“Unity is a strength… when there are teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.” – Mattie Stepanek
With a lot of our lives turning digital, is said that our work is not immune to its effects. Digitalization has seen a rise of remote working teams including groups sharing a mutual goal and a set of skills that complement each other. It also includes performing remote activities to achieve a well-defined purpose. The addition of collaborative online tools for synchronizing and sharing information has made it easy for everyone to join the remote working revolution.
According to a 2014 Global Leadership Summit by the London Business School, 34% of participants estimated that more than 50% of the full-time employees of their company would be remote working by 2020. Another quarter of participants believed that almost 75% of their workforce will be remote by 2020.
That said, the State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce Report states that 3.9 million U.S. employees ( approximately 3% of the U.S. workforce) currently works from home. This number is up from 1.8 million in 2005 (an increase of 115% compared to 2005) and it continues to increase as remote work becomes a trend demanding small businesses to remain a desirable employee.
How, when and why to use remote teams
As trends change and more work move online, hiring managers needs to adjust. This may mean considering hiring globally. Imagine finding a designer in Italy and a web developer in China working on the same project for you. Nice, right?
Remote working enables your company to break many boundaries. As territorial limitations a reduced, finding the best candidates for your tasks improve. This can save you costs on overheads such as office locations and supplies. Your remote employees will also have the freedom to set up their own working environment according to their needs and tastes.
This can boost morale which in turn has the benefit of greater productivity.
Issues with managing a remote team
While remote working may sound ideal on paper, it’s not without its difficulties. Managing people can be difficult at the best of times and it requires a multitude of skills such as decision making and conflict resolution. This can be accentuated if managing a remote team. It requires commitment and perseverance to manage a remote team as issues can arise at any time of the day.
A few of the most common are:
Time zone differences
Having employees all over the world can a blessing and a curse at the same time. With more than 24 time zones in the world, it can be challenging to manage your team. A lot of issues may arise around misunderstood deadlines and outdated information. Other issues include workflow disruptions and difficulties with booking group meetings.
The good news is that you can turn this problem into leverage by assigning people according to time zones. This can create a 24-hour cycle of work. You can cut your lead times for projects in half by working 24/7 instead of 8 or 12 hours a day.
Example: Your writer in Australia finishes a writing project by the end of their shift. Your proofreader who works from Europe has the article ready to check by the time they start their shift. This way your workflow follows the sun and your team is always productive.
Additionally, be careful to schedule all the important meetings by notifying employees beforehand. There are a lot of tools on the web (such as Acuity Scheduling, Hour Stack, Ganttic, etc.) that you can use to schedule across time zones.
Communication, including language issues
Working across cultures has its challenges. There is a high chance of language and cultural differences. It’s also possible that communicating on tasks may get lost in translation. A misinterpreted email is common among different groups of people.
For starters, make sure your written correspondence contains every relevant detail and if needed, follow-up with a video or audio web calls (by using tools like Skype, Zoom, Join.me, Slack, etc.). Check out 7 must use tools by remote teams to improve accountability.
Also, make it a daily habit to encourage team members to ask questions and not become disengaged. Seek clarifications during any task delegation. Also, suggest your team use an online translating tool. They could also or engage the services of a freelance translator.
Difficulties controlling the work process and workers
If you are new to remote managing, you may ask, “But how will I manage and keep track of my workers’ performance when I don’t see them?” and this is a valid question. In an ideal world, you will have loyal and committed employees to work for you. But, you will also have to be very attentive to the progress they make or don’t make on their tasks. This can be very time-consuming for you.
One solution is to hire experienced accustomed professionals already do remote work. Explain your expectations in a very detailed way using online task management tools. These software packages (such as Toggl, Tracking Time, and Harvest) can capture periodic screenshots of your team members’ computer screens. it also creates a timeline of their working hours. They are then sent to you for tracking purposes. You can then make sure that you’re informed about the progress of your remote team.
Maintaining team spirit and building a company culture
It goes without saying that team spirit and the feeling of working towards a mutual goal can be sometimes be missing. This is especially so in organizations even where workers operate at the same physical location.
So, what about companies with remote workers? Have you ever wondered how you’ll be able to engage your workers from all around the globe?
Show appreciation for your employees by praising them on occasion. Recognize your employees for their good work. In return, they’ll do their best to perform to their greatest abilities.
To make them feel like they’re the part of the group conduct team building activities – even when you’re apart from each other. A few ideas include:
- Provide a co-working (or even co-living) space that remote workers can meet at. This space can mix work with recreation
- Organize an annual or bi-annual meetup, such as a skills training event or providing passes to an industry related conference
- Host a feedback webinar where remote employees can share their problems and you share their achievements
- If they agree, place their headshots on your organization’s about page
The aim is to understand each individual employee. To create synergy and on occasion bring them all together in one physical place. The ideal situation should be work together, learn from each other and socialize. After all, all work and no play…
While management demands hard work and perseverance, managing remote workers is no exception. By implementing the correct methods and tools you can turn your remote team into a happy productive force.