In recent years, remote work has experienced a significant surge in popularity, transforming the traditional office landscape and redefining the way organizations and businesses operate as a whole. With the rise of technological advancements and changing work dynamics, managing remote employees has become a critical skill managers must possess.
While remote work offers undeniable benefits in the form of increased flexibility and access to a global talent pool, it also presents unique challenges. From communication hurdles to maintaining team cohesion, remote managers have to adapt their ways to ensure the success and productivity of their remote teams are up to par.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the most common challenges when managing remote workers, as well as some ideas on how to successfully address them.
Common Challenges of Managing Remote Employees and How to Overcome Them
Issues With Communication
Communication issues are one of the most common challenges of managing remote employees. Fostering proper communication within company teams is the key to successful remote work. In the same vein, not having one can cause a myriad of problems for both employees and their managers, such as decreased employee productivity and motivation.
For example, let’s say that an employee needs some specific information to continue working on a particular task. In such a situation, proper etiquette dictates that the employee should send an email to their manager, team lead, or head of a department as they can’t physically knock on their office door.
This, we all agree, could take up quite a lot of time, as email is generally seen as a formal type of written communication. The person in charge would have to reply in an equally formal way, causing an additional communication delay. This also presupposes that the manager/team lead actually gets and sees the email in question right away, which is not always the case.
When it comes to dealing with pressing issues, email communication is rarely the best option. Getting stuck in an email chain can negatively affect the employee’s ability to perform the required work and lead to them losing quality work time.
So, how to fix or prevent this from happening? It’s simple – as a manager, you should create additional communication channels and look to utilize various tools to streamline team communication.
Capitalize on Modern Communication Tools
Some of the most popular communication tools you could use with your remote workers are:
- Slack – A real-time messaging platform that’s great for communicating between team members. It has numerous features that could help manage remote workers, such as managing and tracking documents, advanced search modifiers, group team chats, the ability to schedule messages, and more.
- Trello – A project management tool that aims to help teams collaborate and organize their projects. It can also be used for direct communication via different power-ups (or add-ons). For example, the Petit Chat power-up allows for instant messaging, while the BlueJeans Meetings power-up allows for video meetings.
- Asana – Enables teams to track their projects and allows managers to directly assign tasks and effectively manage workflows, as well as communicate with team members.
- Basecamp – A project management tool that also allows for team communication through various unique features, such as direct pings, campfire chat, and more.
Utilize Modern Video Conferencing Tools
Here are some tools that allow for both video and audio calls and that can serve as additional communication channels between team members:
- Zoom – As one of the best-rated communication platforms out there, Zoom and the various features that come with it can be used to streamline the way remote teams converse. It has a free option, which is great for small teams or businesses working within a set and tight budget.
- Google Meet – A great solution for small or teams working on a restricted budget. Its free version allows for up to 100 participants on any given call, making it an excellent tool for medium-sized conferences or presentations, as well as regular team meetings.
- Microsoft Teams – Can manage up to 10,000 people on one call simultaneously, making Microsoft Teams great software to host large conferences, hold annual company-wide meetings, and more.
If you decide to use any of the above, it’s important to set boundaries as to when and why your employees should contact you over one of these channels.
Tracking Work Hours
When managing remote employees, it’s important to ensure that every one of them is putting in their fair share of work hours. By fair share, we mean the number of work hours they’re contractually obligated to put in on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
But how can you track the time of your remote workers without actively monitoring employees’ work hours? The most accurate and convenient way to do this is to use some kind of time-tracking software.
The data from time tracking software can be used to gain further insight into employee productivity, accurately bill clients, process payroll, and more. And, for our purposes, time-tracking apps can also be used to track the number of work hours spent by your remote employees.
There are various types of time-tracking software on the market. The type you’ll choose will depend on the type of relationship you have with your employees, the culture of your company, the overall trust levels within company teams, and the managerial style you wish to implement.
Lack of In-person Oversight
Different employees require different amounts of oversight. This is true for regular as well as remote work. The problem with remote work is that it does not allow for in-person supervision, which could be challenging for more traditional managers who are less used to managing remote employees. So, how can you meet this challenge head-on?
One common solution is to set up daily/weekly calls. Depending on the type of work and whether it’s highly collaborative or not, you could schedule a couple of one-on-one calls or just a regular team call.
The thing to note here is that these calls should be regular and predictable, meaning they should ideally take place on the same day(s) of the week and at the same time.
Another helpful thing is to try to keep an overall positive tone during these meetings. The goal is to make remote employees feel comfortable talking to you and voicing their work issues and project concerns.
Many remote managers make a mistake and unintentionally turn these calls into “employee review calls.” This can add unnecessary pressure on remote workers and affect their productivity. Instead, the focus of these meetings should be to check up on your employees’ work/task progress and address immediate issues and employee concerns. Try to keep the inquiries at a minimum and mostly focus on their questions.
Creating a sense of belonging among your company team is a bit more difficult when managing remote workers. The fact that remote employees typically engage in fewer social interactions can have various effects on their mental health and well-being, consequently affecting their work performance.
That’s why managers of remote workers should attempt to facilitate non-formal social interactions between their team members.
The first step is to create opportunities for remote social interaction. You could do this by allocating a certain portion of your regular team calls to converse about non-work-related things (e.g., ask your employees about their weekend, family, and health, inquire about the state of their place of residence, etc.).
Another option is to organize virtual parties, such as pizza parties, wine parties, etc., to celebrate company milestones. The idea is to offer some form of social support and reduce the feelings of loneliness and exclusion some remote workers might be experiencing.
Another one of the most common challenges of managing remote employees is dealing with employees from a variety of different cultural backgrounds. Even though it can seem challenging, learning about team members' cultures is a must for remote managers if they want to manage them effectively.
The first step to solving that problem is to prioritize open communication. You should also notice different work styles among your cross-culture team members and try to create a management strategy that supplements those styles. There’s no “One Hat Fits All” solution when it comes to this issue. Flexibility, understanding, and patience are key.
Setting Work Schedules
Setting and creating work schedules for remote workers can be as complicated as it is versatile. In general, there are two broad types of setting work schedules when managing remote employees:
Set the “Main Time Zone”
If your business operates or is located in a specific time zone, or if most of your clients are in said time zone, then you’d ideally want your employees to be on-call/available during prime work hours for that part of the world.
What you want to do is set the main time zone in which all of your remote employees have to perform their work or be available.
However, this might be a challenge for some remote workers outside that time zone. Keep that in mind and keep a close eye on them to ensure they are indeed able to perform all of their work obligations.
Asynchronous work could be simply looked at as a free-for-all – meaning there’s no set work schedule, and every one of your remote employees can freely set their own work hours. There are a lot of advantages to this type of remote employee management, but it is not always applicable, as many jobs require people to be present at a specific time (if not a place, as is the case with remote work).
Additional Tips for Managing Remote Employees
Be Available and Considerate
Many of the challenges remote employees face are new and unfamiliar for both employees and managers/team leads. That uncertainty can cause stress and further impede remote employees' ability to perform their jobs, finish tasks, and more. That’s why remote managers need to be considerate and approach any employee interaction with a higher degree of sympathy and understanding.
Many things can cause stress to remote workers. For instance, they might struggle with the internal communication channels you’re using and feel left out of company discussions. Delayed responses (i.e., asynchronous communication) can gradually cause dissatisfaction, a sense of distrust, and a lack of transparency.
Some ways to prevent potential misunderstandings and ensure your remote employees are being heard and assisted are to ask them directly how they feel about remote work, the communication channels you’re using, the remote work apps/platforms available to them, and the like.
Try to schedule meetings, have regular calls, and make a certain portion of your work day free to ensure all of your team members are settled and feel “at home” with remote work.
Understand the Challenges of Working From Home
To understand the minds of remote employees better and thus manage them with greater ease, leaders of remote teams need to be familiar with their most common challenges.
Time Management and Work-Life Balance
Without clear boundaries between work and personal life, employees may work longer hours or struggle to disconnect from work-related tasks. This can lead to overworking or burnout.
The best course of action as a manager of remote employees is to engage in conversations about work-life balance and encourage your employees to talk about their experiences. Just remember, there’s no one perfect solution for this issue.
You could try and help them set up their own time management strategies and work on honing their time management skills and testing out various time management techniques, all the while emphasizing their importance.
Distractions and Interruptions
Remote workers are often exposed to various types of distractions, such as chores, family members milling about, noisy neighbors, and more. These interruptions can hinder productivity and focus, ultimately worsening their job performance.
Although you can’t directly affect or improve the conditions of their home-work environment, you can advise your employees on how to do it themselves. To learn more, check out our article about the most common challenges remote employees face.
Remote work almost always presupposes a good working computer and internet connectivity. As technology is not flawless, your remote employees might experience technical difficulties and issues that can negatively affect their workflow and ability to perform certain tasks. This can further result in missed deadlines, unfinished work, and similar types of issues.
There are a couple of ways to address this:
- Ensure your remote employees have a work computer that they use solely for work purposes. This will limit the chances of technical issues, contracting viruses, and other common glitches that regularly occur on personal computers.
- Having a good and stable internet connection is almost certainly a must-have when it comes to remote work. Talk to your remote employees about this and try to ensure that they are using the services of the best and most reliable internet provider available in their location.
- Help remote employees set up their workstations. Not every remote worker is going to be tech-savvy and capable of setting up their remote workstations by themselves. You could easily solve this by recording your screen and sharing a step-by-step video tutorial of the process.
Set Clear Expectations
When dealing with remote workers, it’s important to set clear goals and expectations. Your managerial style and the exact nature of your business will determine how you do this, but here are some ideas that could do wonders for your team’s productivity:
- Have clear project goals – Explain to your remote team the main goals behind the project you’re working on. Set expectations and get everybody on the same page early in the project.
- Set deadlines – Having clear and fixed deadlines is a good way to manage your remote employees’ productivity. This will allow you to focus less on the amount of time your employees spend working and more on the quality of work and deliverables they’re sending in.
- Document productivity – When managing remote employees, it’s vital to document the productivity of each individual worker. This way, you can ensure that everyone in your team is and will be effective regarding their work obligations.