The Top 4 Challenges of Managing a Remote Team & How to Overcome Them

How to Identify and Overcome Challenges in Remote Teams

While the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of remote work, a growing number of companies were already embracing the idea of distributed teams — and with good reason! Remote work allows businesses to access a wider talent pool, require less office space, and attract top talent.

Of course, despite the advantages, these offices are bound to run into a few roadblocks – especially, as we transition back into the office and you’ll have some employees in the office, some remote, and some a mix of both. For some teams, that hybrid working style might be temporary, and for others, it might be permanent.

While we’ve all become (fairly) used to working remotely, this new transition is sure to come with its own set of challenges. After all, managing remote and hybrid teams come with its own set of unique problems. From a lack of communication to time zone trouble, we’ve put together a list of the top challenges of managing remote employees that trip up most new managers.

Here are the most common issues managers run into when managing a remote team and how to ensure you address them head-on:

1. Lack of Effective Communication

Effective communication is one of the biggest challenges of managing a remote or hybrid team. In the office, your people leaders can depend on casual hallway catch-ups and in-office discussions to keep everyone aligned. When managing a remote or hybrid team, your managers don’t have that same luxury.

Without body language and the context that comes with being in-person, emails can often get misinterpreted and directives get misunderstood. A funny joke to one person may be seen as a slight, or microaggression, to another – especially if the two people don’t interact on a regular basis.

Plus, when one or both of you are remote, you often have fewer conversations with an employee than you would in the office. That means less time to clarify meaning and expectations. You can’t read a room or swing by a coworker’s desk to get your questions answered. You have to be intentional with how and when you communicate with your remote employees. 

And always err on the side of over-communicating.

How to Prioritize Communication

Here are a few ways to prioritize communication amongst your in-office, remote, and hybrid employees:

  1. Have Regular Check-ins: Never underestimate the power of a weekly 1-on-1 meeting. While these meetings are important for every employee, they can be particularly valuable for hybrid and remote employees, as they give you time to discuss projects, sync on progress and roadblocks, and ensure managers and their direct reports are both aligned on expectations and deadlines.
  2. Invest in The Right Tools: Your HR team needs to ensure your employees have the right tools to keep everyone on the same page. In addition to email and video conferencing applications, you’ll also want to invest in a messaging tool, like Slack, so employees can connect and collaborate outside of meetings. Similarly, investing in a project management tool can be a wise choice for hybrid and remote teams, as it ensures every teammate knows which tasks they’re responsible for and helps them stay up-to-date on the project’s progress.
  3. Hire Strong Communicators: If you know an employee will be fully or partially remote, be sure to ask about their communication skills in your interview process. It’s critical you hire employees who are able to write and communicate in a clear and concise manner. This will obviously help curb any potential confusion.

TIP: When managing remote employees, you don’t always need a reason to reach out. Grab a virtual coffee, throw 15-minutes on someone’s calendar, or shoot them a Slack to get to know when better and have some friendly banter. Those small moments can help foster trust, help keep them engaged, and build your manager-employee relationship, making them more likely to come to you in the future if they need help or have an issue.

The top challenges of managing a remote team: prioritizing communication

Photo by Headway on Unsplash

2. Transfer of Knowledge Across Teams

Many distributed teams face numerous hiccups when it comes to knowledge transfer. This is often because various facets of a project end up being completed in a piecemeal fashion, with each team working on different parts at different times.

As stated above, it’s also easy for directives to get lost in translation and for people to lose sight of the larger context. These workers may also fall victim to the black box effect wherein one person or group sends out requirements to another and just expects output. They don’t really think about who is completing the work or the institutional knowledge they may or may not have.

How to Keep Everyone in The Loop

To avoid these missteps when managing a remote team, it’s important to be hyper-aware of all pertinent information. Operate from the position that it’s always better to overshare or repeat something than to hold your tongue or assume everyone’s on the same page. Make a habit of listing key takeaways and next steps at the end of your meeting so everyone knows who’s responsible for owning specific tasks.

3. The “Us vs. Them” Trap

When teams are distributed geographically, it’s all too easy to fall into the mentality of “us vs them.”

Thanks to proximity, it’s easy to form friendships with in-office colleagues you interact with every day or grab a drink with after work. Remote coworkers who live three states away can often become an afterthought. And as you bond with your cube-mate, you are more likely to sideline the guy you don’t see, meaning you’re less likely to turn to them for help or involve them in a new high-visibility project that could help their career or benefit from their expertise. 

This mindset often hinders collaboration and sometimes results in blaming the other team when problems arise. If employees feel underappreciated or cut off from their team, they’ll be less engaged at work and more likely to jump ship. You must encourage managers to foster a culture and workplace environment where every employee feels valued and welcome. While they might not be able to control if they find a “work BFF” or not, they can control whether they feel supported and encouraged at work.

That’s not all: a Workplace by Facebook survey found that only 14% feel connected to their business HQ and just 3% feel connected to their C-Suite. When employees don’t feel connected to the larger company mission, values, and progress, they are at risk of becoming disengaged.

Businesses must ensure in-office, remote, and hybrid employees feel connected to the overall business success and have a clear understanding of how their day-to-day role impacts the organization.

How to Unify a Remote Team

Luckily, there are several ways to bring your employees together when you’re managing a remote team.

  1. Regularly recognize employee contributions: Just because hybrid employees don’t work in the office everyday doesn’t make their accomplishments less important than others’. Because their efforts might not get as much visibility, encourage your managers to ensure their remote and hybrid workers get the recognition they deserve. Whether it’s a shoutout in a team meeting or putting them on a project with high visibility, make sure your team regularly recognizes their efforts.
  2. Set cascading goals: Remote and hybrid employees are more likely to feel disconnected from their company’s values or mission than in-office staff. A great way to help them understand how their day-to-day contributions are helping your company progress towards larger organizational goals is by introducing objectives and key results (OKRs). This goal-setting framework takes a top-down approach to ensure every employee’s individual goals connect to a larger organizational goal. This helps employees understand how they’re making a difference within the company and can help motivate them to do their best work.For starters, it’s imperative that companies foster a common vision and use cascading goals. This helps remind everyone they’re working towards the same goal and tells them how their individual contributions connect to the larger company goals.
  3. Schedule facetime: Corporations should try to bring remote employees together with their teams at least once a year, if not more often. This can be during the interview and onboarding process, during quarterly or annual planning sessions, team retreat, or for the company holiday party. This gives remote and in-office employees the opportunity to meet face-to-face and get to know each other better.
  4. Organize inclusive celebrations: When managing a remote team, you also want to ensure they feel included and part of your team. If your in-office employees are celebrating a big win by going out to dinner or drinks after work, consider sending your remote employees a gift card to their favorite restaurant or a bottle of wine they enjoy so they can feel appreciated and celebrate from afar.

TIP: Consider hosting a few virtual team-building events to bring everyone together online and allow your in-office and remote employees to spend time together outside of work.

A manager video calls a colleague to overcome the challenges of managing a remote team

4. Feeling Lonely

Aside from feeling disconnected from the team, many remote employees report they feel lonely. In fact, social media software company Buffer’s The 2020 State of Remote Work study revealed that 20% of remote employees listed loneliness as their biggest challenge with hybrid and remote work, tied with communication. Luckily, scheduling a few times throughout the week to chat about things outside of work can help employees feel more connected to their colleagues. 

How to Ensure Hybrid Employees Socialize with The Rest of The Team:

  1. Plan remote-first team activities: Remote and hybrid employees often miss out on in-office happy hours, dinners, and other team-building activities, but you should try to make them feel part of the celebration in some way. This could be encouraging managers to send them a gift card to their favorite restaurant when you have a team dinner or send them a bottle of wine when the team has a happy hour. A few times a quarter, try to go one step further and plan a remote-first event, like a virtual happy hour, online escape room, Zoom trivia night, etc. so everyone on your team can participate.
  2. Schedule facetime: Remind your managers they don’t have to wait for their weekly 1-on-1 meetings to catch up with their employees. They can take 5 minutes at the start of each call to socialize or ask everyone how they spent the weekend. Or, they can schedule a casual 15-minute coffee break with a direct report or plan a virtual team lunch every now and then to encourage your team to socialize during the workday.
  3. Provide a remote/hybrid work stipend: Many companies offer a remote work stipend that can be used to invest in home office equipment, like a printer or ergonomic chair, or to help pay for a coworking space. A coworking space can help give employees the daytime socialization they need.

5. Varying Time Zones

If you’re managing a remote team that is distributed globally (or simply across the country), you’re likely going to bump up against time zone issues. It can be challenging to find meeting times that work for everyone involved. People might be forced to get up incredibly early or work well into the evening, which can very well impact their moods and attitude. After all, some individuals are energized and alert in the mornings while others are sluggish and aloof.

How to Manage Distributed Team Meetings

To promote a sense of equity and limit pushback, ask your employees about their personal preferences. You may be delighted to discover that your New York team loves a good lunchtime call while the folks in Lisbon enjoy dialing in at sunset.

If you’re not that fortunate, it makes sense to rotate timing. That way, the same people won’t continually feel inconvenienced.

6. Working Too Much

Lastly, many employees working from home have trouble stepping away from their work at the end of the day, especially without a physical commute to separate their work from their home life. Your managers need to keep an eye on your employees’ work habits, like when they’re sending emails and logging off. If kept unchecked, overworked employees can quickly burn out and their productivity and mental health can suffer. 

How to Encourage Hybrid Employees to Prioritize Work-Life Balance:

  1. Encourage them to take time off: Keep an eye on your employee’s time off. Studies show that employees who take more vacation time are more productive and satisfied with their jobs than those who don’t, so remind your managers to keep an eye on employee PTO and push their direct reports to take a vacation or a long weekend if they haven’t had a break from work in a while.
  2. Lead by example: Work habits often come from the top-down. Remind your managers to sign off at a reasonable hour and not to send emails overnight. This sets the expectation that your employees are allowed to take the night for themselves and don’t have to worry about checking and responding to their email late in the evening

While managing remote or hybrid teams can be challenging, it can also be very rewarding for your managers and your business. But, in order to reap the benefits, your managers need to be properly trained on how to support, coach, and manage their teams from afar. 

Not sure where to start? With science-backed, live online manager training classes, Hone can partner with your organization to customize L&D programs to your unique workplace skill needs. To get a taste of Hone’s comprehensive leadership classes, sign up for a 30-day free trial and see if Hone is right for your company.