How to overcome the challenges of managing remote teams

By Ankur Manchanda

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has brought with it an environment of uncertainties and challenges. All organizations are trying their best to cope with these unforeseen times. One of the major worries for businesses across the world is about managing their remote teams and keeping them connected at all times.

Remote working is the new normal

A study says, the number of people working from home has grown by 140% since 2005. Remote teams are already common phenomena today & now, this trend is set to continue. As the COVID 19 continues to spread, more business owners have shifted from regular 9-5 work schedules in offices to work from the home set-up.

However, there are some key challenges involved when the employees go remote, especially in times of crisis like this.

Challenges to remote working

It wasn’t until the pandemic, that organizations were forced to have their employees work beyond office periphery. This was not a natural transition for many companies, especially, small businesses, which have a limited pool of resources and technical support.

The real challenge of working remotely is about adapting to the new workplace. Adaptability depends on a number of factors – communication, productivity, engagement, etc. Let’s look at a few key challenges that small businesses face. We’ll also look at some potential solutions that can help them manage these challenges.

Challenge #1 – Communication

Communication is a key factor in ensuring that a business runs smoothly and favorably. Streamlining your communication channel, investing in the right tools is imperative. Most employees are as efficient (sometimes, even more) at home as at offices, provided their organization follows an effective communication channel.

When it comes to remote communication, organizations tend to struggle with –

-Maintaining a strong connection with the teams.

-Keeping employees in the loop for all important information.

-Choosing virtual communication tools that best suit their needs.

-Keeping a tab on what employees are doing.

One way to overcome the challenge of communication is by creating a dedicated platform of communication for all employees.

Here’s what organizations can do –

-Now is definitely not the time to shy away from virtual technology. There are many tools that facilitate virtual communication like Slack, Google Hangouts, or feedback tools like Psyft, Officevibe, etc.

-Be honest with your employees, keep them posted on all major developments. This also helps build a sense of belongingness.

-Ensure that your team is comfortable with the tools chosen.

-Don’t overload your employees with meets.

-Use video tools when possible; foster a personal connection.

-Bosses should lead by example – give/take regular updates. Effective communication is the key.

Challenge #2 – Productivity

Maintaining employee productivity and efficiency is another challenge organizations face. Employee productivity does get hit, at least temporarily, as employees are either trying to adapt to new work mechanisms or struggling to get a hold of virtual technology.

While there’ll be employees who might take a while to adjust, there are those who face the risk of burnout due to a lack of boundaries/schedules, etc. One way or the other, managers may struggle to track productivity levels of employees.

It’s time to redefine employee productivity:

-Set up metrics for work to be donecreate deliverable spread-sheets, etc.

-The KPIs for remote work can’t always be the same as when employees work from offices; don’t set unrealistic targets.

-Hold regular check-ins with teams, however, refrain from micromanaging, that’s not a productivity booster, on the flip side, may hamper it.

-Explain to your employees why their work is important. Adding value to employee roles helps foster a sense of importance for work which may get blurred in these times.

-Encourage your employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance – taking short breaks, doing some exercise, etc. enhances concentration and productivity.

-Sensitize employees on purpose and passion, goal setting & personal development.

-Focus on your star performers, they may be at risk of exhausting themselves, which will affect their performance negatively in the long run.

-If budget allows, offer peer mentoring/coaching or e-learning programs

Challenge #3 – Employee engagement

Managing employee engagement and keeping employee morale elevated is another serious challenge that needs to be addressed, now more than ever.

Employees in the current “no-workplace” environment, may face problems like –

-Loneliness

-Insufficient access to work tools

-Personal/household concerns –

-Lack of motivation

-No fixed work schedule

These challenges tend to lower the employee happiness quotient altogether. Following are a few suggestions on how to address such problems –

-Leaders should make themselves more available. Write posts on social media, host Q&A sessions, encourage people to respond.

-Run a pulse survey to know how your teams are faring and how can you improve their working experience.

-Run a short coffee or virtual lunch session. Make these as informal as possible.

-Talk to your team about their mental and psychological wellbeing.

-Appreciation is a universal human need and key to employee engagement and productivity. Give specific recognition more often. Make your employees feel appreciated for their hard work, especially in these extra-ordinary times.

-Run team building activities like quick ice breakers, problem-solving games, etc. to build a greater connection.

Conclusion

Managing remote teams can be very challenging, especially when you want to continue doing regular business and have your employees working together towards the same goals. This global crisis will forever change the way we work, and remote working will be the new norm. The key is to look at these challenges as opportunities to make your teams more flexible & stay committed to organizations.

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Ankur Manchanda, CEO and co-founder of GreenThumbs, has had a long career in management and finance and is now successfully leading GreenThumbs. His fields of experience span from hard core finance to HR disciplines like talent acquisition, assessment and development. His biggest passion is driving efficiency through innovation.

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