Managing remote teams is still pretty new to most business leaders and managers. The transition from managing an in-office team to managing a remote one happened pretty much overnight for many.
Having a remote component to your workforce is now a norm, whether it was before or not. And there is no going back from here. We are never returning to working five days a week full-time in the office. The most we may get is working in a hybrid model, with a few days in the office and a few days working remotely.
The truth of the matter is, remote work will always be a part of how we work from now onward. This presents unique challenges if you are a business leader and/or a manager. We are used to working in the office, and leadership and management styles have developed based on that. They are also largely suited for an in-office workforce and may not work with the same effect on a remote team.
Now that we are working remotely, there are bound to be some new challenges that you might not have anticipated, or even know were possibilities.
Let’s take a look at some of the top business challenges of remote teams, and how you can overcome them.
Challenge #1: You are not really sure of the productivity of your team(s)
Are my teams working the hours they should be?
Are they slacking off?
Are we losing productivity due to working from home?
These are questions you are bound to ask. In fact, these are probably the most obvious questions most managers will ask. It’s just instinctive, isn’t it? Whatever the management style, the physical observance of work has always been an indicator of work getting done. The absence of that leaves a gap in how we gauge productivity.
It’s natural. We get that. But if that’s the only way you think you can measure how well the work is getting done, then we have problems. A big part of working with a team is being able to trust your teammates.
As a manager, it is important to be confident in your team that they will get the work done without any loss of productivity. More so, when your entire team is working remotely. Trust is a huge factor when it comes to remote work and without that trust in your teams, you can never really get the best out of them.
How can you fix this? Well, obviously by building trust between you and your team. Here is how you can do that:
- Effectively letting your team know that you have high trust in them and value them as employees. The mere act of trusting will automatically make them feel more accountable if they weren’t already.
- Have periodic reviews and walkthroughs of work being done. This sets a routine for the team and they are aware of what work needs to be done between every such meeting. This also presents you with an opportunity to course-correct if anything is amiss or not working the way it is supposed to.
- Use technology to your advantage. Ensure people are aware of the work to be done and can use a project management tool to be able to track tasks. The progress of the task list and meeting of deadlines will automatically let you know whether productivity is being maintained or not.
- Matt Janaway from MarketingLabs states "Many managers are worried about team productivity when working from home, but it's important to remember that everyone works differently. Allowing people the flexibility to work in the best way for them demonstrates trust but also means that you'll get the best from each member of your team. Combining this with project management software can help you track what is being done and assess whether someone might need help with a task without having to micro-manage each member of your team. Not only does this allow them to carry on with their day, but it also frees up your time as you can get a quick snapshot of what the current workload looks like."
Challenge #2: You are worried about active communication and turnaround times
Working remote, staying on top of your communication can be a tad bit tough. It’s far easier to walk up to your team and talk to one or all of them about something when at the office. When working remotely, that is not something you can easily do.
And because you and the members of your team don’t all work from the same location, there is a chance of things not getting communicated properly. Sometimes even things falling through the crack.
But in a world that is always connected, it shouldn’t be too difficult to build a workplace communication protocol that works for your team and business. Here’s how you can ensure you and your team effectively communicate with each other:
- Figure out the tools that you will use to enable communication. There’s email, video calls, IMing, and more. Deploy the specific tools you intend to use and ask your team to familiarize themselves well with each tool. Chances are you already use a lot of tools to communicate even when you were working from a physical office. You can just use those, or add new ones that work better for the remote.
- Set guidelines on responses to messages and emails. Let your team know what the expected turn-around time is for responses during work hours. And when to respond to communication received outside of the workday. Encourage your team to acknowledge every message they receive, and keep notes of the different calls they attend.
- Schedule regular team calls and one-on-ones with your teammates. Talking and seeing each other regularly helps in maintaining an open communication practice. These calls could be about updates, brainstorming, or just catching up. But consistent interaction will make sure that everybody is on the same page. And that no information remains not communicated.
Challenge #3: You’re worried about conflict resolution
Every workplace has some conflict – be it with a particular work plan, with a colleague, with a boss, or maybe something else entirely. When you work out of an office, a lot of times the conflict is immediately noticeable. When working remotely, not so much.
It is easier to address the issue causing a conflict when present in the same room. When we move that into the online space, things get a bit opaque. And letting conflicts and tensions fester is a sure-fire way to see work come to a standstill. It also builds toxicity within the team and that’s the last thing you would want when working in a remote setting.
Then how do you avoid this? Here’s how:
- Notice the way people talk with you and with each other. Are there any marked changes in the way they communicate or address someone? There’ll be subtle clues if there is an ongoing conflict that has not been resolved. If you spot it in time, you can nip it in the bud. If not, it will become an issue that affects the work of everyone in the team.
- Explicitly ask your team on a regular basis if there is something they would like to discuss. Ask about the conflicts they think they have at work. This is bound to make someone open up about the issues they are facing, either with you, a colleague or with the work in general. People don’t talk about these things unless someone specifically asks them about them. As a leader, it should be you.
- If there is a conflict, set up a call with all the concerned parties. Let everyone involved express their points. Find out the underlying cause of a conflict. It could range from behavior, competence, expectations, or something else. It’s always best to address the issue as soon as it arises. That minimizes the damage and negative effect it has on work and productivity.
Like any other business challenge, all of these can be overcome too. What makes a great team is having people who are good at what they do. Your job as a leader and a manager is to find ways to enable them and create an environment where they can give and be their best.
Identify problem areas before they cause any real damage. Be on the lookout for things that can hamper your teams’ work and push it out of the way. You set the tone for everyone in the company. So it’s great to lead by example when you tackle and overcome these workplace challenges.
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