Mastering the Art of Leading Remote Work Teams
The number of companies adopting and managers leading remote work teams has increased significantly. The COVID-19 pandemic initiated this trend. Now however, controversy about the productivity challenges of leading remote work teams confront organizational assumptions about its effectiveness.
According to Gitnux blog 56% of companies actively use remote workers. Forty-four percent of companies do not hire remote workers. And 62% of employees claim to work remotely at least occasionally. Sixteen percent of companies hire remote workers exclusively and designed their organizations to support it, such as Gitlab, Buffer, and Automattic. The Council on Foreign Relations shares global research on how productivity increases in remote work settings. Owl Labs date says they are 47% more productive. In contrast, recent data shows a decrease in productivity by remote workers. Experts believe other factors relate to this information such as a stagnant economy, worker burnout, “quiet quitting in response to toxic work environments, and inflation.
It is worth noting that the exact extent of remote work adoption varies across countries, industries, and individual company policies. The trend toward remote work models is likely to continue evolving as organizations assess the long-term benefits and challenges associated with them. However, companies like Tesla, Amazon, Disney, Starbucks, Walmart, GM, UPS, and Dell have already ended remote work in 2023. They claim productivity decreases by 3.7 hours a week.
Unfortunately, global employee disengagement is a staggering 85%. In addition, Gallup research shows 82% of managers are failing. Wouldn’t you agree there is an urgent need for improvement in working relationships with employees working from home, the factory, or the office? Bottom-line, companies with people-first culture led by Servant Leadership principles outperform their competitors. The real issue with whether remote work works involves a company’s commitment to people.
9 Challenges for Leading Remote Work Teams
While most remote workers are diligent and committed to their work, there are cases where employees may take advantage of the flexibility that remote work offers. However, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk survey found that the average remote worker spent nine hours a week doing other tasks during work schedules besides working. Here are nine roadblocks that make it difficult for remote work to work for employees and managers.
- Lack of Accountability: Without direct supervision, employees may become less accountable for their actions and work output. They might take advantage of the reduced visibility by engaging in non-work-related activities during work hours, such as personal tasks, leisure activities, or excessive breaks.
- Reduced Productivity: The freedom and flexibility of remote work can sometimes lead to decreased productivity. Employees may become distracted by household chores, personal obligations, or the temptation to engage in non-work-related activities. Without proper discipline and self-motivation, their work output may suffer.
- Time Mismanagement: Remote work requires effective time management skills. However, employees may struggle to prioritize tasks and allocate their time efficiently. Procrastination or improper planning can result in missed deadlines or incomplete assignments.
- Lack of Communication and Collaboration: Remote work heavily relies on effective communication and collaboration. Employees who take advantage of the situation may neglect or avoid participating in virtual meetings, discussions, or projects. This behavior can hinder teamwork and disrupt the flow of information within the organization.
- Blurring Work-Life Boundaries: While remote work offers flexibility, employees may exploit this by blurring the boundaries between work and personal life. They might engage in personal activities during designated work hours or extend their work into personal time, leading to potential burnout and an unhealthy work-life balance.
- Inaccurate Time Reporting: Remote work often requires employees to track their working hours accurately. However, individuals may intentionally misreport their hours, or exaggerate their actual work time.
- Inequities and Isolation: Remote work can exacerbate existing inequalities. Not everyone has the same access to resources, reliable internet connections, or conducive home environments. Moreover, remote work can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, particularly for individuals who thrive in social work environments. Critics argue that this isolation can negatively impact mental health and work-life balance.
- Management and Oversight Challenges: Managers and employers may find it challenging to effectively foster teamwork. They need to adapt their leadership styles, communication strategies, and performance evaluation methods to accommodate remote work. Executives worry that without direct supervision, it becomes harder to ensure accountability, track progress, and address performance issues, falsely claiming time spent on work-related tasks.
- Impact on Traditional Workspaces: Remote work has significant implications for traditional office spaces, commercial real estate, and urban planning. Urban planners argue that a shift towards remote work may harm industries reliant on office spaces and negatively impact local economies that depend on foot traffic from office workers.
It is important to note that while remote work has its challenges and controversies, it also offers viable benefits. These benefits include increased flexibility, access to a broader talent pool, reduced commuting, and potential physical office cost savings. The level of controversy surrounding remote work varies depending on individual perspectives, industry-specific factors, and cultural norms. And, of course, management commitment and skills in supporting remote work.
Research shows that managers impact up to 70% of employee productivity. Here are ten employee focused strategies that leaders can implement to uniquely and positively managing highly productive remote work teams. Obviously, variations of these approaches are valuable for any employee to increase employee engagement.
- Set Clear Expectations and Goals: Clearly communicate expectations regarding work hours, availability, communication channels, and performance goals. Define project milestones, deadlines, and deliverables. Providing clarity helps reduce ambiguity. Do this weekly to monthly depending on the situation.
- Establish Consistent Communication: Foster open and frequent communication with remote workers. Schedule regular check-ins, team meetings, and one-on-one discussions to stay connected. Ask for and give regular feedback to address concerns and maintain a sense of collaboration. Utilize video conferencing tools to enhance face-to-face interactions.
- Leverage Technology: Provide remote workers with the necessary tools and technology to perform their tasks efficiently. This includes project management software, communication tools, document sharing platforms, and virtual collaboration tools. Ensure employees have reliable access to these tools and provide training if needed.
- Promote Team Collaboration: Encourage collaboration among remote team members by using virtual platforms and project management tools. Establish a culture of sharing ideas, knowledge, and best practices by leading by example. Facilitate virtual team-building activities to build rapport and strengthen relationships.
- Focus on Results: Shift the focus from measuring hours worked to evaluating goal progress, outcomes, and results. This approach encourages accountability and allows employees to manage their time and tasks effectively.
- Support Work-Life Balance: Promote the importance of setting boundaries between work and personal life. Encourage breaks and time off to prevent burnout. Lead by example and demonstrate a healthy work-life balance yourself. One manager sent emails at all hours of the day and expected people to respond. This process demoralized the team and drove productivity down.
- Provide Professional Development and Training Opportunities: Offer remote employees opportunities for skill development and career growth. Provide access to online training resources, virtual workshops, or conferences. Included training in team meetings. Encourage employees to engage in continuous learning and provide support for their professional advancement. Also, do it yourself.
- Foster a Positive Remote Culture: Recognize and appreciate remote employees’ contributions. Research shows added incentives to top performers increases productivity. Celebrate milestones, achievements, and successes. Encourage virtual social interactions and initiatives to maintain team morale and engagement. This means more than just doing team meetings on a weekly basis. One team includes peer recognition sharing at the end of their weekly department meetings. This helped build team trust and camaraderie.
- Regular Performance Feedback: Provide regular and constructive feedback to remote workers. Conduct weekly but short virtual performance discussions to offer coaching. Give praise for achievements, address areas for improvement and ask for and listen to feedback.
- Adapt Your Leadership Style: Recognize that leading remote workers may require adjustments to leadership approaches. Trust and empower employees to make decisions and take ownership of their work. Emphasize communication, collaboration, and autonomy while providing support and guidance when needed.
By consistently implementing these strategies, leaders can create a positive environment for inclusion and teamwork in remote settings.
What is the potential payoff from remote work teams?
The bottom-line payoff for remote work can involve these key benefits:
- Increased Productivity: Remote work can lead to enhanced productivity due to reduced distractions, elimination of commuting time, and the ability to work in a personalized and comfortable environment. In a survey conducted by Airtasker, remote employees worked 1.4 more days every month, or 16.8 more days every year, than office workers. Studies also show remote workers often experience higher job satisfaction and are more motivated, resulting in improved performance and output.
- Cost Savings: Employees can save on transportation, parking, and commuting expenses. Employers can reduce costs associated with office space, utilities, and other overhead expenses. Additionally, remote work creates opportunities for accessing a global talent pool, potentially reducing recruitment and relocation costs.
- Improved Work-Life Balance: A Slack study showed that 94% of employees want schedule flexibility which includes remote work potential. This flexibility can lead to reduced stress, increased job satisfaction, and better overall well-being. Remote workers often have more control over their schedules, allowing them to fulfill personal and work obligations more effectively.
- Enhanced Employee Retention and Recruitment: Offering remote work options can be a valuable recruitment tool, attracting top talent who prioritize flexibility and work-life balance. Remote work can also contribute to higher employee retention rates, as it demonstrates trust, autonomy, and a commitment to employee well-being. Organizations that embrace remote work are more likely to retain and attract skilled professionals.
- Environmental Benefits: Remote work has a positive impact on the environment by reducing carbon emissions associated with commuting and office-related activities. With fewer employees commuting to a central location, there is a decrease in traffic congestion and air pollution. Remote work aligns with sustainability goals and contributes to a greener, more eco-friendly work culture.
- Business Continuity and Disaster Preparedness: Remote work provides a robust solution for maintaining business continuity during unforeseen events, such as natural disasters, pandemics, or other disruptions. Having a remote work infrastructure in place enables organizations to continue operations and minimize downtime, ensuring uninterrupted service delivery to clients and customers.
- Increased Diversity and Inclusion: Remote work allows organizations to tap into a more diverse talent pool, as geographical constraints are no longer a barrier. It enables individuals from diverse backgrounds, abilities, and locations to participate in the workforce, fostering diversity and inclusion within organizations.
Pulling It All Together
While the benefits of remote work are potentially significant. Organizations need to assess their specific contexts and implement remote work policies and practices that align with their strategic vision. Most importantly, consistently implementing people-first or servant leadership methods to fully leverage the bottom-line payoff. In summary, gleam the wisdom from these quotes.
- “Do you want to access talent everywhere, or just in specific markets? If the answer is everywhere, you need to be at least open to the possibility of remote work.” – Katie Burke
- “Focus on being productive instead of busy.” – Tim Ferriss
- “In terms of engaging and influencing your team, especially in a virtual environment, how you say something, or your vocal quality, can sometimes be more important than what you say.” – Hassan Osman
- “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” – Stephen Covey
- “Leadership is not an affair of the head. Leadership is an affair of the heart.” – J. Carla Nortcutt
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