Hiring a remote team has many advantages, from increased flexibility to decreased capital expenses. Yet remote work environments also have several downsides that, if left unchecked, can seriously compromise performance and even reduce retention rates.
After 10+ years of working remotely—starting long before working from home became the norm—the Time Doctor team knows all the ups and downs of this work model. We’ve learned how to overcome the obstacles and lean into the rewards as we’ve grown our team of 100+ people across 31 countries.
So how can you avoid these team management challenges or, at the least, mitigate their impact? In this article, we’ll walk you through 11 common pitfalls of remote work so you know what to look for and can address the causes effectively.
1. Too many workplace distractions
Some of your team members might have dedicated home offices or memberships at coworking spaces. However, not all remote workers have access to these setups.
For example, those switching to remote roles for the first time may have much less optimal workspaces. They may be working in public spaces with little control over their workspace or be pulling double duty as an employee and watching after their kids.
Occasional distractions are inevitable and probably won’t affect your team. But repeated or ongoing distractions can compromise employee performance and negatively impact both individual and team projects.
How to eliminate workplace distractions
Start by creating guidelines for remote work policies in your employee handbook. Outline your expectations of how employees should organize and equip their workspaces, as in this example:
- Remote employees are expected to have dedicated private workspaces equipped with a desk, a chair, and an internet connection.
- During work hours, employees are expected to remain focused on assigned tasks and avoid performing household or personal tasks.
- To confirm that employees comply with these guidelines and remain on task, [Company Name] will take screenshots throughout the workday.
With software like Time Doctor, you can automate screenshots and screen recordings. That way, you can ensure your team is progressing toward goals or determine if they could benefit from setting new productivity goals.
2. Communication delays cause things to move slowly
Communication isn’t always timely within remote teams. When employees work in separate locations or across different time zones, they can’t walk down the hall or over to the next cubicle to ask a quick question.
Instead of getting a reply to your instant message right away, you could wait for hours or days. Teams that work opposite hours may rarely overlap, creating ongoing 12-hour communication delays.
These communication delays can seriously compromise your team’s efficiency if you don’t anticipate them. They can even slow down projects and lead to missed deadlines, which can get expensive quickly.
How to encourage better communication
If your teams’ schedules don’t overlap, slightly adjusting work hours can improve communication significantly. Here’s a simple two-step process to try:
- Schedule working hours so that they overlap by one hour every day.
- Require remote team members to use that hour for check-ins and responding to urgent instant messages.
3. Too many unnecessary meetings
While slow communication can compromise efficiency, adding more meetings isn’t always the solution. In fact, filling your remote or hybrid teams’ schedules with meetings and check-ins can make it impossible for them to complete deliverables.
In the United States alone, workers have 11 million meetings daily, with the average employee attending 11 each week. Since a third of these meetings are ultimately unproductive, they can waste a tremendous amount of time.
How to resolve excessive meetings
Suspect that your company has too many team meetings on the calendar? Here’s how to keep them in check:
- Assess how much time your remote team spends on meetings each week. With a tool like Time Doctor, you can track every task and activity your employees complete so you can easily add up the total time.
- Using the one-third benchmark above, aim to reduce total meetings by 33%. Poll the rest of the team to identify the least productive meetings and start there.
- Give your team the framework they need to make meetings more productive. Encourage them to use instant messaging apps like Slack or video chat tools like Zoom to connect between meetings.
4. Failing to understand which employees are being productive
If they’re juggling excessive meetings, workplace distractions, and communication delays, it’s no surprise that remote workers can struggle with productivity issues. As a result, they may not deliver work on time or hold up projects.
Occasional issues might not cause concern, but repeatedly poor productivity is a problem. Virtual teams that don’t perform at the expected level can drive up project costs, create unhappy clients, and compromise relationships.
How to boost productivity
For remote team managers, it’s easy to assume that off-site employees are less productive than teams working exclusively in an office. However, studies show remote workers are more productive than their on-site counterparts, but their bosses believe the opposite.
Use this workflow to measure your team’s productivity and then take action based on the results:
- Employ a tool like Time Doctor to automatically track time spent on productive and unproductive websites and apps.
- Use the platform’s automated productivity insights to spot trends and identify the best and worst performers.
- Work with underperformers to set productivity goals and reward top performers.
5. Neglecting to set clear expectations
Hiring reliable, self-directed employees is a common goal for many remote managers. But while your employees may report to work on time and remain productive throughout the day, they may not be directing their effort into the right tasks.
Managing remote employees can become even more challenging when you don’t set clear expectations. If your team members aren’t sure which goals to work toward or which milestones to focus on, they might be wasting time instead of making the most of it.
How to conquer unclear expectations
To set expectations and communicate them to your team, follow these steps:
- Start with annual or quarterly goals to give employees a big-picture view.
- Divide these goals into actionable steps that employees can complete daily, weekly, or monthly.
- Clarify how you’ll measure employees’ progress, such as deliverables, productive hours, or tasks completed.
6. Failing to give employees the resources and tools they need to do their job
If your team members can’t access the tools and resources they need to do their jobs, you can’t expect them to complete projects on time or meet the expectations you’ve set.
Poorly structured onboarding workflows can cause access issues for new employees. But tech and security issues can create access issues for long-time employees too.
How to resolve access issues
To ensure that your team can use the tools and resources they need, take these steps:
- Review your onboarding workflow and identify missing parts. Get employee feedback to find which steps go wrong, such as missing verification emails. Then revise the workflow as necessary.
- Build a tech stack that simplifies remote access. Tools like password managers, shared file storage, and remote desktops can help employees get what they need more reliably.
7. Ignoring feelings of isolation
New and seasoned remote employees alike find working off-site can lead to loneliness. Employees who thrive with consistent social interaction may discover that working alone causes a lack of face-to-face interaction with colleagues.
Over time, employees may develop anxiety or a sense of social isolation, which can affect their performance and productivity. But for some remote workers, it doesn’t stop there.
Studies indicate that feeling disconnected from the organization is the biggest reason hybrid and remote employees leave. For remote team managers, it’s important to identify and address these concerns before they lead to talent retention issues.
How to conquer employee isolation
To help employees feel less isolated, create opportunities for collaboration and measure the results. Here are some simple steps to implement:
- Use collaboration tools like Slack and Zoom for more than just work. Create a sense of community with messaging prompts and time for small talk, which can provide emotional support and help teams feel more connected.
- Ask for employee feedback using tools like Officevibe. By collecting anonymous feedback and asking open-ended questions, you can better understand how employees really feel.
8. Fatigue from all the video meetings
Occasional video chats can be ideal for checking in with team members and connecting with colleagues. But frequent video calls can overwhelm remote workers, even those who crave more social connection.
Researchers have found that Zoom fatigue usually results from a few common causes:
- Maintaining eye contact via video can be tiring over long periods.
- Video chats require much more concentration than phone calls or instant messages.
- Seeing yourself on the screen can be distracting.
How to conquer video fatigue
The easiest way to address video fatigue is to schedule fewer Zoom calls. But that isn’t always the best solution, especially if your team relies on regular video meetings. Instead, try these tips:
- Give employees a choice between being on- or off-camera.
- Encourage employees to hide their video window so they can avoid distractions.
- Keep video meetings as short as possible, and allow breaks during longer calls.
9. Company culture feels nonexistent
Establishing company culture can be difficult when you don’t work in person with your team. In some cases, your identity as a company might seem completely nonexistent.
Remote employees might not understand what makes your company unique or what it means to work for your business. As a result, they might not uphold those fundamental values or feel like part of the community.
How to improve company culture
To reinforce your company culture, keep these ideas in mind:
- Share your company’s mission, values, and beliefs during the employee onboarding process.
- Introduce rituals that align with your values at every team check-in and all-staff meeting.
- Reward employees who accomplish tasks or achieve goals that fit with your mission.
- Send company swag to employees so they can feel like part of a team even when working remotely.
10. Overly invasive management
For employees, one of the biggest perks of remote work is that they can do their jobs without constant supervision. However, some organizations opt to dial up the oversight to ensure that remote employees are actually working.
Remote workers often react negatively to managers who require approval for every task or ask for constant check-ins to report progress. Micromanagement can make remote workers feel untrustworthy and incapable, leading to low employee engagement.
How to address micromanagement
To ease up on micromanagement, focus on letting employees work independently—and trusting them to do so. Use this tech stack to manage employees and projects while giving them space to deliver their best work:
- Project management tools like Asana or Trello, which you can use to assign tasks, set deadlines, and send reminders
- Async communication tools like Slack or Loom to check in with your team and answer questions
- Time tracking tools like Time Doctor to monitor attendance, work hours, and projects without micromanaging
11. Burnout from always feeling “on”
When team members can work in their own spaces instead of reporting to an office, they might be tempted to keep less consistent work hours. Some employees might even end up working longer hours than usual.
Working across time zones can make team members working odd hours even more likely. If it’s normal for employees to check in with team members or respond to messages late in the evening, they might feel like they’re always working.
Over time, overwork can lead to burnout. Employees experiencing burnout are likely to be less productive and less engaged—and might be more likely to quit.
How to overcome burnout
To avoid losing remote team members to burnout, use these suggestions:
- Set firm boundaries between work hours and non-work time. Require employees to sign off after work and turn off notifications so they won’t feel compelled to work longer.
- Track employee objectives and key results (OKRs) and measure employee engagement with a tool like Lattice. The platform helps develop better, happier employees who are more likely to stay with the organization.
- Evaluate work-life balance issues with a tool like Time Doctor. This platform automatically identifies team members who are likely struggling, so you can address issues before they escalate.
Want to take a simple step toward improving your remote workforce management? Sign up for a free trial of Time Doctor so you can start tracking time and gathering insights today.
Carlo Borja is the Head of Online Marketing for Time Doctor, a time tracking software for remote teams. He is a full-time telecommuter, a digital nomad and a coffee junkie.