Managing remote teams and setting employee expectations
Managing remote teams has become a required skill for every level of leadership. But it’s not as simple as taking the skills you developed in the office into a digital space — there are unique challenges you’ll need to overcome in managing remote teams.
To help you adapt your current skills this post will cover:
- What a remote team is
- The challenges of working remotely
- How to set employee expectations for remote work
- How to manage remote teams once expectations are set
What is a remote team?
A remote team is a group of employees working together from various locations and time zones. Team members collaborate and communicate with each other from different cities, countries, or even continents.
Making the switch and managing remote teams is a challenge — especially if you stick to your non-remote style of management. Remote teams have unique needs and challenges that need specific solutions.
But if you can overcome those challenges, remote work has some great benefits for employees and businesses.
- Responding to the UK 2021 census, 78% of remote workers said working from home had improved their work-life balance because people have more time to spend with their families and friends, pursue hobbies, or exercise.
- Companies benefit too — 75% of respondents to an Owl Labs survey said they would be less likely to leave their jobs if they could work from home. This means businesses save on associated turnover costs like recruitment, onboarding, and training.
The challenges of working remotely
There are benefits but remote work isn’t perfect. There are unique difficulties that companies, managers, and employees face when teams are working from home.
Distractions and time management
Homes are busy places. Many remote workers have young children or other family members they need to care for. Housework and chores are another common distraction, and many remote workers still don’t have a designated place to work from — so they’re hunched over their laptops on the sofa.
In fact, a Joblist study cites watching TV, cooking, and running errands as the biggest distractions when working from home. With so many demands competing for attention, it can be hard for your team to stay on task.
It’s easy for communication to be fragmented when working remotely. Many companies use several communication tools — such as email, instant messaging, and phones — so it’s easy for communication to become disorganized. Getting a simple answer from a colleague often becomes much more difficult for remote teams when they can’t just tap a coworker on the shoulder.
A stable internet connection and reliable hardware is the foundation of remote work. In the office, employees have access to a business-grade connection and a team of tech support experts. But a home Wi-Fi or cell signal might not be as consistent and technical help might be harder to get.
Weaker professional networks
It’s easier to build professional relationships with colleagues or managers in the office. Getting advice or support from a manager is as simple as going to their office and knocking on the door. Remote teams can’t do this, so managers may not know how their employees are doing or what they’re working on. And staff may feel their managers are not aware of or don’t appreciate their situations.
Some team members will miss face-to-face interactions, which can lead to loneliness. It’s worse for extroverts who will miss joking around or going for lunch with colleagues, but even introverts may feel like they don’t belong. Building informal relationships at work is one of the advantages being in the office has over remote work. The absence of those relationships can impact team performance and disrupt productivity.
How to set employee expectations for remote work
The first big step to dealing with these challenges is to set expectations early. By giving employees a clear set of guidelines, you can alleviate problems that arise with remote work. And don’t worry if your team has been remote for a while already — you’ll still see benefits from setting expectations at any stage.
Establish clear work hours
When everyone is at the office, work hours are simple, but with people working at home and in different time zones it’s more complicated. Staff need to know if they’re expected to work during specific hours, like 9am to 5pm, or not.
For teams spread over time zones, be clear about whether they need to work during the manager’s time zone or if asynchronous work is okay. They also need to know if they should log hours and how to do so.
Set communication guidelines
With so many communication tools available, clear guidance is important. Employees need a list of the tools they’ll use with detailed company policies on how to use them.
For example, you could split communication into urgent or non-urgent. That way you can be clear that urgent communication needs to be done on instant messaging software but email is fine when a reply isn’t needed right away. It’s also a good idea to lay some ground rules for video conferencing software. For example, be clear about whether or not everyone should have their cameras on by default.
Define goals and metrics
One way to keep remote teams on track is to set clear targets for everyone. To do this, let them know the metrics and KPIs used to assess their performance. Give everyone attainable targets with realistic timeframes to keep them motivated.
Help them set up a home office
Having a designated workspace is one of the best ways to get rid of distractions. Give your team guidance about the use of external monitors, standing or sitting desks, and proper desk chairs. It’s also important to let them know about any financial assistance provided for these needs. For example, the company may offer to provide or pay for the necessary equipment.
How to manage remote teams once expectations are set
Now that you’ve clearly defined your expectations, it’s time to keep your remote team working well. Here are some best practices to help you overcome the challenges of managing remote teams.
1. Help employees manage their time well
Encouraging your team to build a schedule can help them manage their time well. Setting aside the same hours every day for focused work can keep them on track, but schedules need to be transparent when team members are spread across time zones.
Time-tracking software is another effective way to manage time. By tracking the time spent on different tasks, your employees will have a better awareness of their habits. This can help them be more efficient.
2. Provide communication options
Email and instant messaging are the most common communication tools, but providing other options is important. For example, video calls are good for reducing the sense of isolation. They also allow you to see visual cues about your employees’ well-being that are impossible to recognize through email or instant messaging.
Another example is project management tools that allow messaging and commenting. These tools let people communicate in-app, which means they save time switching between tabs or programs. By providing communication options, you’re well covered for different workflows, time zones, and eventualities.
3. Offer technical support
To deal with issues around unreliable technology, sufficient tech support is important. This can be as simple as ensuring everyone on your team has access to the same tools — like project management, cloud storage, or productivity software. Or you might need to provide computers, external monitors, and Wi-Fi routers for your employees to use at home.
It’s also important to give remote workers access to IT support in case there’s a problem with their software or hardware. And as remote team members use many different tools, ongoing training and instructional resources should be available.
4. Establish regular meetings and check-ins
To keep people connected and aligned, it’s important to establish regular meetings. These could be daily stand-ups, one-to-one meetings, or both. By making these regular and consistent, employees know they can rely on your support and that their issues are not going to be ignored.
5. Create space for social interactions
Combating isolation might be the biggest challenge facing remote managers. Hybrid work is one effective way of connecting people. In a hybrid work environment people can come to the office when needed and see their colleagues in person. For example, at Adobe, employees can participate in meetings online or in the office because hybrid work is the default.
But it’s possible to build rapport online too. Many companies have come up with creative ways to do online events. As it’s easy to deliver goods to remote workers at set times, companies can plan virtual pizza parties, cooking classes, or movie nights. If you’re aware of team members living close to each other, you could also organize local meet-ups to socialize and collaborate.
Remote team management 101
Without solid management, remote teams can run into any number of issues. It takes a new skill set, but it is possible to overcome those challenges and manage an effective remote team.
To make sure your remote team is on the right track, the first thing you should do is document guidelines for your team members. Establishing clear expectations is the first step to managing your remote team well.
With real-time collaboration, planning, and analytics in one place, Adobe Workfront keeps remote teams on task and running smoothly. Learn how Workfront makes running your remote team easy — sign up for a free product tour.