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Remote work is becoming more and more common—who doesn’t want to work in their pajamas and be a few steps away from the fridge? And it’s not just the draw of home comforts and easy access to snacks; remote workers are actually more productive, more engaged, and perform at a higher quality. But only if managers know how to lead their remote teams.
Managing a remote team has unique challenges. It’s different enough from traditional in-office work that if you try to manage the traditional way, things aren’t going to work out. Some of the most common challenges are:
- Lack of effective communication
- Employee isolation and loneliness
- Lack of employee motivation
- Unrealistic expectations
Learning how to manage remote teams in an effective, healthy, and helpful way is key to succeeding in the growing flexible work environment we’re in. How do you maximize the awesome benefits of a WFH team while also minimizing these potential drawbacks?
Challenge #1: Lack of Communication
Face-to-face work is simply better than remote work when it comes to clear and effective communication. For example, you can simply roll your chair to Sarah’s desk, ask her about her project, and then roll right back. You get a leg workout and the communication is quick and simple. Remote employees, however, lack that face-to-face interaction—even though video conferencing can help with that a little.
From initial brainstorming to providing direction to following up, communication is key to any team. And there are ways to maintain effective communication—even remotely.
Solution: Regular Check-Ins With the Right Tools
One of the best ways to maintain communication is with a structure of check-ins. Schedule a weekly meeting for the team to meet over a video call to increase collaboration. Set 1-on-1s with each of your employees at least once a week. These types of structured check-ins are great for keeping everyone involved and on the right track.
Bonus solution: these meetings and check-ins are only as effective as the tools you use, and emails aren’t enough. You need:
- A chat software (such as Slack)
- A video conference software (such as Zoom)
- A project management software (such as Monday)
- A collaboration software (such as InVision)
Challenge #2: Feelings of Isolation
We humans are social creatures—even us introverts will eventually go crazy without at least a little social interaction. According to HBR, extended feelings of loneliness and isolation can cause employees to feel a reduced sense of belonging at the company, and remote workers often feel left out or even shunned.
Feeling lonely can have a big impact on both mental and emotional health, and it can also lower an employee’s motivation and productivity. But just because your team works from home doesn’t mean they have to feel lonely.
Solution: Remote Social Interactions
Similar to the previous solution about communication, social interaction takes more effort to plan and implement with remote teams. But you CAN recreate watercooler conversations and fun interactions with your team members. One of the best ways to do so is to allow for recreational usage of your chosen chat software. Let team members have a channel where they can send jokes, talk about their day, and bond over shared interests and hobbies.
You should also schedule and plan for social interactions. For example, if you need to schedule a 15-minute work meeting, make it a 30-minute meeting and let everyone interact for the first 15 minutes or so. Or, for more celebration-centric events, a virtual pizza party is a great option—order pizza delivery to each employee’s home and chat over a video call.
Yes, these digital social interactions can seem forced or unnatural, but both managers and remote employees say that these types of events help with feelings of isolation.
Challenge #3: Lack of Motivation (Distractions)
When working from home, many employees struggle to find a healthy work/life balance. This can lead to feelings of burnout and a lack of motivation. As a related problem, distractions at home can be a real challenge, especially for parents with young children. But, as with the other challenges on this list, remote work doesn’t have to be intrinsically linked to lower motivation.
Solution: Provide Tools, Incentives, Flexibility, and Trust
One of the best things you can do is to provide the tools employees need to do their job efficiently. Another great option is to use remote employee incentives to get people excited about their work (remember, incentives only work if you offer employee rewards that are exciting and desirable for everyone!).
A huge part of remote employee motivation is the feeling that their leaders trust them. We’ll touch on this more in the next section, but remember that micromanaging doesn’t raise motivation levels—it lowers it. Give your employees the flexibility they need to do their work when they want to or can, and don’t hold them to a rigid schedule of work. As long as they’re generally available during work hours, and they respond to communication in a timely manner, trust that everything will work out. It generally does.
Challenge #4: Unrealistic Expectations
Building on the section above, remote work requires managers to recalibrate how they manage. When remote teams are held to the exact same schedule and standards as in-person teams, frustration and burnout will follow. For example, some managers may try to micromanage each employee’s entire day to make up for the lack of in-person monitoring. But that type of restrictive management and sky-high expectation will harm both employee motivation and happiness.
Solution: Recalibrate How You Manage and Your Expectations
This solution is on the leader’s shoulders. Managers have to show that they trust their employees by letting them do their work when and where they want. Move away from micromanaging employees’ every move—instead, focus on results and let your employees provide those results in whichever way fits them best. This may sound worrisome, but the crazy thing is, when employees feel like their manager trusts them, they’ll reciprocate that trust with greater productivity, more effort, and more loyalty.
We know that this mindset shift can be difficult. When you’re in charge of a team of individuals, it can be hard to take a step back and give them the freedom to do their work. But with remote teams, that freedom is a huge part of lowering stress and raising productivity. You should still hold each employee accountable for the work they produce—that’s what the weekly check-ins and 1-on-1s are for. But holding them accountable as adults is a far cry from babysitting them all day.
Remote Work Really Works
Whether your team recently migrated to WFH, has been fully remote for years, or is a hybrid environment, it’s up to managers and leaders to make remote work as effective as possible. Structuring communication, setting clear expectations, and showing that you trust your employees will go a long way to helping your people do their best at all times—even if they’re wearing their pajamas.