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3 Signs Your Team Shouldn’t Be Working Remotely

Remote teams are growing in popularity, particularly for businesses that operate primarily online. Technology makes it easy to manage projects in the cloud, employees appreciate the flexibility to work from home, and a well-oiled remote team is often more productive than a shared office team.

On the other hand, a poorly functioning remote team can eat away at your effectiveness and completely destroy productivity. If even one of these problems is a persistent issue in your company, you’re better off calling the team home and focusing on working together in person.

3 Signs Your Team Shouldn’t Be Working Remotely

Problem # 1. Remote employees are second-class

Employees need equal access to information and decisions made by leaders. When the majority of decision-making takes place in the office, it’s easy for remote workers to feel less valued and out of the loop. They are sometimes treated like second-class citizens, no matter what their rank is supposed to be.

Casual, face-to-face conversations are as important as formal business interactions. They encourage strong relationships between co-workers, help individuals feel like part of the team, and increase efficiency and productivity. Remote employees can feel isolated when a company loses the “watercooler” effect that happens naturally in the office.

Assuming your company functions mainly online, this problem can be overcome. To combat this disconnect, we have become very intentional about all types of communication. For example, we’ve dedicated the first part of our all-hands weekly meeting to “general chitchat” so team members can share news from the weekend or announce there’s a new baby on the way. A remote team needs to be purposeful about creating time for some types of communication that happen naturally in a central office.

For the personal feeling of a meeting to translate online, you need to invest in the right technology. If you can’t get your team outfitted with high-quality headsets and high-definition audio, keep everyone in-house. The subtle asides and non verbal communications that take place during meetings are completely lost over poor-quality speaker-phones. Maintaining high-quality audio communications amongst team members is vital for remote teams and should never be compromised.

Problem # 2. Employees are disconnected

If your remote workers are inaccessible or inconsistent, you’re wasting resources by keeping them on payroll. Productive remote employees must be self-motivated, self-led individuals who are passionate about the company and respect their co-workers, even if they rarely see them in person.

Remote team members who think they can change their own work schedules based on how they are feeling, day to day, can destroy a company culture. Even though our team is completely distributed, we still keep a synchronized schedule, both to communicate with each other and with clients. We strive to treat work schedules no differently than we would if we all shared a common office. Just because we’re separated by distance doesn’t mean that we don’t have to share common work times.

If your team members can’t communicate with each other, they can’t be productive. Remote employees are still part of a team. Teams work together. You can’t work together if you can’t get ahold of each other.

Problem # 3.  Weak links are difficult to identify

Some organizations have no trouble recognizing weaknesses in processes or people immediately, no matter where the employees are. If you have a weak link on your team, it’s easy to spot it in an office space where you can physically see the person failing to contribute value throughout the day. It takes special initiative to identify these situations in a remote setting, as well as acute leadership to effectively address the issue.

If you don’t have a system that provides visibility into the performance of your remote team and a leader who is capable of dealing with problems, remote employees won’t work for your company in the long run.

Every company is different, and you must determine which tools and processes will work best for your situation. For us, that’s a completely distributed team, but working remotely might not be best for you.

If you’ve been trying to offer remote positions to your employees and you’re having any of these problems, it’s time to make some changes. Allowing team members to work remotely is appealing and may even solve some problems, but you’ve got to make a serious commitment to doing whatever it takes to make it work for everyone. If you go halfway on this, you may be doing more harm than good for your company.

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Josh Cramer is the founder and CEO of Cramer Development, a word-class Web and mobile application development company that helps clients create new businesses and products through ideation and technical services. http://cramerdev.com

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Comments
  • Welcome to Tweak Your Biz Josh and it’s a great first post. I work remotely most of the time for a varied mix of clients. Thankfully I am self motivated and it’s very much that if I don’t do the task then it doesn’t get done so that is motivation in itself. I appreciate that this type of work isn’t suited to all though and I like the tips that you have given for better communication and the informal chats you have too – who needs a water cooler? 🙂 I look forward to your next post.

  • Thanks Sian!

  • Ted

    Do you think it could be just as easy to communicate if you use a service like Ginger (https://gingerhq.com/) to keep the conversation going?

  • Hi Josh,
    I think I’m going to disagree with point three. Many managers are not as skilled as they believe they are at spotting the difference between employees who simply look busy in the office and those that are truly contributing to the team. Depending on the nature of the work being done, it is generally pretty easy to identify weak links in a remote work setting particularly because work flow is such that literally everything can be seen by a manager or management team as it comes in. If workflow in a remote work setting is not transparent, then, of course, that is a whole different area that needs to be addressed.

  • Thanks for your thoughts, Heather. I think transparency is the key. Whether we’re talking about in the office or as a remote team, I think it is essential for managers to have visibility into the activities and quality of work produced by every member of the team.

    Because of the nature of our work (software development) we’ve had a lot of data to help us evaluate when someone is not performing as well as necessary. Each team member basically generates a minute by minute activity log while working through the day. I don’t think this activity log gets much use under normal circumstances, but we’ve used it on occasion when we’re questioning if someone is performing at an acceptable level. If we didn’t have this type of visibility, I think identifying week links with a high degree of certainty would be much more difficult.

  • Great advice, Ava.

    I know for me, as a CEO, I need to constantly be reminded that it is my job to communicate our company vision and mission to every member of the team. At times in the past, I’ve done this via email, which has been effective. For a while, I stopped talking about mission and vision, and I think people started disconnecting a bit. Recently, I rewrote our company vision statement and made a list of 10 core values. Each week during our all-hands calls, I have picked one of the 10 core values and talked about it for 10 – 15 minutes. I think for us, as a remote team, this has been a fantastic exercise. I’ve received a lot of great feedback.

    If I were in a shared office with everyone, I think these core values may rub off more naturally as I interact with people throughout the day. But as a remote team, I feel that I really need to be intentional about communicating these things that are beyond our regular day to day activities.

  • My team uses Skype heavily. We do audio and voice chats. I think this handles most of our functional communication from day to day. We also use project management suites on top of this. We’ve tried a lot of things over the years and I think we’ll try more in the future. I constantly throw out a challenge to our team – if you can find a better tool, let’s use it. I think you have to manage change of tools in your organization, but always be willing to throw away the ones that get outdated by something better.

  • I agree with that 100%. I think it’s been important for us to find people who are very self motivated. I think one of our weaknesses has been mentorship of junior type people or making a place for people who may not be as self motivated. Those types of people just can’t be as successful in our organization. I’m not sure if this is a limitation of remote teams or a limitation of us as an organization.




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