The culture of working a fixed 9-5 job has fundamentally changed in the past few years. The dream of making money from the comfort of your own home is finally real, as shown by the post-COVID 460% increase in people seeking remote work opportunities. Put simply, even the job market is experiencing a “new normal”.
According to a study by Owl Labs, 71% of remote employees are happier with their work-life balance and 86% more productive. However, it's not all sunshine and roses. The shift towards remote work came with its own set of issues, the biggest of which is effective remote work management.
In this article, we'll discuss remote work management, the most common mistakes and how you can avoid them.
What is Remote Work Management?
Unfortunately, there is no single answer to how you should approach remote work. Some companies go full-remote, some cycle their employees in-and-out of office, and others divide their workforce into stable home and office workers. The key is to find what works best for you and your people.
Regardless of what you choose, your managers and team leaders will face the same problem – how to bring everyone together to achieve a common goal. To do that, you'll have to foster remote teamwork and collaboration.
7 Collaboration Mistakes in Remote Work Management
Some of the most common mistakes are the easiest to avoid if you know what you're doing. In this section you'll learn about the dangers of:
- Not Defining Strategies
- Not Creating a Conversation Space
- Not Using the Right Tools
- Keeping Conversation Strictly Digital
- Micromanaging Remote Employees
- Giving Preferential Treatment to In-office Employees
- Ignoring Time Zones Before Scheduling a Meeting
#1 Not Defining Strategies
As in so many aspects of business, planning is key when it comes to remote work management. Team leaders far too often set lofty goals for their teams, but fail to give them the tools and the strategy they need to reach them. And the only thing that leads to is disappointment and potentially hundreds of wasted work hours.
There are two things you need to set from the get-go:
- Workforce Hierarchy - Clearly outline who answers to who to streamline workflow, communication, and increase efficiency.
- Communication - Plan for regular brainstorm, review, and evaluation sessions ahead of time. Establish proper communication channels for employees to use.
Questions of hierarchy and communication are often the most critical and challenging, but they can be overcome with due preparation. By planning ahead, you can take some of the pressure off of your employees and help them be more productive both at home and at the office. Otherwise you're running the risk of burning them out, which won't do them or the company any favours. The graph below shows how too little or too much pressure can affect the performance of employees.
#2 Not Creating Conversation Space
One advantage the office environment will always have over remote work is the organic interaction it fosters between employees. Chatting helps people relax, cultivates company culture, but also stimulates the natural flow of information, and makes solving issues and brainstorming much easier. Unfortunately, remote workers typically have no way of participating in any of this. That is unless you create a space for them where they can do so.
Start off by trying to create an environment that allows employees to interact casually, even if only digitally. The process starts with you, so make small-talk during your one-on-one meetings, ask people how they are doing, and offer help when appropriate. Lead by example and soon you'll see employees' attitudes change.
You can continue building on your progress by creating informal channels on Discord and Slack, or try to schedule casual calls with the entire team to catch up and have fun. However, it's important to make these interactions voluntary, since forcing interactions would have the exact opposite effect you're trying to achieve.
#3 Not Using the Right Tools
Thanks to modern technology, people can now work together from all corners of the world. But not all tools are created equal, and if you want your work to be effective, you'll still need to be very careful about which solutions you choose.
The bare necessities your remote team will need:
- Team Management Software - Assign and track tasks, coordinate team efforts (ex., Monday, Trello, Asana)
- Workplace Communication Software - Facilitate team communication both for entire teams or one-on-one (ex., Slack, Microsoft Teams, Discord)
- Cloud-based Storage - Upload, download, and share work-related documents and resources (ex., Google Drive, Dropbox, NordLocker)
- Video Conferencing - Speak to fellow team members or clients and build meaningful relationships (ex., Google Meet, Microsoft Teams)
Consider your options carefully and choose the ones that fit your business the best. Once you have the basics down, you can continue adding tools necessary for your remote team's success.
#4 Keeping Communication Strictly Digital
In 2018, Harvard Business Review published an article on how digital-only communication affects us. They claimed that missing body language and frequent misinterpretations of text-based messages can cause anxiety, lower morale, and productivity.
And we can't help but to agree. Face-to-face interactions are a crucial part of communication strategies for building strong and successful remote teams. So try to schedule some in-person meetings to keep your team members happy. And if those aren't a possibility, set up video conferencing to keep in touch with your employees long-distance.
#5 Micromanaging Remote Employees
Micromanaging is one of the biggest mistakes that employers make when dealing with remote employees. While a certain amount of skepticism is healthy and justifiable, micromanaging will only hurt the relationship, as well as your work efficiency.
Employees can feel when they're not trusted and it reflects in their work. On top of that, if you spend your time checking up on everyone else, you'll have no time to do the work you need to do.
Our advice is this – trust, but test. Instead of micromanaging every little aspect of your workers' day, schedule regular meetings to review the work they've done. You'll quickly find out if they're spending their work hours as they should or not.
However, if you still can’t bring yourself to trust your employees and instead feel like spying on them, then you have the option of installing stealth tracking software on company equipment. It’ll allow you to get the most out of your employees’ time without creating unnecessary pressure on them.
#6 Giving Preferential Treatment to In-office Employees
If your company operates with a hybrid staff (both in-office and remote), it's essential you treat both parts of the workforce equally. Sometimes managers give preferential treatment like pay raises or promotions to their office workers based on their location alone.
Not only is this unfair, but it also hurts your business. Your remote workers will see that you're treating them as second-class citizens and either leave, or start slacking. So, do what's right and give equal opportunities to everyone in your company, based on merit and not on location.
If you'd want to further motivate your remote teams, consider:
- giving access to online courses and other professional development
- inviting them to industry events
- sending a gift card to make up for office parties they couldn't attend
- commemorating birthdays, work anniversaries, and personal milestones
#7 Ignoring Time Zones Before Scheduling a Meeting
Time zone is another thing to be mindful of when dealing with employees working remotely. Try to assign tasks and schedule meetings in time slots that make sense for you both – ideally within the traditional 9 to 5 framework.
But if that's not possible due to big time differences, there are options available. For example, you can let employees swap their shifts, send them video recordings of conferences they couldn't attend, or schedule brainstorming sessions across multiple days and time slots.
As far as responding to Slack messages and emails are concerned, you need to proactively communicate with your in-office and remote employees. For some members of the office, it is convenient to reply at ‘off-hours’ because of their location.
However, you should communicate with your team and build an intuition on which message needs an immediate response and which message can wait for the next day. And you have to be understanding, if there’s a late response as a message should not hamper the work-life balance of your employees.
Even businesses that have been part of their industry for years find it difficult to adapt to managing remote employees. Most of these businesses know what to do, yet they still struggle. Now that we have provided you with the list of collaboration mistakes that you should avoid, we hope you and your remote employees will be able to overcome some of the most common pitfalls of remote team management and have a better working experience overall.