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Remote Working – Effectively Managing a Team That’s Working Remotely

Remote working is not a new phenomenon, but it’s one that became a top priority for businesses across the world in spring 2020.

Under normal circumstances, a company considering expanding its remote working policy would implement carefully planned policies and procedures.

With the COVID-19 emergency, however, this planning wasn’t possible. Not only did companies have to make the change overnight, many of their employees moved immediately from zero remote working hours a month to 100 percent remote working.

Many business leaders believe companies will change forever as executives and managers have seen the potential benefits of remote working in action and on a large scale.

Remote working success is not guaranteed, however. You need to implement and manage remote working properly, with sufficient HR consideration to all the issues involved.

The Challenges of Remote Working

Remote working presents challenges for managers, employees, and your company.

For employees, the challenges include getting the right work-life balance. While you might worry your team is not working the hours you expect, research tells us many employees work longer hours when working remotely as the lines between work and home life become blurred.

Dealing with a lack of social interaction with their work colleagues is also a challenge, as is understanding and delivering on expectations. Remote workers can also find it difficult to manage distractions at home, particularly if they have families.

For managers, productivity levels, workload, team motivation levels, and communication are all important challenges, particularly if there is insufficient guidance.

Your Management Team Needs to Adopt the Right Mindset

As a manager, you may be concerned that remotely working employees are not working hard enough. 

At the same time, your employees might be struggling with a reduced level of communication, managerial support, and support from colleagues. They could worry about being able to use the technology they need, or they might be frustrated with the technology because it’s slowing them down.

The above common scenarios demonstrate that managing a remote team is not purely a structural or mechanical process. You need to set expectations and responsibilities and you need to implement procedures, of course, but at the centre of everything, you need to trust your team.

You also need to provide more support than you do when people work face-to-face, and you need to be patient and understanding of individual circumstances.

Additional tips include:

  • You may need to set boundaries for when employees can contact you, but you also need to be more available to the people on your team who are remote working. They need to know they have your support when they need it.
  • Encourage employees to share with you the challenges they are facing rather than trying to muddle through on their own.
  • Encourage social interactions when you talk to members of your team to reduce feelings of isolation and distance.
  • Provide emotional support where required.
  • Having daily check-ins can help with all the above so issues can be discussed, questions asked, information passed on, etc.

Finally, micro-managing usually doesn’t work with remote employees. It’s better to focus on results rather than time on the clock.

Communicate Effectively

Many people look at the communication technologies that are available as an indication of the feasibility of remote working. However, these technologies can become a hindrance when not used properly. Examples include:

  • Too many meetings on Zoom or meetings that last too long
  • Tone is difficult to understand in emails and chat messages, so can be misinterpreted
  • Passive knowledge sharing happens naturally in the workplace, but it is rare when employees are remote working

So, you need to establish good communication practices that are productive and effective.

Give Your People the Right Tools

This includes communication tools as well as project management tools. The managers in your business need oversight of teams and projects, but this is harder to achieve when staff are working remotely. Effective project management tools enable this oversight.

Maintain Accountability and Performance Management

Maintaining good accountability and performance management practices are both important for productivity and to ensure quality standards don’t slip as a result of remote working.

As part of this, managers in your company should provide feedback to remote workers more often than normal. After all, one of the things employees find difficult about remote working is a lack of communication.

For example, it’s common for managers to provide positive reassurance or feedback to an employee after bumping into them in the workplace kitchen. Situations like this don’t arise anywhere near as frequently for remote workers.

So, your managers need to be more proactive in giving feedback, both good and bad. 

Implementing Remote Working

Careful planning, effective procedures, and support for managers so they can support their teams, are all essential elements to the successful running of a remote working policy. The result can be a happier and more productive team.

October 21, 2020
By Jerome Forde

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