Remote work

Leading remote teams: Overcoming the challenges of people management

Learn how to maintain team cohesion, communicate clearly, build trust, and motivate remote employees to succeed. Discover the skills and tools you need to become a successful remote team leader and build a thriving team culture, regardless of location.

Robert James

Published on 

February 28, 2023

Updated on 

Time to Read

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Remote teams have been akin to an asset to business for a while now. However, over the past three years, there was a surge in remote teams. For many businesses, a completely digital global team was born out of necessity. Leaders were finding out about the benefits and hindrances of remote teams in real-time. There was no time to experiment. The leaders had to make it work. However, this change proved to be a tremendous learning opportunity. The changes that would have taken place over the years happened swiftly. 

Even after the restrictions were eased and phased out, many businesses chose to continue with the remote teams previously formed ad-hoc. This shift towards remote teams was a momentous one, even though it did bring forth several challenges. 

Microsoft conducted a study with 435 engineers, which started as soon as the employees began working remotely during lockdowns. The study followed up with the engineers from week one of remote working to week twenty on some of the challenges they were facing. The study showed the following result:

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The employees were able to do better on some of the challenges as weeks went by, while some problems were persistent. Before making the decision to continue with or start a remote team, business leaders need to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of remote teams.

Overcoming the challenges of leading remote teams

The task of leading remote teams poses several challenges, which we unpack below. We have also proposed some action points for leaders to help them in overcoming the challenges of people management. 

1. Tricky communication

Although it seems like adequate and appropriate communication while working remotely would be easy because technology provides us with such varying opportunities, it is not so. While leading teams working in one location, we are easily able to hold meetings before work and as and when required. 

It is also possible to meet with the team members and provide support and feedback while the work is still in progress. The communication is almost effortless and can be followed through seamlessly. 

Short water-cooler conversations are also a great way in which employees meet and interact with each other, thereby forming good work relationships.

However, in the case of remote teams, it takes more effort to establish proper communication channels. 

It is a laborious task to communicate with remote employees who show reluctance to attend virtual meetings. Employees may miss meetings if proper protocols have not been spelled out for them beforehand. Messages may remain unanswered, and emails may not receive replies. Communication with remote employees is definitely a larger challenge.

Leaders take action

Set aside specific times of the day for quick sessions with remote employees. 

Make sure this time does not conflict with or interfere with their work. Clearly establish the consequences of regularly missing meetings. 

Make sure your team members are aware of the consequences. Do discuss the progress of your projects and communicate guidelines. 

Informal communication must also be initiated by HR and supported regularly. Watercooler bots are available on many digital work platforms these days and can prove useful in forging meaningful work relationships

2. Managing the different types of remote employees

Leading people of different temperaments is tricky, and it only gets multiplied when your team members are all remote employees. Some employees are difficult, and it gets challenging for a remote team leader to manage them. It is difficult to understand the context of problems that may arise with the employees when you don’t see them every day in an office environment. 

Some employees make the transition easily, and remote working becomes natural to them; they even start preferring working remotely. Some employees may struggle quite a bit while trying to get used to the demands of remote working. Some others may resort to taking unfair advantage of the liberties that remote working offers. 

The leader has to be able to lead the employees in such a way that all the different types of remote workers are able to work consistently and satisfactorily towards the business goals and objectives.

Leaders take action: 

The leaders need to use a targeted strategy to work with difficult types of remote employees. It is always better to deal with problems before they arise. 

Fix a time to check up with employees weekly or daily. Set reasonable deadlines and communicate these to the team members, and ensure that they have taken note. It is necessary to establish and communicate some clear expectations, rules, and boundaries by which all employees are expected to abide. 

Build a system where you receive timely reports from employees. To manage well, we need to begin well. Start by setting into motion a system that can predict and handle issues before they can become unmanageable obstacles. 

3. Creating a team spirit and the feeling of belonging

It is harder to unify a team that is not working in the same conditions. One of the major complaints of employees who work remotely is social isolation. 

A team leader needs to make significant efforts to cultivate a feeling of belonging in the employees. By doing so, you’ll increase remote employees’ engagement.

Leaders take action: 

Arrange for gifts to be sent out on birthdays and holidays. It makes the employees feel appreciated and gives them a sense of belonging. 

Use technology for clock-in times, and set working times in such a way that most of the employees are working together for at least some time.

Celebrate with virtual get-togethers and rewards when the team achieves goals. It is also a good idea to occasionally hold virtual team-building meet-ups.

4. Tracking and managing productivity

When you don’t get to meet and supervise your employees on a daily basis, it can be difficult to track and assess productivity.

It is a challenge to determine the ideal levels of productivity for your team. How do you know if you are able to utilize employee potential as best as you can? You will need to understand how productive your team members can be, so as to avoid the underutilization of capable employees.

Leaders take action: 

Work out the best KPIs for your business. Make sure your team members are aware of these. It is important to set reasonable KPIs. Offer incentives to employees who meet and exceed expectations. Penalties should also be considered and outlined for employees who regularly fail to meet targets. 

A survey conducted using MIT’s natural language processing platform offers good insight into remote-working facilitative actions taken by those in leadership positions. The leaders in this survey attributed their success with remote teams to these actions:  

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The importance of mentoring programs for remote employees

Mentoring programs offer the benefits of faster learning, reduced mistakes and enhanced productivity. It becomes easier to grow networks and build meaningful connections. 

Mentorship programs also help in retaining employees and boosting their confidence. The onboarding process also becomes easier. 

Mentoring is not only helpful for mentees and the company, but it also has benefits for the mentors. It gives the mentors a sense of purpose and fulfillment. 

The increase in remote teams has led to an increase in demand for remote mentoring programs

Our mentorship platform offers makes it easy to run and scale virtual mentoring programs. Remote mentoring is one of the best new ways of steering remote teams in the right direction.

Remote teams have opened up many new doors of opportunity. It is up to the leaders now to overcome the associated challenges and make the most of these opportunities. 

The door to experimentation is now open, remote teams are here to stay, and the possibilities are endless.

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