Managers who are used to the traditional office structure found it challenging to do the same task in a remote capacity, at least at the beginning of the pandemic. But now that the remote work culture is here to stay, managers are slowly adapting to the new paradigm. The change has been so drastic that managers and leaders who used ‘desk time’ as a daily measure of productivity had no fallbacks, and employees were afraid that their contributions might not be seen. It led to burnout, honest look-ins, and a lot of effort before organizations started adopting principles that would suit remote workers.
What is the best way to lead a remote team?
Traditional ways of holding employees accountable are ineffective in a remote work environment, and managers have to find new ways to ensure progress. By focusing more on what gets done, managers can reduce pressure to perform and be visible to their team members. Such an approach allows managers to divert the focus of managing remote employees from their performance to meeting well-defined quality standards. Successful pivots to virtual work require managers to recalibrate the way they lead. They also should familiarize themselves with telecommuting best practices and not be afraid to try different methods until they find a way that works.
How do you manage a remote working team?
Managing remote teams is more about consciously connecting with and understanding the team’s needs. Here are a few tips to help managers and business leaders get the most out of their teams and manage remote workers better.
1. Tackling common teleworking challenges
Managing remote employees typically comes with three main challenges. Supervisors and business owners can have an honest discussion with their employees to identify issues specific to that industry or organization, but tackling the three main obstacles should give organizations a good start in establishing a fruitful remote work culture.
There is not enough interaction between co-workers and supervisors.
Face-to-face interaction is vital to daily exchanges, and this includes workplace encounters. And supervisors often rely on these workplace encounters to track productivity and dedication. Shared workspaces also provide managers with an easy way to track moods and address frustrations proactively. Also, humans are wired to unconsciously “read” faces and body postures and tally them with words. In one-on-one interactions (that can take place on various platforms, from face-to-face interaction in-person to video apps like Microsoft Teams), managers and employees pick up on cues through routine interactions. They can understand constructive feedback for what it is instead of losing the plot. This absence of in-person communication is particularly harsh on remote team members, mainly due to the stress or change that comes with the times.
Breakdowns in communication
Messages getting lost in the deluge is a considerable concern for remote employees. It isn’t feasible to call co-workers for every small query, and digital avenues like email or instant messaging services can go unnoticed. While this slows up work on one end, a pileup of unanswered messages can also slow progress on the other end and bring improvement to a grinding halt. Subtlety and nuance in interactions can also be lost in hasty digital replies between remote team members. Modeling effective communication strategies is one way for managers to tackle this and also sows seeds for a healthy work-life balance.
No matter how hard they try, organizations and managers can’t ensure similarity in the workplace when employees are remote. Toddlers’ screaming during important calls, internet connection dropping due to unforeseen issues, and many other factors make focusing on work difficult for remote employees. Managers can practice patience in such situations and maybe plan with the rest of the team for such contingencies. Team members having multiple copies of the presentation ready to go is one way of ensuring such hiccups don’t adversely affect essential milestones.
2. Setting clear productivity standards for remote work
The idea of project scopes, definitions, and expected results changing midway through the process is not new. A typical working environment would take a few people to get into a room, discuss the issue, and figure a way out. Doing so in a remote work environment requires a lot of planning – and that’s why having clear productivity standards specific to the job can help employees understand what is expected of them. Some managers might see defining and documenting productivity standards as extra effort, but it can help spot trends that may assist the team pivot successfully.
3. Identifying and providing the right tools
Managers and leaders play an essential part in understanding the needs of their remote workers, and translating that understanding into efficient software requires careful deliberation. Tools are essential in supervising remote employees, motivating them, and having a productive outcome. Organizations should also ensure that all necessary tools are easily accessible by remote workers as needed.
Cyber security and data safety concerns also need to be addressed, as managing remote workers require many hardware, software, and central server-related safety features. Antivirus tools that aren’t intrusive (and don’t schedule a maintenance turn-off during important work!) are the first line of defense in such cases. Tools to verify bandwidth and the reliability of internet connections, and switch call types accordingly between team members, are a great way to ensure work doesn’t suffer because of unforeseen issues.
In a perfect world, transitioning teams to remote work would expect employees to have enough training on using relevant technology for working remotely. Yet, even if a shift to remote work is anticipated to take place in a matter of weeks (or days), a four-or 24-hour trial run may reveal unanticipated shortcomings in a seemingly workable plan for working remotely. Depending on your circumstances, you might have the whole team participating or only one or two members. Practice makes perfect.
4. Setting an explicit schedule for meaningful interaction
Casual workplace interactions are the bedrock of collaboration and teamwork. Managing employees in remote teams need extra work because of the varied environments that remote workers find themselves in. Having a mix of off-site and on-site employees, usually the case (and where the corporate world seems to be heading towards), can give managers control over bringing their team together. Initially, these meetings may seem artificial or cumbersome, but managers can encourage remote workers to contact them and other team members regularly—and do the same in return.
5. Instituting regular follow-ups with remote teams
There is no hard and fast rule about managers reaching out to their remote workers, but having some consistency can help. Managers can make face-to-face interaction calls to monitor productivity and keep remote employees motivated and engaged. Periodical one-on-one calls in the guise of employee engagement can help managers identify if the remote employee is doing well overall and provide emotional support, identify and eliminate bottlenecks, help employees with their professional development, respond to queries they may have, and so on.
6. Creating a suggestion list
Sometimes, things that work might be entirely out of the blue – using Jira tickets to manage OKRs. Employees working remotely can work with their managers to create a list of key goals or critical milestones to measure using tools like UpRaise for Employee Success, which can immensely help newbies and veterans.
How do you keep remote employees engaged?
While email, instant messages, and phone or video conferencing is essential for remote work to happen smoothly, relying only on them to keep employees engaged in the absence of a physical workplace is impossible. Scheduling short video conferencing calls to cut down on email exchanges should be preferred, and doing so at a set time can help to monitor progress and foster collegiality. Having a centralized workday calendar where every remote employee can see the schedule of every team member is an ideal start. Also, managers can step in during employee ‘away’ hours or days (and take a postponement if necessary) to minimize communication bottlenecks and misunderstandings.
Having meaningful, to-the-point, and short meetings can make remote employees shed the fear of time sinks. Managers who establish a clear plan and encourage participation from everyone get more issues discussed in a shorter time than those who don’t. Using agile methodologies can be helpful to where processes nurture accountability without adding the pressure to be seen in a remote environment.