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Many industries and companies are embracing working remotely. For some companies, this means working from home one or two days a week. For others, working remotely is part of the job description, and employees are working with colleagues across the country. This is especially relevant in consulting, where we are placed on teams with our skills rather than our location. However, with the introduction of working remotely, it is getting more challenging to manage the employees that you are working with.
What does working remotely mean?
If you have a team working remotely, this means that you are not in the same physical location as your colleagues. Your company may have a generous work from home policy, or perhaps you are working with a team that is spread out in different time zones. If your team is working remotely, it means that you will be primarily be working virtually and will have limited time face to face.
Companies typically take advance of email, instant messaging, and phone calls in order to maintain remote team communication. This is typically done when there are skill sets of employees in different offices that are required. Working remotely does not always mean working from home – some employees may still be required to go into their local office, or may choose to work from a public area like a cafe.
Challenges of Managing Remote Employees
It is no easy task to manage a remote team. It’s more challenging to micro-manage a team when you aren’t in the same room. You can message your team as frequently as you’d like, but then your employees will not have any time to get work done. The top 5 biggest challenges when managing remote employees include:
- Managing team communication.
- Coordinating across time zones.
- Troubleshooting problems virtually.
- Dealing with technology.
- Building trusting relationships.
Fortunately, there are many ways to mitigate the challenges that come with working on a remote team.
1. You don’t know what your employees are working on.
It is difficult to monitor how an employee is allocating their time spent throughout the day, and there is a lot of trust placed to make sure that the employee is getting their work done. Working remotely, there is less insight as to how an employee spends their time.
When working on a remote team, it is important to have regular check-ins to ensure that progress on work is being made. I am currently working on a remote team, and we have a daily touch point to go over what was accomplished that day, and what the team plans on working on tomorrow. This is a great way to keep the team accountable for their tasks, and is a good time to address any problems that may have come up.
2. You have to coordinate meetings across time zones.
As mentioned above, I am currently working on a remote team with two staff. I am in California on the West Coast, and my staff are in New York and Chicago. With all three of us in different time zones, it is important to take into consideration the time when planning meetings.
This can be difficult for a remote team who is not used to this availability. When I login at 8:00 am, it is already 11:00 am for my New York staff. Half of his day is already over before I am even online! This is why having our end of day touch points is important, so my staff always know what their tasks are for the morning before I am online. Occasionally I will have to wake up earlier for group meetings, but it just means that the day can end sooner.
3. Working through problems virtually can be challenging.
I work on a technical team, and in addition to being a Project Manager, I also have the role of Technical Lead. When my remote employees are having data or programming issues, it can be difficult to work through these issues over email. Sometimes, it is easy to dream about how quickly it would be to solve an issue if everyone was in the same room.
Fortunately, the introduction of screen sharing does wonders for the remote employee. By sharing screens and being on the phone, I can help my staff troubleshoot issues that they are coming across. While brainstorming sessions can be difficult without a white board, there are many tools now that help with this process. OneNote allows drawing, or tools such as Stormboard allow people to contribute ideas onto virtual sticky notes. There are many tools available now giving teams the flexibility to work through issues, even miles apart.
4. Technology can be a pain to work with.
When working on a remote team, having reliable technology is a requirement. If the team runs off of email and phone calls, it is important to have a strong wireless and mobile phone connection. Having phone calls with a person consistently cutting in and out, or trying to solve a problem when a colleague is offline for most of the day, can be detrimental to team productivity.
It is a job requirement that an employee has sufficient technology to get their work done. This means that the employee should have access to a reliable laptop and wireless network in order to work remotely. If a team member has frequent wireless or cellphone issues, it may be advisable to work from an office rather than from home.
5. It takes longer to build relationships while working remotely.
It is more difficult to build relationships when you are not seeing each other every day in the office. One of the biggest challenges of managing a remote team is the lack of available team building activities. Without the opportunity for team dinners or small talk in the office, these bonds take longer to form.
It is important to get to know your employees, even if your primary interactions are over the phone. While you don’t want to spend too much of your time with small talk, it will tremendously help the relationship building process and help your employees become more comfortable with reaching out to you. On Mondays, the first time I speak to my staff I will always ask what they did over the weekend. During the middle of the day, if my staff mentions that they are going to lunch, I like to ask what they’re having. These small interactions help enforce comfort, and you will have a stronger relationship with your team in no time.
Best practices for remote teams
Managing remotely can be challenging at first, especially if you are not used to dealing with the above issues. The biggest aspect to keep in mind is managing your team’s communication. Set expectations ahead of time for touch points and productivity goals. Due to the cost and time saving benefits, working remotely is becoming more prominent across different types of businesses. With experience, managing remote teams will become easier and and smoother.