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How to Overcome the Challenges of Managing A Remote Team

Today’s workforce has changed dramatically when the world was forced into lockdown due to the pandemic. It was a sink or swim situation for many businesses. The survival of the fittest was on full display. Those who cannot adjust to the new normal cut their losses and just throw in the towel. Those who survived are faced with team management challenges—old and new—that come with having a remote team.

If you run a business and manage a team of employees and freelancers from different parts of the world, chances are you are struggling to keep the team members productive without breathing down their virtual necks. It takes a skillful balancing act to keep the business operating profitably and keep your team engaged and productive.

Here are some of the most common challenges in the realm of team management and the strategies to overcome them.

1. Poor Communication

Managing a team requires an effective communication approach that will put everyone on the same page. Poor communication happens when management is not communicating the message clearly to the team. If the manager is not able to articulate what the goal is, it would be extremely difficult for the team to work effectively towards the goal.

Effective communication is at the core of successful team management.

It must be emphasized here that communication goes both ways. The management should be able to convey the message to the team and, at the same time, the team members should be able to ask for clarifications or voice out their opinions. This way, the team dynamics can foster healthy two-way communication.

Email is the most common way to communicate with team members, but it’s not always effective. While team members generally reply immediately, there are times when delays in responding happen. This is not acceptable when time-sensitive projects are on the line.

If poor communication is the problem, the solution is to have a team communication tool or platform that not only fosters open communication but also encourages team collaboration.

Slack, Microsoft Teams, Discord, Ryver, and Chanty are just some of the communication tools where you and your team can communicate in real-time. With built-in business tools integration, these apps also enable video chat, file sharing, scheduling, and task management.

But keep this in mind, team communication tools will only work if you have clear goals and objectives to achieve them. If there’s no clarity and transparency, it would be difficult for the team to understand the tasks you set out for them to do.

2. Difficulty Tracking Productivity

When working with a remote team, it’s not easy to keep track of their progress if you do not have a tracking system in place. Not everyone in the team is motivated in the same way. Some are self-starters while others need more supervision. Some procrastinate while others work on a schedule.

This is quite the slippery slope because you want to know if the team members are actually working without being the toxic micromanaging boss that everyone loathes. If you find yourself frequently calling for a meeting or constantly asking for a progress report, then your productivity tracking system is inefficient.

You can’t track the productivity of team members without first setting key performance indicator (KPI) metrics. This means having a system of measuring and evaluating the performance of each team member.

Say, you’re managing a team of transcribers. You need to set how much work you expect from your transcribers. It must be measurable and can be monitored easily. In this case, a KPI can be minutes transcribed per day or files transcribed per hour. It will depend on the kind of audio files your team is working on.

So, if you make it clear to your transcribers that they are expected to complete 40 minutes of transcription per day, anything less than that means they are not performing as expected. This is just one of the metrics. You can also add the quality metrics (e.g., accuracy).

3. Scheduling Problems: Time Zone Differences

Remote teams usually consist of members from different countries. This is typical for companies that have satellite offices around the world. Global teams are usually a mix of permanent employees, freelancers, independent contractors, and part-timers. Scheduling a meeting or a video call can be a challenge because of different time zones.

To solve this conundrum, you have to find the time that works for every team member. You can’t just schedule on a whim and expect all members to be available. One way to find out which schedule works for everyone is to do a survey. List down dates and times and have every member choose and rank according to availability and preference. Based on the survey results, you can have an idea of what schedule works best.

Apps such as Google Calendar, Meetingbird, and Calendly (among a gazillion other apps) have features that poll your team members about the best time for a meeting.

If the chosen date and time fall outside of traditional working hours or too late or too early for some members, you’ll have to consider paying them to attend the meeting, especially if it’s a mandatory meeting. Of course, this will all depend on the terms of the contract for freelancers. The point here is to know every member’s availability so that there’s a high attendance rate.

4. Demotivated Staff

It’s not uncommon for some team members to feel demotivated to work. Lack of interest and enthusiasm for work can stem from a lot of things. It could be due to personal issues, mental health problems, physical illness, work fatigue, or dissatisfaction from work.

As a team manager, you’re not expected to solve their problems. The least you can do is to be compassionate and sympathetic to the staff who’s going through a personal crisis. Listening will help you identify the right course of action. If the staff requests time off, you can agree to a temporary arrangement. You can also help ease the staff’s workload or agree to a more flexible schedule.

However, if their demotivation is due to work-related issues, then you need to figure out the source of the problem.

You can tell if your team is demotivated when you see these signs:

  • Frequent tardiness in meetings

  • Increased absence

  • Declining productivity levels

  • Lack of focus

  • Lack of enthusiasm in projects

Demotivation happens even in a remote team setup. Not everyone would be comfortable doing a one-on-one talk, especially if they have to air their grievances to management. What you can do is to take an anonymous survey to encourage honest feedback about workplace issues that are causing team members to feel demotivated. At the same time, ask what solutions would make the working conditions better.

It’s also important to be proactive. If the majority of the members are complaining about a manager or a team member, investigate right away and list down potential solutions and a plan of action.

As a team manager, you need to:

  • Be transparent with the team and communicate goals clearly.

  • Be respectful and supportive even in tense situations or conflicts.

  • Recognize the team’s great work, especially when they perform above and beyond expectations. It can help increase team morale.

  • Be clear about career progression. Don’t promise something you can’t give just to make them stay in the company.

  • Make the workspace conducive for high performance and productivity. Give them the tools they need to complete their projects. It could be in the form of training, productivity tools, new computers, or mentorship.

5. Challenges of Cultivating a Company Culture

It takes time to cultivate a culture that you have envisioned for the company. It requires hiring people whose values are aligned with the company’s values. You must also create an environment conducive for the company culture to thrive. If you want a culture that’s fun, energetic, and collaborative, you must lay out the foundation right from the start. The management should also foster open communication so that everyone is on the same page all throughout the company’s journey.

Not every team member would be enthusiastic about every company endeavor. This is particularly challenging for a company managing a remote team. Without physical interaction, it’s hard to gauge if the members fully trust the company and vice versa.

For members to buy into the company culture, there should be trust. Building trust takes time as well, but if you are transparent with how the company handles issues and concerns, you’ll be able to build trust sooner than later.

Transparency about working hours, pay rates, company status, payment schedules, workload, and project expectations are things that team members would appreciate. If you withhold info that concerns their working conditions, they are likely not to trust the company and they will be suspicious of what the company is up to. So, it’s important to do what you say you would do and not make drastic changes that would make them feel they are being strung along.


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