards. In an office, these things are meaningful because colleagues can see them. For remote workers, though, these markers of success don’t mean much.
Still, we all want to feel like we’re making progress. One survey found that 80% of employees said that learning and development were very important to them.
What happens if we feel like we’re not learning new skills and improving in our role?
We get bored. We lose interest in putting effort into our jobs. We start thinking about other jobs that could give us a better sense of purpose.
One-on-one meetings are a great place to get a sense of whether or not a team member feels excited about the work they’re doing. Ask about how they think they’ve grown in their role. You might be aware of their progress but they might not be. Remind them of what they’re doing right and make suggestions for how they can improve.
Small wins are big wins here. By making small changes to a team member’s role — putting them to work on a new project or sponsoring a course, for example — you can make a big difference in how they think about their work.
The main takeaway: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
You know those little body language cues that give us a ton of information when we meet people face-to-face? Those that tell us
Those cues are gone now. Or, at least they’re much more limited.
Yes, you still have video meetings. We’re not completely disconnected, after all. But video chats, phone calls, and texts might not give us the full picture.
That’s why it’s so important for remote team managers to find the right balance between tracking productivity and trusting their team members to do work their way. Between being responsive and not micromanaging.
2020 is an adjustment period for remote team managers. Taking steps to communicate better, track productivity properly, and notice conflict early will make even the most daunting challenges a little less overwhelming.