Being a remote team manager is like being an on-site team manager, but with more problems to solve.
About 40 percent of the 215 supervisors and managers surveyed weren’t confident about their ability to manage workers remotely. Why is it so difficult?
While providing today’s employees with undeniable benefits like increased flexibility and autonomy, remote work comes with a range of challenges. In this article, we go through 10 unique challenges of remote team management and offer actionable ways to address them.
Read on to bring your remote team to productivity with less stress.
Remote team management challenge #1: lack of control
You can’t supervise your team when you aren’t physically present with them. The lack of control may result in very unpleasant consequences for remote-first organizations, including inconsistent work quality, poor employee engagement and failure to meet performance goals.
When you stay with your team in the same office room, you can prevent unnecessary disruptions and see what everyone is really on during their work hours.
But wait, is the lack of supervision really a challenge? You can easily turn it into your biggest advantage once you find a way to address your trust issues.
It’s easy to fall into the micromanagement trap when you watch your team too closely. The remote-first environment is a great chance for managers to practice trust and give their teams space to take ownership of the work they do.
Of course, you shouldn’t completely lose control of what’s happening inside your team. The following practices will help you stay on top of your projects and keep your employees accountable:
- Run regular standups. Syncing with your team regularly (but not too often) allows you to stay up-to-date on your people’s daily activities and provide them with the necessary feedback on their work.
- Implement a project management solution. Every remote team needs an online communication platform or/and a project management tool like Monday.com that will serve as a digital workspace where people can exchange opinions, provide updates on their projects and monitor their tasks.
- Use a time-tracking tool. If you’re struggling to figure out how much time your employees spend on specific tasks, you can ask them to use a time-tracking tool like Toggl at work. Just make sure to explain you need it to better plan your team workload, not to control how they spend their work days.
- Provide clear guidance. Create training manuals on the key procedures and workflows. You won’t need to closely supervise employees who know what to do.
Scribe will help you manage your remote team without micromanagement. Use the tool to auto-generate step-by-step guides for any digital process and save hours of work every week. With Scribe Pages, you can combine different Scribes and build a comprehensive knowledge base.
Scribe will become your irreplaceable assistant in onboarding. Pick a Scribe template from our gallery or create new guides from scratch. And yes, it’s free.
Remote team management challenge #2: loneliness at work
Working remotely is lonely. Remote workers miss out on the social connections that come with working in an office, such as impromptu conversations, team lunches and after-work drinks.
Additionally, remote work often comes with a lack of support or recognition as it’s hard to provide the same level of feedback and encouragement as you could do in person. All of these lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection from the people they work with.
As a manager, it’s your responsibility to create opportunities for team members to connect and socialize.
There are plenty of creative ways to do so — from organizing virtual team-building activities every Friday afternoon (don’t take Friday nights away from your employees!) and creating a watercooler chat on Slack to encouraging people to turn on their cameras during daily standups and running yearly offsite events.
You should have a people person in your company who’ll be responsible for coordinating all these activities and keeping them consistent.
Remote team management challenge #3: failing to connect employees with company culture
In a traditional office setting, employees can observe their colleagues and managers, participate in team-building activities and attend company events. These in-person interactions allow employees to get a sense of the company's culture.
Remote employees can’t grasp your company culture so easily. They don’t have a chance to observe their team members and leaders live up to the company’s values and blend in with the community naturally.
If you fail to address this challenge, you may end up with a demotivated workforce that leaves you for a competitor that has built a great remote company culture.
You can establish a strong company culture in a remote environment by taking these simple steps:
- Document your company culture. Create a document outlining your company's history, mission and values and add it to your internal knowledge base.
- Establish a clear onboarding process. Encourage new hires to familiarize themselves with your company culture during the onboarding process.
- Run regular workshops. Run quarterly culture workshops to connect your remote employees and reinforce your company's values and strategy.
- Offer coaching/mentoring. Assign coaches or mentors to the key members of your team to guide them on how to approach specific situations, communicate more effectively with colleagues and navigate the remote work environment in a way that aligns with the company culture.
“The truth: a strong company culture starts with leadership. While everyone needs to contribute positively, it's up to the leaders to set the tone and establish clear expectations for how team members should interact with one another. This means addressing any toxic behaviors head-on and fostering an environment where EVERYONE feels valued and respected,” — Lauren Stuttaford, Content Marketing Manager at Air Doctor.
Remote team management challenge #4: different work hours
One of the biggest advantages of remote work is flexibility, but it also becomes a challenge when team members are working in different time zones or have different work hours.
It makes it hard to schedule meetings and encourage teamwork. It can also result in some team members feeling excluded or overworked if they are required to work during off-hours to accommodate others.
A lot of companies avoid this problem by hiring within their time zone. But what if that’s not an option?
You can make it easier for your remote team to effectively work across different time zones by:
- Implementing tools for asynchronous communication. You don’t need meetings to walk your colleagues through internal processes and procedures. Use Scribe to automatically generate step-by-step guides, complete with screenshots and descriptions and share them where your team members can easily access the guides. To explain processes that require deep context, record async videos with Loom.
- Establishing hours when everyone should be available. Find a timeframe when everyone’s working hours intersect and ask people to always be online during this window.
- Planning ahead. If you know you’re going to need input from employees that work in a different time zone, plan your work ahead.
Remote team management challenge #5: limited access to up-to-date information
When working in a physical office, team members learn all the news when their manager enters the room. Throughout the day, people collect information from different departments without even noticing it.
In a remote work environment, employees need to take an effort to share and access up-to-date information. It’s easy to forget to share some recently acquired knowledge, which leads to miscommunication, missed deadlines and a lack of clarity around team goals and priorities.
In fact, whether you work on-site or remotely, it’s critical to maintain digital records of everything going on inside the organization. And doing so in a remote environment is even easier than in a traditional office setting because remote teams are usually better equipped.
The following best practices will make it ridiculously easy for your remote employees to access the necessary information:
- Set up a centralized system for knowledge sharing.
- Create clear communication guidelines.
- Hold regular virtual meetings to keep everyone in the loop about the latest news.
- Share progress reports, project updates and other relevant information with the entire team on a regular basis.
- Create virtual project teams, task forces or special interest groups.
- Set up automated flows that will send updates on specific actions to a separate chat (e.g. a marketing team may set up a chatbot that will be sending messages whenever contact data is updated).
Also, establishing a consistent employee training program will help you keep your employees informed on the industry’s latest trends and best practices.
Remote team management challenge #6: information overload
Ironically, information overload is a common consequence of combating under-communication. Remote teams definitely spend more time documenting their work and wading through numerous message threads than office workers.
With so many communication channels and tools at their disposal, it’s almost impossible to keep track of everything that’s going on. Moreover, the constant flow of notifications and messages can be distracting, resulting in reduced productivity and increased stress levels.
Dmytro Sokhach, Founder and CEO at Admix Global, says information overload is one of the reasons remote work hasn’t proven effective for his team:
“When the company had to switch to remote work, our employees got stuck in lengthy chatroom discussions. It was eating up a lot of time and killing team productivity."
To avoid overcommunication, establish clear communication guidelines and protocols. The guidelines should answer the following questions:
- What kind of data should be documented?
- How should different types of information be preserved and shared? (e.g. Slack messages for daily updates, Scribe guides for digital process, Loom videos for nuanced procedures, etc.)
- When is the right time to send messages?
- Which topics require virtual meetings, and which can be messages?
Remote team management challenge #7: role ambiguity
New members of remote teams don’t have much visibility into the company’s internal processes and workflows. If a manager fails to clarify the responsibilities of every member of the team, role ambiguity occurs.
Role ambiguity is the reason behind workplace conflicts and low employee engagement in remote-first organizations. The only way to build a healthy remote work environment is by establishing role clarity.
Role clarity starts with the hiring process. It happens too often that new hires discover their actual responsibilities are quite different from the ones listed in the job description. So the first step you should take is hiring people with brutally honest job descriptions.
And to create role clarity among existing employees, follow these steps:
- Create a document outlining the responsibilities of each team member.
- Design a clear onboarding process where new hires familiarize themselves with internal processes.
- Use project management tools to assign tasks to team members and increase transparency.
Remote team management challenge #8: balancing work and life
Remote employees can spend more time with their families, isn’t it amazing? The truth is, it’s getting even more challenging to keep that work-life balance when you work from home.
While remote work offers flexibility, it also makes it hard for team members to separate work and life. Remote employees are also more likely to work outside of working hours, which leads to burnout and blurred work-life balance.
Here’s how Jakub Zieliński, Content Marketer and Co-Founder at CayenneFlow, puts it:
"There is that famous remote work diagram, where the "remote" pie chart is filled entirely with focus work. It can be true if you are single and childless. For me, three years of home office with two small kids, with one of them being autistic, has been the biggest challenge regarding deep focus."
As a manager, you can make it easier for your remote team members to balance work and life by:
- Turning to time-tracking insights to assign work and impose deadlines based on how much time it usually takes people to complete similar tasks.
- Allowing remote employees to adjust their schedules based on their family members’ schedules. Say, if one needs to pick up a kid from school at 2 pm every day, let them block this time slot in their calendar to avoid rushed meetings.
- Create clear boundaries. Establish clear guidelines on when it's acceptable to contact team members and when it's not. For instance, you may encourage your employees not to send or check work emails after a certain time in the evening.
- Become a role model. Managers should lead by example and prioritize their own work-life balance.
Remote team management challenge #9: too much flexibility
Surprise-surprise, while tons of companies all over the world are striving to provide their employees with more freedom at work, too much flexibility may also become an issue.
Tasmai Dave, SaaS Content Writer, shares:
“I mainly have difficulty setting up a fixed work schedule. While the flexibility to choose my work hours gives me enough time to take breaks during the day, it means my day sometimes ends at midnight, which isn't ideal. I'm trying to change it, but it's still a work in progress.”
How much flexibility is too much? The answer will be different for different individuals. Try this strategy to balance flexibility and accountability:
- Set clear expectations and boundaries for work hours (e.g. all employees should be available for communication and follow-up questions from 9 to 5, even if they aren’t at the workplace during those hours).
- Encourage team members to log their work hours (even if you don’t intend on checking those, such a practice will help them be more productive at work).
- Challenge your employees with tasks (if work isn’t challenging enough, people may be more inclined to procrastinate).
- Monitor your employee performance.
- Discuss performance insights with individual team members.
At the end of the day, you should be able to adjust your approach based on different employees’ performance indicators. You may give more flexibility to people who complete their tasks successfully and offer more supervision to underperformers.
Remote team management challenge #10: Well-being issues
More and more companies are investing in employee well-being. Eighty-seven percent of organizations have at least one well-being initiative in place. Google’s campus offers an epic wellness program featuring onsite healthcare services, including massage services, physical therapy, fitness center access and more.
Yet remote employees rarely have access to all those perks. A lot of people struggle to stay mentally and physically healthy while working from home.
“I associate home with comfort and freedom whereas going to the office means I'm going to get tasks done, have meetings, etc. Doing both (working and trying to stay comfortable) at home doesn't really work out; you have to change environments” shares Mery Minasyan of SayNine.
If you want a happy and engaged workforce, you need to invest in their happiness.
Here’s how you can encourage your remote employees to take care of their physical and mental health:
- Pay for a coworking space. Remote work isn’t necessarily equal to working from home. Provide your remote employees with the option to work from a coworking space where they can access a professional environment, community and networking opportunities.
- Sponsor their home office setup. Perhaps your employees like working from home, but they lack a productive and ergonomic home office setup. Offer a fixed amount of money that your workers can use to create a healthy workplace. For instance, Hotjar provides its employees with €2,400 per year to set up and improve their home offices.
- Establish a wellness program. Lastly, invest in a virtual wellness program that may include online fitness classes, mindfulness sessions, mental health support and healthy eating tips.
Empower your remote team with technology
All the challenges remote teams are facing regularly can be roughly split into two categories:
- Challenges that can be solved by implementing the right technology.
- Challenges that can be solved by establishing a positive company culture.
While building a great remote company culture is a long-term project that requires dedication and consistency, technology adoption is something you can do right now and see immediate benefits. Add these tools to your tech stack to create an effective remote workspace and forget about communication challenges:
- Scribe for easy process documentation.
- Loom for async communication.
- Monday.com for remote project management.
- Toggl for time tracking.
- Document360 for knowledge management.
Try Scribe and Scribe Pages for remote team management today and streamline your knowledge sharing and collaboration.