18 Common Challenges When Managing Hybrid Remote Employees

18 Common Challenges When Managing Hybrid Remote Employees

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written on August 2021 by Iwo Szapar

Having the opportunity to manage a hybrid-remote team is becoming ever more common with the increased adoption of remote work. However, a lot of people find themselves in the position without much experience or none at all. You may have all the experience in the world working in an office environment with large teams, but not all of it will translate into the remote world. Managing hybrid-remote employees does have its own challenges. In fact, a Hypercontext report found that remote managers experience retention challenges 6 times more than onsite managers. However, managing remote teams has a lot of benefits that colocated teams don’t get to experience!

Fortunately, many of these problems you may run into aren’t new and have been dealt with before by experienced hybrid-remote managers. We’ve listed 18 ones you’re likely to encounter, the reasons behind them, and how you can make sure you tackle them head-on with ease!

1. Creating a single source of truth

When you’re working with any remote or hybrid-remote workforce, documentation and a single source of truth will help prevent a heap of problems. If you’re working with multiple versions of documents, instructions, or instant messages, it’s easy to get confused as to what exactly should be followed.

The way you do this is going to depend on your exact setup. If you have some employees that are primarily office-based and some remote, you’re going to have to create a system that unites the two together. Ways to do this include sticking to certain communication styles for task setting or defining a certain channel as your source of truth. If your company is large enough, you might even have an intranet system that can help with this.

2. Making correct use of asynchronous communication

If you’ve worked in a remote company before, you’ve probably already heard about asynchronous and synchronous communication. Each kind is appropriate for different situations and has its strengths and weaknesses.

Typically, asynchronous is more popular in remote work as it allows people with different schedules to communicate effectively with one another. Task setting can be done via shared documents, emails, or messaging clients, and feedback can also be done asynchronously too. It’s an efficient use of everyone’s time.

However, there is always a place for asynchronous communication. This is especially in a hybrid setting that has more of the traditional elements of an office. Nothing can replace seeing your colleagues’ faces and talking in real-time, especially for creating a sense of team and building up culture. Creating a communications policy that your team can refer to will give you the best chance of making your comms clear and effective.

3. Tracking your team’s productivity and work

We’re probably all used to the occasional hovering that managers get up to in an office. With a quick glance, they can normally see what your progress is on a task and ask whether you’re running into any problems. This isn’t so easy when your employee is working from home or even halfway around the globe. It’s a common challenge when working with remote teams.

For a new remote manager, it may seem like you’re not really managing much at all without this direct contact and feedback. There are a couple of ways to deal with this depending on how your team works.

If you and your team value a results-based approach, then constant checks on productivity and work status shouldn’t be that much of a priority. If people hand in the work on time, to a high enough standard, and have a track record of doing so, you should generally let them get on. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have periodic checks and times to check in on the status. You can still do these, but don’t be overbearing and worry too much as long as the work is being produced to a high standard. Moreover, use one of the available project management tools or techniques to ensure your team is able to successfully deliver the results.

If you find your team needs a bit more of a nudge, or values getting your input regularly, consider what tools or methods you could implement. There are many time tracking tools out there to use (there is free time tracking app if you are on a budget), but you can even just make sure to schedule regular one on one with each team member. Find out your team’s routine and work around it if possible. If people are in different time zones or work different hours, then create an asynchronous feedback process with your whole team.

4. Your company culture isn’t there

Most companies have an idea of how they want to operate, what they value, and their general ethos. You’ll probably mention this in your interview and onboarding processes. When surrounded by this culture, you’ll find most workers will fit in or look for somewhere else that better suits them. Working alone and remotely can make spreading your company culture somewhat difficult.

To improve this and get people on board, you should implement a top-down approach from the manager’s level. Make sure you are a living example of your culture first before trying to encourage others to do so! Once you’ve become a real ambassador, look at the unique ways that remote work can actually bolster company culture.

A virtual watercooler for more casual conversations, physical mail-outs of gifts and company merchandise, the occasional retreat, and weekly group calls to do something fun together are all good methods. Your company culture at the end of the day doesn’t just build itself. You need to set it in place and live it before it begins to grow.

5. Equipping remote-hybrid employee

Working remotely can often be done with just a laptop and internet connection. But this doesn’t mean the setup is optimal! Your employees should be supported in creating comfortable spaces to work from when they’re out of the office. This includes ergonomic office furniture, a screen, and video calling equipment.

Your hybrid-remote team also needs to be equipped with the right skills. Technology and best practices change regularly, so investing in your team’s development should also be a part of your strategy.

Learn more about improving your distributed management skills! 👇

Managing remote and hybrid teams training

6. Hiring new members for your remote team

Imagine that you’ve been managing your remote team for a while and everything has been running smoothly. Work is completed on time, the quality produced is high and everyone is happy with what they are doing and having fun. You then hire a new team member and disaster strikes. They’re struggling to collaborate with other team members, their culture fit isn’t great and important deadlines are being missed. What’s gone wrong?

Well, without a solid hiring and onboarding process a new remote team member can significantly affect everyone’s output and flow. To make sure this doesn’t happen, you need to consider whether your hiring process is suited to the remote environment. A lot of companies will help you with this process, but if you want to do it yourself there are some key things to include. First of all, check for culture fit right from the start. Make sure it’s super clear even in the job description you post! During the hiring process, see what remote working practices the candidate is already familiar with and how they have worked in remote teams before. Get your team in on the process as well with joint interviews.

Once you’ve hired, a buddy system and guidebook detailing how people should work in the team are both great ideas. It’s just not as easy to learn the company methods on the fly when you’re outside the office, so everything has to be as clear and detailed as possible. You’ll save yourself a lot of time, hassle, and effort by making sure your hire is correct from the start.

7. Making sure not to micromanage

We’ve probably all worked with managers in a colocated office who love to micromanage. When working in a hybrid-remote setup, the urge can be even stronger. Managers need to establish trust and maintain a suitable level for check-ins. Requiring a one-on-one call twice a day, every day will likely do more harm than good.

If deadlines are being met and communication is clear, then this should be enough. Make your focus on outcomes and not on activity. You can begin to achieve this by making sure your goal setting and desired results are clearly laid out. One way to avoid micromanaging is to hire the right people in the first place which we’ll dive into next.

8. Hiring people who can self-manage

Whatever your hybrid-remote setup is, a lot of the time your team members aren’t going to have direct access to their manager. You may be spread across the office, home office, and even different time zones. For this reason, the ability for team members to manage themselves is valued highly.

When making a transition to a hybrid-remote setup, your hiring process is going to dramatically change. You’ll be looking for new skill sets, experience, and cultural fit. You should look for qualities that demonstrate the ability to self-manage, including:

  1. Previous proven success in a  remote environment 
  2. A driven attitude with a commitment to goal setting
  3. Good time management skills and the ability to work with deadlines

With the ability to plan your day and the flexibility hybrid-remote brings, all team members need to be trusted using the freedom it brings. If you get the right people from the beginning, your life managing remote staff will be much easier.

9. Working across time zones

Your remote hybrid team might not necessarily be located within one country. While some time zone differences can be minimal, if you’re working with people in other continents it can be more tricky. When scheduling meetings, try and find a time that works for everyone or offer an alternative option. We can’t always accommodate everyone, but managing remote employees will require you to put in more effort when coordinating communication. No one likes to feel left out or think that they’re missing out on important opportunities because of their time zone.

10. People aren’t managing their work-life balance correctly

While hybrid-remote work is a great way of achieving a satisfying work-life balance, sometimes the boundaries can get blurred between when you should be working and when you should be relaxing. Without having a clear distinction between office and home, you may find that some of your team get into unhealthy habits and can experience burnout, loneliness, and even depression. This isn’t good for anyone and can lead to serious detrimental health effects too. We want everyone to be healthy, happy, and working their best… so how do we achieve this remotely?

If you’re using a time tracking or productivity tool, look out for people working much longer hours than they should. Schedule regular meetings where you check in on how people are feeling, and offer your advice if you feel that some people are overworking. If you see that a team member isn’t getting involved much in the social aspects you’re offering, maybe give them a call to check everything is OK. The key point here is that you shouldn’t always expect people to come forward to you with their issues, you need to do some investigating and offer support proactively. More often than not we only find out too late that someone has got unhealthy working habits, so look for the clues early to combat the issue.

11. Providing remote career opportunities

When managing remote staff, you can sometimes fall into the “freelancer mentality” trap. Even though a remote working relationship can feel different, your hybrid-remote colleagues should be treated like any normal employee. This means that you should provide them the same opportunities for career progression as everyone else.

Depending on your setup, remote workers might not be able to progress on a traditional career path. However, there’s always room for growth without needing to promote employees. One way to find out your remote colleagues’ development goals is to regularly check in with them, which we’ll talk about below.

12. Making time for one-on-ones

This management tip has already cropped up a fair few times, showing how important it really is! Managing hybrid-remote team members requires you to keep a good schedule for catching up with your colleagues. With fewer chances to discuss ideas, thoughts, and problems on the fly, you’ll need to make sure to dedicate time for one-on-ones. While it can be a bit tricky if you’re working across different time zones, it’s a manager’s responsibility to make sure that there are suitable options for your team members to get in touch with you.

13. Celebrating success

Celebrating achievements and success is simple to do in an office, but trickier when some of your team is working remotely. Important events should take a dual approach for celebration and include all your team wherever they are. We have a huge amount of tools at our disposal for virtual meetings and team events to make this easier.

Don’t forget about individual successes either. Organize a call if you have time or drop a message regularly to your remote colleagues. The natural mini celebrations that happen in an office have to be translated to the remote world too.

14. Managing communication between the whole team

There are so many different methods of communication now that it can be difficult to pick the correct ones to use. While one person may love using email to set tasks, somebody else may prefer to take a call. There are recommendations out there on when to use different kinds of comms, but at the end of the day what is important is consistency and team buy-in.

Create yourself, or ideally with your team, a remote communication policy that you all agree on. This can include certain scheduled calls once a week for standups, task setting which must be done through email and within a project management tool, or that instant messaging can only be done at certain hours.

Because the circumstances of a hybrid-remote team can vary greatly, there is no one size fits all policy here! We recommend doing some research first on what might work with your particular team. Then, implement and test to see what is providing results. Make sure everyone follows the rules and policies, and you should find that your communication will become less chaotic and more conducive to producing great remote work.

15. Setting clear expectations for a remote worker

One of the challenges of managing remote employees is making sure that everyone knows exactly what is expected of them. There’s much less opportunity to check in on progress compared to being colocated. For this reason, your expectations and tasks should be very clearly set out from the beginning.

Doing this asynchronously is always a good option. That way you have everything set out in writing, and your team can refer back to exactly what your expectations are. Your team’s values and goals can also be communicated similarly. Expectations aren’t just involved in task setting!

16. Overcoming cultural differences

If you’ve opened up your teams to remote members, you likely might work with colleagues from all around the globe. We all come from different backgrounds, cultures, and have different viewpoints on collaboration. Overall, this situation provides an enriching environment to work in. However, cultural differences can occasionally lead to misunderstandings.

While you can’t prepare for every situation, your hybrid-remote team should be aware that differences that can occur. If a situation arises, everyone should try to give other team members the benefit of the doubt.

17. Overloading your employees

When you can’t keep an eye on your team members, you also lose the ability to see if anyone is overloaded. Someone working long hours in the office is much easier to spot than a remote worker. The line between work and home can also blur meaning that your hybrid-remote employees struggle to turn off. When delegating tasks, make sure to understand what other deadlines your teammate might have. This way you can come up with a suitable timeframe for the work to be completed.

18. Treating all your employees fairly

When working with a hybrid team, don’t forget that your employees working from home will miss out on a lot of your office benefits. For example, if you have an office team lunch make sure you provide some budget for your remote workers to grab some food too. This principle also extends to the benefits your remote workers get as well. Your office-based employees should also be able to enjoy some of the perks of working remotely. One of the key strengths of a hybrid-remote setup is the ability for people to have more freedom in the benefits they want to choose.

Next steps

It’s always best practice to learn as much as you can about how you can improve your hybrid-remote situation. However, sometimes we all need a little extra help. If you need to talk with communication experts skilled in remote environments, head to our Marketplace to get in touch with the best communication experts in the industry.

If you’re also interested in learning more about hybrid workplace communication yourself, you’re also in luck. We already have a comprehensive hybrid workplace communication 101 guide covering exactly what you need to know.

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