6 Difficult Things About Managing a Remote Workforce
Sure, not having to schlep into an office is amazing. And having work-life balance is pretty awesome, too. But there are definitely difficult things about managing a remote workforce. Here are six of them—and the solutions.
1. Your team can feel isolated.
Even the most experienced remote worker can feel a little, well, lonely, every once in awhile. But if you think that’s just your employee’s issue, think again. A disconnected staffer can become less productive and disengaged over time, causing a negative ripple effect throughout his team—and the company on the whole.
“Working from home can be isolating, especially for staff who have never worked remotely before,” says Karolyn Belcher, president of TNTP. “You have to be proactive about building relationships and friendships across the organization.” So it’s up to you to ensure that your team is connected and happy with their workload and understands the importance of their individual roles in the company.
2. It can be trickier to find out about problems.
You think that everything is going well with your group. You assigned a project, and everyone seems to be hard at work on it. That is, until the deadline rolls around and only then do you find out that one of your workers is having a problem accessing your company’s system.
“Without the luxury of seeing colleagues each day, it can, at times, take longer to identify issues,” says Claire O’Connell, director, people and culture, Canonical. “For this reason, managers need to see engagement and communication as key priorities for their team.” By setting up weekly meetings and informal check-ins with your workers, you can find out about—and fix—any issues before they become major problems.
3. You have to be proactive about sharing information.
When you have a traditional in-office company, sharing info is easy. You call a meeting, your team gathers in the conference room, and you speak about any new initiatives or plans. But when your team is scattered across the globe, it can be much easier to forget to share information. And the same holds true for your team members, too.
“Remember to create and allow for opportunities to share and exchange information so everyone is kept in the loop, accountable, and takes pride and ownership in the growth of the company,” says Sheila Murphy, co-founder/partner, FlexProfessionals, LLC. One of the major facets of a remote company is having superior communications tools set up for the entire team. That way, the flow of information, from bosses straight down to interns and then back up again, is smooth and crystal clear.
4. You have to move past an office mentality.
If you’re used to working in an office and having your employees just a cubicle away, it can be hard to adopt a remote work mentality. “The biggest challenge is the ‘if only we were together (physically)’ thought that pops into your head on those days when you want to call a 20-minute brainstorm or quickly tackle feedback or a conflict that arises,” says Chris Byers, CEO of Formstack. “It takes effort to delete that incorrect belief from our brains and remember that we just need to develop ways around those perceived limitations.”
Instead of focusing on the fact that your team is not together, adopt a new mindset that embraces your remote team setup and realize that your company can function quite fine without being physically together.
5. Time zones, time zones, and time zones.
One of the biggest benefits of having a remote company is that you can attract top-tier talent from anywhere in the world. That said, one of the most difficult things about managing a remote workforce is just that—having team members who are far-flung around the globe.
“Our team members span the globe, from Mexico to South Carolina, from California to Indonesia,” says Carrie McKeegan, co-founder of Greenback Expat Tax Services. “Our biggest challenge is accommodating the different time zones and ensuring consistent, productive communication.” One way to make it work despite multiple time zones is to find a time when most of your employees can gather for a meeting.
And if you’re going to hire a worker who doesn’t fit into any of the time zones already represented by your existing team, make sure that he or she is flexible enough to accommodate the meetings. Says McKeegan: “Once again, it goes back to hiring the right people who are committed to making it work, even when it’s less than convenient.”
6. Your employees are busy with their own stuff.
Perhaps you hired a few permanent freelancers to help work on various projects with your company. By nature, freelancers typically juggle a few gigs at one time, and you find that your freelancers are no exception. This might not be as important when you have a regular office—and freelancers are expected to work in-office—but the same doesn’t hold true when they’re working from home, their local Starbucks, or even a beach in Hawaii.
“Sometimes remote workers just don’t have that much time for your company,” says Dave Nevogt, co-founder of Hubstaff. “They may have multiple clients, be traveling the world (you never know with digital nomads–they could be in Alaska or Sydney), or simply not want to work that many hours in the day.”
While you can’t forbid freelancers from working for more than one client at a time, you can circumvent a potential problem by vetting qualified and committed candidates during the interview process. You can let them know that the job they’re being considered for should take a specific time, about six hours per day, for example, and then find out if they truly have the time to take on the job, should they be offered it. By being honest up-front, you can both spare yourselves some stress.
No doubt about it, there are definitely some difficult things about managing a remote workforce. But as you can see, none of the potential problems are completely insurmountable. With some planning, savvy business strategies, and a desire to see your company flourish, managing a remote workforce can be a lot easier than you might think!
By Jennifer Parris | February 18, 2016 | Categories: Remote Management