Whether you have just been hired as a remote manager, or your company made the switch to remote work, if you manage a remote team, you are bound to take on some challenges.
Remote work has been increasingly popular for many years now. The pandemic has only accelerated the process, with many companies going remote for the first time.
Workers tend to love the remote work setting for the flexibility and empowerment it grants.
Do managers love it too?
Here are the top challenges commonly faced by remote managers, and how to overcome them.
We have based this list on several reports about remote work, one of which being the State of Remote Work 2020 report by Buffer, as well as our experience as a hybrid remote team here at Timeneye. We went fully remote during the pandemic, and now we have both remote and in-house workers.
Challenge #1: Communication
Communication is a challenge in any company, really. But in a remote setting, it’s a challenge over 9000!
Usually, most communication issues in remote teams arise from:
Overdependence on email and chat;
The expectation of being available all the time;
Lack of clarity due to the communication lag.
How to solve remote communication challenges
Especially if you’re scattered across different timezone, try asynchronous communication.
What is asynchronous communication? I’ll borrow a definition from Owllabs, “Asynchronous communication is any type of communication where one person provides information, and then there is a time lag before the recipients take in the information and offer their responses.
Simply put, asynchronous communication is communication that doesn’t happen in real-time (e.g. on the phone, in-person, or during a live video conferencing meeting).”
So allow some time lag between communication and responses (within reason, of course).
Avoid email for day-to-day communication, but also make sure not to overuse the chat tools. Expecting people to be available 24/7 every day will only lead to disaster. Give people a break from time to time, and contact them only when you need to.
Make the purpose of a call or a message extra clear. Make sure every person involved clearly understood their assignments. For example: at the end of the meeting, sum up the key points and to-dos, and encourage people to ask questions and solve any doubts they may have.
Challenge #2: Cybersecurity
Every company’s nightmare: a security breach! A database was hacked! Data lost or stolen!
With a remote team, the risk of all these happening is higher than usual, because the company’s work and data are in the hands of your scattered team. Unfortunately, remote work inherently comes with security risks.
To prevent any disasters, you can make sure your team aligns with cybersecurity best practices right from the beginning.
How to manage Cybersecurity in a remote team:
Invest in security measures, obviously: employees should work with company-issued laptops, tablets, and mobile phones, instead of their personal ones. Installing antivirus and protection in those devices is a must, as well as making sure all of your employees use the same types of protection software.
Establish security rules and protocols early: these protocols will have to include guidelines concerning data and passwords, and a rulebook on the use and misuse of any of the office-issue devices. If necessary, spend some hours in training the team one-on-one, to make sure all the rules are clear, and employees can clarify any issues or doubts.
Don’t forget to audit and update your systems and guidelines, possibly by having a designated person in your company take care of security alone.
Challenge #3: Team Engagement
How do you build a team if you never see each other in person?
According to the State of Remote Work 2020 by Buffer, loneliness is one of the biggest struggles of working remotely, according to the workers themselves.
It makes sense: humans are social animals. Even for the most introverted among us, the need for even a little social interaction is hardwired in our brains. The feeling of isolation and loneliness was even worsened during the pandemic due to regional lockdowns, social distancing, and quarantine rules.
How to boost engagement in remote teams:
Celebrate common and individual achievements. Has our team contributed to a record monthly revenue? Celebrate it! Do you have a new big contract signed? Congratulate your sales reps! Have you reached an all-time record of followers on Instagram? Time to let those “Thumbs up” emojis fly.
All of these will help build the confidence of your team members and will create a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in the team. People will be happier and more motivated if they know their work is being recognized.
Try fun remote activities: there are many ways of doing remote team-building. You can try Zoom happy hours, remote team games, or a “virtual water cooler” channel in your Slack. All these activities help you and your team feel connected.
Reward the team with perks and company gifts: verbal praise is good, but have you tried physical rewards? A little care package is a nice gesture to show your team you care! Depending on your budget, you can choose gift cards, discount coupons for activities and hobbies, or even snack boxes and company swag delivered directly to our team members' doorsteps.
Challenge #4: Workload and performance evaluation for the remote team
This is going to be a tough one.
So, you and your team can finally start working. How do you balance the workload of each team member (including yours)? Can you monitor the progression of the work without micromanaging them? How do you evaluate the work done, in a way that’s fair for the company but to the employees as well?
Every manager of a remote team has, at some point, struggled with each of these responsibilities. Still, they are all part of a manager’s job. And it can be difficult to do it in a remote setting, because you can’t just walk to a person’s desk to assign tasks and ask for updates.
On the one hand, work needs to be completed within a deadline, and completed well. On the other, overworking and over-monitoring the team will destroy motivation and productivity, damaging all the team-building you’ve done.
How to manage and evaluate work in a remote team:
Use the right tools to manage team workload and performance. A project management tool will let you create tasks, assign tasks to people, and manage your projects in general. While a time tracking tool can help you with measuring productivity, keeping an eye on how the team has been using their time, and on the workload. Most of these tools (especially time tracking tools like Timeneye) can produce automated reports for you.
Try the OKR method for goal tracking: the OKR method is a way of setting goals and measuring performance. This goal-tracking method uses “Objectives” and “Key results”. Objectives are the main goals, and Key results are the KPIs to check to see if you’re going to reach the Objectives. This method works for remote teams because it provides a framework to know what the team’s aiming at, and to make sure the objectives are on track.
Managing a remote team will inevitably mean communication issues, security issues, as well as struggles with team engagement and performance. Invest in clear communication rules, intense team building, and the right management tools. This way, you as a remote team manager will meet each challenge.