Remote teams were already common in today’s workforce. However, it wasn’t until recently that companies were forced — and didn’t just choose — to work beyond their office walls. As a result, some were caught by surprise.
Because the truth is that managing a remote team can be quite challenging, especially when you want to do “business as usual” and have your employees work in a way that makes them feel like they’re working toward the same goals.
Besides, all this global crisis will change the way we work forever, and working from home will be the new norm. So, keep reading for the seven most common challenges even experienced managers of remote teams usually face, as well as the strategies you can use to overcome them.
Communication is the key to success for most teams. It’s critical to gather input from all members and to know what each person is working on. When teams work remotely, it isn’t always easy to foster open communication. Traditional email marketing often seems like a formal tool that doesn’t enable quick conversations.
One way in which many remote teams overcome this is by creating a dedicated place for communication, whether among employees in the same department or freelancers working on the same project. An internal team communication tool like Slack can allow for communication to come across on many channels. Future employees can also see the answers to commonly asked questions. No matter what tool you decide to use, as long as there’s a way to foster two-way communication, remote workers won’t feel isolated from one another.
Tracking work and productivity
Do you know how much work your remote team accomplishes and at what rate? For many managers, the answer to these questions is unclear. It’s hard to know if someone is being underutilized or is not pulling their own weight without an understanding of their productivity.
For this reason, remote managers need to establish ways to track productivity for all employees. This can include setting up metrics for how much work is expected to be completed each day, such as:
- Creating and maintaining a company blog.
- Scheduling 20 social media posts per hour.
- Making 150 cold calls per shift.
The KPI metrics you choose to evaluate the productivity of remote employees should also be the same criteria used for in-office employees. This ensures that there are clear expectations in place, regardless of how and where your team works.
Company culture takes time to cultivate and involves hiring the right employees, fostering healthy communication, and instilling that culture across the board. Whether you want to create a professional company culture or a team that’s known for being fun and energetic, it will take more concentrated effort to develop in a remote team than in an office. Sometimes a culture is shaped in an office without much effort from the owner or manager. This isn’t the case for remote teams.
Creating a healthy company culture with a remote team that reflects your business’s values requires a plan, much like any other project or initiative. It starts from the top with how the manager or business owner interacts with workers. For instance, if you want to foster a culture of open communication, remote team members need to be able to communicate with everyone, including the CEO, with a virtual “open door” policy. If you want a company culture that’s fun, try scheduling fun get-togethers, gift cards for employees to go bowling together, or hosting a virtual movie night.
For global teams, scheduling a phone call or a video meeting can be challenging due to the different time zones. This can be amplified with independent contractors who have inconsistent work schedules. Finding a time that works well for everyone requires knowing where your participants live and their general schedules.
First, there are tools you can use online to help make scheduling a call, video conference, or meeting with remote teams easier. From a simple online poll that lists selected dates and times that team members can choose to calendaring apps and a variety of websites and free hosts that assess participant availability, there are ways that make the process of scheduling a meeting less stressful. (It also helps if team members’ schedules are flexible, since some time zones don’t line up well with traditional working hours).
Plan to pay employees and independent contractors to attend virtual team calls and meetings. Some managers working with project-based freelancers expect them to take calls without pay or as part of a flat rate for working on a project, while managers themselves wouldn’t go to a work-related meeting off the clock. Often, these managers are surprised when freelancers and contractors aren’t readily available for calls and meetings. If a meeting or call is mandatory and work-related, plan on paying staff members to attend.
Building trust is difficult for remote managers and team members. Managers worry that workers aren’t completing work, while workers have a range of concerns, including whether they’ll be paid on time (or at all, in some cases). Being transparent can help to build trust for all parties. You can build trust by being transparent about:
- Working hours
- Project expectations
- Pay rate
- Payment timelines
- Status updates on projects
In terms of expectations, be honest about the workload you expect to have for your contractors. Many B2B marketing companies tell freelancers they can expect the amount of work to increase substantially over the coming months, even when this isn’t the case. These kinds of statements might be well intentioned, but it may lead some freelancers to believe they’ve been strung along. They may even have negotiated for a lower rate because of the volume and then feel duped when it doesn’t pan out.
One-on-one meetings and morale
One-on-one meetings are critical for morale. While it can seem like a hassle to schedule one-on-one meetings with every team member, they make workers feel valued and are an opportunity to give feedback on work performance. If these meetings aren’t scheduled regularly or get rescheduled, it can make remote workers feel out of touch with the company and unsure of where they stand.
Getting together in person
One of the best parts of working with other people is getting to know them personally. It’s hard to do that when everyone lives in different places and time zones. If possible, plan on getting together with staff members once a year to have the opportunity to meet people in real life. For full-time W2 employees, this might consist of an annual meeting or a shared trip to an exotic location.
Even teams of independent contractors can plan to meet each other through an annual meeting, convention, or conference. Some remote contractors plan to visit each other when they are nearby for other obligations. It can be as simple as encouraging remote contractors to stop by the New York City office in the event of traveling to the city for any reason, even a family vacation.
There are many challenges that come with managing a remote team. Fortunately, they can be overcome fairly easily by introducing team building activities, increasing communication and adding some new processes. Remote teams should become even more common in the future.
About the author: Levi Olmstead is Head of Community and SEO at G2, a B2B software and services review site with over 650,000 real-user reviews. Levi is an Indiana native and IU alum who in his spare time enjoys solving paranormal mysteries with his dog Frodo. Connect with him on Twitter.
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