How To Lead Remote Teams In 2021
Remote work is more than just a trend now. For companies that want to hire top talent, improve employee engagement, increase productivity, and stay relevant, remote work has become a necessity.
As more and more companies go remote, there are now numerous team managers who are suddenly required to manage a completely remote team. There is no doubt that leading a remote team can be daunting especially if it is your first time and you haven’t had a lot of time to prepare.
Challenges of leading a remote team
- Problems with communication
- Time zone differences
- Reviewing remote employee performance
- Lack of trust within your team
- Security considerations
- Tracking team progress
- Decreased employee engagement
- Supporting remote collaboration
- Maintaining team relationships
- Loneliness and lack of human interaction
- Noticing and dealing with team conflicts
- Managing cultural and language differences
- Burnouts due to overworking
- Growth and development
- Using too many tools for remote work
But by recognizing the main challenges faced by remote teams and understanding the right way to overcome those challenges, you can successfully lead remote teams and ensure your remote employees are always happy and engaged.
Here are the top challenges of leading a remote team (and how to overcome them):
1. Problems with communication
Effective communication is the cornerstone of every functioning team and it becomes even more crucial for remote teams that are distributed across the world.
Lack of communication can lead to misunderstandings within the team and even make the remote employees feel isolated. As the team interactions fall off, it can eventually lead to lower employee morale, which is exactly why prioritizing communication in remote teams is necessary.
To overcome this challenge, you can start by defining communication guidelines and tools for both synchronous and asynchronous communication. In addition, schedule regular team meetings and 1:1 meetings to ensure everyone is in the loop.
2. Time zone differences
When all of your employees work from the same time zone and the same physical location, it is easier to set expectations concerning their working hours. But when you have remote employees working from across the globe, in different time zones, team collaboration and coordination can become a complete nightmare.
Moreover, waiting for a remote employee to respond to a crucial message when they are in the opposite timezone can lead to a loss in productivity and unnecessary downtime.
To get over this challenge, you can start by creating a shared team calendar that takes into account the time zones and working hours of every team member. The calendar can make it easier for employees to schedule calls or know when to expect a response from their coworkers. You should also consider recording meetings and share them with team members who may not be able to attend them due to time zone issues.
3. Reviewing remote employee performance
Performance reviews are challenging in general, but setting up and managing remote performance issues can be even more difficult, especially if you have a team that has recently gone remote.
Since there is no way to check the daily performance of remote employees or even track the number of hours they work, there is a need to modify the performance review process for remote teams in order to better align the goals, expectations, and challenges of remote employees. You need to identify the main performance parameters against which the remote employees’ performance should be evaluated.
4. Lack of trust within your team
Creating a sense of belonging and trust in remote teams also becomes incredibly challenging especially with the lack of face-to-face interactions and daily communication. When you can’t even see what your team members are up to, it can be rather difficult to trust them and work cohesively with them.
But here’s something you need to remember: Your employees will only trust you when you trust them.
As a result, remote team managers should start by putting their trust in their employees and giving them the freedom that they need to handle their work. Avoid micromanaging or constant follow-ups, and have trust in your employees to finish the assigned tasks on time.
5. Security considerations
Security is always a big concern for remote teams everywhere. When you are in a traditional office, everyone uses the same internet network and devices provided by the company which makes security and verification all the more easier.
But remote employees use their own devices to access work data and they are often connected to vulnerable or unsecure internet networks which can eventually put your critical business data at risk.
The best way to resolve remote work security challenges is by using remote tools that put security at the forefront and protect your business data, despite what devices or internet connections you use to access them.
It’s also important to limit the number of tools your remote team uses since more tools will only lead to more siloed data and more chances of your data being compromised.
Instead, you can use an enterprise-grade digital workplace that can combine all the disparate business applications and give remote employees access to all the work data, processes, projects, and communication through a single platform while ensuring complete confidentiality and security.
6. Tracking team progress
Lack of transparency in remote teams can make it difficult to track what the employees have been up to. Of course, managers can reach out to remote team members individually to get status updates on tasks but that can lead to employees feeling pressured and micromanaged.
To make employees feel like they are trusted while also tracking the project-wide progress, remote team managers need to introduce a project management tool that puts big emphasis on transparency.
Ideally, your project management tool should allow you to assign tasks, set deadlines, check individual progress, and review project-wide progress, all in real-time. Instead of introducing a separate project management tool that could possibly create more confusion, you can use a digital workplace to track all the projects, processes, cases, and workflows through a single platform.
7. Decreased employee engagement
With no way to directly voice their opinions to superiors, it’s easy for remote employees to feel unappreciated and unheard which can lead to decreased engagement. When your remote team is disengaged, things can quickly start to fall apart.
According to research, employees that feel empowered in the workplace are 24 percent more likely to be engaged. As a result, organizations should start by engaging their remote employees to implement new ideas and make their own decisions. You should also set up a company-wide communication strategy that prioritizes employee communication and encourages employees to speak up.
8. Supporting remote collaboration
While it is important to have a remote team where all the employees have the capability to manage their work on their own, it’s just as important for all remote team members to come together and collaborate.
But online collaboration without the right tools can be difficult, and almost impossible. Unlike in a physical office space where you can huddle the team into a meeting room anytime for a quick discussion, things in a remote team happen very differently. You can’t just expect the entire team to be available for impromptu discussions, which is why there is a need to take an asynchronous and yet seamless approach to remote team collaboration.
With a digital workplace platform, you can establish communication channels for different teams and projects in order to break down remote coworking barriers and make online collaboration more seamless.
9. Maintaining team relationships
Remote employees often miss out on an important part of the usual office life — socialization with coworkers. They miss out on the daily banter, the casual conversations, and the watercooler discussions.
With no way to have non-work related interactions with their coworkers, remote teams end up lacking a team camaraderie which can, in turn, create a lack of trust in the team and create collaboration issues to the point that remote employees may not even feel comfortable in reaching out to their coworkers. All of this ultimately can greatly impact the overall team performance.
To overcome this challenge, remote team managers should encourage casual interactions and socialization among team members. Give employees enough opportunities to get to know each other by scheduling regular team building activities. You can also set up company-wide and team-wide informal communication channels for employees to have casual conversations that may not be directly related to their work.
10. Loneliness and lack of human interaction
Lack of social interactions and staying isolated for long periods of time can eventually impact the mental health of employees, lower their morale, and make them feel disengaged from the team as a whole. All of this can also negatively affect communication and collaboration, which are the two main pillars of effective remote teams.
That is why managers need to ensure that their employees aren’t overworked and they are able to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Notice the early signs of burnout in employees and encourage them to take leaves, if required.
There is also a need to ensure that all the workload is evenly distributed among team members, so nobody feels like they are more burdened with more work than their colleagues. Appreciating employees for their efforts and recognizing them through rewards is also a great way to boost their mood and motivate them.
11. Noticing and dealing with team conflicts
You may think your remote team is getting along and everything is great just because all the team meetings happen harmoniously and virtual team building activities have been happening every week. But then suddenly one of your remote team members approaches you saying they want to quit because they don’t like the people they are working with or their values just don’t align with the values of the other employees — and that’s when you feel utterly blindsided.
When you are in an office, it is a whole lot easier to spot a conflict among team members. You can notice their body language and watch how they converse with each other. But in remote teams, all you really have are weekly video meetings and messages. Disagreements among remote team members usually happen on private instant messaging tools, emails, or calls, that you never become aware of unless the situation escalates.
As a result, remote team managers need to communicate more than usual in order to detect any signs of conflict within the team early on. In case there is in fact a conflict, set up a meeting with the relevant team members to discuss the issues with everyone involved and de-escalate it as soon as possible.
12. Managing cultural and language differences
When you have a remote team of employees from around the world, you are very likely to have team members with a rich mix of cultural backgrounds and languages. Even if all of your employees speak English, they may have varying levels of proficiency and different accents.
While hiring new employees to the remote team, you need to ensure that they have the basic language proficiency to converse properly with the rest of the team members. They don’t have to be brilliant at speaking or writing, but they should be able to get their point across in an effective and succinct way.
At the same time, you should have a cultural understanding of all the people in your team and make everyone else aware of it so as to not offend anyone, knowingly or unknowingly.
13. Burnouts due to overworking
Unplugging from work can be one of the biggest challenges for remote employees. With no physical boundaries between work and personal life, it can be difficult for employees to shut down their work at the right closing time and walk away from their laptop, especially when they already have a lot of pending tasks with them.
Constant overwork can eventually lead to burnout and have adverse effects on both the mental and physical health of remote employees.
To get past this challenge, organizations need to create a remote work culture where employees don’t feel forced to work beyond their normal hours. Your remote employees should be encouraged to look after their mental health, take things slow whenever they feel too overwhelmed with work, and voice their thoughts if they think they have too much work on their plate.
14. Growth and development
According to a survey, over 70 percent of employees are likely to leave their current job and accept a job offer at a new company that is readily investing in employee learning and development. Just like in-office employees, remote employees too want to continually grow their skills, which is why companies need to invest in their employees as well.
With a remote team, you need to get creative with the employee development strategies you implement. The best way to go about it is by directly communicating with your employees and asking them what they expect and need from the organization to improve their remote work skills and performance. Managers can conduct one on one meetings with employees to understand their future goals and how the company can help them achieve those.
You can also invest in virtual learning tools and training programs like building a free library of resources or conducting virtual training sessions.
15. Using too many tools for remote work
Employees need access to numerous applications just to manage their everyday work and communicate with the rest of the team. On average, organizations use more than 16 SaaS apps in their digital suite.
With virtual teams, this number grows even higher as employees need more tools to collaborate with their remote team members. While there is no denying that we need technology to stay connected, too many tools can end up confusing and overwhelming remote employees. Moreover toggling between multiple applications can lead to employees wasting over 60 minutes of their time every day.
Instead, you can replace all the disjointed applications with a unified digital workplace that gives you access to all the work tools, data, files, and projects through a centralized dashboard. A digital workplace makes collaboration easier for remote teams by providing them with a virtual replacement of physical office space and integrating all the third-party applications.
Leading remote teams takes constant effort
Successfully leading remote teams can give your organization big benefits, but overcoming the associated challenges can take some practice, time, and lots of patience. If your team is new to the remote work trend, don’t expect it to immediately show results. Instead, you should constantly look out for any existing or potential challenges that your remote teams might face, and find creative ways to solve those challenges.