Following the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more industries are acclimating to remote and hybrid work environments. Studies indicate that employees are happier, more productive, and more satisfied with their jobs when they can work from home.
Despite these benefits, managing a remote team comes with unique challenges for leadership. Managers can stay on top of employee performance in an office environment, but that’s not as easy with remote work.
According to a report from the Society for Human Resource Management, 70% of employers struggled to adapt to remote work, partly because of the challenges in leading a remote team.
Lack of Interaction and Supervision
With remote teams, managers may be concerned that remote employees aren’t working as hard as the employees in the office, despite the research suggesting otherwise. Employees may miss out on opportunities for support and communication as well, leaving them feeling isolated.
Managers can combat this by establishing more producrtive check-ins that allow employees and managers to not only discuss their workload but also to share their challenges and concerns that inevitable arise while working remotely.
It’s also important to have project milestones with established deadlines to ensure that individuals are tracking with their work deadlines and that the projects are running smoothly. It’s easy for employees to hide behind their computers, working somewhat alone, which may be remedied by a bit tighter accountability.
Most remote workers say they have an increase in productivity when they work from home. This isn’t always a guarantee, however. Some employees work well alone while others need the structure and collaborative environment of an office. For the latter, it’s important to provide additional support and check in to ensure they’re meeting deadlines.
This also affects in-office employees. They may assume that the remote workers are not productive, which may have to do with not physically seeing them work. Managers may struggle with the same perception, which is part of why remote work was never that popular in the first place.
Productivity can be boosted through routine and structure as well as energy and engagement. All employees need clear roles and responsibilities, direct communication, and established and strict timetables. They also need to be surrounded with positive enthusiasm to help them feel more engaged. Managers can look at their current team’s output and decide what might be needed to boost productivity.
Poor or Limited Communication
Offices are conducive to the exchange of ideas and information – even small talk – that allows employees to bond. Remote environments have taken a hit on the level of in-person communication, especially spontaneous conversations, and that can affect connection and collaboration.
Without an office that allows communication to happen organically, managers need to nurture more engagement between remote workers. Collaboration tools, short virtual meetings, or simply setting aside time in a meeting for small talk can go a long way in correcting this.
Lack of Expectations
It’s easy to set clear expectations with employees in the office, but less so in a remote environment. They may need more guidance to understand how they can meet their goals and what’s required of them.
Be sure to set expectations early on and remind employees of them, especially with goals and milestones. Make sure the procedures are clear and documented to remove any ambiguity and set boundaries for when remote employees are expected to be available. Managers often assume their employees know what is expected of them, and neglect taking the time to offer clear and timely direction.
Lack of Teamwork
Teamwork is another struggle in a remote environment. managers may struggle with leading teams of remote, hybrid, and on-site workers, which could lead one team to receive more engagement than the others.
Part of the manager’s role is to make sure people feel valued and included, no matter where they are working. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by ensuring that anything given to the in-office team is also given to the remote team, such as team communications, flexible hours or office lunches. Naturally, a manager can’t travel to every location where they have team members, but cultivating a team environment through communication, appreciation and recognition is a good start.
Some employees feel lonely once they’re at home and missing out on human interaction. Even introverts crave social interactions some of the time.
Because of this, loneliness is common among remote employees. They may miss out on the social bonding with colleagues and feel like they don’t belong or fit in, leading to depression, anxiety, or a lack of productivity. Eventually, that could push them to leave and seek out new opportunities.
Managers will need to get creative in ways to build social connections through virtual avenues. For example, open a separate chat for casual conversations that doesn’t include work talk or organize virtual coffees or team end-of-week virtual meetups to foster a sense of camaraderie.
Disconnected Company Culture
Company culture takes time to build. You have to choose the right talent, foster healthy communication, and instill the principles of the culture with each interaction, which is challenging with a remote team.
Creating a company culture with a remote team requires more planning. It may flourish on its own in an office environment, but you have to put work into developing culture with remote workers – and that starts with the managers.
It helps if a manager thinks of themselves as a hub of a wheel, where everything connects out from the center. A great culture is contagious and a manager can bring a positive attitude, a high level of energy and enthusiasm and a focus on growth and learning to the team to help build a strong culture.
Lack of Trust
A lot of companies were forced into remote work because of the challenges of the pandemic. Prior to that, managers may have believed that remote employees would be idle or waste time, and some of this lack of trust may currently exist.
Conversely, employees may feel like they’re missing out on opportunities that the in-office staff gets or that they’re closed off from the same support and resources. Trust is an important part of this problem. Managers can focus on trust-building behaviors in an effort to create a work environment where employees feel safe and valued. Clear communication, accountability, relationship building and genuine care and empathy are all leadership actions that help build trust on teams.
Managing remote and hybrid teams may be different than in the office, but at its core, it requires a lot of the same skills. If managers follow the simple advice of “More,” they’ll be better equipped to lead: More communication, more clarity, more connection, more checking in, and so on. Distanced work is the future of work, and these tips will help sharpen the skills of those managing a remote workforce.
This guest post was authored by Cecilia Gorman
Wildly addicted to all things leadership, Cecilia Gorman is a veteran of the advertising industry and the owner of Creative Talent Partners, a training consultancy that specializes in the development of rising managers and their teams. Whether it’s a team offsite, a manager workshop or through her online Manager Boot Camp course, Cecilia’s sole pursuit is adding value to growth-focused employees.
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