The future of work is by nature always shifting and changing as new developments come into play. One trend has emerged in the past few years that seems likely to remain a part of the workplace for the foreseeable future: remote work.
The global coronavirus pandemic impacted industries all over the world. Workplaces everywhere were transformed in perhaps permanent ways by its onset and the continued struggle it presents. As schools and offices closed and workplaces all over the world came to a grinding halt, the remote workplace was suddenly thrown into the spotlight.
Business leaders and managers were forced to prioritize workers’ safety and make remote work be successful in their particular situations. Perhaps you feel comfortable leading your remote workers or maybe you are still struggling to make it work.
Regardless of your experience so far, there are a few common problems experienced with remote work teams. Here’s what you need to know about these issues as well as tips for successfully managing your remote work team, both now and in the future.
Common Remote Work Challenges
Even before the global pandemic, approximately one quarter of workers in the United States already worked from home, either exclusively or at least during part of the work week. But remote work has often been viewed with suspicion or distrust, and it does come with its own unique set of problems separate from those managers and leaders face when working with in-house teams.
Remote workers struggle significantly with burnout due to overworking, a lack of access to supervision and necessary information, distractions that come with working in your home, and feelings of social isolation. Those managing remote worker teams need to be aware of these specific issues and work on ways to build up their employees and help them develop the skills to deal with these problems.
In ideal circumstances, of course, there would be appropriate training and on-boarding in place for employees planning on working from home, but that is not always the case. And for many companies, it was impossible, especially with the speed at which shutdowns began during the pandemic. Now, however, managers will have had more time with these particular issues and can begin to implement solutions.
Challenge #1: Establishing Consistent Communication
A common area in which remote work teams face difficulty is in communication. Frequently, remote employees report feeling isolated from the in-house teams, out of the loop on important decisions and information shared at in-person meetings, and simple uncertainty on how and when to proceed on certain tasks.
A solution to this communication issue can be quite simple to implement. It simply involves an abundance of communication. The more communication employees receive about expectations, daily tasks, progress with ongoing projects, and any team accomplishments during the week, the better the remote employees will thrive.
This can be even more difficult when remote teams are scattered across different locations, and sometimes even different time zones, but it is crucial to the success of a remote team. Daily, weekly, or monthly check-ins with each member of the team as appropriate from the management can help facilitate this process. Consider also that such check-ins can be even more beneficial in a video call format, to better mimic ‘face to face’ meetings.
Whichever method you choose for meetings and however often you choose to have them, it is important to be consistent. This will enable employees to prepare for the meetings by preparing deliverables or compiling questions in advance. It also ensures that they feel supported, rather than surveilled, by their supervisors.
Challenge #2: Setting Clear Expectations
As teams pivot to remote work, some expectations will necessarily change as team members suddenly have a new focus or task to complete. Leaders should check in periodically with their team for any feedback about how things are going and be clear and concise about the expectations and roles assigned.
It is also helpful to establish guidelines about deadlines for every aspect of a project. This way, team members will not only be clear on the expectations and the scope of their work, but they will also understand when components are expected to be delivered.
Challenge #3: Focusing on Outcomes
With a remote work team, it is not as helpful to focus on the amount of work they are doing during the day when you consider the team’s overall performance. In fact, over-focusing on the number of hours worked can be detrimental to a remote work team, possibly resulting in burn out and even a lack of productivity.
Instead, try to shift your focus as a leader towards assessing the outcomes on projects. Has the team completed a project successfully? Did the results meet customer or client expectations? These are more important measure for remote workers than the hours spent working during the day. Consider the outcomes and measure your team by those results, instead of focusing on the time they spend working.
Remote Work Is Here to Stay
Perhaps the largest impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the office environment is the sudden trial run of remote workers, along with its inherent success. Now that offices in most industries have experimented with remote work and found it to be successful, employees will likely continue to desire and even expect a remote work option in the future.