Effectively running a remote team can present challenges even to seasoned managers. The task can present particular hurdles for organizations that are new to remote work or are just beginning to explore ways to allow team members to work from home.
Remote.co asked several remote companies to tell us the hardest part about managing a remote workforce. Among the many great answers we received were a few that highlighted particular issues that have come up often for managers who oversee remote workers.
Here are some of the toughest challenges of running a remote team:
Coordinating Across Time Zones
LiquidSpace: Juggling multiple time zones can be a huge challenge for organizations with team members working remotely across the U.S. and, especially, globally. Running a remote team that’s scattered geographically is often a matter of keeping “everyone on the same page” and oriented on the same goals across departments, according to managers at LiquidSpace.
There can be a serious ripple effect when it comes to coordinating remote team members across multiple time zones, which affect issues including online meetings, employee training sessions, project deadlines, and overall work flow. “Our biggest challenge is accommodating the different time zones and ensuring consistent, productive communication,” said leaders at Greenback Expat Tax Services. It’s important to encourage flexibility among team members. “For example, our monthly management meetings are generally at 6:30 p.m. EST, which is 6:30 a.m. in Indonesia!,” Greenback managers noted. “It goes back to hiring the right people who are committed to making it work, even when it’s less than convenient.”
The good news is that time zone differences can work to an organization’s advantage. How so? Time zone differences can boost productivity by allowing work to continue around the clock in some cases, with tasks being completed in one time zone while workers in another zone are asleep. Customer-focused companies can more easily offer 24-hour support without requiring the late-night or even overnight shifts that could be necessary if employees were in the same time zone.
Keeping Workers in the Communications Loop
World Wide Web Hosting: One of the most commonly encountered challenges in running a remote team is finding ways to establish accessible channels of communication, and keeping those channels open. Managers at World Wide Web Hosting acknowledged this concern, noting that making sure team members communicate with one another was “without a doubt” a top issue in managing remote workers.
“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. Smaller, virtual get-togethers can be another powerful tool to help team members get acquainted, the company said. “One of the most fun things we have done is have two in-person staff meetups per year. We started this a couple years ago, and they have been extremely beneficial.”
It’s hard to beat getting together in person to foster communication and better team relationships, World Wide Web Hosting leaders noted. “By promoting an in-person meetup, we’ve allowed our staff to enhance their relationships with each other in a fun, non-work setting. This has translated to better working relationships, which in turn increases morale and productivity.”
Preventing Employee Isolation
Hanno: To be sure, one of the great things about remote work is that it can minimize or eliminate wasted time employees may spend chatting with their colleagues. But the other end of that spectrum is that working at home can be isolating, especially during stressful deadline-driven periods, or when an employee may simply want to bounce an idea off a fellow team member.
“In stressful, tougher times, the hardest thing is trying to keep up morale and avoid the onset of loneliness and isolation, which is a particular struggle in a remote team,” according to managers at Hanno. Company leaders at TNTP agreed. “Working from home can be isolating, especially for staff who have never worked remotely or for TNTP before,” TNTP said.
Acknowledging employee isolation as a potential pitfall and taking steps to address it before it becomes a problem can help head off major issues. “You have to be proactive about building relationships and friendships across the organization,” TNTP managers said. Encouraging interaction among team members, and providing platforms for engagement, lets organizations take a big step toward maintaining resilient remote teams.
Tracking Worker Accountability
FlexProfessionals, LLC: Keeping team members productive and holding them accountable for meeting organizational goals is more than just a matter of trust. When it comes to running remote teams, it’s critical to put tools in place to track accountability, maintain productivity, and keep remote workers motivated.
What’s important for managers is 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,” say leaders at FlexProfessionals, LLC.
To be sure, there’s a variety of online tracking platforms that can help employers stay on top of worker accountability, like TimeDoctor, Basecamp, and iDoneThis. But organizations that are the most successful in keeping workers productive also establish regular check-ins with team members, offer motivational perks that keep the team engaged, establish clear short- and long-term company goals, and make managers and other team members accessible for any questions or concerns.
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