Just a few years ago we were talking about large companies like IBM, Yahoo, Bank of America, Honeywell, and Best Buy calling their remote staff back to the office. Leading the way was IBM, a pioneer of telecommuting, requiring 2,600 remote marketers to report for in-person duty, or find another job. At the time, IBM cited new iterative work processes as the primary reason for the new policy. While recalling remote workers also came after 20 quarters of falling IBM revenues, other companies echoed similar sentiments. Many say that co-located teams are more innovative and productive.
But that was before the pandemic, right? Now, we are really good at managing remote teams. We’ve got the right technology and implemented the right management techniques. We’ve got these challenges licked!
Not so fast. It turns out that while the pandemic proved employees could be just as productive when working virtually, problems were also revealed. In addition, now that the labor market is loosening up and the threat of recession looms, the power is shifting from employees to employers. This is leading some companies to try once again to pressure employees back to the office. So, how can team leaders prevent a full-time recall back to the office while also helping their organization reap the benefits of a remote workforce? Below are a few tips to shift the balance of power back in your favor.
1. When Managing a Remote Team, Be a Good Role Model
The number one tip to excelling at managing remote teams is modeling the viewpoint and behavior you are trying to achieve. Research shows that leaders consistently underestimate how much their words and actions affect others.
Pro Tip: Communicating your message via email is not enough, it must be backed up by your behavior. Acting in a way that confirms your communication will reinforce your messages. For example, changing your status on Slack to keep your team members informed when you’re offline for a brief period, if that’s what you expect from them. Even taking a vacation can encourage your team members to actually use their vacation time, too.
2. Create a Positive Remote Work Culture
One thing that became clear during the pandemic is a good work culture in the office is not the same as a good hybrid or remote work culture. Problems started emerging as the pandemic dragged on and researchers started to notice that the strong in-person culture, the one that initially made working from home so successful, began to weaken. These findings indicate that companies committed to permanent hybrid and remote work environments must create a new culture. Ensuring that it is supportive, regardless of where employees work.
Pro Tip: As a team leader, you can contribute too. Identify team and organizational values and examine your own leadership style to ensure you are creating a team culture that facilitates stability, social cohesion, identity, and belonging. This is especially important in a remote environment where the most effective management style is different from in the office. ‘Management by walking around’ doesn’t work here.
3. Encourage External Communication
A recent study of the communication habits of 61,000 Microsoft staffers before and after working remotely revealed another potential problem. Researchers found that over time employees tended to communicate less, collaborate less, and spend less time developing new connections outside of their immediate teams. However, people did build stronger connections with their immediate team members.
Pro Tip: To avoid creating information silos that stifle creativity and innovation, leaders managing remote teams should develop opportunities for cross-team communication and collaboration. You can also develop incentives encouraging your members to create and maintain informal connections throughout the organization.
4. Minimize the “Zoom Ceiling”
Other managing remote teams challenges that emerged during the pandemic include the “zoom ceiling.” Introduced by Dr. Elora Voyles, this term refers to remote workers passed over for promotions in favor of in-person colleagues due to a lack of face time. Current data supports this assertion finding remote workers are 50% less likely to be promoted.
Pro Tip: Team leaders need to ensure that all members are treated equally, whether working in-person or remotely. Establishing frequent communication opportunities, both one-on-one and as a group, will help to ensure equal visibility. In addition, don’t forget to promote your team and top-performing team members to executive leadership. Remote teams can be out of sight so keeping them informed regarding your team’s accomplishments will ensure no one is overlooked.
5. Build Trust & Be Trusting
When employees work remotely it is more difficult to track their activities during the workday. For managers used to spotting team members in hallways and staff rooms, this can be disconcerting and breed distrust. Unfortunately, if you distrust your team members, your team members will pick up on this. Soon your entire team will become mistrusting, both of you and other team members.
Pro Tip: The best way to fix this problem is by shifting to a results only work environment or ‘ROWE.’ By focusing on outputs as opposed to time when measuring employee performance, the pressure is off. Not only does it reduce your stress levels as a team leader, but employees also enjoy being autonomous and accountable for producing results. Not only can this improve trust with your team, but it is also likely to improve productivity.
6. Communicate Often
While research found that teams tended to communicate more frequently when they switched to remote, team leaders should not become complacent. Without continual vigilance to ensure that communication is frequent, clear, transparent, and equally applied, it is easy to slack off.
Pro Tip: Depending on your team culture and expectations, schedule team meetings and one-on-ones with all team members equally. Also, when managing virtual teams, leave room for water-cooler talk during video meetings. Encourage members to get to know each other. Provide opportunities for them to stay connected, feel like part of the team, and have people to turn to for support.
7. Create Comprehensive Training Documents
Policies governing remote work and comprehensive onboarding and training documents are essential to ensure that remote employees are clear on what is expected. Without hands-on orientations and training programs, as well as the opportunity to ask ad hoc questions, it can be difficult to integrate new team members.
Pro Tip: The solution is to create centralized access to comprehensive remote work policies and training materials that can mitigate the lack of in-person training time. In addition, if possible, some in-person training and team meetings can also assist in building important relationships and increasing the comfort levels of team members.
8. Implement Effective Information Security Protocols
Another issue highlighted during the pandemic is the vulnerability of information and network assets when teams are geographically distributed. This can lead to companies justifying bringing employees under one roof as the best method to keep sensitive information private. However, recent technologies are available that can address almost all information security concerns.
Pro Tip: As a remote team leader, you can keep your team remote by making sure that management is comfortable with your team’s knowledge and application of appropriate security tools and processes.
9. Use the Right Tools
Technology is continuously advancing. While you may have made do piecing together a hodge-podge of remote collaboration technologies, there are new tools on the horizon. A new generation of remote collaboration platforms is being developed and launched to help leaders responsible for managing remote teams.
Pro Tip: Research integrated tools with features that allow teams to chat real-time, work on documents simultaneously, and keep records and notes all in one place. Real-time collaboration and document storage are especially useful for teams spread across multiple time zones. Integrated tools are also convenient so that team members only log into one application. Then only one username and password combination is needed.
10. Continuously Improve and Adapt
The fact is remote work environments have just as many challenges as office environments. However, due to the pandemic, we are now better informed regarding the challenges of leading remote and hybrid teams. As with any dynamic situation, best practices for managing remote teams include the ability to adjust to changing circumstances.
Pro Tip: Whether it means incorporating new technologies, management approaches, or communication strategies, staying ahead of the curve will give you the best opportunity to keep your remote team happy and working remotely.
Do you have any tips and tricks on managing remote teams? What helped you make remote work permanent? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube to share your thoughts. We’d love to hear from you!
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