The 5 Challenges of Managing a Remote Workforce

Remote teams refer to a group of people who work across space, time, and organizational boundaries with electronic communication being the primary medium of interaction. Mostly project teams work remotely in one form or another. This encompasses working from diverse time zones, geographic locations, firm-wide boundaries, or with other third parties.

The Growing Demand for Remote Workforce

Remote teams are becoming more and more common across the globe. In 2019, the frequency of companies with a remote workforce is growing — 66% of companies allow remote work, and 16% are fully remote. Just a few years ago, working from home may have seemed out of reach across some industries. Today, not so much. A New York Times report also noted that telecommuting is fast on the rise. A forecast of employment trends by the World Economic Forum called flexible work, including virtual teams, “one of the biggest drivers of transformation” in the workplace. Besides, a Gallup poll found that 37% of respondents have already worked virtually. The State of the Remote Job Marketplace report from FlexJobs states there are now 3.9 million Americans or 2.9% of the total US workforce who work from home at least half the time. Large corporations, including Amazon, Dell, Salesforce, Philips, Nielsen, and many others are recurring remote workers. Small businesses are also getting the benefit of the remote workforce to get maximum output in a minimum budget.

A 2015 study by Stanford University highlighted the perks of employees working remotely, including less time spent commuting, lower costs, and greater autonomy.

  • Remote work can enhance worker productivity
  • It drives employee efficiency
  • It lowers stress and boosts morale
  • It minimizes operating costs and overhead
  • It leads to greater employee engagement
  • It meets the demands of younger workers

Due to the lack of face to face interaction, the remote workforce faces various challenges. Below is an insight into the remote workforce challengers and their management.

The 5 Challenges of Managing a Remote Workforce

Challenge 1 – Communication Glitches

When it comes to communication, we all have different preferences. Some people prefer to interact via email, while others do best with instant messenger apps. The communication problem is one of the main factors behind every other management issue. When communication falters, work progress suffers as well as employees feel isolated from the team. According to the 2019 State of the Digital Workspace report from Igloo, 70% of remote employees feel left out of the workplace. Ultimately, this communication gap lowers their morale. The remote employees lack informal face to face communication, which consequently leads to miscommunication.  

Potential Solutions

  • Being a manager, you have to provide direction at every step of the project; therefore, you need to be extremely good at communicating the strategy and understanding what is going on within a remote team. Keep the communication channels open and monitor them during work hours. Be as responsive as you would be to any in-office employee.
  • You are responsible to effectively manage the communication style of your entire team and create a structure that supports collaboration. You can use technological tools like instant messaging, chat, other two-way communication channels to share problems and potential solutions easily with a remote team. 
  • Use video conferencing or cloud meeting tools to get all team members connected, no matter where they are.
  • To engage remote employees, an annual remote retreat or meetups throughout the year are good options.

Challenge 2 – Scheduling Issues

The remote workforce is more productive as they don’t have to face office distractions, but managers need to overcome some virtual-related inefficiencies. For example, one of the most challenging issues is managing workers across different time zones. If all employees, remote and otherwise, are located in the same geographic area, it is easier to set working hours. On the other hand, if your workers belong to diverse geographical regions, coordinating work time can be crucial. Furthermore, it can be difficult to monitor if your team is working or not. Are your employees logging in for scheduled shifts? Are the customer support queries being answered? If you are waiting for your remote employee to respond to a crucial e-mail, in due course, this leads to unnecessary downtime and lost productivity.

Potential Solutions

  • For a meeting, try to find a time that falls within everyone’s workday.
  • If time difference makes coordination impossible, get creative. You can record meetings for remote employees who can’t attend live. This way, you can share meeting agendas with them, and they can hear as well as view what happened in the meeting.
  • You can collect their feedback via email regarding meetings. This allows them to participate in the meeting even if they couldn’t attend it.
  • Use email as a communication tool to make important announcements.
  • Use scheduling software that enables you to schedule shifts for all team members and get a notification if they haven’t started tracking time during their work hours.

Challenge 3 – Diverse Multicultural Teams

Remote teams often constitute people belonging to different ethnic groups, with different cultures and languages. Resultantly, the remote team members have conflicting customs, work habits, and values. Dealing with these cultural divides can be challenging. These differences can significantly impact how employees interact with one another, how they prioritize project tasks, and so on. Though it is natural to have an affinity for someone who has similar work habits, eventually this will result in resentment and an overall decay in productivity of the team. As a manager, if you want to enjoy the benefits of a remote workforce, you must learn to navigate these diversities.

Potential Solutions

  • Allow remote employees to share details about their cultures and geographic regions. This way, you can reduce culture-related misunderstandings. It will also strengthen bonds among team members.
  • Invest in remote team building to establish relationships between team members.
  • To minimize conflicts, the virtual teams should agree on some work ethics and team customs to foster cultural understanding.

Challenge 4 – Monitoring Remote Employee Performance

One major challenge in managing a remote team is ensuring that all the workers accomplish their assigned tasks timely and efficiently. There are two main challenges: ensuring all work is completed and ensuring remote employees are using their time efficiently and effectively. The remote workforce often struggles with distracting environments. Each distraction reduces the efficiency of usually well-performing employees.

Potential Solutions

  • Set standards and guidelines for each employee. Conduct a one-to-one meeting to make it clear that the company will never compromise on work hours and quality.
  • For the customer-dealing workforce in remote agencies, have a system in place to ensure open communication between you, the customer, and the employee. If the employee is not as responsive as he should be, as the manager, you need to know this as soon as possible.  
  • When you manage a remote worker, you have a lot less insight into how work is getting done. Again, you need to be explicit about your expectations.
  • It is better to have a quantitative way to measure the performance of your remote employees. This way, you can explain why you are unhappy with their performance. 
  • You can assign them company-owned devices to monitor and evaluate their contributions. You can download employee monitoring software to track their online activities. Employee monitoring software provides invaluable data to you, and it motivates remote employees to stay active and engaged in company priorities.   

Challenge 5 – Lack of Trust

Face-to-face communication and daily interaction play a significant role in developing feelings of trust and bonding within team members. With a remote workforce, you don’t have that same benefit. This can lead to distrust and cohesion between you and your remote employees and even between the team members themselves. Generally, remote workers rarely work at the same time, cannot see what others are doing, and cannot get immediate responses. Distrust is one of the most challenging issues of the remote workforce.

Potential Solutions

  • Employees need feedback to correct problems early on and become satisfied with their performance. Make sure that you give frequent feedback to address any challenges your employees are facing.
  • Make sure your task management tools are transparent. This will enable you to monitor how much work each employee is completing each week.  
  • Conduct video conferences as it’s the next best thing to meeting in person.
  • Trust your remote workforce, but also use employee monitoring software. It keeps everyone active and accountable.

Several challenges come with managing a remote workforce. Fortunately, all these can be overcome fairly easily by increasing communication, outlining clear company rules and policies, sharing your expectations, and introducing team building activities. It requires planning, dedication, and engaging all team members to build a successful and productive remote workforce.

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