3 challenges to address when managing a remote team

By Robert Half on 14 March 2020

For many workplaces, working remotely was considered a perk.

Today, however, working from home has become the new normal.

The good news is that the lessons already learned from those that were able to work remotely can help inform management decisions moving forward.

When it comes to managing a remote team, it’s important to consider the unique challenges that your employees may face:

1. Isolation and loneliness

One of the most cited challenges faced by those working remotely is feelings of isolation and loneliness. It’s easy to understand why: a lack of face-to-face interaction – whether that’s as part of a team, or one-on-one –can make for a solitary experience. This can result in elevated stress levels, poor decision making, and difficulty focusing.

2. Time management

Another challenge many remote workers face is the difficulty of separating work from home life, and knowing when to ‘switch off’. This can result in an increased risk of burnout, and higher levels of stress and anxiety.

3. Fragmented communication

Without the ability to simply pop over and ask a question, remote communication options can result in a lack of information, misinformation, or gaps in knowledge. Factor in differing schedules and the risk of miscommunication is high.

7 tips to managing a remote team

Fortunately, each of these issues is preventable with a good management strategy. In order to continue business as usual, managers finding themselves suddenly managing their teams remotely should focus on these seven areas of engagement.

1. Focus on community

Working from a distance often means working alone, but there is great benefit to the close friendships and connections that are built at work.

There’s no doubt relationships at work can have an impact on performance and engagement, particularly the ones formed with our direct superiors. A positive relationship with direct managers often results in thriving employees with higher levels of productivity.

In order to foster this from a distance, there must be a focus on personal connection; not just between yourself and your employees, but between employees.

Schedule time for casual interactions within your team, and don’t neglect team building opportunities. Allow multiple informal communication channels to be used in order to maximise opportunities to engage. In an office setting, informal communication is linked to higher productivity; when interacting virtually, it’s all about accessibility. Use technology to create and maintain your community, regardless of the size of your team.

2. Be clear on your expectations

Without the ability to simply pop over to your office for clarification, instructions and expectations need to be unambiguous and clear. Using words without an obvious meaning – such as ‘soon,’ or ‘quickly’ – are not helpful, and it takes time to request additional clarification in order to complete a task properly, or risk mistakes.

In order to prevent miscommunication, be especially clear in your instructions. If a task is urgent, provide a clear deadline. If a task is nuanced, take a few extra minutes to explain exactly what it is you require from your employee. If you and your team have suddenly transitioned to working from home, take the time to address how things have changed – or how they have not.

3. Increase the length and frequency of one-on-ones

And if possible, have them via video so you’re able to read and respond to your team members better.

Without being physically present for your team to approach you, the open door policy you may have set up at the office is no longer the same, and your team may no longer know when and how to approach you.

A good way to tackle this is to organise more frequent, longer one-on-ones. Dedicate time to continue building rapport with your team: hear their concerns, deep dive into what’s going on with their work and their lives, as well as other ad hoc discussions you’re not physically present to have.

4. Focus on outcomes, not methods

A change in environment should come with a change in expectations. Where it’s easier to work distraction-free in an office setting, working from home may not provide the same.

Instead of focusing on how your team got the job done, allow your team to work in a manner that is best for them. Allow flexibility, where reasonable, and trust that your employees will get the job done. Judge the result, not the methods used to get them.

5. Keep them in context

Just because they are working at home, doesn’t mean their careers are on hold. Don’t forget to keep your team in context.

Continue to support their larger goals: whether that’s advancement or education, providing support for their long-term goals can help keep them remain motivated, engaged, and loyal, despite major disruptions or a change of environment.

6. Be available

In order to manage a remote team, you need to be more available than you were at the office, particularly if you’ve built flexibility into your team’s day or you’re working across time zones.

Use technology to remain connected, and if you know your team members prefer a particular method of communication, provided it is effective, make an effort to reach them in that manner.

7. Offer emotional support, encouragement, and guidance

If the transition to remote work was sudden, don’t forget to provide emotional support. In times of crisis, employees look to their managers to guide them through; if you respond in a stressed manner, they will too.

Take a two-pronged approach. Ask questions and acknowledge the additional challenges, stresses, and concerns your team will face. If you can, provide additional instruction and guidance. Then affirm your confidence and trust in them to get the job done.

If you need to manage a remote team, it’s important to remember the challenges of working from home are not the same as those faced in an office environment.

But by focusing on clear communication, providing additional guidance, and paying attention to the way each member of your team is coping with the distance, it can be business as usual, no matter where your team is located.

Are you looking to hire additional members for your team? Robert Half can help.

More From the Blog...