It's like herding remote teams...

October 20, 2021 · 9 min readMeeting Culture

The 2020 pandemic-induced switch to remote collaboration most teams by surprise — both on the management and the employee side. The collective perception of remote workers as digital nomads was put to the test and quickly debunked as employees found out firsthand what it's like to telework. Spoiler: It's a lot fewer cocktails on the beach with a laptop and a lot more ordering desk accessories online. Looking back now, how has management changed since the start of the global remote work era?

In this post, we'll go through what's new in management since the introduction of remote work, how it's affecting teams, and tips for managing remote teams challenges better.‌

How the pandemic changed remote work

With the start of a worldwide approach to remote work, the actual perception of such work has changed. Research shows that 38% of new teleworkers said they felt work-life balance was easier when working from home. This increased from only 10% of teleworkers stating that before the pandemic. Additionally, job satisfaction did not appear to decrease with increased telework.

But, while it seems that remote work models have resulted in nothing but improvement, there are downsides to telework that companies have had to face.

New Challenges for Remote Management

Managing remote teams can challenge all preconceived notions of what it is to lead and support an organization. In preliminary studies, researchers are finding that remote managers themselves lack support and, at the same time, that their employees could benefit from better quality management. Some remote managers express that their superiors are unaware of their needs and struggles.  This disconnect comes as little surprise considering most managers were not trained to lead remote teams. So, what are the challenges that arise as a result? Here are some of the most commonly mentioned:

  • A lack of mentorship opportunities

  • Trouble trusting employees to fulfill their responsibilities

  • Difficulty onboarding new members remotely

  • A struggle to create a sense of belonging in employees

‌As we start to see remote work as a long-term possibility, some managers have begun to take on these challenges. Let's read through some tips for how management can improve the direction of their remote teams.

Tips For Managing Remote Employees

One of the biggest struggles for team leaders during COVID-19 is tracking KPIs while keeping an eye on employee distress. Both fall under the responsibility of management, and it can be tempting to prioritize company goals over employee wellbeing. To address the latter appropriately, here are some of the best tips for managing teams from afar:

1. Make sure employees are equipped

As much as employees may want to use a work-from-home model, they can't perform to their fullest potential without equipment. This equipment starts with basic things like laptops and can extend to more accessories. HR should provide employees with everything necessary for a home office that performs almost as well as their corporate one.‌

2. Create a culture of communication

Team leaders should open the day with a daily check-in (written or via call) to establish routines. They can also set daily or weekly office hours during which employees can virtually approach them for help and support. If needed, managers can schedule weekly individual calls to discuss ways to help the team feel capable and prepared.  Leaders should take advantage of remote team management tools like Slack, Trello, and even Google Suite to their fullest potential to keep communication and organization flowing.

3. Establish mutual trust 

Reminding employees of the organization's values can help everyone feel more at ease. Leaders should also reiterate that the company will be there for workers throughout and beyond the pandemic. To do this, management must establish an understanding of telework challenges and how leaders will address these challenges together with employees.

4. Open spaces for social interaction 

Opportunities for casual work interactions and day-to-day team-building are now much less frequent with the remote work model. Before meetings, managers should take five minutes to find out how their workers are and catch up on non-work-related updates. Additionally, they can schedule after-work virtual happy hours, online lunches, and send care packages.

‌Take the lead on improving remote work dynamics

With the uncertainty of the future of work locations and dynamics, management must now prepare to lead teams in varying degrees of work-from-home capacities.  To face and relieve the challenges brought on by the last year of work, leaders can start improving complex dynamics by providing adequate equipment, opening space for communication, creating opportunities for socializing online, and reinforcing a bond of trust with employees. How management teams do this will depend on resources and other factors, but taking steps towards making the work-from-home experience better will, in the end, make businesses a better place to work at every level.

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