COVID-19 has disturbed the lives of people and businesses all over the world. Employers are trying to find ways they can stop the pandemic from having a grave influence on their businesses. At the same time, they are preparing for any long-time disruptions their businesses could face.
Most businesses have created remote teams and started working from home to reduce face-to-face interactions between employees. In-person meetings are now canceled, and business-related travel has been postponed until the danger has passed.
While all these precautions are necessary for slowing down the spreading of COVID-19, some employers are already having trouble managing their remote teams. If you don’t have any experience with remote work, the situation probably seems difficult to handle, and you’re facing a lot of challenges at the moment.
But like any good manager, you undoubtedly want to create a successful remote work environment. There is no need to panic, as there are many tools and strategies you can use to manage your remote team successfully.
Problem 1: Employees working from home lack structure
There are many benefits to working in an office and having physical contact with your workers. One of them is the office culture, which keeps everyone structured and focused on the task at hand.
It’s hard for one person to slack off if everyone else is working hard on their assignments. But when you start working from home, it becomes impossible to rely on office culture, and employees who are new to working from home lack structure.
Solution: Set expectations early
When you don’t have office culture, you need to be much stricter with your workers and set expectations early so everyone on your team can have structure while working from home.
- Tell each worker how often they need to provide you with updates, if they need to be logged into a software daily, and anything else that is necessary for work to continue on as usual.
Problem 2: Keeping up with employees virtually
Technology has made working from home easier than ever, and you can keep up with your employees virtually 24/7. However, that can also be a problem. When your home is also your office, there usually isn’t an official time when work ends, and sometimes correspondence continues after traditional business hours.
Solution: Set boundaries where they are needed
- Determine a time when all work needs to be finished and don’t bother your employees after that time. Obvious exceptions can be important emails or memos that need to be sent, but otherwise, leave all issues that can wait for the following day.
- The same goes for employees – tell them not to contact you after a certain time unless absolutely necessary. Just keep in mind that a good manager always leads by example. For instance, there’s no point in telling your workers, “Don’t email me past 4 P.M.” if you yourself are breaking this rule.
Problem 3: Unsynchronized messaging
After your team transitions to remote working, a lot of members might be confused about how the messaging system works. A lot of information that was received face-to-face will now have to be forwarded via messages. But if you don’t specify which channels are for which messages, chaos will ensue.
Solution: Plan out both synchronous and asynchronous messaging
Synchronous refers to channels such as phone and video calls, while asynchronous channels are all communication channels that allow you to re-think your message before you send it. This can be email, messaging apps, texts, and any communication tool your team uses.
- If you don’t specify which information is better suited for synchronous and which for asynchronous messaging, you will waste a lot of time on unnecessary calls and messages. Make sure all employees are up to date on all messaging systems you are using, and when each of them is appropriate.
Problem 4: Holding employees accountable
If supervising employees wasn’t hard enough, now managers need to adapt to managing remote teams. Understandably, this can be challenging as a lot of managers are having difficulties with holding employees accountable.
Solution: Encourage employees to take responsibility for themselves
- While it is your job to manage your team, you can only do a limited number of things from afar. Set all important rules, expectations, and boundaries but make it clear that, at the end of the day, the employees need to make sure they are following them.
- Let them manage their own time and breaks, but also warn them of the repercussions they will face if they slack off and don’t hand in their required work in time.
Problem 5: Team lacks focus in a new environment
Whether you do it on purpose or not, all managers tend to micro-manage their team on some level while at the office. A large number of employees find it hard to focus in a new environment, especially when they don’t have a manager who is keeping track of their performance.
Solution: Focus on KPIs
- One of the benefits you will gain from managing a remote team is the lack of micromanagement. While your team may be used to it, if you manage to solve the previous problem of holding employees accountable, you can also forget about micromanaging.
- Since that distraction is out of the way, you can focus more on your KPIs and objectives. This will allow you to be more goal-oriented and focused on your own job instead of the jobs of others.
Problem 6: Unclear roles
Another issue that often arises when people transition from the office to remote teams is unclear roles, especially if lines were blurred even before switching to remote. For instance, if you have multiple employees in the same position, it can happen that all of them do the same job, or none of them does it at all.
Solution: Make a list of all employees and roles
- No matter if you manage 10 or 110 people, there is a high chance you will forget about a person or an assignment if you don’t have a clearly mapped out list. Employee roles will keep everyone on their toes; all you need to do is take the time to type out a list and send it out to everyone.
- It would also be good to occasionally send out gentle reminders about all employee roles.
Problem 7: Lack of trust within your team
Face-to-face interactions greatly influence bonding within any group and create a feeling of trust. Working from home during the COVID-19 crisis can lead to a lack of trust between managers and employees after a certain period of time.
Solution: Remember you’ve always had faith in your team
- Even though managing a remote team is hard at times, you can rest assured everything will be okay if you trust your team. After all, if you have worked with these people for a long period of time, you know whether they are responsible or not. Your team consists of the same people as before the COVID-19 outbreak happened. If you were able to trust them then, you can trust them now as well.
- To make up for the lack of face-to-face interactions, set up conference calls as often as possible that can be on both personal and private levels to maintain trust between team members.
Problem 8: Managing conflict
Conflicts and arguments are normal in any team, and managers are always working on detecting and managing conflict in their teams. However, when you take away face-to-face communication and don’t see how your team acts every day, noticing and managing conflict becomes almost impossible.
Solution: Monitor all communication channels for any changes
If members of your team have issues with one another, it’s going to reflect in their communication.
- Seek out changes of tonality in emails, messages, and group threads. If someone appears cold and unsatisfied, address it and privately ask the person if they have an issue.
- If they do, state the problem and ask everyone who is involved in the conflict to share their perception of the situation. Work together with your team to find solutions to all issues, so your business doesn’t suffer.
Top tools and resources for remote teams
Certain tools are necessary for anyone who is working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are listed some of the best tools and resources that will help you stay on top of your work.
A simple and easy-to-use team collaboration tool that allows you to share files, manage users, and always be in touch with your teammates and colleagues.
A communication tool used and trusted by remote workers all over the world with many useful features.
This online conference call tool is perfect for video conferencing and online group meetings. It’s ideal for any team that needs to have face-to-face interactions and conferences but isn’t able to due to the current situation.
A time tracking tool that can help individuals and teams track hours and make sure everyone is on track and focused during working hours.
A project management tool that offers a lot of flexibility, even though it’s not full-scale. It’s great for those who don’t require too much of their project management tool.
An email marketing tool that allows you to send bulk emails to your customers and keep them informed about your business during the COVID-19 pandemic.
An email support and ticketing software that will allow you to collaborate on emails with your team without any hassle.
REMOTE: Office Not Required
A book about remote working that can help both employers and employees see how working from home is possible and profitable.
The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work
A book in which a man who was employed at WordPress describes how he spent a year working remotely.
Why Great Teams Embrace Remote Work
A guide filled with great advice about working from home, but also includes common myths about remote working.
How to Grow, Manage, and Work with Remote Teams
A guide created by the Zapier team based on their personal experience of not only growing but also managing their remote team and achieving success. It’s filled with stories and lessons everyone who works remotely needs to learn.
Podcasts on remote working
Last but not least, a rising star in the world of media, there are a number of podcast episodes that cover the topic of remote working. If you are a fan of podcasts, check out these podcast episodes that will guide you throughout various aspects of working from home:
- The Ultimate Guide to Acquiring and Managing a Remote Team with Joshua Chin
- 6 Steps to Creating a Successful Remote Work Environment with Shauna Moran
Managing a remote team is difficult, but there is no reason to panic
Working from home is a decades-old practice that won’t go away any time soon. Although the current circumstances were unplanned and you probably weren’t prepared for them, you can still thrive if you just put in a little effort.
Even though everything seems bleak at the moment, use this opportunity to work as you never could in the office. As long as you make use of the appropriate tools and educate yourself and your team about the best practices for remote workers, rest assured that your team will grow and stay at the top of their game.