As it becomes increasingly common for companies to utilize remote workers, these businesses are discovering an influx of unique and new challenges related to managing virtual teams.
While hiring remote workers comes with benefits as well—according to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, this includes higher employee productivity, increased employee satisfaction, and annual savings of more than $10,000 per company—there are definitely hurdles to overcome.While hiring remote workers comes with benefits, there are definitely hurdles to overcome as well. Click To Tweet
So, what are the challenges of managing a team that’s potentially spread all across the globe, and, more importantly, how can remote managers overcome these issues?
1. Scheduling Difficulties
Working with a remote team does offer the potential for increased productivity, but managers must also overcome some virtual-related inefficiencies. For example, one of the most difficult challenges is managing workers across several time zones.
When all your employees, virtual and otherwise, are in the same geographic region, it’s easier to set clear expectations concerning hours worked. However, if your remote employees are located around the globe, coordinating that work time can be tougher. When time zone differences are significant—your day is another employee’s night—this can be especially taxing.
If you’re waiting around for a virtual employee to respond to a crucial e-mail, that quickly leads to unnecessary downtime and lost potential for productivity.
- Whenever all employees are meeting (via phone, teleconference, or video conference), find a time that falls within everyone’s workday. This might mean first thing for some and end of day for others.
- If the time difference really makes coordinating schedules impossible, get creative. For example, record meetings for employees who can’t attend live. This way, they can view and/or hear what happened.
- Collect feedback regarding meetings via e-mail. This gives everyone the opportunity to chime in—even those who couldn’t attend while it was actually happening.
2. Communication Problems
Efficient, effective communication is the cornerstone of any functioning group, and that includes remote teams. However, with the challenges of coordinating virtual team members, communication can be a big stumbling block for many companies trying to successfully navigate remote hires.
When communication falters, a number of problems arise. Work progress, of course, suffers, but employees can also feel isolated from the team and company. As interactions fall off, this tends to lower morale. It’s crucial, therefore, to prioritize communication in any office, but this becomes essential when dealing with remote employees.
- Make use of communication-based technological tools. Instant messaging, chat, and other two-way communication channels make sharing problems and potential solutions easier than ever.
- Keep these channels open, and consistently monitor them throughout the day. If an employee has a problem, idea, or thought that needs to be shared, you should be as responsive and available to a remote employee as any on-site worker.
- While it’s not appropriate or feasible for every company, consider having a few in-person or in-office obligations for your remote workers. This strengthens their connection to the company, makes them feel more a part of the team, and increases the likelihood they stay engaged and communicative with the group.
- If you do instate an in-person obligation, be explicit and clear about these expectations within your telecommuting policy. A remote worker should know well in advance if and when an in-person appearance is necessary, as well as the logistics, such as who will financially cover transport to the office or event.
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3. Language and Cultural Barriers
Dealing with a globally diverse workforce can bring with it some big challenges, including cultural and language divides. These differences can impact how employees interact with one another, how they prioritize project tasks, what they deem to be success, and so on. Managers must learn to navigate these differences in order to fully enjoy the benefits of a remote global team.
- As part of a team-building exercise, allow remote employees to share insights and details about their cultures and geographic regions. This helps reduce cultural-related misunderstandings, and it strengthens bonds among team members.
- As the manager, be especially vigilant about learning the cultural differences between you and your employees. The best way to learn? Just ask. Employees will appreciate your genuine interest and concern with making everyone on the team feel welcome, comfortable, and valued.
- Be particularly clear about project aims, deadlines, and expectations. If your employees all know what you’re after, you’re more likely to get the results you need, even if barriers and differences exist.
4. Difficulty Tracking Employee Performance
One significant challenge of managing employees remotely is ensuring they accomplish all their job duties—on time, efficiently, and up to standard. For some remote employees, this will just be a matter of ensuring all their projects are completed and turned in on schedule. For others, it is more important to be engaged in the work for a set number of hours a day. For that second group, tracking their performance can be difficult.
This leads to two main challenges for managers: one, ensuring all work is completed and two, ensuring employees are using their time efficiently, effectively, and appropriately.
- Have a system in place to ensure open channels of communication between you, the customer, and the employee. If a customer doesn’t feel a remote employee is meeting expectations or hitting necessary benchmarks, you, as the manager, need to know this as soon as possible.
- When you manage remote workers, you have a lot less insight into how work is getting done. Again, this means you need to be especially explicit about your expectations. Employees must know what’s expected of them at all times, including if you’re concerned about hours logged or if you’re simply interested in the end product (regardless of time spent).
- To avoid problems, it’s helpful to have a quantitative way to evaluate a remote worker’s contributions. This way, if you’re in any way unhappy with the work, you can explain exactly why. This will make it clearer for the worker, and it helps get that employee up to speed about expectations as quickly as possible.
- Utilize time-tracking software to get the best sense of what your remote team is up to during the workday. Depending on the system you use, this platform could even provide intermittent screenshots to show you exactly what an employee had pulled up on his or her screen throughout the day. This tool provides invaluable data to you, and it encourages remote employees to stay active and engaged—rather than browse social media!
Time-tracking software gives you the quantitative data you need to have productive and effective discussions about time management. For example, a remote employee might not realize how much time he or she actually spends on Facebook. This software can illuminate that, and you can work together moving forward to increase productivity.
5. Lack of Trust and Cohesion within Your Team
Face-to-face interactions and daily engagement create feelings of trust and bonding among the group members. With a remote team, you don’t have that same advantage, and that can lead to diminished trust and cohesion—between you and your employees and even between the team members themselves.
This means a couple of things for remote teams. One, team-building and trust-establishing exercises are particularly important, and two, remote managers must be comfortable trusting their employees and giving them a lot of freedom.
Even in the most cohesive and functioning remote team, there’s simply going to be less oversight of remote employees. If you’re prone to micromanage, you might never feel comfortable with the inherent freedom remote workers have to complete projects at their own pace and according to their own working styles.
- Schedule time for team-building activities in order to develop bonds among the remote team members.
- Put a premium on video conferences. Seeing each other’s faces is the next best thing to meeting in person.
- Trust your employees, but utilize time-tracking software. It keeps everyone accountable.
- Emphasize the importance of your company culture and your willingness to be there for your employees. Despite being spread across multiple offices—or even multiple countries—it’s important for employees to feel valued, heard, and trusted.
Successfully managing a remote team can offer your company huge benefits, but meeting the associated challenges takes time, practice, and patience. Don’t expect every new system to immediately work. Rather, be diligent about identifying existing and potential challenges you and your remote team face, and then be open to trial and error and creative problem-solving in order to find the solutions that suit your particular managerial style, company, and remote team.