According to a 2020 survey by Enterprise Technology Research (ETR), the growth of remote workers in 2021 in the U.S. was expected to double. Technological advances and the pandemic have accelerated the transition from traditional workplaces to remote work; this is obvious. As a result, many companies have made permanent provisions for full-time or part-time remote work options for their employees and have drastically changed how they are managing remote teams. However, with this trend comes the challenges of knowing how to manage remote teams in the most sustainable and efficient way.
As much as you think you may have figured it all out, there is always room for improvement, so grab a coffee/tea, and tune in for a few minutes while we share some crucial warning signs that indicate you’re doing remote wrong, and what you can do to get back on track.
Co-located traditional workspaces allow near-instantaneous communication with and between employees, as workers are able to physically interact with each other. A mistake many businesses make while managing remote teams is attempting to recreate this constant flow of communication in the virtual workspace with endless video calls and group chats.
These meetings take up several hours of the workday, and employee productivity can take a hit from zoom fatigue and other constant interruptions, leading to missed communication, and impaired focus. It’s erroneous to attempt to apply the same formula for the traditional workplace to remote work since they are two unique scenarios. Instead, it's vital to evaluate your remote team’s needs and develop systems and processes that suit them best.
An approach many leading remote-first companies like GitLab have taken is that of asynchronous communication. It's difficult for synchronicity to work 100% of the time among distributed teams, especially those divided by time zones. Therefore, your employees will benefit from a mode of communication that allows them to communicate without expecting immediate feedback or input from other team members.
An async form of communication also gives your employees more control over their workday. Asynchronous collaboration tools allow you to streamline your business’s communications with planners, goal tracking, and templates for async meetings. Communication asynchronously is particularly advantageous for remote companies with staff across various time zones, so work can keep going around the clock without requiring all employees to be awake at all hours.
A paper published in 2020 by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that remote workers were having 13% more meetings than their office counterparts. Although these additional meetings may not be necessary, they're still taking place, and this is where the problem starts.
Managers often attempt to perform a virtual communication balancing act that allows all deadlines, communications, and project updates to be reported synchronously.
In addition, informal communications, or those “water cooler conversations”, which are vital for maintaining interpersonal relationships among your employees, are taking up a good chunk of time during these meetings, often derailing work conversations and forcing postponements or extensions of meetings, resulting in...you guessed it, more meetings.
On the other hand, you may be calling for more meetings because you do not trust your employees and so are forced to micromanage them (more on this in the next point). All of these can be extremely exhausting and distracting for both you and your employees, reducing productivity across the board.
Once again, asynchronous communication provides a good solution to the above problem. Instead of having short meetings for every piece of communication, daily updates can be shared on an asynchronous meeting platform and reviewed in a single meeting. Ensure that your meetings are concise by having an agenda planned and shared with your employees beforehand so that everyone is on the same page. And, don't forget to take meeting minutes - here's some info on how to take minutes that don't suck. There is no magic formula for managing remote teams, but there are key habits you can adopt that will help build your skillset as a great remote team.
While managing a remote team, you may often find yourself crossing the line between supervision and micromanaging. Many managers struggle with working around the urge to micromanage. It’s easy to assume employees aren’t focusing enough on work while at home, so you need to check up on them constantly with regular emails and instant messages. You may even install employee surveillance software to ensure your employees are working when you think they should be. If you've gone this route, its best to re-think your management style, or, at least, know the laws and ethics of employee monitoring and privacy. Contrary to your expectations, using employee monitoring software will actually lead to a drop in productivity.
Plus, micromanaging can be very distracting for an employee, as they’ll often have to pause in the middle of work to respond to an email or do a requested task that may be unrelated to the work at hand. This type of managerial behaviour communicates a lack of trust in your employees, which can lower their morale, and create more work not just for your employees, but for you as well.
This is the golden question.☝️ Knowing how to perform your supervisory duty as an employer without stepping over the line is something that takes some people years to learn. Zapier, a global remote company, encourages an accountability without micromanaging model of management. They are experts in how to manage remote teams. Their week starts with managers having one-on-ones with their direct team, and, at the end of the week, everyone publishes a Friday update outlining the progress they made during the week and what their priorities are for the coming week.
This is a very effective approach, as it ensures good communication without the need for regular check-ins. Another way you can avoid micromanaging is by focusing on the “what” instead of the “how”. As long as employees are getting the work done, there is no need to follow them step by step. If you want to be managing remote teams successfully, you need to trust.
Flexibility is a key aspect of remote working. Let your employees complete tasks on their own, in their own way, and in their own time, as long as it still fits within the company’s deadlines and requirements. If your employee is knowledgeable and skilled, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t trust them to do their job right, even while working remotely.
Business owners often assume that remote work and remote hiring mean much less work on the HR front, and that is not true. When hiring remote workers, HR needs to be well versed in how to evaluate candidates for the remote working world. For example, in a remote environment, written communication skills become far more important than the ability to lead a meeting, so, when hiring, this should be one of the qualities HR evaluates on.
Additionally, when hiring remotely, you have a greater chance to increase your hiring pool and look for more diverse candidates. Hiring people who look like you to fit in at the office Christmas party should no longer be a priority, now is the time to hire people based on their skills and culture-add, not culture fit.
Many managers often overlook corporate training for their remote teams. This lack of development opportunities can make employees feel like they’re not valued, or that there is no future for them within the company.
When you have your entire workforce working from home, it’s easy to forget about what they need to get their work done and instead expect continuous output from them without any input on your part. However, even while working at home, your employee’s working conditions are your responsibility.
Many workers at home cannot access equipment that was readily available in the office, ie. printers, ergonomic equipment like chairs, standup tables, etc. All of the mentioned can affect their productivity quite drastically.
To ensure maximum productivity and creativity from your remote employees, considerations should be made for the purchase of equipment and amenities they may need to better work at home. This can be done by diverting funds that should’ve been used for in-office activities (like office parties) to purchasing this equipment for your employees.
Additionally, simple measures like regular 1-1 check-ins with your staff to see how they're doing can be beneficial. Additionally, having a good understanding of the law regarding remote employees ensures that their rights are respected as it relates to all working conditions.
For many leaders, managing remote teams is still something they're trying to understand how to navigate as it is relatively uncharted territory and mistakes in management happen quite often. However, with the steps to recognize and correct these errors outlined above, you can steer your team and your business back on the right track.
Written by: Gerald Ainomugisha - a freelance Content Solutions Provider (CSP) offering both content and copy writing services for businesses of all kinds, with particular focus on management, marketing and technology.