In today’s increasingly digital world, more and more companies are choosing to use remote teams. As a result, this trend of utilizing remote work has accelerated in recent years and shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, research shows when it comes to remote work and the labor force, that 14% of all workers are fully remote, with an additional 29% in a hybrid form.
This new format provides a range of advantages, including the ability to scale quickly, improved productivity, access to a larger talent pool, and reduced overhead costs such as office space/supplies.
However, those advantages come at a price.
Managing remote teams can also present unique challenges, including keeping everybody connected and ensuring objectives are met, staying on track with timelines and other metrics, and supporting team members while keeping them motivated and connected to the company culture at large.
Although managing remote teams can be tricky, achieving successful outcomes is still possible with the right strategies in place.
What is a remote team?
Before discussing the challenges managers face with remote teams, defining what makes a remote team is essential to understand.
A remote team is a group of people who work together from different locations, time zones, or geographic areas, often using technology to communicate and collaborate. Some businesses provide a hybrid in-office and remote work option, while others are going entirely remote in some — if not all — departments.
Advantages of remote work
Remote work has been gaining traction in recent years due to a variety of advantages.
The data around remote team productivity is largely self-reported, but the numbers paint a consistent picture: Remote workers think they're more efficient and productive.
A survey conducted by Stanford University professor Nicholas Bloom found that 9% of remote workers reported being more efficient at home than in the office. In the summer of 2022, that number had risen to 15%.
Flexible work environment
Flexible work schedules are becoming increasingly popular among employers and employees alike. Not only do they provide a better work-life balance and reduced commuting costs, but they also offer numerous benefits to employers.
For starters, flexible work is an attractive recruitment and retention tool as it allows employees to have balance even when their lives enter different points.
Flexible work schedules are associated with decreased stress, enhanced employee engagement, and personal and professional well-being. This leads to improved productivity, less “out-of-office” time, and lower healthcare costs for companies.
In addition to the benefits mentioned above, flexible work schedules can improve team collaboration by allowing members to communicate more easily across different time zones or locations, helping teams stay connected while working remotely or from home offices.
Cost reduction and team retention
A remote work setup can save businesses a significant amount of time and money. For example, companies can save roughly $11,000 a year in overhead costs for every team member they have working remotely.
Some employees reported being so eager for remote work that they're willing to take pay cuts of up to 20% and give up their vacation time if it means they can work from home.
Higher job satisfaction with remote work
Remote work can also lead to higher job satisfaction.
Studies have shown that remote workers are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs than those who work in an office setting. This satisfaction is likely due to remote workers having more control over their schedules and the flexibility to work from anywhere they choose, which leads to a greater sense of autonomy and freedom.
Additionally, remote work eliminates the need for long commutes, which can be a significant source of stress for many people.
Despite these advantages, managing remote teams still presents several challenges.
What are some challenges to remote work?
Transitioning to remote work can be difficult for both managers and employees.
Lack of regular in-person communication and interaction can be disorienting and sometimes even alienating. Project management becomes more complicated as there are no face-to-face meetings to discuss progress or brainstorm ideas, leading to disjointed efforts and the work product potentially suffering.
In addition to this lack of direct supervision, there are other difficulties inherent in remote work. For example, employees may struggle with distractions from home life, difficulty staying motivated, or feelings of loneliness due to reduced social interaction.
However, high-performing employees can maintain job performance and engagement with the proper preparation and training. Managing teams remotely requires trust and accountability among members and clear expectations for tasks and deadlines.
By understanding the unique challenges associated with remote work, you can adapt your management practices to create an environment that allows your teams to thrive — even when they’re not in the office.
Managing remote teams
When you manage a remote team, you face several unique challenges, from communication issues to unclear expectations. But if you add a few strategies to your management practices, it’s not difficult to maintain the success of your team.
1. Establish clear lines of communication
The most important factor in managing a remote team is establishing clear communication. With it, tasks can be understood, and deadlines are easier to meet. And when employees are in the office, it is easy to communicate ideas and collaborate with each other.
However, when employees work remotely, this face-to-face interaction is lost. This means managers of remote employees need to consider how they will use different forms of communication to replace lost interaction.
Strategies and lines of communication may include:
- Remote calls via Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Team, or others
- Occasional in-person meetings or conferences, when possible
- Instant messaging apps like Slack and Asana
- Email chains
- Workboard apps such as Clickup, Monday, and others
2. Set goals and expectations
Setting clear expectations and boundaries can help create a sense of structure and accountability in the workplace. By laying guidelines around how and when tasks should be completed, employees will better understand their roles and responsibilities.
Creating structures in the workplace is essential for productivity, especially when employees are working remotely. It's easy to feel disconnected when everyone is in different locations, so creating a team rhythm that allows everyone to stay connected and on the same page is crucial.
Ensure that everyone understands how quickly they are expected to respond to communication and when they should attend virtual meetings.
Keep in mind remote employees may be in different time zones, so plan accordingly. One way to adapt is to rotate meeting times so that the same employee doesn’t have to consistently have meetings either too late or too early in the day. This strategy will help keep everyone feeling connected and productive despite being apart physically.
Additionally, boundaries need to be established around working hours and methods of communication. These boundaries will help ensure that employees are not overworking themselves or feeling pressured to respond outside their designated workday.
3. Foster team bonding
Team bonding is essential for remote teams, as it helps build trust and camaraderie. Encourage team members to get to know each other by setting up virtual social events, such as online game nights or video chats.
It is also essential to provide opportunities for team members to collaborate and work together on projects. This can be done by setting up virtual brainstorming sessions or group discussions. These are great platforms for employees to share their ideas and feedback, which will foster an environment of open communication and collaboration.
Make sure to recognize team members' accomplishments and celebrate successes together. Doing this will create a sense of unity and camaraderie among your team.
4. Utilize technology
Technology can be an excellent asset for remote teams, allowing accessible communication and collaboration. Make sure everyone on the team is familiar with the tools they need to use and that they are comfortable using them.
For example, onboarding remote employees can be challenging but essential for productivity and retention. Organizations must take extra steps to optimize the onboarding process to ensure that new hires feel welcome and supported in their new role.
Include clear communication and expectations, set up virtual meetings with team members, and create an onboarding plan that outlines the tasks and goals of the new hire.
Additionally, organizations should provide access to resources such as training materials and tutorials to help new hires get up to speed quickly.
5. Provide support
Remote teams need support in order to be successful. For your team to be successful, everyone needs access to the tools and resources that are necessary to perform their jobs and achieve the objectives of each project.
Also, provide your team members with a direct point of contact in the organization that will facilitate and answer any questions or concerns they may have so that they aren’t stuck without support and can move on quickly to the next task.
6. Implement a time tracking solution
It is essential to know the workload and expectations you place on your remote team. Understanding the productivity and workflow of each member and the expected timeline for completion of the task shouldn’t be set in stone. Instead, it should have some flexibility, especially with remote workers.
Implementing a time tracking app like Harvest into your work environment will give you insights into how productive each member is, what they do with their downtime, and what counts as billable or non-billable hours. It will also give you insight into the length of time a project or task will take to complete.
This data will help you further refine your project estimates making your client deliverables more accurate and allowing you to budget more effectively in the future.
When managing remote teams, it’s crucial to always remember that communication is vital. Make sure to stay in regular contact with your team and provide clear instructions on tasks and deadlines.
Additionally, be open to feedback from your team members so that you can adjust accordingly if needed. Create an environment of trust and respect so everyone feels comfortable expressing their ideas and opinions without fear of judgment or criticism.
By taking these steps, you can ensure that your remote team is successful and productive.