The year 2020 has pushed a majority of office workers and employees to work from home in a remote team setup. Firms and businesses have had to figure out ways to adapt their operations and other processes virtually while everyone is away from the workplace.
Here in the Philippines, workers had to undergo the transition to telework almost overnight as employees around the world were asked to stay indoors. A survey conducted by Fortinet, a global leader in cybersecurity solutions, found that over two-thirds of business firms had to quickly adapt to remote work during the initial onset of the lockdown. This presented challenges to most organizations, with over 83% of employees saying that they had found it difficult initially, and only a minor 3% cited no difficulties.
With this, managers and team leaders have also had to deal with workarounds in guiding their teams remotely. While managing a remote team is a unique opportunity for leaders in today’s business landscape, it wasn’t as widespread as it currently is, given the situation. Office managers and team leaders soon realized that their experience managing employees might not necessarily translate well in a remote environment.
However, the common problems that they have encountered during the remote work period are not something new and have been already been dealt with by experienced remote managers.
With physical face-to-face interaction being one of the major aspects taken away in remote work, it can be hard to keep track of the work getting done by your team. Unable to physically check in on them from their desks or schedule meetings for progress reports, most remote workers work with minimal supervision. For many managers and team leaders, it can be difficult to lead a team without direct contact or constant feedback that usually comes naturally in an office environment.
However, there are several ways to deal with this challenge and establish the right processes in place when it comes to tracking your team’s productivity. As most leaders want to develop their employees’ critical thinking skills and proactiveness, daily check-ins take a backseat as long as they can produce the output in time. Adopting a results-based approach also lets your team develop their own independence and create a good track record of pulling in good results before a deadline. Setting metrics for your team to go by also guides them in how much work is expected to be completed daily.
This doesn’t necessarily mean managers and leaders can’t periodically check in on their team and the status of their tasks or projects. With the advancement of technology, the variety of task management tools available assist managers in having visibility on what their remote employees are currently working on. These digital platforms also work well for those that might need a gentle push in the right direction now and then or for leaders who value getting daily updates.
By setting clear expectations and measurable metrics that need to be accomplished early on, steers your team in managing both their work and time well.
Communication is one of the key cornerstones in leading a successful team and can prove to be a struggle with remote workers who are all self-managing their own work. An in-person environment creates a natural venue for communication, while in a digital environment, you must purposely create rapport between you and your members. Although several tools and virtual platforms have provided multiple avenues for digital communication, the margin for miscommunication is larger online.
It’s easier for remote workers to overlook an email or misinterpret a chat message when they are isolated and have no visual or verbal cues to provide context clues. Remote managers and team leaders also must consider the different communication styles others may prefer – some do better-taking instructions through a call, while others want written details through an email or message thread.
Although there are recommended communication channels based on the occasion, it is important to set in the early stages a standard channel that everyone agrees on. It’s also essential that these deliberate processes make each team member feel included and no one is left out of the loop, making all the conversations in full sight for everyone to read. When addressing concerns or inquiries from your team, it would be more appropriate to shoot them a private message, schedule daily touchpoints, or hold video meetings and one-on-ones. This guarantees that your remote team feels heard and guides them in the direction their work should be heading.
Ensuring that these guidelines and policies are followed, leaders will find that communication becomes less overwhelming and more of a collaborative effort.
Building trust through remote team management may be naturally difficult at first because of the limited visibility you have with one another. Managers used to physically seeing their team tend to struggle to trust if their remote workers are getting work done in a home environment. Immediately thrust into a new work setup, managers find that more doubts tend to creep in with the little experience they have in managing and working remotely. While they may have certain expectations on workload, their workers may not necessarily have the best conducive environment or tools for huge bulks of work.
The road to building trust is a two-way street, with both team leaders and members making a collaborative effort to communicate their concerns and expectations. Authority figures can start off by being transparent about their expectations as team leaders and the goals of the business as a whole. This helps build trust among your team and sets a precedent for them to follow. A constant flow of communication also lets you and your members negotiate the amount of workload that will be needed and how they can best manage this.
Putting together the other tips previously mentioned in establishing the right processes builds a good track record of output that, in turn, builds on the sense of trust between a remote manager and their team.
While remote work affords a greater amount of freedom for workers, letting them manage independently, this can also easily blur the lines between your home and work life. With the work environment being so close to home, invading even the same spaces, it can be difficult to draw a clear distinction of when to stop working. This, in turn, can foster unhealthy habits, experience burnout, and take a toll on one’s mental health among those in your remote team.
This is where communication comes into major play, as well as other tracking tools or platforms. With more digital avenues where one can stay connected with remote workers, it is also a great way to track how they work instead of just their productivity and output. A remote manager can easily see if one of their members is working much longer hours than usual or if they’re not engaging enough in virtual group settings through these time tracking tools or online productivity platforms.
This can serve as a signal to them to check in on how they are doing as well as schedule daily touchpoints where you can give guidance. It is essential as a team leader to proactively support your remote team and ensure that none of your members are spreading themselves too thin. Unhealthy work habits surface more often than one would think, and it’s one’s responsibility as a leader to watch out for these hints to combat this.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed organizations’ leaders out of their comfort zones and forced them into an unfamiliar setup, it has also driven them to devise creative solutions to remote work’s unique problems. Leaders have found that implementing the right procedures and most effective operations can make remote team management become just as easy as it was in the workplace.