Top 10 Tips for Addressing Challenges in Managing Remote Teams
The COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed the way we work. But let’s admit it, the reality of remote work goes beyond the novel trend. While global teams were not new, having entire teams working remotely and completely online was completely unprecedented for many companies and businesses. Whether your company is prepared for it or not, remote work is here to stay. Therefore, your managers should be gearing up to take on the challenges that come with it.
It will continue to be a pillar of the future of work and post-pandemic recovery across the globe. In Malaysia, 67% of companies required their staff to work from home due to the pandemic. However, with the ever-changing employment landscape and workplace norms, more Malaysians still want their employers to offer flexible working arrangements. The advantages of remote work, especially for parents and digital nomads, simply cannot be disregarded. As such, it’s up to companies and managers to determine how they can make this new normal work for the business as well.
Problems that managers face when handling a remote team
Unfortunately, today’s managers have several challenges to overcome to effectively handle a remote team. As traditional hiring methods no longer apply when setting up remote teams, innovative management strategies must also be set in place. Those should help team leaders and project managers address major challenges such as:
1. Finding the right tools and platforms for remote work Since almost everything happens online for remote teams, companies and their managers need the right digital tools for everyone. These should make communication seamless, task tracking straightforward, and submissions uncomplicated.
2. Collaboration As with a traditional team, collaboration is crucial to remote teams. The geographical disconnection, however, makes it one of the most pressing challenges in managing remote teams. Any strategy should include solutions that effectively facilitate and encourage collaboration.
3. Cultural differences This is especially crucial for companies with employees or freelancers scattered across the globe. More often than not, each team member will have different approaches and values about work in general, as well as specific assignments. All these affect how they work individually and within the team.
4. Monitoring team members Another major challenge for global teams is ensuring everyone is working when they should and meeting deadlines promptly. Time theft – when an employee accepts payment from an employer for services not rendered or time not spent working – is already a big problem for managers of traditional teams. What more when employees are not physically present or gathered together?
5. Conducting regular one-on-one Regular one-on-one sessions are an effective way for managers to do pulse checks, get an individual progress report, or hand out an employee performance evaluation. However, when you have employees in different locations, time zones, and commitment levels, these meetings can be difficult to schedule.
6. Training employees Similar to the issue above, training employees tends to be a major pain point in remote team management. How do you effectively conduct training sessions when it’s difficult to find a feasible schedule for all your team members?
7. Measuring productivity As with the rest of the challenges mentioned above, it can be difficult for managers to objectively and constructively track the performance and productivity of remote team members. You may need to adjust your expectations and perspectives – it’s not about what your team is doing every minute of every work day but what they are accomplishing and the results they are making.
8. Varying time zones Having to keep tabs on what time it is for each of your remote team members can be a tedious task. It’s not at all uncommon for managers to send an email or message to an employee on the other side of the world, only to realise it’s way past working hours on their end!
9. Engaging employees Remote workers tend to be happier, more productive, and more engaged. However, companies and managers still need to be wary of phenomena like The Great Resignation. Despite the benefits of remote work, some employees may also feel lonely or disconnected. As such, ramping up engagement for remote employees should cover their connection both to the company and their colleagues.
10. Building team rapport When it’s close to impossible to bring team members physically together, it’s extra challenging for managers to build an impactful and authentic team relationship. There’s more to it than the usual team-building activities – you need to be more creative and strategic about it!
Top tips for addressing challenges in managing remote teams
1. Make expectations clear. As with any team, setting clear expectations is the first part of effective remote team management. Each team member has their own tasks and responsibilities. But it’s important that the entire team has a set of guidelines or values that allow them to align with each other and with the overarching goals. This way, they know the how, what, and why of the most crucial aspects of remote work with the company.
2. Hire remote workers who can manage themselves. This is crucial to having an efficient remote team. Since remote work is mostly unsupervised, team members should have the discipline, skill, and work ethic to work independently. Sometimes, remote work just isn’t fit for an employee, and it can negatively affect the performance of the entire team. In this case, companies may want to consider hiring freelancers and global talents who already have the experience, mindset, and self-motivation needed for remote work.
3. Embrace and appreciate cultural differences and perspectives. Diversity is a powerful tool that brings many benefits to a company. However, when you have a team with members scattered across different countries, cultural differences and perspectives eventually come into play. However, companies and managers will do well to avoid making people fit into their ideals, work styles, or mindsets.
By recognising and appreciating cultural similarities and differences, companies create an inclusive environment that cultivates diversity and encourages new solutions.
4. Take advantage of the right digital tools and platforms. Remote teams should have access to the right digital tools that will make it easier for them to communicate with each other, track deadlines, organise tasks, and complete assignments. Some learning curve is to be expected when introducing these tools to employees, especially for companies still on the way to digitising their systems and operations. However, be wary of using apps, programs, platforms, and software that are too complicated.
5. Set clear communication guidelines. While freelancers and remote workers can work independently, it’s important that they can easily and openly communicate with everyone in the team. Likewise, they should be able to freely access any information they need to get the job done. Therefore, remote team managers should be clear about how employees should communicate (email vs. messaging apps vs. video calls, for example), how often meetings should be conducted (don’t forget to consider time zones), and any other communication protocols.
Discuss preferences and specifics with team members. Do they prefer using messaging apps as the main communication channel? Are weekly team meetings via video conferencing doable for them? How soon should they respond to emails?
6. Create a structure for managing projects and tracking productivity. Remote workers may already feel confident in their own skills and work ethic. Providing them with an efficient structure to follow will empower them to take responsibility and pride in their work. The goal is for this system to allow them to work freely in their own way while team leaders keep track of their progress without micromanaging them. Trust them to do the work, deliver results, and hold them accountable once the deadlines are up.
7. Provide support for remote team members. Remote team members are physically distant from their peers and managers, so it’s important that their employers can support them with whatever they need to do their job well. This can come in the form of additional training or workshops, upskilling opportunities, extra resources, open communication lines, or a flexible working schedule. Recognise their efforts. Show your appreciation when they do a great job. Don’t forget to ensure work-life balance! In a supportive and positive environment, people become motivated to deliver better results.
8. Connect remote employees with each other. In a normal office setting, people would interact and form connections with colleagues with whom they share personal and professional interests. Remote workers, however, have limited chances to do so. So, provide them with a virtual space and opportunities where they can talk about how they work and their career goals, as well as explore non-work experiences with each other.
9. Encourage and maintain a strong team spirit. Related to the tip above, companies can take things a notch higher by making team-building activities regular to help remote workers bond with each other on a more personal level. For example, delegate an hour or so every Friday to a team activity or weekly check-in. Managers can use this to find out what everyone has been busy with lately, what they need help with workwise, or simply to relax and unwind. Or, have off days where remote team members can engage in creative or relaxing online activities together and share their experiences with the rest of the team.
10. Encourage and provide constructive feedback. Is remote work new to your company and employees? Take this as an opportunity for your managers and team members to learn the ropes together. Encourage everyone to give their honest and constructive feedback. Is there something that the management should be doing to help their remote employees? What can employees do to adjust better to remote work and perform their best?
The challenges in managing remote teams may be daunting at first, but it does get better with the right approaches. Learning how to manage remote teams effectively is the way forward for businesses in the new normal. As such, companies should be able to support their leaders in crafting a plan tailored to their remote work needs and objectives. The goal is to make sure that everyone in the team is engaged, connected, and motivated to work together despite the challenges. With the tips above, managers have strategic insights for making remote work beneficial for both employees and companies.
Ready to power through these challenges and take the next steps to help your remote team work better? Register now on Jobstreet to stay updated on the latest talent acquisition and management trends on the Employers Insights page. You also get instant access to over 5 million talents in Malaysia, as well as remote talents who may be a good fit for your team through Talent Search.