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How to Manage Remote Teams

Ruslan Askarov

As a direct result of the pandemic and all the uncertainty brought upon us during this last few
months most of the Companies have fully migrated to a remote workforce; some of them for
the very first time which has created unexpected challenges that nobody anticipated prior to
this fully remote landscape.

As much as it is ideal to anticipate and establish clear remote work policies, training, tools and
procedures ahead of time, in times of crisis and uncertainty this level of preparation is not
always easily accomplished or met whatsoever. On a bright side, there is plenty of research-
based steps companies around the world can take to increase the productivity and satisfaction
of their remote employees, despite the fact they had little to no time to prepare.

The ABC of successfully managing your remote team

First of all, managers need to be mindful and understand the key factors that can make this
new remote landscape particularly demanding and exhausting to their workforce. Employees
that are typically very productive employees on a typical landscape might now be experiencing
unexpected declines in their performance and engagement particularly when there was no
preparation or training for this new reality. The most common challenges include but are not
limited to:

Lack of face to face monitoring: Both employees and managers have stated their concerns
about the now non-existent face to face interaction. Managers are usually concerned that their
newly remote workforce team might not be working as hard or efficiently in this new
landscape. On the other hand, several employees are now struggling with reduced access to
their upper management support as well as the lack of constant communication. Some
employees have mentioned that their managers are no longer in sync with their needs and
reality and as a direct result they can no longer support them or be helpful to them so they can
be able to deliver the expected results.

Lack of access to information

An additional unexpected problem that many employees are
experiencing now in this remote landscape is the fact that they have realized that sometimes to
locate basic information about the company policies and procedures can be sometimes pretty
hard to find. Even getting the right answers to what might seem as a simple question can feel
like a very big ordeal to an employee that is now fully working from home.

This phenomenon goes beyond task-related work all the way up to interpersonal-challenges
that might arise amongst remote coworkers. New research has found that the absence of
“mutual knowledge” among remote workers translates to a lower willingness to give fellow
coworkers the benefit of the doubt when they are presented with a difficult situation. One
example could be, If you know that one of your fellow coworkers is having a tough day and
suddenly you receive an email that might come off too strong you could more easily
understand the situation. However, if you receive this email from a remote coworker, without
any type of context of their current situation or circumstances you are more likely to take it
personal and get offended and as a result think poorly regarding the professionalism of your
fellow coworker.

Social Isolation

Loneliness is one of the biggest complaints about remote work, with
employees missing the interpersonal relations with their fellow coworkers in an office setting. It
is commonly thought that employees considered “extroverts” might suffer from isolation more
in the near future especially if they don’t have any opportunities to connect with other fellow
teammates on this new remote-work landscape. Nevertheless, over a long period of time,
isolation can cause any and all employees to feel less “belonging” to their company and could
even result in an increased intention to leave the company.

Distractions at home: It is very common to see photos portraying the remote landscape with a
parent holding a child while attending a meeting or sending an email; quite often sitting on a
couch. This is a very good example of a poor and ineffective virtual work. Instead of this we
highly encourage employers to ensure that their remote workers have both a dedicated and
comfortable workspace and if needed childcare before allowing them to migrate to a fully
remote landscape.

 

How Managers Can Support Remote Employees

Despite the fact remote work can be full of challenges, there are several relatively quick and
inexpensive things that all managers could do to make this transition easier. Actions that you
can start taking today include but are not limited to:

Establish daily and structured check-ins

Most successful remote Managers establish at least
one daily call with their remote employees. This effort could be taken with different
approaches all the way from individual one on one calls up to a Team call to make sure their
remote team is aligned in the daily/weekly goals and make sure they all address any important
and urgent issues on the go rather than when the situations escalate to a more complicated
level that requires a reactive instead than a proactive approach.

Provide multiple communication technology methods: There are many remote managers who
think that a “good old email” will suffice when it comes to the communication with their
remote employees. They are wrong. Remote employees are always looking for different ways
to be able to reach and get ahold of their managers and fellow coworkers other than a simple
email. One good strategy is video conference calls which gives participants most of the visual
“cues” that they would typically have if they were at an office environment.

There will be some other circumstances when quick collaboration is more imperative than
visual contact. For these situations, you could provide your remote team with a mobile-enabled
instant messaging program so they can easily and instantly connect with each other (the most
common and successful tools are Slack, Zoom and Microsoft Teams).

Establish “rules of engagement”

The new fully remote work dynamic becomes more efficient
and rewarding when managers establish clear expectations when it comes to the frequency,
channel methods, and ideal timing of communication for their remote teams. Let’s say that the
standard is to use the video conferencing technologies for the daily one on one sessions but
when any urgent issue arises the golden rule is to immediately notify via instant message.

Encourage and create opportunities for remote social interaction: Research has found that
one of the best strategies a manager can enforce is to create ways for their remote team to
socially interact regarding topics related to their personal lives and concerns that are
completely independent of the work offset.

A very easy way to establish a basic social interaction is to leave some time at the beginning of
the team calls just for non-work-related items (e.g. “We are going to start the call catching up
with each other. How is your family? How was your weekend?). Other fun ways to kick start this
initiative include a virtual pizza party (in which pizza is delivered to all team members ahead of
time). Despite the fact some people might consider this type of events “forced” it has been
proven that they help remote employees ease their feelings of isolation and loneliness;
promoting a sense of belonging and companionship.

Provide encouragement and emotional support: Particularly when presented with the
situation of an abrupt shift to remote work it is crucial for remote managers to acknowledge
stress, make sure they listen to their employee’s anxieties and concerns, and empathize with
their struggles. If a newly remote employee is clearly struggling but doesn’t feel confident
enough to express these feelings it is a good idea to constantly ask them how they are coping
with this situation.

Research about emotional intelligence and emotional contagion tells us that employees look to
their managers for cues about how to react to sudden changes or crisis situations. Effective
leaders take an assertive approach both acknowledging the stress and anxiety that employees
might be experiencing in difficult situations but also providing affirmation of their confidence in
their teams. With this support, employees are more likely to take up the challenge with a sense
of purpose and focus.

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