• Maud Vanhoutte

Managing remote teams: 11 keys to overcome typical challenges

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, most managers and leaders had to learn to work with remote teams as most professionals started to work from home. In the past months, most professionals worldwide had to navigate uncertainty. For professionals who returned to the office; many are asking or will soon ask for more flexibility around remote work. After a successful experience over the past few months, it will be hard to refuse this shift to dedicated talents. Both during and after the pandemic, organisations are sure to see some long-lasting effects of the COVID-19 outbreak and need to be ready to change their working from home policies. In this article, you will find some great resources and tools to effectively manage remote teams and get ready for workplace agility.

Challenges of managing remote teams

With team members working from home, managers are facing some new challenges that they never faced in the workplace before. Some of those challenges are impacting their talents’ performance and the overall success of their organisation.

In the past months, many organisations and leaders have seen their talents accomplished an amazing work and successfully adjust to the new situation. At the same time, for other organisations and teams, this new setting brought some key challenges to address.

The following areas are directly impacted by virtual work:

  • Internal and external communication

  • Access to information

  • The lack of face-to-face interactions

  • The organisational culture and the feeling of a shared mission

  • The sense of belonging at work

  • The recruitment of new talents and the on-boarding process

  • The overall employee experience along with their motivation and level of engagement

  • The quality of teamwork and team bonding

  • The informal discussions and exchanges

Because managing remote teams will remain a reality for many managers, it is essential to assist them in making the most of this new way of working. You will find below 11 excellent keys and tips to successfully manage your remote workers.

Strategies and tools to manage a high-performing virtual team

To successfully address those growing challenges along with future ones (and there will be future ones as the workplace will continue to change); organisations and leaders need to learn to positively partner with remote teams and cater for workplace agility.

As for everything, leaders will need to adapt to people and situations. By using the situational leadership model, managers will be able to understand how much guidance and autonomy they need to provide for their talents. By keeping this flexible model in mind and following the shared techniques in this article, leaders will greatly support their virtual teams.

The notion of trust when managing remote teams

Supervising remote workers does not mean micromanaging them. When talents are working remotely, it becomes easy to picture some stereotypes of an unproductive remote workforce. You can find many pieces of research around remote work and how productive remote teams are. This article is sharing 9 research-based facts that prove that remote teams are as performing as on-site ones if not more. To successfully manage your remote team you will need to develop your trust in them and offer your support without micromanaging every step they take. You do not need to ‘check-in’ with them multiple times a day without a real reason and you might not need to be copied in on every email they send.

Provide flexibility and improve your remote workers’ accountability

Do not expect from your remote talents to work 8 to 5, but trust them to have the work done. The great advantage to work remotely for many professionals is the opportunity to balance their work with their personal commitments and their natural and personal pace. Your team members are not all ‘on’ at the same time. For some of them, the battery is fully charged in the morning, allowing them to perform some complicated tasks when for others; it will be easier to perform such tasks at night when the kids are asleep. Ask your talents to be available for a few hours that overlap with internal and external stakeholders and invite them to work at whatever time they choose in respect for delays and technical limitations.

Providing flexibility also involves developing new processes that will be more appropriate for the situation. In other words, do not stick to old methods when you can establish new norms.

Stay informed and updated with your remote teams’ projects and workload

Not seeing your talents does not mean that you should not know what they are up to and how much they work. As their manager, you need to stay informed about the development of their projects balanced with how many hours they worked on those projects. It is an essential step to better understand how much guidance and assistance they might need from you. The collected data also allows you to assess your talents’ productivity and to spot team members who are eligible for overtime pay. It is important not to let your remote workers work too much as they will then present a risk of burning out.

The same process will allow you to spot team members in difficulty or in need of assistance. It will also be a straightforward way to identify the team members that are disengaged and low in productivity.

Keep communication channels open with remote talents

One of the biggest challenges to manage remote teams is to maintain effective communication. In 2020 professionals are lucky to be able to select from a variety of technologies to communicate with stakeholders across the world. Today’s professionals can easily communicate using phone calls, emails, instant messages, video chats… Organisations can choose from WebEx, Zoom, Microsoft Team, Google Hangout, Slack, Skype, and much more. All those tools can help communication for remote teams but it can also make it disorganised or overwhelming. It is important to select the right channel(s) and to stick to it to facilitate the access of the information.

It is essential to keep communication channels open with remote teams as long as it is necessary communication. Oversharing and over-communicating with virtual teams are only creating interruptions and ruining remote workers’ productivity. Team meetings and one on one conversations are fundamental to remote workers and need to be organised regularly; however, daily meetings and catch-up are not always crucial or productive.

Planned and structured communication is key with virtual teams. It is essential to provide constructive feedback to help them grow and it is also important to encourage and invite feedback. A positive way to facilitate such discussions is to use the 4 steps of the reflection process created by New Reflections. As a leader, you want to highlight what is going well, what is getting better and to share some insights on areas of improvement for your talent’s work and behaviour. In return, you will encourage feedback around your management style, the guidance you are providing and the needs of your talent. Those discussions are becoming more crucial with professionals working from home as managers can’t ‘check on them’ or observe their body language and attitudes as well as before.

Facilitate engaging team meetings with remote professionals