It has been weeks now that nonessential employees have been forced to work remotely (when possible), and we’ve all had to adjust quickly to this new environment. For some companies, the transition was harder than expected, so you may still be working out ways to make the most of the new normal.
While we’re all hoping there’s an end in sight for our current situation, there are plenty of other potential non-government mandated situations that could force entire companies or teams to move to a remote workforce in the future.
It’s important to work through the obstacles now so that your team will be prepared if that day comes again. Here are the five biggest challenges leaders face when managing a remote team — and tips on how to overcome them:
1. Keeping the workflow moving
It’s inevitable that in a change from normal to fully remote, your workflow will be disrupted. One of the first things to figure out when managing a remote team is how to restore it.
This step is something we’ve all had to do in the last few months already. From making sure everyone has access to video call platforms to installing new tools to manage team tasks, you’ve had to adapt quickly and efficiently.
The tools you’ve identified so far that enable your team to work remotely need to stay part of your everyday workflow, even after this pandemic ends. This way, it’s not as challenging of a transition the next time remote work is needed. The programs, the cloud-based communication and file storage, and more all need to become your new norm.
Additionally, now that you’ve identified the right tools, it’s essential to provide a clearly outlined workflow for your teams regarding the newly implemented technology. If some medical sales reps are using a CRM while others continue resorting to email, the inconsistency could be disruptive to your team’s work.
Ensure that everyone is clear on what platforms and processes are required to keep things moving smoothly now and in the future.
2. Collaborating effectively
Once the tools are installed and processes are in place, you need to make sure the team feels comfortable collaborating in this new setting. Right now, we’re working remotely because there is no choice, so the disruption has forced us to skip over any type of ‘easing in.’
Standard work hours have been thrown out the window in many cases, depending on each individual’s unique situation at home. As such, collaboration has become a challenge for many teams.
Start to make your employees feel more comfortable with the current setup by asking them to share their preferred method of communication with each other. This is a great practice on any new team, but will also work well in a new environment like this — especially considering preferences may be different now that the team is remote.
Figure out the right combination of phone, instant message, email, and video communication that will work best for your team, based on what they share. Then, set expectations for everyone to follow.
Another way to get the team more comfortable with virtual collaboration is to meet regularly, whether it’s for work updates or just ‘water cooler’ chats each week. This practice makes the team feel more accessible to each other and will help them continue to feel connected during these trying times.
3. Communicating openly
In addition to the team communicating with each other, you also need to be transparent with them as things change and evolve with the company.
Have a system in place for sharing new information as it happens. Whether it’s weekly team meetings (they don’t need to be very long, even 10-15 minutes is fine), one-on-ones with direct reports, or formal emails, make sure your team knows how they can expect to hear from you.
When managing a remote team, it’s also important to set expectations with your team about reaching out to you directly with questions. Especially as employees adjust to your new workflow, they might feel like you’re more accessible than before — being just an instant message away — and come to you with more questions than they normally would have in the office setting.
Don’t let these adjustments disrupt your own workday for too long. Once the team has settled in a bit, set some guidelines for how they should communicate with you too.
Help them understand what to ask you for, whom they need to ask if it should be someone else, or what they should probably be able to figure out on their own. Make sure they have access to the right resources if you need them to problem-solve without you. This will allow you to be reachable, but not be bombarded with questions all day long.
4. Keeping morale high
There is a lot of negative news out there about the economy and the pandemic; you don’t know how it’s affecting your team personally unless you ask. Set aside time each week to check in with your employees on a human level.
Being transparent with updates for your team is also essential when it comes to keeping up morale. People will feel reassured when they know you’re consistently communicating with them and that you have some idea of ‘what’s next.’ Even if the update is that you don’t have answers, it helps to know the company values them and is trying to keep them informed.
Using team meetings to share ‘wins’ is another great way to remind everyone that great work can be accomplished in this new normal of being remote.
Additionally, don’t be afraid to get creative with video call topics. For example, during your next team meeting, you can go around the virtual room and share stay-at-home activity suggestions. If any resonate with the group, you can even decide to follow up next week with telling stories of how the activity went.
And don’t forget to lead by example. Managing a remote team means your employees are looking to you for cues about whether they should be stressed, anxious, or optimistic about the future.
5. Avoiding burnout
Because they’re always at the office now, employees will be more susceptible to burnout. It’s crucial to set realistic expectations. Let your team know productivity levels may change — and that’s OK.
When you were in a physical office, many employees could lock their doors or hunker down in their cubicles. But with family, roommates, pets, and overall stress interrupting their daily lives, work will not feel the same. Frequently remind your team that they are allowed to put some of these things before work right now.
Employees might have to take a break from work to supervise their kids’ schoolwork or run errands that would usually wait until the evenings. We can’t control our environments as easily as before, so let them know it’s OK to take care of their own needs first.
Because of this shift, you or your team might not be as productive as they once were, or work hours might shift to later in the day. Let everyone know they don’t have to respond to emails on your schedule if that’s the case; they should still feel fine waiting until they’re ‘on the clock.’
By not forcing the same levels of work, and focusing on quality over quantity, you can avoid burnout among your team members.