According to a study by Harvard Business Review, 40% of managers feel unprepared to lead remote teams and they are experiencing challenges 6 times more than traditional on-site managers. With 81% of employees expecting remote work arrangements to continue, now is the time to hone your remote management skills and adapt to this new norm of management. That's why we've put together this article on the challenges of remote teams management and of course how to solve for those challenges. let‘s dive in!
Managing a remote team is, of course, a bit different from managing an onsite team, and thus comes with its unique set of challenges. After all, if you turn the normally fixed ‘location’ and ‘timezone’ aspects of work into variable factors, the way you work and the challenges you deal with, change significantly.
The primary challenge being communication. After all, when you can’t talk to each other on the fly to discuss in-the-moment issues when they arise, communication turns into a slow, and time and energy-consuming issue. An issue that 86% of remote workers struggle with! And that’s just where the problems start.
Besides communication challenges, giving people the same sense of unity and belonging within a remote team turns from something that happens semi-organically to something that requires thought, effort, and energy. And knowing that a strong sense of belonging boosts job performance by 56%, it’s clear to see why it’s important to get this right.
Luckily, as a remote team manager, you’re not completely on the wrong side of the curve here. According to the remote employee experience index, overall general happiness levels are higher for remote employees, and a sense of belonging is the only element that needs special attention to make it on par with that of people working in the office. That means that there's a huge opportunity for leaders to focus on helping their remote team members feel like they're part of something bigger. And when that sense of unity is strong, productivity will naturally follow.
And that brings us to the third great challenge of managing a remote team: ensuring productivity and accountability. When your team is working remotely, it is challenging to keep track of what employees are working on and if they are effectively completing their work tasks and meeting their deadlines. Especially in a bigger team, it's all too easy for team members to fall into the trap of "out of sight, out of mind."
But don't worry, there are plenty of ways to make sure that your team is staying on track. By leveraging the necessary tools and strategies, you can ensure that everyone stays accountable and productive. Stay tuned - we'll delve deeper into this in a bit. But first, the (for this list) last and most impactful challenge for remote managers to deal with:
And that's Isolation and burnout. Remote work is great, but it's not always sunshine and rainbows. Mental health is one of those elements that is negatively impacted due to a lack of face-to-face interaction, blurred work-life boundaries, and virtual meeting overload. Did you know that 69% of remote workers are experiencing burnout symptoms and 70% feels isolated? And for some, 24% to be exact, working remotely leads to feelings of loneliness. Those are serious numbers.
So, lots of remote work specific challenges to think about. But hey, “problems are for solving”, and there is a lot you can do to solve the challenges we discussed earlier in this article. Let’s look at the solutions for these challenges one by one, starting with communication. Because in a remote team, there’s more to that than meets the eye.
Communication breakdowns are the root cause of many other challenges that come with managing a remote team. That's why the first thing you should focus on is establishing clear communication channels in your team. From a technical perspective, but also from an emotional one.
So make sure you build the right tech stack for communication and establish the right communication etiquette. As a remote manager, it’s your job after all to make people in your team feel empowered to get in touch with you at any time, and provide the pathways to do so. So show that it’s okay for them to speak their mind, define the tools to use and be accessible. Also, be sure to over-communicate the purpose, sentiment, and status of things in the company, and within the team. One of the ways communication sticks after all is through repetition. Here are a few things you can do on top of that:
Set a regular virtual team check-in: Staying connected with your remote team is key to success and a setting a recurring virtual meeting is a great way to make that happen. But here's the thing - no one likes to sit through a pointless meeting. So, make sure your meetings are productive, and don’t overdo them. Set for example a weekly check in and check out on Monday and Friday respectively, or implement a daily 15 min stand-up with the full team to discuss what’s up. After the meeting, send out a summary of the meeting with key points so everyone is up to speed and knows what to do next. Sounds like a lot of work, summarizing meetings? Not with the right tools!
Give special attention to communication when building your tech stack: Make sure that the technological foundation for communication is solid, so build out an infrastructure that covers all aspects of communication. Implement a video conferencing tool like zoom, teams, or meet and add a messaging platform like Slack for the day-to-day stuff. Combine this with a project management tool like Asana, Trello, or Monday to keep track of all the moving parts within your team. Make sure you can collaborate, using Figma or Miro, and add a meeting intelligence tool like Carv, Avoma, or Otter.ai to make sure everything that is discussed in meetings, lands somewhere and is accessible for people.
Encourage open communication: Once your technological infrastructure is taken care of, it’s time to work on the soft side of things. As a manager, you hold the key to encouraging open communication in your team, which in turn sparks creativity. Establish ground rules for communication, but be flexible. Gather input from employees continuously so that you know what’s happening within the team. The goal is to level the playing field and form an almost ‘hive mind-esque’ culture, where speaking up is encouraged, nothing is out of bounds and everyone is aligned on what needs to happen
Build for flexibility: Flexibility is often mentioned as the greatest benefit of remote working. So make sure you not only talk the talk of flexibility, but also walk the walk. As a remote team manager with team members in different time zones, it’s your job to make everyone feel unobstructed by their respective time zones. So build your operation to accommodate for this.
For example, hold your all hands team meetings on a time which accommodates all, or at least most of the team members. Install a culture of asynchronous sharing of information the same way you hand a baton in a relay race. Whether it’s through writing briefs, giving video updates, or sharing meeting summaries with the team, all should be in the loop at all times. In short, help your team members feel supported, engaged, and motivated to achieve their goals, no matter the location. Build for flexibility and embrace it.
Second, after the fundament for communication has been laid, focus on social interaction and team building activities, albeit in a different way than you might be used to. The main difference here again being that social interaction doesn’t happen naturally at the water cooler or during Friday drinks. And you don’t want to flood people within the team with extra meetings either. I So, how do you go about this in a non-intrusive and efficient manner?
One way could be to put some effort into getting to know about the interests of the people in your team, and make ‘last night’s football game’ or ‘astronomical event’ (or whatever else might happen in the sphere of interests of people within your team) part of the intro of the morning standup. This makes people feel recognised and sparks conversation amongst team members.
Another could be to start a ‘random’, ‘funny’, or ‘memes’ channel on Slack. Laughing, after all, serves a social function. Plus, people can check the stuff that’s posted in Slack channels, whenever they want. Which sounds obvious, but in an asynchronous work environment, this is what you are looking for - how can I share things and forge strong social bonds in an asynchronous and/or non-intrusive way.
And for team building, instead of stuffing virtual team building events into the yearly calendar (who likes those anyways?), go overboard and fly people out and actually ‘hang’. It might sound like much, but seeing the faces of people when they first meet each other in real life, after spending countless virtual hours together is priceless.
Now, in order to ensure productivity and accountability in a remote team there are 2 instruments you can leverage to achieve just that - regular feedback, and regular recognition. Again, sounds like a no brainer, but that’s the whole challenge with managing a remote team. Things that sound ‘run of the mill’ in an office setting, turn into defining management instruments that require some thought to apply correctly working remote.
Oh, and please don’t confuse ‘providing regular feedback’ with micromanagement. Trust and ownership still go a long way, but do make sure you work with a process that has several feedback moments embedded within it. This provides stability for your team members, gives you an idea of all that’s going on, and whether or not things are moving in the right direction. And as a plus, it serves as another touchpoint or conversation starter between you and the people in your team.
And after you’ve given the feedback, and people implemented correctly, follow up with recognition. Because in the end, we all want to be recognised for our labor. So be sure to give that recognition to people when they deserve it.
And then last but not least, it’s important to set boundaries and actively promote a healthy work-life balance. After all, if you don’t and people push themselves over the edge, burnout is an inevitable endstation. So, what can you do as a remote team manager to help out?.
For example, encourage your team members to set specific work hours that work for them, and respect those hours. Also, encourage them to take regular breaks and disconnect from work-related activities outside of work hours. This helps create a healthy balance between work and personal life and prevents burnout. But keep in mind that everyone is different and might need something different, so be sure to tailor your approach and the boundaries you set, to the individual.
Finally, communicate your expectations. Make sure your team members know exactly what you expect of them, and when you expect it. But don't get too caught up in corporate jargon! Keep it friendly and approachable, and your team will appreciate your clarity and guidance.
Overall, the most important thing as a remote manager is to stay ahead of the game, find your own way of doing things, and coming up with solutions to challenges proactively. Prevention is better than the cure. So be sure to actively stay ahead by continuously:
- Be on the lookout for new technologies and tools
- Anticipating changes in the remote work landscape
- Continuously re-evaluating and refining your approach to remote team management
Managing a remote team is not your typical walk in the park. But with the right strategies and mindset managing a remote team in 2023 will be a truly uplifting and fulfilling experience - and something you’ll benefit from throughout your career.