Remote working is here to stay. For leaders, that means embracing best practices to overcome the challenges of managing remote teams. We explore how.
Just a decade ago, remote working was seen as unconventional. ‘WFH’ called to mind parents who had to balance corporate roles with child-rearing, or digital trailblazers who swore by the 4-Hour Workweek.
In fact, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, only around 5% of full-time office-based employees worked remotely. Now, 58% of job holders in the US have the option to work remotely at least part-time. And though we’ve seen more businesses calling workers back to the office full-time recently, remote work is here to stay.
Moving with the times evidently means embracing remote work. Yet, a switch to remote working can introduce operational challenges that senior management must overcome, including the question of how best to manage remote teams.
As Runn is a remote-first organization, we’ve pulled together everything you need to know about managing a remote team, including the five biggest challenges remote teams face, the best practices leaders should know, and more.
Since restrictions were lifted around the world, some businesses (predominantly in the finance and legal sectors) have eagerly returned to traditional ways of working. This has been met with hesitancy from office workers, who no longer see flexibility as a perk, but as a right.
While the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the uptake of remote and hybrid working, the desire for more flexibility is nothing new. The worldwide lockdowns demonstrated what many employees had known for years: that allowing staff to work from home and on their own schedule increases productivity, reduces operating costs, and allows people to enjoy a healthier work-life balance.
Remote work is a core fundamental of the future of work and isn’t going anywhere. So, leaders looking to retain their best talent, boost profits, and create a healthy, future-focused work environment should embrace the opportunities remote working offers.
That means understanding the challenges remote workers face and adapting their leadership style to effectively manage remote workers.
Let’s get into it.
Remote work doesn’t only benefit employees; it represents many opportunities for businesses, too. Here are five benefits leaders need to know about remote team management.
If your organization’s offices are based in New York, and you require your staff to work from the office five days a week, your talent pool is limited to those living within a commutable distance.
Sure, this isn’t a huge issue in a city of 8.5 million people. But what about businesses located in smaller cities or towns, where the hiring pool is smaller and more competitive?
Remote working opens the door for businesses to recruit remote workers from anywhere in the world. This is especially pertinent when hiring for niche or highly-skilled jobs where qualified candidates are in short supply.
Casting a wider net for recruitment reveals opportunities to build a highly experienced and talented team while benefiting from the perks of multiculturalism.
Operating 100% remotely means businesses can do away with their costly physical premises. Even setting up hybrid solutions can allow companies to downsize, reducing costs.
According to Global Workplace Analytics, companies can save around $10,000 per employee each year in real estate costs by pivoting to full-time remote work. Not only do remote businesses save on rent, but they pay less in overhead costs and resources.
The financial benefits don’t stop there. Offering flexible working options goes a long way to boosting employee retention, which means fewer dollars spent on turnover costs. As it costs around 1.5 to 2 times a single employee’s annual salary to replace them, it pays to put measures in place to encourage team members to stay long-term.
A 2021 report by EY revealed 47% of respondents ‘would consider changing their jobs if flexible working wasn’t an option,’ highlighting its impact on employee engagement and retention.
As remote work offers employees a huge slew of benefits, including minimal commuting costs and more time to spend with family or enjoying their hobbies, it’s no surprise it’s so popular.
97% of workers would like to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers, and the same percentage would recommend remote working to others. With the impact of the Great Resignation still visible in the rearview, it’s clear employees are willing to make drastic career changes in exchange for flexibility.
With the right processes, standard operating procedures, and goals, remote work can significantly increase a team’s productivity.
Remote workers face fewer distractions than those in offices, such as interruptions, loud music, and unproductive in-person meetings. They also have more control over their workloads, schedules, and physical environments. Remote working allows each employee to set up their schedule and physical workspace to support optimal performance and concentrated productivity.
For many of us, work is unfortunately full of potential stressors - from tight deadlines, to challenging clients. But working from home can eliminate some day-to-day stresses and boost job satisfaction.
Some examples include:
By trusting your remote employees to create a schedule and remote environment that reduces stress, you encourage them to do their best work.
While we’re champions of remote working at Runn, we’re also realistic about its challenges. Luckily, with a little forethought, proactive leaders can easily overcome them. Here are five key challenges leaders may face when managing remote teams.
Communication at work goes beyond ‘how was your weekend’ team chats and GIFs of dancing cats, covering everything from team meetings and feedback sessions to task delegation and the communication of project updates.
Effective communication is at the heart of every successful professional and personal relationship, yet it becomes more challenging when your team doesn’t work in the same physical location.
Remote teams rely heavily on digital communication tools and require clear processes to keep lines of communication open and prevent breakdowns.
Without effective communication, you can say goodbye to meaningful collaboration. Virtual teams need their leaders to facilitate collaboration and put clear guidelines in place that help them work together effectively.
The outdated belief that remote workers are less motivated than their non-remote colleagues remains prevalent among senior leaders. This is not true: one survey by Mercer reported that 94% of businesses saw productivity improve or stay the same. This deep-rooted perception is based on a lack of trust, which has led some companies to install software on their remote employees’ devices to monitor their activity.
Remote managers want to know what their team is up to; that’s understandable. But surveilling remote workers threatens to undo any pre-established trust and can create a culture of fear and anxiety. One study revealed that 56% of remote workers experienced stress and anxiety due to employee monitoring, and 41% said they constantly wondered if they were being watched.
It’s important to put processes in place that allow remote leaders to monitor productivity without micromanaging their remote employees (more on that later).
Building a global team is a fantastic idea. But one key challenge remote teams face is supporting collaboration between team members who live in different time zones.
In a remote team, one person’s 8am may be another’s 6pm. So, when it comes to arranging meetings, sharing project updates, or navigating working hours, this can become a bit of a headache — when not managed effectively.
With a little bit of trust, a good resource management tool, and patience, you can easily support a remote team that operates across different time zones.
Watercooler chats are synonymous with office work. Unfortunately, no amount of virtual coffee hangouts can replace the buzz of a bustling office.
Loneliness is one of the most significant challenges remote teams face, with 81% of US and UK workers raising concerns about the lack of face-to-face interaction. Without measures in place to keep colleagues connected, including video call catch-ups and social events, it’s easy to understand why people would feel disconnected.
Now that we’ve looked at the challenges of managing a remote team let’s dive into what leaders can do to overcome them. We’ve pulled together seven best practices leaders need to know about effective remote team management.
Regardless of whether your remote team members work in the same time zone or not, it’s important to respect each other’s time.
This becomes more complicated when your team works across several geographic locations or continents. In these situations, it’s important to be flexible with meeting times and adjust your own work schedule accordingly. This is called the asynchronous working approach, which we practice at Runn.
Jacob Duval, our VP of Engineering, is a huge advocate of asynchronous work for remote teams and manages a team of remote employees who are mostly based in New Zealand despite being based in Germany himself. When we asked Jacob to share some pearls of wisdom, he said:
The main thing to keep in mind when managing a remote, async team is respect. Respect has to come first. When you’re in a remote team, and everyone is based in different time zones, respecting people’s time is so important. It's crucial to respect everyone's time at the same level - from your Junior Developers up to your CEO.
You can't just say to someone, “Hey, I need to talk to you tomorrow,” because what is that going to mean for them? Are they having to stay up till midnight or get up at 4am to join the call? Because, fundamentally, that expectation is not respectful.
As Jacob points out, the same attitude should be taken even if you work in the same time zone, as you never know what someone’s schedule, commitments, or work hours are.
I don’t want to dictate my team’s workday based on meetings that I’m putting in their Google calendar. Once you establish this outlook, the other problems start to resolve themselves: we can't all jump on a weekly catch-up call, for instance, because that's not going to be respectful to everyone on the team. This means you have to approach things differently, find a way to achieve X or Y without talking to everyone in real-time.
What worked well for your team when they were office-based may not align with remote best practices. Team effectiveness, an indicator that reveals how well a team collaborates and reaches its goals, can help you measure the effectiveness of your ways of working.
Monitoring collaboration and goal-hitting is especially important when managing a remote team, as it helps diagnose problems that may not be visible. We’ve broken down seven of the most common team effectiveness models here, so you can select the right framework to help you keep your remote team on track.
As we’ve covered, good communication is crucial when managing a remote team. With the right communication channels in place, your remote team members will feel supported personally and professionally. This will combat loneliness, support individual team members' development, and boost team resilience when facing the challenges of working remotely.
Not to mention, effective communication is key to keeping client work moving along smoothly.
We recommend you get some measures in place to support your team personally and professionally, such as:
You’ll need to consider your approach to performance management. You can’t control every aspect of your teams’ days (which is where trust comes in), but you can set clear expectations.
SMART goals are great for holding team members accountable without micromanagement. You should set clear goals for each team member and the team as a whole and keep these visible so everyone knows what they’re working towards. Having goals that everyone contributes towards can create a sense of camaraderie.
Regularly reviewing individual and team goals helps monitor performance without surveillance and allows you to address any potential issues appropriately, including those with your management style.
Building a healthy team means communicating effectively, sharing goals, and promoting team resilience. But it also means investing in employee engagement and team culture.
A common pitfall leaders face is conflating culture with benefits such as corporate discounts and health insurance. While fantastic, culture is about more than financial benefits.
Instead, try these approaches to fostering a positive culture:
According to Sherwin Chu, a Leadership Consultant and Coach, healthy team culture also ‘fosters inclusion, healthy feedback systems, and positive interpersonal relationships… This means truly being curious about the team's development needs.’
Take the time to understand what your team truly needs and wants, and make improvements from there.
Employee onboarding is challenging at the best of times, yet remote onboarding presents new difficulties. New employees are less visible than they would be in a physical office and can find themselves twiddling their thumbs while they wait for tasks to come their way. Be mindful of these struggles when setting up or growing your remote team.
Research carried out during the pandemic has shown that employees with a good onboarding experience are more likely to integrate effectively into the company and stay in their role longer.
Setting up a formal onboarding process for remote employees goes a long way toward strengthening retention and can include:
We operate in a digital world, so equip your entire team with the tools they need to do their best work. More and more tools are being developed and adapted to align with best practices, helping facilitate remote onboarding, project management, team collaboration, process optimization, and more.
Keep reading for our advice on choosing the best tools for your team’s needs!
Choosing the right tools for your team can make or break their remote working experience. Here are some of our favorite tried-and-tested tools that will help you stick to best practices.
When managing a remote or hybrid team, it can be difficult to understand what your team is working on. Runn (that’s us!) provides innovative resource management that makes identifying, allocating, and optimizing resources a breeze, so you can make sure your remote team’s workload is fairly balanced.
With countless fantastic features, including timesheets, capacity management, and project planning, Runn provides all the tools you need to manage your remote team’s time efficiently. You can even see where your team is working and when, helping you adapt to a flexible working model.
And as a remote-first business, we make sure all our features are well-suited to remote work or hybrid setups, so your team can stay one step ahead, no matter where they’re located.
This tool needs no introduction and is the forerunner in cloud-based instant messaging platforms. Supporting communication and collaboration among remote teams, Slack allows colleagues to stay connected throughout the day via private chats, group channels, virtual meetings, and audio calls. Plus, it easily integrates with your existing tech stack.
An easy-to-use video messaging tool, Loom allows remote teams to easily create and share screen recordings alongside video messages. This versatile tool is great for simplifying communication and can be used to share feedback on client work, deliver a walkthrough of new project management software, or set up a library of how-to videos for new starters.
Threads is a digital communication tool designed for virtual teams. Combining messaging with project management features, including task management and automated meeting summaries, this tool was created to help remote teams overcome communication barriers.
When you can’t get everyone in one room, turn to Miro. A visual platform designed to help virtual teams connect, Miro offers an interactive whiteboard where teams can brainstorm, plan and create together from anywhere.
Managing a successful remote team can be challenging. But with a proactive approach and positive attitude, you can overcome the challenges of managing teams in a virtual environment and make the most of the huge range of benefits remote work offers.
Our advice is to start by building a culture that champions remote working, focusing on trust, collaboration, company values, and open communication. Combine this future-focused mindset with well-thought-out processes and handy tools, and you have everything you need to be a great remote leader who can lead your team to success.
Interested in how Runn’s intelligent resource management features can help you manage your remote team’s time effectively? Our expert team is on-hand to share our secrets - just get in touch.
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