Remote work is increasingly popular. After all, there are a string of benefits when working remotely. There’s no stressful commuting, no managers and colleagues looking over your shoulder at all times, and no worrying that you may have no lunch as your boss makes you deliver some urgent ad-hoc task during lunchtime (you have no time to go out to grab something to eat). That said, managing a remote workforce is not without its challenges.
A remote workforce typically carries out work away from a physical office. Most choose the option of working from home. However, managing a remote team is challenging. While you may strive for “business as usual,” several pitfalls of remotely working await you. Here are the challenges of a remote workforce and how to overcome them:
1. No Work-Life Balance
The irony of not having a work-life balance when remote working is that many opt for remote work in the first place to enjoy a healthier work-life balance. However, having no work-life balance is one of the pressing remote work challenges; not knowing when to turn off “work mode.”
At the office, there is a clear signal; you see people turning off their computers when it is time to ring out. You know it is time to stop work and leave.
However, at home, there is no clear signal to stop working. You keep chugging on despite the sun setting down. Some of you worry that your bosses think you are slacking when working at home, so you want to prove them wrong by working off the clock. Ultimately, you will burn out.
How to Overcome?
Prioritizing work is essential to ensuring remote work success. However, balancing work with breaks is equally important. Hence, remote workers must manage their time wisely. When it is time to work, stick to it, but when it is time to relax and take a break, do so.
If you’re the manager, you have to get your team members to have a balanced schedule of work and breaks, and they must adhere to it. Remember to allow some flexibility in their work schedule. After all, everyone is different and has various needs. Also, regularly remind them to ring out when it is time.
Emphasize the importance of de-stressing with their respective hobbies and others during off-work times. Encourage remote employees to have a separate workspace in the house and never bring work out of the room. Your remote workers must have a psychological differentiation between work and personal life.
When working from the office, you can drop by your co-worker’s place and have a quick discussion. You then know how to proceed confidently. However, when working remotely, collaborating becomes tougher. Things become worse when each team member is not aware of their respective tasks and the project’s progress.
As the manager, you do not know what your team members are working on and at what rate. You also don’t know which team members are not pulling their weight or are overloaded when remotely working since you do not know their productivity.
How to Overcome?
There are collaboration tools that help managers track and monitor the productivity of the team. Establishing clear Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) is essential to measure each individual’s productivity and a guide for your staff. Doing so does not mean that you must micromanage.
Your goal is to track their productivity so that you can make necessary adjustments to maintain high output and meet deadlines. Setting clear deadlines, detailing each task and expectations, tracking projects’ progress, and regularly reviewing them are just a few to ensure your team is on track.
Identify the suitable project management tool that gives everyone a real-time bird’s eye view and a more zoomed-in view of each individual task-at-hand and its progress. Get your team to regularly update their progress so that everyone knows where everyone is at all times.
Moreover, implement the security best practices for your remote workforce. Insider threats are dominant and can cripple a whole organization overnight.
Set a reasonable schedule for a meet-up to accurately gauge productivity within a suitable time frame. Not too many as such meet-ups can backfire and disrupt your team’s focus, but just enough to help you track major milestones and catch potential issues in time.
3. Too Many Distractions
You may have removed office distractions like colleagues coming over and chatting at your desk or having a co-worker’s birthday celebration at the cafeteria when working remotely. Unfortunately, there are other interruptions at home – family and doorbells.
It becomes more difficult if you have toddlers at home who cannot understand why you cannot play with them when you’re at home. Also, there’s no over-the-shoulder accountability that would keep you in check. Hence, you get easily sidetracked.
How to Overcome?
It can be as simple as taking your family aside and explaining to them that you are not to be disturbed whenever you are working (in focus mode). Doing so will only result in longer work hours to complete your tasks, which eventually means less time with them later.
You can also help your family become more independent and self-sufficient to reduce the probability of interrupting you at work. Worse case, lock your room and put up a ‘Do not Disturb’ sign. However, know that there are times that the interruptions are unavoidable, especially emergency ones. So, set clear boundaries, but be flexible when you have to.
4. Lack of Communication
Communication is key to the success of everything, be it personal or business, and this especially applies to a remote workforce. There’s no face-to-face interaction, which makes communication more difficult. As a team manager, you’re always skeptical and wondering if the team is making progress. As a team member, you worry if your manager knows of your contribution or thinks you’re not doing your work.
Although under-communicating can create dissension among the team members, over-communicating can cause the team to feel suffocated, untrusted, and micromanaged. Hence, striking the right balance between them is crucial.
How to Overcome?
Leverage technology to enhance employee experience. It is of utmost importance for the manager to identify a suitable internal communication platform as a dedicated place where open communication is encouraged. Also, the manager should invite questions, provide answers, and actively listen to the team members. After everyone has provided their input, you address any issues promptly.
Never dismiss your team members because doing so will only make them clamp up in the future. No matter what communication platform you use, ensure that all are involved and actively participate. Adopt a direct approach and be specific in your messages to avoid possible misunderstandings. Also, be careful of the tone because sometimes, it is not what you say but how you say it.
5. Unhealthy Lifestyle
When you’re at the office, there will be times you are required to move around to attend meetings and climb stairs to attend training and conferences. However, when you’re at home, you are literally at your desk all day because all meetings and training are virtual; this is especially true for knowledge work.
Some stay on the internet for long periods until they have forgotten how dangerous the internet can be. You place yourself and the company’s critical data at a security risk anyways.
Home sweet home. Yes, everything is comfy and whatever you need is at home. Your fridge is just several paces away. So, you binge eat all day as it is nice to chew on some crispy junk food to help stay awake.
Or it could be the direct opposite when you work and work until you have forgotten that you have legs.
How to Overcome?
Well, there’s no wonder drug for this. But you must be disciplined to be more mindful of what is good for you and what isn’t. Please include exercise routines in your schedule (you need vitamin D) and fix healthy snacks when you feel hungry.
6. Lack of Motivation
Remote working can get your team members depressed and bogged down. After all, there is much less human interaction. They can feel lonely and not motivated to work. Or they may feel like they aren’t growing much or developing any skills, a huge bummer for most companies.
In general, humans are social beings. They need to feel that they belong in an inner circle to feel needed. At home, they may feel isolated from the rest of the team members and drift away. Eventually, their output will be affected.
How to Overcome?
Let your team members realize that their tasks depend on one another so each will know the importance of their work and that it can hold up another person’s deliverables. Your team will feel more motivated to work and deliver. Also, please award praises when needed (do not overdo this as they can become diluted and ineffective).
When you give your team members the recognition they deserve, they will feel visible and appreciated. Reinforce them positively to push them to achieve more. Make it a habit to include virtual one-on-one meetings to discuss personal and professional growths. Take notes so you will know how to support them better. Have empathy when you chat with them, but know when to be firm when you need to.
Managing an on-site team is not easy. What more than a remote team when there’s no face-to-face interaction? Fret not, as the remote workforce challenges are surmountable. Pursue the above to improve productivity, boost employee morale, increase efficiency, enjoy flexibility, and more. After all, remote work (if done right) can be rewarding; a company shines when the employees shine too.
Do you want to know how Engagedly can help you overcome the challenges of a remote workforce? Book a live demo with us.
Srikant Chellappa is the Co-Founder and CEO at Engagedly and is a passionate entrepreneur and people leader. He is an author, producer/director of 6 feature films, a music album with his band Manchester Underground, and is the host of The People Strategy Leaders Podcast. He is currently working on his next book, Ikigai at the Workplace, which is slated for release in the fall of 2023.