Updated: Apr 16, 2020
While the COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for everyone on the planet – it has certainly forced businesses into a number of major decisions, really quickly.
Firstly, whether to furlough, lay off or make redundancies with their staff. These are tough decisions for managers to make as it unquestionably affects the whole team, and not just for the period of time that COVID-19 exists.
The other decisions that owners / managers have had to make is around staff working from home, where they have not furloughed staff. This rapid change has left some organisations with a number of concerns – including how do you manage a remote team, especially if you have never in the past.
In this article, we look to inform managers on how remote working can actually be a positive tool as we move forward in the new phase of business and the world along with positive reasons to stick with remote working.
Like any relationship, personal or work related, closeness is something that has been the norm forever - until recently with the evolving technology. Over the last 10 years, certainly, we can more easily speak to our loved ones or work colleagues wherever we are in the world.
Businesses today are embracing remote trends, and this is opening up opportunities that perhaps did not exist in post COVID-19 days – such as hiring top talent from different countries, reducing overheads on offices or being tied into lengthy and expensive IT contracts.
Managing remote teams is the responsibility of a manager. As the manager of remote team members, your job is to nurture, guide and support team members which is a challenge in itself. However, in this new world, we need to acknowledge that even our managers are struggling to adapt to managing effectively their team – in this instance it would be great to top up their knowledge from industry experts to allow them to increase their effectiveness on remotely managing.
What is a Remote Team?
A remote team could be defined as a group of professionals from various time zones, diverse skills and different culture working together on a unified project. Or more simply, it’s a conscious decision made by the organisation to allow staff the flexibility to work from home.
Observations of generation Z are that they are comfortable working from home, or a coffee shop, or the library or anywhere actually – they feel empowered to achieve by this flexibility, however not on a traditional 9 - 5 clock. Some of the challenges that will be faced, certainly by larger or more established organisations is this change from a start / stop timing approach to one more on delivery.
More generally, remote working is naturally on the agenda of organisations, with in increase of 25% in the last decade of people working remotely on a regular basis.
Working remotely is one thing and managing a remote team is another challenge. Remote work is everywhere. There is a lot of difference when the teams are sitting right in front of the office and when they are working outside of an office.
Here are just 5 benefits of embracing a remote working environment:
Greater efficiency and productivity – Staff get more done in less time when working remotely. Fewer office distractions can lead to a more effective team.
Reduced stress – 82% of telecommuters reported lower stress levels when working remotely. Flexibility can make people happier.
Fewer overhead costs – An office full of people is expensive to run. When you don’t have to pay for office costs, furniture and utilities, your overheads drop.
Reduced staff turnover – Remote working means that staff can stay in the same role, even if their personal circumstances change. For instance, it doesn’t matter if someone needs to move to another city.
Increased teamwork - According to Harvard Business Review: 87% feel more connected thanks to new video conferencing tools.
However, there are a few challenges to be mastered – but unless you take the steps to explore this new way of working, you may find that the new style of employee just will not join your organisation.
In a recent IOD article1, members were quick to draw a positive correlation between remote working and staff retention – with 58% citing remote working and staff retention while 48% cited attracting wider talent pools.
Challenges in Managing Remote Teams
There are evidently a number of potential benefits provided by remote working, but it also comes with challenges. 71% of IOD members cited that their current business model didn’t fit with remote or flexible working and many more employers like having staff onsite and are committed to traditional working practices.
Trust is often cited as the top challenge by employers when it comes to flexible and remote working. As many as a third of business leaders in the IOD study expressed concerns that work quality would suffer as a result of flexible working practices.
There is a feeling amongst some employers and managers that their workers need continuous supervision to ensure that they are productive, which is to be expected to some extent, as working habits and abilities of all individuals differ. On the other hand, some interviewees for this report argued that trust is something that is in fact strengthened when some autonomy is given to employees.
Amongst other challenges are:
Lacking the right communication tool
Hiring the right resources
Difficult tracking employee performance
Lack of cohesion within the team
Making everyone feel part of the team
We use Microsoft Teams in our workplace – it works great whether our staff are in the office or working remotely from home. We feel that we are able to achieve the same productivity levels through a robust structure on Teams, daily meetings in the morning on video so we can all see each other and that the projects progress as usual.
There are of course many solutions out there – Teams is simply the one we use as it seems to be comprehensive in the toolset it has rather than using a wide range of vendor specific apps or programmes.
Below are a few tips on managing remote teams:
Set Boundaries with Remote Workers
Remote teams often need some kind of boundaries to outline their work and personal life. As the teammates may be working in different time zones any notifications or chat message or emails can ruin someone’s sleep or disturb their family time.
Discuss work schedules with each team member by respecting their time and show them that you care for their time. This will help in building positive relationships with employees making sure nothing is too hard for anyone.
For local teams i.e. in the same country – we find that having team meetings at the same time to discuss blockers, priorities and schedules works well for us. It brings some degree of structure and supports the overall culture that we’re looking to achieve.
Encourage and Embrace Diversity
It is of no surprise to come across cultural obstacles when managing remote teams.
The problem with multicultural teams involves misunderstandings and conflicts that divide the teams apart. It becomes pretty hard to manage the people of different races, embracing cultural diversity to allow team building.
A simple way is to find how different people from different areas are open to receive feedback, promote a mindset of celebrating differences, be respectful about national holidays for your global team, and respect every cultural difference
Set Expectations Early and Clearly
Every business has expectations: whether working remotely or virtually. Being clear with employees will keep them focussed working towards the same goals.
You should set clear expectations for:
Key projects and deadlines
Respond to email
Brush Up on Your Online Communication Skills
Many remote working teams come across a setback in communication when working on projects. It is always going to be difficult to connect with your teams in different areas without having good communication skills. And of course, online communication skills.
As you start with the conversation, be quick and concise, so the teams do not get confused. Develop your writing skills, talk precisely, use the right remote collaboration tools to collaborate effectively as awesome communication is vital in the remote workplace.
Give Your Team Help When They Need it
Being out of sight, you may have to struggle to address the needs of every employee. Though you may be out of sight, don’t ever let them be out of your mind. Unexpected problems related to project, or a teammate or how the work is being done are common in every business. If something is really bothering your employees or they’re feeling under the weather, understand the clues they might be giving you and give them a helping hand.
Invest in the Right Remote Project Management Software
Your remote team working culture will flourish when you have everything under one roof. And this can be made possible when you rely on remote team management software to plan tasks, projects, and even people. Here’s what you can do on a project management platform:
Communicate with your scattered team
Keep a track of project evolution
Maintain and manage timesheets
Share information in real time
Manage the tasks on a task list
Interact across different time zones
The 'Save Our SME' Campaign
SaveOurSME campaign is brought to you from The SME Centre of Excellence and was created to provide practical and immediate support to business owners who are facing challenging time during COVID-19.
We would urge you to sign up to receive support if you are a business in the North East of England. The sign-up form can be found here.
Alternatively, if you wish to volunteer your professional skills and experience – we would love to hear from you too. The sign-up form can be found here.