The Manager’s Guide to Remote Work Management

• Digital Workplace,Remote Work

Introduction

When you look at remote work from a distance, it seems like everyone’s dream come true. You can skip frustrating office commutes, create a flexible work schedule, manage your tasks more efficiently, spend quality time with your family, and even pick up hobbies.

But if you are new to remote work and transitioning slowly into it[1], there is going to be a big learning curve. This is especially true for managers who can find it challenging to manage their new remote team with the sudden absence of face-to-face interactions.

While managers of remote teams do exactly the same things in-office managers do, managing employees who work from home takes intentional planning, strategic thinking, and a lot of practice.

Managers Guide To Manage Remote Teams

Challenges of managing a remote team

Remote work is vastly different from the typical work structure. While there are many big benefits, it also introduces new and unique challenges for managers.

1. Incorrect communication practices

Both traditional and remote working teams can have communication problems–but the reasons behind the lack of communication can be vastly different for both of them.

In the case of remote teams, if managers are not quick and concise in their communication, it can end up confusing team members and directly affecting their work.

Similarly, asking for ‘urgent’ meetings without any heads up or context can overwhelm employees and make them feel anxious. To simplify communication for remote teams, there is a need for the right tools and practices.

2. Lack of trust

Many managers often struggle with the same questions when it comes to remote teams. “If I can’t see the team members working, are they really working with the same efficiency?”

The ability of managers to trust their team can encourage employees to become more productive than ever before. On the contrary, mistrust can demotivate the whole team and make them feel left out.

According to a report, 52 percent[2] of employees feel that when they work from home, their team is less trustful of them and even leave them out of big decisions. For managers, this means, they don’t just have to establish trust between the team members, but also make sure no one feels left out.

3. Obsolete or incorrect technology

For remote teams to work efficiently and collaborate with each other, using the right technological tools is incredibly crucial. If the technology being used is too old or obsolete, it can drag down the employees’ work and decrease their efficiency.

At the same time, using too many advanced tools without proper training or guidance can overwhelm employees and eventually hamper their productivity.

4. Ineffective processes

The processes that you followed in your office might not work for remote teams. As a manager, you can’t call for a ‘quick meeting’ in the meeting room anytime you want or expect employees to respond to your messages right away.

When employees work from home they expect a certain level of work-life balance, and constantly receiving messages from managers can disrupt their concentration, decrease efficiency, and eventually make them feel burned out. That is why remote work calls out for new processes and working styles which can align with the remote team’s expectations and help them deliver better work.

How to efficiently manage remote work

1. Create your team’s remote workplace

Just like you would create designated desks, meeting rooms, and common casual spaces in your physical office, you need similar virtual spaces for your remote team’s workplace as well.

With a unified digital workplace, employees can access all the work resources, project details, and team communication through a single platform. The idea is to give the team access to a shared set of tools that can help them work together harmoniously. Even little inconveniences can cause huge disruptions in the remote work setting.

Every remote workplace should include the following elements.

  • Asynchronous communication:The team should be able to have smooth conversations despite of any time zone differences
  • Project and process management:A shared space where teams can get full access to the project details, deadlines, and tasks.
  • Cloud document storage:Move all your business data securely to the cloud so that team members can access the most up-to-date version of the files that they need
  • Common calendar:The team should have a shared calendar which is visible to all the team members and it should mark vacation days, holidays, important due dates, and shared meetings

Managers should also have a clear conversation with team members about how they are expected to use the tools available to them. It’s best to document all the information in one single place so that you can streamline the whole process and decrease the overall onboarding time, every time a new employee joins the team.

2. Schedule 1:1 recurring meetings with every team member

Managers should focus on building strong relationships with every team member by holding 1:1 meetings with them, at least once a month. If your team isn’t that big, you can also hold weekly 1:1 meetings too. The best way to do this is by setting up a recurring half-hour meeting on your calendar so that you never forget about them.

Your employees might have some issues that they may feel confident about bringing up in team meetings. The 1:1 meetings can give them the nudge they need to voice their opinions.

You should also encourage team members to switch on their videos during these 1:1 meetings. After all, this is the minimal level of face to face communication that your team will have. It’s a great way for managers to build close relationships, check-in on the work progress, and make sure the employees have good morale.

3. Schedule weekly team meetings with an agenda

Team meetings are just as important as 1:1 meetings to build a close working relationship. While meetings every week is just an ideal frequency, you can adjust it according to the current workload.

If there is a looming deadline, you might want to have more frequent meetings so that the whole team can come together and share the status of the work they are currently handling. On the other hand, if the work is flowing pretty smoothly, you can have meetings every 10 or 15 days. That’s the thing about remote work–it offers you the flexibility to change up things according to your team’s preferences.

But no matter when you have a team meeting, it is important that you have an agenda for it. Pointless team meetings that aren’t helpful to employees only waste their time and decrease their productivity. It’s also a good practice to share the key discussion points with everyone in advance so that they can better prepare themselves for the meeting.

As a manager, you should make sure that time is used well so that actually people want to show up and participate in meetings.

4. Create a working process that minimizes distractions

Over 77 percent[3] of employees believe that they are more productive when they work from home mainly because they don’t have as many distractions around. But that is only possible when managers are able to protect the time of their team workers and prioritize work for everyone.

When messages start overflowing with no clear priority of work, it is easy for things to get stressful and overwhelming for employees. It is also very easy for a remote manager to miss the initial signs of stress and burnout in team members.

That is why there is a need for a dedicated process through which all the requests coming in can be prioritized, assigned, and tracked to completion. Streamlining all the requests and prioritizing them correctly helps employees stay on top of everything in an organized manner and it also ensures that nothing slips through the cracks.

5. Encourage your team to socialize virtually

In a physical office space, the team would ideally have lunch together, take coffee breaks to chat about the usual day to day stuff, and even go on team-building outings — all of which help improve team communication and rapport.

While remote teams can’t exactly do that, you can still encourage your team to socialize virtually by building dedicated communication channels in your digital workplace where everyone can have non-work related conversations.

Tips for managers to effortlessly manage remote teams

Look out for any signs of distress in employees

Managers should use both indirect and direct observations to find any concerns or issues that the team members might have.

Suddenly going remote can be a challenge in itself, but trying to work productively in the middle of a raging pandemic is a whole another challenge that many are still struggling with. Your employees might also have questions about the new remote process, their job security, and how it will impact the company’s staffing capacity in the long run, which they may not feel confident enough to bring up. You should discuss these sensitive subjects yourself instead of waiting for the employees to bring it up.

As a manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that the employees feel at ease so that they can give their work the best effort possible.

Focus on outputs instead of the process

Encourage employees to complete their work in the way that they find the easiest and most productive. Instead of paying attention to the process, focus on the outcomes. Remote work gives people the flexibility they need to create their own schedule and manage work in their own unique way. If you don’t take advantage of this flexibility, you may not be able to see any positive results from remote work at all.

Increase recognition

Effective recognition motivates employees and makes them feel valued. For remote employees who already work from homes and feel disassociated from the rest of the team, recognition works as a powerful way to let them know that they are doing great work.

The recognition doesn’t have to always be monetary. It can be a public acknowledgment, development opportunities, some extra perks, or just small tokens of appreciation.

Be more flexible and empathetic

Given the current worldwide pandemic, everyone has a lot going on in their homes. Of course, that’s not an excuse for not getting things done at work, but it is a reason for organizations to truly reconsider what productivity really means to them. Your team members are not just working from home, they are trying to work from home during a healthcare crisis.

Instead of forcing employees to work 8-9 hours every day, give them the freedom and flexibility to get the work done in their own way, as long as they meet the required deadlines.

Find what works for your remote team

Remote work is set to become the future of work and implementing it successfully in organizations has become more important than ever. There can definitely be a few hiccups in the first few weeks of going remote and you might even feel overwhelmed while managing the whole team. But if you follow the right remote work guidelines that work for your team, you will eventually reach a place where your team can work smoothly in the new remote landscape with little to no issues.