The number of companies with a remote workforce is only getting bigger — 69 percent of companies already allow remote work and 16 percent have gone fully remote. Employees prefer working remotely because it gives them a better work-life balance. In fact, over 99 percent of employees want to work remotely at least once in their careers. Not only do remote workers tend to enjoy what they do more and find remote work less stressful in general, but they’re more willing to put in extra hours as a result.
However, that’s just one of the potential benefits of remote work for employees, managers, and companies alike. Others include:
It’s not all positive, though. Remote work has its own set of challenges.
Managers need to first see remote employees as project teams, understand how remote project management is done and the challenges of managing remote project teams. These challenges may include:
To overcome the challenges above, here are 9 things you should know as a manager when working with remote teams.
- Communicate a lot
You should be in regular communication with your team. One of the hardest things about working from home, especially if you're used to an office environment, is the sense of loneliness and isolation that can set in. That's especially true considering that many people are practicing social distancing.
Managers must communicate with their remote staff, Pellman said because it keeps workers apprised of deadlines, available resources, work-related challenges, and managers' expectations, including work schedules.
Also, consider which communication tool best fits the team's culture—e-mail, texts, phone calls, video chats, an intranet channel—and find that delicate balance between constantly pinging employees with texts and e-mail and radio silence. The frequency of communication may differ among employees.
"The best method is to ask employees how they want to be managed while working remotely," Pellman said. "That way, managers can keep a pulse on what each employee needs to be productive while working from home."
And while managers must track metrics that matter to their organization and check in with employees, "too much oversight can show employees signs of mistrust," he said. "If your employees are communicating clearly and meeting goals and deadlines, what's not to trust?"
- Take Advantage of Technology
As a manager, your job is to keep your team connected. Communication tools are a simple way to keep everyone engaged. While email and text messages might be a short-term solution, tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams are far better suited for collaboration and communication. Some of those collaboration tools are even available for free right now. The purpose is simple--set the agenda and provide the feedback and resources your team members need.
- Manage Expectations
Help your team figure out what they should do, and create realistic expectations for their work. That means defining the scope, deadlines, and deliverables for each task or project your team is working on. Otherwise, don't be surprised if a few weeks from now you find yourself wondering what everyone was doing.
That is why, when communicating online with your team, make sure you are as specific as possible about the project objectives, goals, and expectations. For instance, instead of saying a vague statement like ‘I need this ASAP,’ say ‘I need this work finished by 3 pm PST.
- Focus on Outcomes, Not Activity
It's not possible to manage every aspect of the work done by a remote team. For what it's worth, you shouldn't be trying to manage every aspect of any team's work, especially when your team is distributed across different locations. Instead of focusing on activity or hours worked, focus on the outcomes, and measure your team accordingly. "Have your employees give you a work schedule, along with tasks they are expected to accomplish within a given time," Civitella suggested. "This will calm your fears and give your team the structure they need to fulfill their role. Remember, just because you can't see them working at their cubicle doesn't mean work isn't getting done. Trust the process."
- Resource Your Team
Make sure your team has the technology it needs to get the work done. If you suddenly have a team of remote workers, that means there's a good chance they need tools like laptops, software, mobile devices, or even a high-speed internet connection. It's not reasonable to assume that everyone has all of those things, and it's your responsibility as a manager to make sure they do.
- Be Flexible
Understand that, especially in the current environment, your team has a lot going on. That's not an excuse for not getting things done, but it is a reason to reconsider what productivity means. Punching a clock for eight hours is out. Regular work hours are also probably out for many people.
"When it comes to working with remote teams, the key is to allow flexible hours to maintain consistency," said certified business leadership coach Angela Civitella. "Although a concrete plan is a must, you should be open to adjusting strategies as needed. Whether your employees choose to put in their hours in the morning or evening shouldn't matter, as long as the work gets completed and is of high quality."
- Resist the Urge to Micromanage
"You shouldn't have to be looking over your team's shoulders while they're in the office, so you shouldn't have to do it when they're remote, either," Pellman said. "Regular one-on-one check-ins help managers avoid micromanaging, while still enabling them to keep a pulse on employees and provide them with an opportunity to ensure feedback goes both ways."
Trust that if they're communicating clearly and meeting goals and deadlines, your employees are being productive and doing their jobs effectively.
- Celebrate Success and Provide Feedback
Managers need to be comfortable in offering both positive and negative feedback to remote employees. Get as specific about your feedback as possible so that the employees can understand your expectations and perform better in the future. If an employee’s performance isn’t up to the mark, then provide them with constructive feedback instead of just criticism. Let them know what they did wrong and how they can rectify the problem.
"Managers should also look for opportunities to celebrate the same work milestones that would be celebrated in the office," Pellman advised. "Employees just might have to switch out their high-five for a virtual elbow bump for the time being."
You can create videos celebrating employee contributions to a project or the company generally. The videos, which will appear on the company website, can replace recognition that would have taken place at a retreat or conference.
- Remember, Remote Doesn’t Mean Cheaper.
Budgets play an important side note when talking about remote workers. Some business leaders may assume that transiting to remote work and cutting office space by 50% equals a 50% reduction in the expense of housing employees in a traditional office.
However, the formula isn’t so straightforward. Yes, your company will probably spend less on physical office space, but those savings are likely to be spent elsewhere, depending on the remote work that needs to be done.
For instance, your travel budget may increase if remote workers in other states need to travel to the main office once a quarter or more. Or, you may need to invest in new or upgraded software or additional hardware, such as headsets, to properly outfit remote employees.
Above all this, remember that remote workers can be just as productive, if not more so, than in-office employees. You just have to set them up for success.