Challenges to Managing Remote Workers and How to Overcome Them
Imagine, your office chair is your couch. Your snack drawer is your entire pantry. Believe it’s a dream? Not these days when we’re all figuring out how to live with the reality of coronavirus. Remote work is very much a reality.
Working remotely just isn’t the same as being in the office. It has its benefits (feel like wearing sweatpants and a Hawaiian shirt? No problem!). However, there are also challenges that are important to understand and resolve so you can keep your staff and company goals on track.
Before we talk about the challenges to manage a remote team, have you read our guide on How to set up a remote team? We recommend you take a look!
Managers often are aware of the obvious challenges to working remotely. Team members may lack proper equipment or have Internet connections that can’t fully support their work requirements. And then there’s the fact that while some jobs are well-suited to remote working, other roles are genuinely team-oriented and results can suffer when staff members are required to work separate from each other. However, there are more subtle challenges to managing a remote workforce, such as the fact that new employees may suffer from lack of training and direct guidance, and employees who might have struggled with their performance and under typical circumstances may lose some motivation when separated from co-workers and managers who typically help them stay focused. Below, we share with you a few challenges that organizations may face in managing a remote working team, along with simple ways to overcome them.
Challenge 1 : Lack of face-to-face supervision
Both managers and their employees regularly express worries about the absence of face-to-face interaction. Managers may be concerned that employees won’t work as hard or as effectively as they do when working in the office. Some employees also struggle with more limited access to managerial support and communication.
Many employees simply need the social interaction and direct communication the workplace provides under normal circumstances. For example, some employees working remotely may find email, which is convenient but imperfect, to be inadequate for an effective work environment.
Solution : Establish structured daily check-ins
Many successful remote managers build up a day-to-day interaction with their remote workers. Just because your team is working remotely doesn’t mean you need to cut back on face-to-face meetings when needed. The important element is that employees have a forum where they can interact regularly with their supervisors, and that their interests and questions will be heard. The technology is available and it’s easy to use. Sometimes a virtual face to face meeting can be much more effective than email or chatting over Slack.
To that point, email alone really is insufficient. Remote workers benefit by an array of communication technologies such as video conferencing, which enables participants to engage in a more personal way: picking up on verbal and visual clues and participating in a more genuine dialogue than email can provide. Nothing best up close and personal!Video is additionally much better suited than email for complex or highly personal discussions, as it feels more genuine than written or audio-only communication.
That being said, we realize that there are some circumstances when quick collaboration is a higher priority — and more effective — than video conferencing. For these circumstances, GeekTek recommends mobile-enabled individual messaging functionality (like Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and so on.) which can be utilized for less difficult, less complex discussions, as well as time-sensitive communication.
Challenge 2 : Lack of access to information
Newly remote workers are frequently amazed by the time and effort necessary to get information from their colleagues. Finding solutions to what appear to be basic questions can feel like enormous obstacles to workers based at home.
That distance can slow the flow of information between team members is a significant issue: Research has found that a lack of “shared information” among remote workers can result in a lack of trust and miscommunication. For instance, in an office environment, it’s easy to see if a colleague is having a difficult day. You can tell by his or her body language, tone of voice and — most obviously — if he or she tells you it’s just a bad day. However, when teammates are working remotely and someone sends you a harsh e-mail, you may not realize that your colleague means no harm and is just having a bad day because you have no visual or verbal cues, and no context. This can cause resentment, hurt feelings and misunderstandings.
Solution : Establish “rules of engagement”
Remote work can be much more effective, fulfilling and collegial when managers set expectations for team communications. For instance, telling team members, “We use videoconferencing for daily meetings, however we use IM only when something is critical.” Also, if you can, let your workers know the most ideal way and time to contact you during the workday (e.g., “I will be accessible late in the day for phone calls,, but if there’s an emergency, send me a text.” Also, don’t forget to communicate with the team members to ensure that they are sharing information as required.
Challenge 3 : Social isolation
Loneliness is one of the most widely recognized complaints about remote work, with workers missing the casual social interaction of an office setting. The social butterflies (e.g. extroverts) may experience the ill effects of isolation more in the short run. However, almost any worker, even the most introverted, will likely experience some level of loneliness the longer they are required to work from home without the camaraderie, fun and friendships they enjoy at work. Remote work can make any employee feel less “having a place” in their organization, and can even prompt them to consider looking for another job that provides them with more social interaction.
Solution : Provide opportunities for remote social interaction
There’s a tendency for communication to be more formal, more utilitarian and less personal and social when staff members are working remotely. mailing and texting is a great way to keep a line of contact open while finishing any project, yet how can it work when you need to be more than just a coworker. Maybe a colleague or a genuine friend? For this problem the appropriate answer is simple: Start sharing a little more.
One of the most essential steps a manager can take is to structure ways for remote workers to collaborate socially (that is, have casual discussions about non-work themes) while working remotely. This applies for every single employee who is working remotely.
The simplest method to build up some basic social interaction is to leave some time towards the beginning of team calls only for non-work things (e.g., “We will spend the initial couple of minutes simply finding one another. How was your weekend?”).
Challenge 4 : Distractions at home
As millions of employees have been required to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic, we have become used to seeing images in the media of parents holding a young child while working on a laptop, or conducting a conference call from the dining room table. We typically recommend that managers work with remote employees to establish a dedicated work space in their home. However, during this crisis, which has forced people to abruptly switch to at-home work while also home-schooling their children and taking care of other family members, the separation between work and home simply isn’t always possible. Managers simply must be understanding and accommodating, and trust that their staff are doing the best they can under the circumstances. m
Solution : Offer encouragement and emotional support
GeekTek suggests that it is important for managers to recognize the pressure their employees are under, and be sensitive to their family obligations and concerns about their family’s health. Ask people how they’re doing! You never know, you may get a response that you might not otherwise hear, and the opportunity to ease an employee’s stress. Take the time to truly listen to your employees and make it your goal to help them when you can.
Usually employees tend to seek their manager’s help on how to respond to abrupt changes or emergency situations. If a manager communicates with their employees regarding their problems and concerns, this will have a “trickle-down” effect on employees.