Managing remote employees can be challenging for your team manager — especially if you recently switched to remote work due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
But managing remote teams isn’t difficult if you have the right resources!
To help you out, we’ll highlight the three potential challenges of managing remote employees and the 12 best solutions to them.
This article contains:
(Click on the links to jump to a specific section)
- 3 Potential Challenges of Managing Remote Employees
- 12 Key Tips for Successfully Managing Remote Employees
- Set Communication Guidelines
- Establish Accountability
- Build Team Relationships
Let’s get started.
3 potential challenges of managing remote employees
Remember, remote teams don’t work in the same office as you do – they work virtually.
And while this means you can avoid many common in-office issues, you need to adapt to a different set of remote working challenges.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the problems you might face while managing your remote team members.
A) Poor communication
Efficient communication is the backbone of any successful business.
Unfortunately, poor communication is one of the biggest challenges remote teams face.
Unlike traditional office setups, you can’t just walk up to your remote employees to have a discussion or chat. You have to rely on digital communication tools to talk to each team member.
If not managed properly, this can cause several problems such as:
- Delays in replies and collaboration due to time zone differences.
- Confusion over deliverables as there’s no manager or team leader to clarify issues in person.
- No visual cues and gestures to give context to conversations.
- Lowering employee engagement and productivity.
However, you can get ahead of this issue by setting firm communication guidelines.
B) Difficult to maintain accountability
Establishing accountability can be difficult when managing teams in a remote setting.
How do you keep their productivity in check?
Are they actually working during office hours? Or do they slack off and watch Netflix?
Remember, your remote team members could be hundreds of miles away; there’s no way for you to keep a check on their work and maintain productivity physically.
Fortunately, there’s a fantastic productivity management tool to help you maintain team accountability.
C) Lack of team spirit and relationships
For efficient teamwork, especially while working remotely, you need a strong, shared team spirit and trust among team members.
Think about it.
A lack of understanding and trust among team members can make collaboration and managing remote teams difficult.
While in-office teams usually get to know each other over time, it isn’t always the case with a remote workforce. This can result in low team morale, impacting employees’ work quality.
Additionally, the lack of regular social interaction in a remote setting can negatively impact your employees’ mental health.
Let’s look at how to keep these remote team management issues in check.
12 key tips for successfully managing remote employees
Clearly, there are a few challenges to managing remote employees.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work with remote teams!
According to Global Workplace Analytics, remote work helps employers save about $11,000/year for every employee that works remotely half of the time while increasing employee engagement and productivity.
Implementing the following 12 tips can help you with managing remote workers and reap the benefits of remote work.
A) Set communication guidelines
Remember, working remotely can lead to communication issues.
However, it’s easy to solve these by setting and following clear remote work guidelines as detailed below.
1. Document your communication strategy
Once you come up with a strategy, the first thing to do is document it and share it with all your remote employees.
Ideally, this telecommuting policy should outline:
- Clear expectations of what communication channels employees should use.
- Structured frameworks for how your remote staff should communicate.
- A set of communication standards you expect your employees to meet.
- Whom to contact in case of queries or issues, e.g., a supervisor or an HR (Human Resources) professional.
- Conditions for an acceptable workspace, e.g., reliable internet connection.
Similarly, you can add this policy to your onboarding information package for new employees. This will ensure that every remote worker follows the same protocols.
2. Use remote communication and collaboration tools
A distributed team typically uses several communication tools, such as email, video conferencing, and instant messaging, to easily keep in touch.
Here’s a closer look at the different kinds of remote communication tools you’ll need:
- Video conferencing tools: Allow you to hold remote meetings and discussions via video call. Examples: Zoom and Skype.
- Instant messaging platforms: Help you send messages and files to the entire team. They’re also useful for quick replies and chats. Examples: Slack and Microsoft Teams.
- Cloud storage and collaboration tools: Let you easily share files with each remote team member and collaborate in real-time. Examples: Google Drive and Dropbox.
Discover more online collaboration tools here.
While each tool is necessary for remote communication and collaboration, using too many can become overwhelming.
Your messages will be scattered across tons of different platforms. This can make keeping up with everything next to impossible as employees won’t know which communication tool to use and for what purpose.
To avoid this, mark default communication tools for each purpose.
For example, instead of using two or three messaging apps, stick to one. Similarly, use only one video conferencing app, one spend management app, and one cloud storage or collaboration tool.
This way, you can streamline virtual team communication to boost overall efficiency.
3. Determine common availability hours
To efficiently collaborate with your remote team, you need to know when they’re available.
However, this can be difficult when teammates work across time zones or have different working hours.
You can deal with this by charting out a few common working hours each day or week when the entire team can be online to ensure smooth collaboration.
How will this help?
You can schedule tasks requiring real-time collaboration and feedback for these common work hours. Additionally, remote workers can use this time to connect with team members for discussions, team-building, etc.
4. Set firm response times
When will my remote employees respond to my messages and tasks?
This can be difficult to determine for remote teams.
As each remote employee largely works according to their own schedule, you’re unsure when they’ll have time to reply to your message.
However, you can deal with this uncertainty by establishing firm response times or deadlines for employees working remotely.
How do you go about this?
You can set deadlines for each mode of communication.
- Email replies must be sent by the end of the workday.
- Instant messaging responses are expected within a single work hour.
- Project management and task updates are to be communicated within three working hours.
Setting these response times establishes accountability and uniformity to all team communication. It makes sure that your messages always get a prompt response, removing the need for micromanaging.
To strengthen these measures, make it a policy for remote employees to inform the team if they’ll be unavailable or away from their laptops for a particular period.
B) Establish accountability
You can’t manage a team or organization without holding them accountable for their work, right?
This applies to managing remote employees in particular.
Keeping track of each team member’s work and productivity gives you a clear picture of where your team stands and the best ways to improve team efficiency.
But how do you establish accountability when you don’t work in the same office?
Here are a few simple ways to do this:
5. Conduct regular check-ins
Holding regular check-ins with your remote team members is essential for maintaining productivity.
These allow you to:
- Review employee performance.
- Monitor productivity levels over time.
- Find ways to improve individual and team efficiency.
Additionally, checking in with your workers also gives you the chance to support them through any problems they face.
This is very important – especially if your employees have just made the transition to remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
6. Use time tracking tools to manage employee productivity
How do you ensure your remote team stays productive while working independently?
Just use time tracking tools like Time Doctor!
What is Time Doctor?
Time Doctor is a powerful time tracking and productivity management tool used by large companies like Ericsson as well as smaller businesses like Firehouse Subs for in-office and remote team management.
Time Doctor allows you to:
- Track the time employees spend on each task and project.
- Analyze each employee’s productivity via detailed daily and weekly reports.
- Ensure employees are actively working by sending distraction alerts after a period of inactivity.
- Receive attendance reports marking each remote employee as present, late, partially absent, or absent.
Read more about Time Doctor’s other features here.
7. Use project management tools
In a traditional office, a manager can simply walk up to team members and ask for project updates.
But you can’t do the same thing with a remote team, right?
These tools give you and your remote manager a quick overview of all your projects and help you assign tasks to various members of your remote workforce.
So, you can check if the remote workers are meeting their required project milestones and, if not, are there any workflow bottlenecks you need to address.
8. Focus on outputs over processes
For ideal remote management of your team, you need to step back and let your employees handle things in the way that works best for them.
If an employee works best during the afternoon rather than the morning, allow them that flexibility. Doing this can lead to higher employee satisfaction, engagement, and productivity.
Trusting your remote working employees to do the job without micromanaging also prepares them for supervisory roles.
However, it’s important to keep an open-door policy so your remote staff can ask for help anytime they need it.
C) Build team relationships
While building meaningful relationships with your remote team may seem complicated, it’s not impossible.
Investing some extra effort and time into better team relations can have major productivity payoffs in the long run.
It allows remote employees to be comfortable with each other and work well as a team. And when your team works together, their work is quicker and better.
So, how do you improve remote team relationships?
Here are a few best practices to get you started.
9. Use video conference calls for informal conversations
Many successful managers follow a video-first practice for remote meetings.
What does that mean?
Virtual meetings and video calls are preferred over audio conferencing or phone calls for managing teams.
While video conferences allow teams to pick up on visual cues and gestures, they also help remote employees build familiarity.
Face-to-face interaction makes it easier for employees to get to know their coworkers and feel more comfortable.
Implement regular virtual all-hands meetings to catch up with your remote workforce and socialize with the team. You can hold this team meeting at scheduled times or simply allow a few minutes for casual discussions before you begin weekly reviews.
But video conferencing with the entire team may not always be possible, right?
This shouldn’t stop your remote employees from socializing and building bonds!
To encourage social conversations, create an informal “water cooler” chat room or messaging channel where you discuss everything apart from work. You can set the tone and start the initial conversation with a cute picture of your pet!
10. Socialize with your remote team
Communication tools have come a long way, but they still can’t beat face interactions.
This is why several remote teams choose to have physical get-togethers every year or so.
Meeting the team allows remote employees to build trust and form deeper bonds.
While it may seem expensive, think of it as an investment with the costs you save by hiring a remote workforce in the first place.
Of course, this can be harder for a distributed team with employees from several countries. Additionally, with the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person get-togethers are off the table.
So, what do you do?
You could substitute regular meetups with virtual pizza or taco parties — get the food delivered to each employee and then host the party via video call!
While it may seem awkward for the first time, socializing with your virtual team allows you to feel closer and build a better rapport. Remember, just because your employees work remotely doesn’t mean they should miss out on the experience in-office employees have.
Stronger team relationships are an indispensable resource for any professional team. Social activities and team-building can significantly impact productivity results in the long run.
11. Celebrate employee success
Remote working can be isolating, and recognizing good work can help mitigate this.
This employee recognition can take the form of private or public praise, perks, bonuses, promotions, or appreciation gifts.
Not only does this send a message about employer expectations, but it also lets each employee know their contribution matters.
You can also implement an employee recognition program where peers anonymously vote for each other. This can help strengthen employee bonds, create friendships in the workplace, and reduce employee turnover rate over time.
12. Show empathy and offer emotional support
Since many employees are still new to remote work, they may be facing several challenges related to:
- Working outside the office.
- Ignoring distractions in a remote work environment.
- Maintaining a healthy work-life balance and time management.
- Loneliness and social isolation.
Rather than waiting for the situation to worsen, be proactive and notice potential warning signs.
For instance, if a remote team member falls behind schedule and misses deadlines, you can message them asking if everything is okay.
Supporting remote employees at every stage is also essential for efficient teamwork and morale.
It also shows them that they’re valued, resulting in an open and honest company culture where employees feel empowered.
Managing remote employees comes with its own set of challenges that you wouldn’t face in a typical office setting.
However, these don’t have to hold you back.
Simply use the best practices covered in this article to manage your remote team efficiently.
Once you do, you’ll notice that remote work can be highly beneficial for employee productivity and well-being as well as the company’s bottom line.
Andy is a technology & marketing leader who has delivered award-winning and world-first experiences.