Distributed teams, co-working spaces, telecommuting, working from home and flextime policies — chances are at least one, if not all, of the teams you will manage in your career will be working from a remote location and probably several remote locations. Virtual teams grew globally by over 25% between 2010 and 2018 and globally 63% of all departments have at least one team member working remotely.
The shift to remote teamwork means a host of very different challenges you’ll be asked to provide solutions for as a manager or employer. Here are some of the most common issues you’ll face when managing your remote team and how you can fix them.
1. Security Issues
An unfortunate consequence of remote work is that it has provided hackers with additional pathways to access your company networks and data. However, there are ways you can mitigate the risks. Here are a few:
- Create a policy around the use of sensitive data or information and ensure your employees are made aware of it and the consequences of ignoring it.
- Set up a secure virtual private network (VPN) with two-factor authentication protocols.
- Consider providing employees with take-home devices or, at a minimum, give or insist on specific security systems if they are using their own devices.
- Train workers on basic security protocols and how they can help protect company networks and data.
2. Technology Problems
Technology issues are an ongoing issue for remote teams, and they can affect everything from job satisfaction to productivity. However, there are ways you can help.
One option to mitigate the technology problem is a monitoring system that provides early warning when a worker is having technological problems. However, do inform your employees if you are installing this kind of a program as they may have concerns that it is a way to track their every move and monitor them, rather than help them.
Consider creating a dedicated help desk that has a quick response policy. Technology issues can grind productivity to a halt and put your workers at a standstill. Worse, even once the problem is fixed, it can take some time to restore motivation and for the employee to ramp up to a previous pace. However, also be sure all your team members understand that your tech department is likely to have a heavy workload, too, especially if you are just launching your remote teams.
Although there are some cool tools out there to help you with everything from communication to project management, consider limiting the number of tools you use. The more programs your workers have to learn to master, the more likely there will be issues. And, if you have too many overlapping tools, for communication for example, the more likely it will be that your team will miss key messages. Streamline things to give your employees the best chance of success.
3. Failure to Engage
Remote work has meant significant challenges for promoting your company culture. However, the same values that were critical to your culture in the office are transferrable to remote situations — they just require a slightly different approach. Make the effort, because communicating culture is even more crucial for distributed teams.
- Consider publishing your company values publicly.
- Welcome new team members in whole team meetings and provide an opportunity for them to introduce themselves with details.
- Encourage open communication between and among team members and with management.
- Communicate often.
- Solicit feedback from employees wherever possible and practical.
- Team meetings are essential, of course, but they are not a substitute for personal communication. Build trust and rapport with your team via regular one-on-ones. Your team members will feel valued and heard.
- Create an open-door policy online by taking an always-on approach. This could be a chat channel that is always open or something else. The point is that your employees should feel they can always reach you if they need to.
4. Task and Project Management
Keeping track of everyone’s progress on specific tasks and managing projects can be an issue. However, there is some excellent software that allows you to track hierarchical and dependent tasks and keep everyone abreast of the big picture. Test out a few project management options and find one that fits your specific team's needs. Many of these programs will also integrate with Slack or other communication tools. It can take a little time to set up and assign initial tasks. However, once it is complete, you can set these up to alert your people when a job they were waiting for is done, and they can start their own dependent tasks. As a manager, you may also need to remind your team to update their jobs in the app, particularly if it is a new way of tracking things for your company.
5. Team Building
Team building is critical for engaging workers on an individual level in your company, and also for ensuring your team can collaborate successfully. It may not always be possible for remote workers to spend a week together working on team-building exercises and getting to know one another. However, there are ways to successfully build a remote team.
If you’re working with a newly formed team, schedule an informal meet-up online. Give people time to introduce themselves, talk about their backgrounds and discuss what they bring to the team. Insist that video cameras remain on. This allows your people to “see” one another but also helps them understand individual personalities. Your people will also feel more valued if they know others are actually listening and paying attention to what they have to say.
Provide ongoing opportunities for informal meet-ups. Schedule Friday “pub” nights online or weekly open chats.
Without physical cues, it is incredibly easy to misinterpret communication. In fact, people are naturally prone to assuming malice or hostile intent rather than ignorance or misunderstanding. If you’re dealing with complex information or if you think a worker may have misinterpreted your meaning, hop on a quick Zoom call or make a phone call. Don’t wait for miscommunication to do damage before you address it.
Here are a few other ways to improve communication with your remote teams:
- Provide plenty of communication opportunities.
- Keep in mind that your team no longer has those water cooler and elevator conversations, so provide an online water cooler. Create an open space for your team to have casual chats or discussing challenges and solutions.
- Overcommunicate when necessary to ensure key messages are received.
- Send out weekly or bi-weekly team updates.
Find The Right Solutions For Your Team
Remote teams are not going away. Manage yours successfully by being aware of the challenges and providing solutions when you can.