Cecilia Gorman is a veteran of the advertising industry and the owner of Creative Talent Partners, a training consultancy that specializes in the development of rising managers and their teams. Whether it’s a team offsite, a manager workshop or through her online Manager Boot Camp course, Cecilia’s sole pursuit is adding value to growth-focused employees.
Following the pandemic, many companies continue to adjust and evolve, with a major change being the transition to hybrid and remote work setups. This transition has presented unique challenges for managers, who are still learning to navigate this new landscape effectively.
Despite the difficulties, however, the move to distributed workforces offers significant advantages. Working remotely offers better flexibility and can result in cost savings when compared to standard in-office settings. It also broadens the scope when attracting a diverse range of talent, creating more diverse and inclusive teams.
Still, managing remote teams requires specific skills and strategies, especially for leaders. However, view these challenges not as barriers, but as opportunities to cultivate a more agile and resilient team.
Facing the Challenges of Managing a Remote Workforce
When remote working started to become the norm, many managers and leaders underestimated the challenges that would come with managing a dispersed team. Some of these include:
Effective communication is vital for the smooth functioning of any business. It greatly influences the quality of interactions within a company, both with employees and customers and ensures clarity across different departments.
However, when it comes to remote team management, communication becomes more challenging. Dependence on emails and video calls often leads to the loss or misinterpretation of tone and emotion. These gaps in communication can lead to misunderstandings, which might adversely affect team productivity or even morale.
Lack of Trust
Trust is a key ingredient in forming an effective team. Managers are not able to monitor their employees constantly, so it's important for them to have confidence that their team members are handling their responsibilities independently.
However, the natural connection and trust that often develop in an office environment can be more difficult to replicate in a remote setting. The subtle, non-verbal cues contributing to our understanding and trust in each other are typically absent in remote work scenarios. Misconceptions about an employee's work ethic and productivity can arise from ineffective communication, especially in a non-physical office environment.
Conversely, employees working from home may feel excessively supervised or micromanaged, eroding their trust in their managers. This can lead to negative feelings like resentment and a decrease in motivation.
Ineffective Employee Onboarding Process
Onboarding a new team member involves a coordinated effort from various company departments to ensure a smooth transition into the team. The initial weeks of manager training are pivotal in ascertaining if a new hire can settle into their position and create a permanent fit with the company. During this time, managers have the opportunity to evaluate the new employee's capabilities, identify areas for development, and gauge how they can make a lasting impact within the organization.
However, in a remote work environment, new employees might hesitate to ask for help frequently or worry about being disruptive when organizing video calls to clarify tasks. Another important part of integrating new employees is helping them become familiar with the company culture. This becomes more challenging in a remote environment, where direct observation of daily interactions and behaviors among colleagues doesn't happen.
A Guide to Managing Your Remote Workforce Effectively
Despite the challenges that come with managing a remote workforce, it is possible to create and maintain an efficient and productive team. Here are some tips to help managers effectively manage their remote employees:
Don't Shy Away From Structure
Many organizations are gradually shifting from the traditional 9-to-5 work schedule, embracing more flexible working arrangements. In remote work environments, employees often have more control over their schedules and tasks. This flexibility tends to be advantageous for both employees and employers.
However, a little bit of structure helps keep a team aligned and accountable to the work and deadlines. A weekly team meeting at a set time and day is a slice of structure that can be effective. Regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings provide a structured opportunity for communication and connection.
For managers of specific types of teams, focusing on performance rather than rigid work hours can greatly alleviate work-related stress and is where structure can be flexible. By prioritizing results over strict scheduling, employees can work more comfortably and efficiently, potentially leading to higher productivity and job satisfaction.
Set Clear Expectations With Remote Teams
No matter what kind of work arrangements you implement, being transparent with your employees is crucial. At the onset of the pandemic, many managers had to improvise in terms of team communication and setting expectations due to the sudden shift to remote work. However, now that remote working has become more standard, and in-person training may not be possible, it's still important to set and communicate clear guidelines and expectations for your team.
Creating and sharing detailed policies on remote work is key. This ensures that every employee is aware of the rules, helping to prevent any feelings of unfairness or inconsistency in the workplace. A well-defined remote work policy also serves to safeguard the company from potential human resources issues that might arise during disciplinary actions. By having these policies in place and making them known, companies can create a more equitable and legally secure working environment.
Offering flexibility to employees can be highly beneficial, but it's important to ensure it's not misused. Striking the right balance involves allowing employees some freedom to determine their schedules and work methods. Encourage them to be responsible for their tasks and to communicate openly when they need help or face challenges.
As both company and employee needs are subject to change, it's important to periodically reevaluate and update your policies and expectations. Collaborate with team members to find arrangements that work well for everyone involved. Demonstrating this kind of adaptability not only reflects trust in your team's ability to make sound decisions but also highlights the value you place on their input and contributions.
Avoid Letting Employees Feel Isolated
When employees work remotely, either partially or fully, it can be challenging to make them feel like an integral part of the team rather than just another number. Remote work can often lead to a sense of isolation, which might not affect everyone equally but can significantly impact engagement and connection for many. Even if some employees manage to stay fully functional while working from home, isolation can still be a major issue for others.
To combat this, it's important to foster social connections and team cohesion. This can be achieved through various means, such as organizing company gatherings or virtual events for staff in different locations. These activities help build a sense of unity and can significantly contribute to a positive work atmosphere. Bringing the team together, whether physically or virtually, is key to maintaining morale and a sense of belonging among remote employees.
Maximize the Potential of Your Remote Teams
Working remotely brings many advantages for employers and their staff, but it's not without hurdles. Effective communication, establishing clear guidelines, and nurturing a solid team dynamic is key to unlocking the full potential of your remote team. By providing the necessary tools and support, you can empower your employees to excel in their roles and contribute positively to the team's overall success.