In general, workers love remote positions that allow them to stay at home while providing their professional services with some remote work tools. However, many companies are still reluctant to fully embrace remote work out of fear they won’t be able to control the workforce. Learning how to achieve good results with remote teams takes time, and it’s important to keep an open mind for new suggestions.
As it turns out, there are already quite a lot of success stories that can provide a blueprint other businesses can follow. Using practical examples to drive the evolution of internal procedures is a savvy practice that can shorten the adaptation period and help companies to survive the transition without any lasting consequences. In this article, you can find some tried-and-true tips that will nudge you in the right direction.
Leading a team consisting of individuals that have different personalities, cognitive styles, and attitudes toward work is never easy. Things are even more complicated when managers have to rely exclusively on digital means of communication to delegate tasks, monitor their execution, correct mistakes, and keep the project on schedule. In this setting, managers can’t really control the situation as closely as they are used to, while the workers have more opportunities to ignore instructions and do whatever they like. If things are not expertly balanced, the whole team could descend into chaos.
While not all teams experience practical problems after switching to remote work, there are some typical early struggles that many businesses have to go through. Some of the remote work challenges commonly encountered include the following:
This is not too much different from normal division of labor within a team, but with remote workers it’s crucial to do it early and to leave no ambiguities. If the worker is unaware that he is supposed to do something, it might take a long time for the manager to notice it and give a direct order. That’s why nothing should be left to chance and every task should be assigned to a specific person.
To take the accountability principle one step further, managers should provide each worker with a list of deliverables expected from his position. The exact type of item that should be delivered will probably vary from one position to the next, so the manager needs to understand the work process perfectly. Time schedule for sending the required content should also be very precisely defined.
If you wait until the last moment to learn that someone got stuck on a crucial step, the project will likely run into trouble. This can be prevented if the manager finds a few moments to touch base with all key players and ensure that all pieces of the puzzle are coming together. This also lets people know that someone cares about their work and wants to see them succeed.
Individual communication can’t replace group sessions, and it’s not good to leave team members isolated for too long. A short video call with everyone onboard is a great way to re-establish the team spirit and air out any issues that individuals might be dealing with. Presence at such a meeting should be mandatory, while active participation should be strongly encouraged.
Bilateral connections within the network make the team much more compact and resilient to adversity. That’s why smart managers shouldn’t try to insert themselves into every conversation. For highly technical or administrative matters, team members directly in charge of the task should be trusted to mutually exchange important information, without waiting for input from above.
One of the main reasons why people enjoy remote work so much is absence of firm dress codes, work hours, or rigid working procedures. When they are able to do things their way, workers tend to be both more productive and more satisfied. Accepting a dose of controlled anarchy in exchange for increased output is a tradeoff that most managers would happily take.
On the other hand, the biggest downside of working from home is the difficulty of separating personal from professional activities. Constant availability through electronic channels is a double-edged sword, and the flexibility it brings could be negated by overuse. Managers focused on long-term success should be aware of the need to respect personal space and wise enough to back off in some situations.
Looking from afar, work process of a remote team can look quite messy. It’s only when all parts come together that the project takes its true shape. Managers need to have more patience when working with distributed teams as progress is not always going to be obvious. Pushing too hard too soon could block critical development instead of making things better. Sometimes, the best outcomes take time to reach organically.
There are lots of different online collaboration, video conferencing, project management, and time tracking tools that are extremely useful to remote teams. Each company should carefully select the software products its uses for this purpose and make sure they cover all the needs. With a properly set software infrastructure, the team can function just as smoothly as if they were sharing an office.
While it’s possible to closely monitor what remote employees do at every moment, this is largely counterproductive. The energy spent playing cat and mouse games with workers could be more efficiently utilized on planning and coordination. If the team is well constructed and includes responsible professionals in key roles, managers shouldn’t be afraid to relinquish some hands-on control.
Quite contrary, good management is even more important now and the same skills that were valuable in the traditional office setting can be quite useful for leading remote teams. However, they need to be adjusted to account for the flexible nature of remote work and unique challenges associated with it.
It’s impossible to imagine teamwork in the virtual space without some kind of communication platform that allows all members to exchange ideas, documents, or multimedia. For larger teams, more comprehensive collaboration suites may be needed that cover all aspects of business operations.
When workers are far from the watchful eye of their superiors, they may be tempted to cut some corners and break some rules. While minor deviations from the protocol may be tolerated, serious infractions should be sanctioned much in the same way as if they occurred in an office.
Surprisingly, in many fields of business remote teams have displayed a higher level of productivity compared to their time in the office. It’s clear that efficient management is necessary for this outcome to be achieved reliably, which emphasizes the role that managers have in broader adoption of remote work and its justification from a business perspective.
Many companies that switched to remote work during the COVID pandemic have no intention of going back, citing lower expenses and higher productivity as the main reasons. This means managers have to be prepared for situations where a part or all of their subordinates are physically located far away.
They would be wise to adopt some management techniques that had been proven to work well in the remote context, and to gradually change their approach according to the results on the ground and feedback from the workers. Some ideas discussed in this article could contribute to the overall improvement of the capacity to manage remote teams without potentially costly delays.