5 Common Challenges When Managing Remote Employees

5 Common Challenges When Managing Remote Employees

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written on November 2019 by Iwo Szapar

Having the opportunity to manage a remote team is a unique one for a lot of team leaders in the current job market, as remote work is still yet to enter the mainstream. 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 remote employees does have its own challenges, in fact, a SoapBox 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, a lot of these problems you may run into aren’t new and have been dealt with before by experienced remote managers. We’ve listed five ones you’re likely to encounter, the reasons behind them and how you can make sure you tackle them head on with ease!

1. 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. 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 at a regular basis, consider what tools or methods you could implement. There are a multitude of time tracking tools out there to use (we’ve listed some great ones here), but you can even just make sure to schedule regular one on ones 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.

2. 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.

3. 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 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.

Learn more about improving your distributed management skills! 👇

4. 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.

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

While remote work is a great way of achieving a great 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 burn out, 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.

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