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.
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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