As many have learned firsthand, working from home (WFH) has its own unique set of challenges that can complicate the work dynamic. The demand for WFH jobs has grown exponentially over the last two years with searches for remote work growing to 360% since June 2019. Not only does remote work offer flexibility, inclusivity, and a better work-life balance, but it has proven to decrease on-site work expenses like transportation, childcare, and wardrobe costs associated with working on-site. When executed mindfully, there’s no doubt that remote work offers endless opportunities that make employees and their companies more competitive, more productive, and more fulfilled. On the other hand, if not managed intentionally, remote work can present a unique and challenging set of obstacles.
Remote work culture is surging and, as more and more teams explore what solutions work for them, new insights on how to manage a remote team will continue to evolve. In this article, our goal is to discuss six core challenges of managing a remote team and how you can overcome them when they arise.
Burnout is work-related stress that results in physical and emotional exhaustion and was deemed a public health crisis by the World Health Organization in 2019. Studies have shown that persistent burnout, or employees working more than 55 hours each week, is strongly correlated to ischemic heart disease, stroke, and premature death. Unsurprisingly, burnout is also a primary reason why people have left their jobs in what researchers have coined “The Great Resignation.” In 2021, $4.4 million Americans quit their jobs just in September alone. While many employees are looking for new jobs because of low salaries and feelings of being undervalued, the leading cause was burnout, especially in healthcare, IT, and finance.
Burnout can happen at any job, but remote work can exacerbate the problem. Here are some common causes of remote employee burnout:
Not unplugging after work
Not getting regular days off to reset
Working more than 55 hours/week
Being constantly on call
Remote team management and workplace burnout go hand in hand. To stay on top of overperforming employees, utilize a workforce management system that keeps track of employee metrics. This way you can keep a lookout for overperforming employees that work 55+ hours a week, or that are not unplugging on days off. Another way to overcome workplace burnout is to offer resources and inspire discussions about overwork. Whether it’s a link to an article or discussing burnout at weekly meetings, providing employees with plenty of resources will remind them to prioritize taking time off to recharge. If you’re interested in more information about burnout, check out our previous article here (LINK BURNOUT ARTICLE).
The height of the pandemic brought insight into the Digital Divide and its impact on people’s access to technology and high-speed internet. Not only did it highlight the constraints that many families face when work and school pivoted to virtual, but it also highlighted the disparity that minorities and people of color face in comparison to their white counterparts. Research from the Pew Research Center reported that only 58% of Black and Hispanic adults owned a computer in comparison to 82% of white adults. Beyond the challenge of having a reliable device, is the added obstacle of having to share technology with other family members, particularly school-age children or other adults working from home. Many families, especially minorities, do not have a 1:1 user-to-technology ratio in their homes, forcing them to split technology use between 2 or 3 family members in the home.
Functional, up-to-date technology is the key to a successful work-from-home experience. There are many people trying to make their work-from-home situation successful, despite not having the tools they need. A few ways to ease the stress of technology and broadband expectations for employees is for companies to offer tech stipends, company devices, and connect employees to resources that help close this gap.
For those whose companies do not offer any support with technology or broadband, consider upcycled tech solutions and nonprofits committed to closing the connectivity gap. In most cities, there are tech-recycle stores or nonprofits that provide discounted and refurbished computers like PCs for People.
Remote work and distributed teams have a higher likeliness of miscommunication because of the lack of face-to-face interactions. Without face-to-face communication, it’s more difficult to pinpoint tone of voice and body language, and this can push people to disengage, under-communicate, and misinterpret conversations between team members. Additionally, team members must proactively reach out to colleagues or managers when they face a roadblock, have questions, or have an idea. The likelihood for employees to proactively communicate is reduced significantly in the remote work setting.
Managers must set up processes to encourage team members to collaborate and over-communicate. Schedule meetings and ensure that team members are asking clarifying questions, staying in touch daily, and are clear on their tasks and priorities and how they impact their colleagues. With remote work, the more proactive communication the better, utilize daily scrums, weekly demos, and one-on-ones so that everyone is on the same page with what needs to be completed throughout the week.
Working effectively as a remote team is a challenge. While individual productivity is usually improved, team performance often drops when the team is fully remote. In 2018, Google researched to find out what makes the perfect team. One of the most important findings of the research was the interpretation of what “effectiveness” means to executives versus their employees. What they found was that, for executives, effectiveness meant results, like product launches and sales, whereas, for employees, it meant team culture and collaboration. This means that true efficiency is a happy medium between what both executives and their employees need and value, and that must be established early on. This is extremely important when your team is remote.
To overcome issues of effectiveness and efficiency, make sure everyone is on the same page about weekly, monthly and quarterly goals, and how each person’s performance is measured. Proactively schedule meetings and encourage collaboration. It’s also important to invest in a workforce management system that eases the stress of productivity tracking, so that leadership can easily evaluate progress on a regular basis.
Researchers from Project Aristotle were able to measure team effectiveness by diving into four core areas:
Executive evaluation of the team
Team leader evaluation of the team
Team member evaluation of the team
Sales performance against quarterly quota
What’s interesting about this is that effectiveness is measured primarily by team dynamics and less by sales, product launches, and production. While this doesn’t diminish their importance, it shows that team effectiveness has a foundation in team dynamics, and when those are solid, productivity evolves naturally.
Though many of these challenges are unique to remote work, they’re not isolated. Challenges with team dynamics and company morale exist no matter the setting. Whether you’re hybrid, remote, or on-site, the best way to overcome these challenges is by staying adaptive, empathetic, and organized. If you want more content on how to manage a remote team, like virtual team building, how to track project progress, and managing remote employees check out the Oversight blog.