Managing remote teams is without a doubt challenging. That’s why managers need to be extra prudent. There are many advantages in teleworking, but there are also pitfalls. If you decide to adopt telecommuting after learning about its benefits, you also need to get thoroughly acquainted with the potential issues and drawbacks. You must anticipate and address possible problems in this kind of work arrangement effectively.
While most people associate telecommuting with numerous advantages, succeeding with it is not as easy as it seems. You need the right people for the job. Telecommuting is not for everyone. It’s not enough to have someone with the right skills and experience. It’s important to ascertain that the people you hire can commit to the nontraditional way of doing things.
Choose self-motivated and self-disciplined applicants for the job. To do this, you have to use probing questions as you conduct a job interview. For example, you can ask about an applicant’s usual routine when completing a task. Be sure to make the inquiry detailed as it’s easy to lie about broad or generic matters, but it’s going to be difficult stringing up lies when you ask for the details. Ask about the procedures they concocted on their own to complete tasks in the most efficient manner.
Additionally, dig into the job applicants’ intentions in seeking a job. Are they considering teleworking because they want to veer away from a traditional work setup, or because they simply want to try it? The preferable candidates are those who are determined to make adjustments so they can achieve the best work-life balance, not those who are only looking for something new. These are people who want to get rid of the long commuting hours so they can spend their time in more worthwhile purposes. Also, people who want to avoid office politics and the compulsory interaction with other people are suitable for telecommuting.
Moreover, learn about the previous work experiences of your applicants. Don’t just focus on whether or not the jobs they did are in line with the tasks you intend to assign,
though. You also have to pay attention to the “hows” as they fulfilled their responsibilities. Find out if they exhibited initiative and critical thinking in their previous roles. You can ask previous employers for these details. Bear in mind that the ideal teleworker requires minimal supervision and is capable of completing tasks on time without the need for repeated follow-ups.
Having the right people in your team is not enough. You also have to guide and support them. This is where the importance of a good remote team manager comes in. Good teleworking employees will be wasted in the absence of a driven and dynamic manager.
Make sure you conduct adequate and organized training. Don’t expect your teleworkers to join your team ready with all the skills and knowledge needed to perform their functions. Even for simple jobs, it’s recommended to have a formal orientation session to make sure employees understand their responsibilities, the procedures and protocols they have to go through as part of the team, and the mission and vision of the company.
Also, try your best to make the setup work. Help your employees reach their optimum performance or become efficient with their tasks. If you did your best to ascertain that you hire the right people, it shouldn’t be a waste of time exerting the effort to help your remote employees perform better. For example, if some of your employees frequently commit errors or deliver below average output, consider doing one-on-one or group discussions with them to examine their work process and spot the problem areas. The problems could be easily fixable with the assistance of a manager/supervisor or peer.
Most failures in the management of a remote team are attributable to problems in communication. These are not just about errors in the messages transmitted or correspondence that fail to reach the intended recipients. Miscommunication also manifests in the following:
· Faulty assumptions. Miscommunication can happen when employees or managers who have worked in other companies previously presume that procedures and protocols in the new company they are working in are similar to what they had in their previous jobs. For instance, they may think that a task is not supposed to start in the absence of a written communication or they may think that silence means yes. Such issues are certainly not irremediable, but if
no prompt correction is implemented, the problem can worsen and create unnecessary friction between the manager and employees.
· Misinterpretation. In addition to the possibility of managers or employees wrongly assuming things, there’s also the potential problem of misinterpreting both verbal and non-verbal communication. An email from the management that tries to infuse humor may be taken wrongly by some employees. Conversely, an overly friendly tone when communicating with bosses may be considered rude. Unintentionally offensive habits when conversing via chat, telephone, instant messages, or email open various opportunities for misinterpretation.
On the other hand, differences in language and culture can also give rise to misinterpretation. Some expressions, jokes, or manner of conversing may be considered rude or inappropriate. To avoid issues attributable to lingua-cultural differences, it’s advisable to have a policy of making everyone voice out their concerns formally or informally if they are offended or if they feel uncomfortable.
· Lack of accountability. Some companies are too lenient that they don’t enforce a rule that all communications should be in writing or traceable, especially those directly related to projects. This can be problematic as it allows anyone to deny the receipt of instructions or the transmittal of wrong details for a project requirement.
· Discourtesy. It’s easy to misunderstand or miscommunicate when there’s a sense of disrespect perceived by either or both parties. Hostility, even at its subtlest, can make people suspect or misinterpret messages. Rudely worded emails and the repeated failure to meet deadlines can create friction that demolishes trust or prevents trust from being established. On the part of the management, the failure to address employee complaints can be a form of disrespect that makes employees feel that they have the “right” to offend their bosses in response. All of these create a toxic relationship that is sure to result in the failure of a remote work setup.
· Social media stalking. Bosses skimming through the social media posts of employees or employees doing the same to their bosses is commonplace. This is a form of indirect communication that can affect work and personal relationships, often adversely. Unflattering things said or written online can shape the way people view other people. If a manager or an employee is
straightforwardly mentioned or alluded to in a negative post online, the best thing to do is to contact the parties involved to discuss and clarify the issues.
The establishment of communication standards, protocols, or rules help reduce miscommunication as far as official communication is concerned (especially those directly related to projects or tasks). However, there are informal or unofficial aspects that can also impact the operation of a remote team. These are the points raised above, which are as important as the need for official communication protocols or standards.
The Internet age has ushered in an era of conveniences. It has made telecommuting better than ever, mainly due to the availability of new software and hardware tools that facilitate better communication, coordination, and collaboration. It’s only logical to make use of software platforms, apps, or online services that enhance the remote work experience.
What’s great about modern tech for telecommuting is that you don’t need to spend a lot for them. You can find numerous free tools for teleconferencing or making free calls online. There are project or task management platforms you can use on an ad-supported or freemium basis. You can even find free collaboration (usually “freemium” software) for online collaboration that includes advanced features such as desktop sharing, file sharing, and in-app messaging or conferencing.
If you are going to use free tools, though, make sure they are secure. You wouldn’t want to expose your company to cyber attacks as you try to reduce the costs for your telecommuting team. Also, make sure they are compatible with each other so that you can seamlessly work on project files with them.
Engagement entails a sense of involvement. It’s about feeling that you are part of something, not just a team member by name or designation. One of telecommuting’s pitfalls is its tendency to isolate people. When people work from home, in their bedrooms or study rooms with only their computer in front of them, it’s easy to feel bored and tempted to do other things. It can lay the ground towards becoming asocial or averse to interacting with other people.
As such, remote teams need to create engagement that simulates personal interaction. This can be done through forums or discussion boards, chat groups, contests, or the regular acknowledgment of accomplishments. Most telecommuters feel motivated when they are not merely assigned a task to be completed at an assigned date. Having people to
discuss things related to the job or otherwise prevents the feeling of solitude or dejection. It can also help bolster a sense of responsibility as it instills the idea that there are others who expect something from you, people who appreciate your role in the team.
Some teleworkers do well without engagement, but they don’t represent the majority of people who work remotely.
Remote team management may be more difficult than traditional workplace management. However, you can counterbalance the disadvantages by harnessing the advantages of a remote work setup. Also, you can significantly improve your chances for success if you hire the right people, guide and support your team, anticipate communication problems, make good use of technology, and promote engagement.