7 Hard Parts of Managing a Remote Workforce

7 Hard Parts of Managing a Remote Workforce

Managing any staff can have its challenges, but when it comes to managing a remote workforce, there are definitely issues that stand out. The good news is that tackling these issues is well worth the while of any remote manager (and really any manager, even of office-based teams!).  

Leaders at some of the top remote companies answered the Remote.co question, “What is the hardest part about managing a remote workforce,” and their answers were honest and eye-opening. We picked the seven hardest parts of managing a remote workforce and offer solutions to combat these potential problems.

Here are the seven hardest parts of managing a remote workforce:

1. Building Team Relationships

When your workers are all in the same office, it’s easy for them to hang out together at lunch and form friendships. Not so much when they’re sprinkled all over the globe. “Working from home can be isolating, especially for staff who have never worked remotely or for TNTP before. You have to be proactive about building relationships and friendships across the organization,” says Karolyn Belcher, president of TNTP.

“These challenges have forced us to get really intentional about building a shared culture for everyone at TNTP, which we reinforce through virtual team building.”

So take the time to set up opportunities for workers to get together on a more social level, whether it’s implementing communication tools (like Yammer or HipChat) or encouraging colleagues who live somewhat close to each other to get together for drinks and dinner.

2. Creating Cultural Sensitivity

One of the cool factors of having a remote workforce is that you can have one team member in Sweden, another in Spain, and a third in South Dakota. But with that level of diversity comes a responsibility to ensure that workers are respectful of each other’s cultures.

“Developing cultural sensitivity and acumen that allows one to manage their own style and preferences so they can connect with different people around the world [is important]” says Ric Mercuri, VP of Global Human Resources at Appen.  

You can spotlight various team members in a monthly newsletter and show their own “slice of life,” ranging from cool things about their country to the foods and nightlife they get to experience, in order to break down borders.

3. Tricky Time Zone Issues

Being all together all the time in an office means that whenever you have a quick question, you can pop into an employee’s office and get your answer. But what if you have an urgent question and the team member you need the answer from is thousands of miles away—and snoozing?

“I was always a fan of asynchronous communication, but sometimes you are blocked and need a team member to help you. With everybody in the same office working roughly the same hours, you walk over to their desk and ask them. Being remote and in different time zones with totally different schedules, you can get stuck,” says Sebastian Gottschkes, VP of Platform at Blossom.

His solutions: tackle other tasks while you are waiting for a response or plan a bit ahead so you don’t get stuck in a time zone trap.

4. Hidden Problems

One of the issues that plague remote workforces is that problems can take longer to uncover. “Without the luxury of seeing colleagues each day, it can, at times, take longer to identify issues,” says Claire O’Connell, director, People & Culture at Canonical

“For this reason managers need to see engagement and communication as key priorities for their team.”

One way to avoid turning an issue that is a small problem into a huge crisis is by scheduling regular meetings with your team as well as individual check-ins with employees. That way you’ll be able to identify problems—and solve them—a whole lot faster.

5. Easy Info Access

You can’t expect your workers to perform at their peak if they don’t have all the info they need in order to get their job done properly. “Make sure everybody has the same access to information, which is a matter of making information both available and easy to find,” says Tom VanBuren, content manager at Edgar.

“We manage this by using tools that allow us to centralize information—in the past, that’s included private wikis, but has shifted over time toward Google Drive and other internal help doc databases.”

Equip your team with the project management tools they’ll need to share documents, information, and ideas, which will ultimately keep them productive and on the same virtual page.

6. Ditching Traditional Thinking

What manager hasn’t had the thought of things running more smoothly if everyone was in the same office. Chris Byers, CEO of Formstack, certainly has.

“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. It takes effort to delete that incorrect belief from our brains and remember that we just need to develop ways around those perceived limitations.”

Once you finally accept that it’s not a reality (and realize the many, many benefits of having a remote workforce), you’ll ditch those in-office cravings more quickly.

7. Communication Kinks

There’s a lot to be said for face-to-face chats. Not only can you read a person’s body language, but you can also listen to their tone to see what they’re really saying. Not so much when everyone works remotely. Says Tom Sepper, COO of World Wide Web Hosting: “Since the water cooler talk isn’t possible, we provide a wide variety of channels and tools for staff to communicate. I’ve already mentioned email, HipChat, and Google Hangouts; we also have a staff forum and a social media style site for informal discussions. We have an internal blog for large announcements and official company business and announcements.”

Offering a wide variety of communication tools can help guarantee that your remote workers will find one (or more) that fits their own personal style, and will get them to engage with their colleagues more often.

It goes without saying that managing any staff can have its own plethora of problems, and remote companies certainly aren’t exempt from that. But by knowing some of the potential issues of managing a remote workforce, you can be prepared to conquer them so that your team stays productive and happy—and so do you.

By Jennifer Parris | July 19, 2016 | Categories: Remote Management

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