The Covid-19 global pandemic has presented the workforce with one of the biggest and fastest shifts it has seen since the first industrial revolution.
As the world went into lockdown in March 2020, the majority of businesses found their working environment transformed. Their employees moved from primarily office-based roles to home-working roles.
This presented a whole host of challenges for businesses, predominantly for managers that had no training or experience in managing remote teams.
However, it would be a mistake to view remote working as an obstacle.
Yes, there are inherent challenges to managing a team in multiple locations, however, there are also many opportunities for remote and hybrid working that will be essential for businesses to embrace going forward.
Hybrid working is on the horizon, especially with vaccines being rolled out in most countries. Some companies have realised that their teams work better at home and would consider giving them the opportunity to choose whether they want to be office-bound or remote.
The challenges of managing a remote team (and how to overcome them)
For many businesses, remote working is an entirely new experience, and so it is completely understandable that it is a scary prospect.
It’s true, there are some inherent challenges to managing a remote team, especially if you have people over multiple time zones.
Here are some of the challenges that we’ve commonly encountered, and most importantly how to overcome them:
- Communication is more difficult
- Productivity and building trust with your team
- Motivation and morale
1. Communication is more difficult
You and your team are probably used to just walking down the hallway, or learning over to the next desk in order to speak to each other in an office environment. This makes communicating with each other fairly straightforward and means that you can tackle any obstacles head-on.
However, with your team working from home this is not possible, and so this kind of casual communication presents more of a challenge. And it’s not always easy to foster an environment of open communication from multiple locations.
This presents a catch-22 as strong communication is even more crucial when working with remote teams. It’s imperative for efficient workflow, and also to ensure that each member of the team is aware of what is required of them in order to complete the work.
How to overcome this challenge? Email might seem like the obvious answer, however, this may be too slow a solution and prove insufficient to foster immediate two-way communication with your team.
A better idea might be a dedicated place for communication such as Slack or any of these alternatives There are even open source options!. This can be used for individual teams, among all employees or for both.
It’s important that you find a communication tool that works for you and your team, and then make sure that everyone is utilising it.
2. Productivity and building trust with your team
As a manager working from an office, you are able to oversee your team and ensure that they are efficient and productive. You know who is achieving what, and if not, you are able to motivate them towards their goals.
But what happens when they are working from the comfort of their home and you have no idea how much work they are completing?
How to overcome this challenge? You may need to implement a system that will allow you to track productivity to ensure that you are reaching your business goals.
This doesn’t have to involve micromanaging them (in fact, we would recommend against this for trust purposes), however, it may involve measuring key metrics and outputs.
For example, what do you want them to achieve per hour, day, or week? This will help ensure company goals are met while fostering an atmosphere of trust between you and your employees, which is crucial to home working success.
Ultimately, building a team that you trust is crucial for home working. You are not able to oversee and micromanage every detail of their day, and you shouldn’t need to. You want to employ a team that you can trust to complete the job that they were hired for.
3. Motivation and morale
One of the biggest challenges that many managers have faced over the last year is how to motivate their team.
The shift from a bustling office environment, surrounded by colleagues, to working from home alone was a difficult one for many. Throw in general pandemic anxiety, child or elder care, and lack of socialisation and it’s a recipe for lack of motivation and low morale.
Plus, in the office, it’s possible for you to gauge who may be struggling with motivation and morale, and you can find a way to boost this. However, when your team is working remotely this is harder to get a grip on, and it can lead to a lack of productivity, low morale, and even mental health problems for your employees.
So, how do you help boost morale and motivation, and keep your employees mentally healthy and engaged?
This is a difficult one, as what motivates one person may not work for another, so it’s crucial that you know your team well so you can personalise your approach.
However, creating a supportive and trusting environment where your employees can thrive is the first step to improving motivation. This is why communication with a remote team is so tricky yet crucial. Your employees need to know that you are there as a manager to support them if they are struggling.
Setting clear expectations, and allowing your employees the autonomy to complete their role will also boost morale as it gives purpose.
Top tip: make sure your employees take time to switch off. Too many people are getting into the habit of “living at work” instead of working from home. Encourage them to create boundaries between work and personal life, whether this is denoted by time or physical location within their home.
The opportunities of managing a remote team
Challenges are what automatically spring to mind when most businesses think of remote working. And it’s totally normal when we are faced with completely unfamiliar and unprecedented situations.
However, for most, the benefits of remote working can actually outweigh the challenges and it’s presented a whole new host of opportunities for businesses around the world.
- Increased autonomy
- Less commuting time
- Greater flexibility
- Higher motivation and productivity
1. Increased autonomy
As mentioned before, it’s impossible for managers to oversee every minute of their employees day when they are working from home.
An increase in autonomy can lead to employees having an increased sense of ownership and accountability in their role, and lead to greater productivity.
This is something that managers can capitalise on, ensuring that employees feel supported while building a trusting environment that employees can flourish.
Plus, it means that managers have time to get on with other important tasks, rather than micromanaging every detail of their employees’ day.
2. Less time commuting
How long do your employees spend travelling to and from work? For many parts of the world, the answer to that question could be hours per day. That’s hours that your employees could be spending with their loved ones, learning a new hobby or just relaxing.
Or in other words, hours that they could be spending doing something for themselves rather than sitting on a crowded train or bus. Plus, there is evidence that less time commuting could have a major impact on reversing the effects of climate change, so it’s really a win-win for people and the planet.
3. Greater flexibility
Many roles have offered flexible working for years. However, home-working has really pushed corporations to embrace true flexibility. There is no need for your employees to work a strict 9-5, they can work around their lives.
As long as you have communicated the expectations and outcomes to your team, you can leave them to get on with their work at a time that suits them.
4. Increase in motivation
Wait now, didn’t we say that decrease in motivation was a challenge of managing a remote team?
Well yes, it can be.
However if managed well, and if you maximise on all the opportunities that home-working can offer, then you have the potential to increase productivity, motivation, job satisfaction, and retention.
If people have more flexibility, more autonomy and more time to do the things they love or spend time with the people they love, then it makes sense that they are going to be happier, more productive and more motivated.
These things can have a massive impact on work-life balance, the culture of your company and the overall bottom line.
The future of remote working
As the world slowly re-opens, it’s looking like hybrid working may become the “new normal” for many businesses. This in itself will present many new challenges as teams become both office-based and home-based.
However, the main thing is that businesses should be willing to embrace this new era of working. If they are, they will find that the opportunities are endless and that they will be able to attract and retain top talent, potentially from around the world.
Ultimately what is good for your employees is usually good for the company. Homeworking is not the same as an office-based role, and it cannot be managed in the same way. The main challenge is ensuring that the downsides of home-working are mitigated, while the opportunities are capitalised on to create a productive and happy workforce.
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