Managing remote employees can be a challenge for many team managers — especially if you recently switched to remote work due to the Coronavirus pandemic!
But don’t worry, managing remote teams isn’t difficult!
To help you out, we’ll cover a few essential tips on managing remote employees in this article. We’ll talk about the challenges of managing remote employees, the best solutions to them and highlight a few essential tools for every remote team.
This article contains:
(click on the links to jump to a specific section)
Let’s get started.
3 Challenges of managing remote employees
Remember, remote teams don’t work in the same office as you – they work virtually!
And while this means you can avoid some common in-office challenges, managing remote teams requires you to adapt to a different set of challenges!
Let’s take a closer look at the problems you might face with remote team members:
1. Poor communication
Efficient communication is the backbone of any successful business.
Unfortunately, poor communication is one of the biggest challenges faced by remote teams.
Unlike traditional office set-ups, you can’t just walk up to your remote employees to have a discussion or chat. You need to rely on digital communication tools to talk to the rest of the team.
If not managed properly, this can cause several problems such as:
- Delays in replies and collaboration due to differing time-zones
- Confusion over deliverables as nobody’s there to clarify issues in-person
- No visual cues and gestures to give context to conversations
2. Difficult to maintain accountability
Monitoring teams is simple in a traditional office set-up as you can check on them at any time.
Employees can’t slack off and watch Netflix while they’re in the office, right?
However, establishing accountability can be difficult when managing remote employees.
How do you keep their productivity in check?
Are they actually working during office hours?
Remember, your remote team members could be hundreds of miles away; there’s no way for you to physically keep a check on their work and maintain productivity.
Luckily, you now have multiple remote productivity tools that can help you with this!
But more on that later…
3. Lack of team spirit and relationships
For efficient teamwork, you need a strong, shared team spirit.
Think about it.
A lack of understanding between team members can make collaboration difficult. As if they don’t trust one another, they won’t be willing to work with each other!
While in-office teams usually get to know each other over time, this isn’t always the case with remote teams!
This can result in low morale, which may impact their work quality and teamwork. Additionally, the lack of social interaction can harm your employees’ mental health!
3 Key Tips for managing remote employees
Clearly, there are a few challenges to managing remote employees.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work with remote teams!
There are solutions to all those challenges we mentioned earlier!
Here’s everything you need to know:
1. Set communication guidelines
Communication is one of the biggest issues faced by all remote teams.
Whether it’s not being able to get your message across or delays in feedback – poor communication is a major issue for all remote teams.
However, it’s easy to solve.
By setting clear communication guidelines, you’re giving your remote team:
- clear expectations of what communication channels they’ll be using
- structured frameworks for how they should communicate
- a set of communication standards that you expect them to meet
Here are some basic guidelines you can use:
A. Use remote communication tools
Most remote teams use several communication tools, such as email, video conferencing and instant messaging tools to keep in touch easily.
Here’s a closer look at the different kinds of remote communication tools used:
- Video conferencing tools: Allow you to hold team meetings and discussions via video call. Examples: Zoom, Skype and Eyeson
- Instant messaging platforms: Help you send messages and files to coworkers. They’re useful for quick replies and chats. Examples: Slack, Google Hangouts
- Cloud storage and collaboration tools: Let you easily share files with your team and collaborate in real-time. Examples: Google Drive, Dropbox
While most of these tools are necessary for remote communication, using too many of them can quickly turn into a mess!
Your information and messages will be scattered across tons of different platforms. This can make keeping up with everything next to impossible! Employees won’t be sure about which communication tool to use and for what purpose.
To clear this confusion, mark default communication tools for each purpose.
For example, instead of using two or three messaging apps, stick to one. Similarly, only use one video conferencing app and one cloud storage tool.
This way, team communication can be streamlined to boost all-round efficiency!
B. Determine common availability hours
To efficiently collaborate with your remote team, you need to know when they’re available!
However, this can be difficult when you’re working with teammates in different time zones (or if they have different working hours.)
To ensure smooth collaboration, chart out a few hours each day or week when everyone can be online.
How does this help?
Tasks requiring real-time collaboration and feedback can be scheduled during these common work hours. Additionally, remote workers can use this time to get in touch with team members for discussions, team-building, etc.
C. Set firm response times
When will my remote employees respond to my messages and tasks?
This can be difficult to determine for remote teams.
As each employee works according to their own schedule, you’re not sure when they’ll have time to reply!
However, you can combat this by establishing response times or deadlines.
How do you go about this?
You can set deadlines for each mode of communication.
- Email replies must be sent by the end of the workday.
- Instant messaging responses are expected within a single work hour.
- Project management and task updates are to be communicated within 3 working hours.
Setting response times establishes accountability and uniformity to team communication. It makes sure that your messages always get a prompt response!
To strengthen these measures, make it a policy for remote employees to inform the team if they’ll be unavailable for a particular time period.
This way, remote employees know when to expect responses from their team and can work accordingly, instead of having to send follow-ups repeatedly.
2. Establish accountability
You can’t manage a team or organization without holding them accountable for their work, right?
This applies to managing remote employees in particular.
By keeping track of each team members’ work and productivity, you get a clear picture of where your team stands, and the best ways to improve team efficiency.
But how do you establish accountability when you don’t work in the same office?
Here are three simple ways to do this:
A. Conduct regular check-ins to stay updated
Holding regular check-ins with your remote team members is essential for maintaining productivity.
These allow you to:
- Review performance and the work they’ve done
- Monitor productivity levels over a period of time
- Find ways to improve individual and team efficiency.
Additionally, checking in with your employees also gives you the chance to support them through any problems they’re facing.
This is very important – especially if your workers have just made the transition to working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since these employees are still new to remote work, they may be facing several challenges related to:
- Working outside the office space
- Ignoring distractions in a remote work environment
- Managing their time and work-life balance
- Dealing with loneliness and isolation.
Supporting remote employees at every stage is essential for efficient teamwork.
It also shows them that they’re valued and that you have their back. This results in open and honest communication, which is necessary for maintaining accountability in a remote set-up!
B. Use time tracking tools to manage productivity
How do you ensure your remote team stays productive when they are working independently?
Just use time tracking tools like Time Doctor!
What is Time Doctor?
Time Doctor is a powerful time tracking platform used by large companies like PwC and Apple as well as smaller businesses like Firehouse Subs to manage virtual teams as well as freelancers.
Time Doctor allows you to:
- Track the time remote employees spend on each task
- Analyze each employee’s productivity via detailed reports
- Improve efficiency by identifying key barriers to productivity.
- Boost productivity with distraction management features
Additionally, if you wish, you can also monitor your remote team’s web and app activity during office hours to ensure they aren’t watching cat videos on Youtube!
C. Use project management tools to keep track of everything
In a traditional office set-up, you can simply walk up to remote employees and ask them about the status of their projects.
But you can’t do the same thing with a remote team, right?
In order to stay up to date with progress, most remote teams use project management platforms such as ClickUp, Trello and Wrike.
With project management tools, you can quickly check on the status of team projects.
They give you a quick overview of all your projects and help you assign tasks to various members.
This way, you’ll have no difficulty keeping track of your projects and remote workers!
3. Build team relationships
While building genuine relationships with your remote team may seem difficult, it’s not impossible.
Investing some extra effort and time into better team relations can have major productivity payoffs in the long run.
It allows remote employees to be comfortable with each other and work well as a team. And when your team works together, their work is quicker and better!
So how do you improve remote team relationships?
Here are a few tips to get you on track:
A. Use video calls and informal channels
Many successful remote teams follow a video-first practice.
What’s that mean?
Virtual meetings and video calls are preferred over audio conferencing or phone calls.
While video conferences allow teams to pick up on visual cues and gestures, they also help remote employees build familiarity!
Face-to-face interaction makes it easier for employees to get to know their coworkers and feel more comfortable.
Implement regular virtual all-hands meetings to catch up with everyone and socialize with your team. You can hold these video calls at scheduled times or simply allot a few minutes for casual discussions before you begin weekly reviews!
But it may not always be possible to hold a video chat with the entire team, right?
This shouldn’t stop your remote employees from socializing and building bonds!
To encourage social conversations, create an informal “water cooler” chat room or messaging channel where you discuss everything apart from work. This can be anything, from discussions about the weather to cat pictures!
B. Socialize with your team
Communication tools have come a long way, but they still can’t beat real-life interactions.
This is why several remote teams choose to have physical get-togethers every year or so!
Meeting the team allows remote employees to build trust and form deeper bonds.
While it may seem expensive, think of it as an investment with the costs you save by hiring a remote workforce in the first place!
Of course, this can be harder for distributed teams with employees from several countries. Additionally, with the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person get-togethers are off the table.
So what do you do?
You could substitute regular meetups with virtual pizza or taco parties — get the food delivered to each employee and then host the party via video call! You can also check Outback’s team building and training activities for a more fun virtual get-together.
Or you could set up a weekly trivia contest via Water Cooler Trivia. You can customize everything: the timing, difficulty, and categories. The beauty of a prize-less trivia contest is the conversations that the questions spark and learning how your teammate knew the capital of Iceland.
While it may seem awkward during the first time, socializing with your virtual team allows you to feel closer and build a better rapport. Remember, just because your employees work remotely, doesn’t mean they should miss out on the experience in-office employees have!
Stronger team relationships are an indispensable resource for any professional team. Social activities and team-building can have a significant impact on productivity results in the long run!
Sure, managing remote employees comes with its own set of challenges that you wouldn’t face in an office setting.
However, those challenges are easy to tackle!
Once you overcome these challenges, remote work can be extremely beneficial to your company. Simply use the tips and strategies covered in the article to manage your remote team efficiently in no time!
Lauren Soucy is the VP of Marketing for Time Doctor, the world’s leading time tracking and productivity software. She has 15+ years of experience in marketing at fast-paced companies. Her first passion is SEO, she can’t start her day without coffee, and she enjoys spending time at the beach with her two boys and her husband.