Should your company hire remote workers? In a word: YES! Like any other employment framework, the remote workspace does create particular challenges, but they are not insurmountable. Virtual Vocations outlines 10 common remote work challenges for businesses as well as solutions for tackling these common employer concerns.
Identifying and Overcoming 10 Remote Work Challenges for Businesses
Workers want to telelcommute—so much so that in our 2018 Telecommute Week Survey, 77.5% of Virtual Vocations members said they would take a pay cut in order to have the opportunity to work remotely. Meanwhile, businesses can be hesitant to adopt telework policies.
Employers worry about effectively managing their teams, retaining employees, and meeting business objectives. Even those who experience cost savings know that managing virtual staff can pose unique challenges.
For all the employers out there wondering if telecommuting is worth the effort, this one’s for you: consider our top 10 remote work challenges and how to combat them.
Communication is the number one issue in most work environments—not just among remote teams. However, varying time zones and flexible schedules can wreak havoc on workflow and team collaboration. According to Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2018, 21% of survey respondents agreed that communication is one their biggest struggles, yet 43% stated that a flexible schedule was their favorite perk. Thus, employers need to step in and provide enough structure and leadership to set the tone for communication among their staff.
How to Improve Communication Among Remote Teams
Tools and processes are only as good as the people who use them. Therefore, to create a powerhouse team, you first need to hire the right people for the job. Of course, skills and applicable experience are essential, but also check for “soft skills” and observe the way candidates communicate throughout the hiring process. Then, experiment with different communication tools that work best for your amazing people. Ask for team member input and honor their preferences to the best of your ability.
2. Project Management
Project management is hard enough, and it can seem impossible when team members are dispersed across the nation or globe. However, depending on your industry and types of projects, fantastic online tools exist to align team members, assign tasks, track progress, and make changes. If you already use a software application to manage projects for in-office teams, you’ll have no problem managing remote employees with the same tools.
How to Manage Projects with Remote Teams
Cloud-based project management tools work best for virtual teams. Check out popular applications like Trello, Asana, Basecamp, Freedcamp, or Smartsheet. There are dozens of options to choose from, so play around with the demo versions until you find one that makes sense for your project and team. Also, consider using the agile project management method and hold daily scrum calls to keep everyone on task. Agile is especially helpful for projects with fast-approaching deadlines and numerous milestones.
There’s something to be said for hanging up a whiteboard and sharing creative energy with colleagues. Since the remote workspace changes the nature of collaboration, it can also create barriers for creativity and innovation. Team members may not catch the same vibes over the phone as they would live in a meeting room. In fact, companies like IBM and Best Buy argue that certain departments, such as marketing and IT, need to work in person to allow creative energy to flow.
How to Harness Innovation within Remote Teams
Give your teams the space and processes they need to communicate freely, share ideas, and hold brainstorming sessions. On some occasions, it may be beneficial to fly key people into a central office or co-working space for a few days to capture ideas in person. Otherwise, leverage video conferencing and online apps like Slack, Lucidchart, and MindMap to document the development process. Above all, avoid micromanaging your creative staff and let them mold their own collaboration techniques.
Many employers and managers like seeing their staff perform tasks so they can instantly validate that work is getting done. However, physical presence isn’t always an indicator of productivity. Though you can’t physically see virtual employees, you can quickly look at timestamps, communication threads, and project status updates to keep tabs on everyone’s progress. At the end of the day, tracking the progress of remote teams is no different than tracking the progress of in-office teams.
How to Increase Work Visibility Among Remote Teams
One of the major benefits of cloud applications is their time tracking and version control features. Most apps also offer data logs and reports so that you can check dates, changes made, authors, and other custom metrics. If daily scrum calls are unreasonable, try hosting brief, weekly catch-up meetings where everyone states their status and asks and answers questions. If you prefer written weekly reports from each employee, set up an efficient reporting system that doesn’t consume too much time—for you or your employees. Again, leverage online apps as much as possible to roll-up reporting and gauge performance at a glance.
If you have an office, you probably provide employees with a desktop or laptop and any software or subscriptions they need to do their jobs. Unfortunately, remote workers are often expected to supply their own devices, which can lead to inconsistencies, potentially slow down production, cause information transfer issues, and add minutes to everyone’s day. It’s best to treat your remote staff just as you would in-office personnel and give them the resources they need to do their jobs.
How to Tackle Technology Issues Among Remote Teams
Give your employees the right technology for their jobs. For example, consider shipping them laptops, reliable laptop cases or travel bags, and wireless mice. Set up their laptops with standard business software, such as word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation programs, as well as licenses for tools specific to their tasks. Also, as The Hartford notes, cloud-based technologies are better than manual software installations because you don’t have to worry about upgrades. If virtual team members want to use their own computers and software, consider the cost savings on your end, but make sure all equipment and tools meet certain specifications.
How do you keep information safe among dispersed team members and devices? Whether your telecommuters work from home or travel the world, they are responsible for helping keep their personal information, as well as company information, safe at all times. Remote employees can work from anywhere—basements, hotels, coffee shops, the beach, or wherever there’s an internet connection. Therefore, you want to ensure that your company’s sensitive and confidential information is secure no matter where your employees work or what device they use.
How to Increase Information Security within Remote Teams
Education and training are essential when it comes to information security. Help your employees understand the risks and how to mitigate them in their daily tasks. Create security policies that set requirements for anti-virus software, uploading and downloading information, creating passwords, and clicking on email links. Consider offering licenses or reimbursements to employees for anti-malware and other security software. Assure your team that you’re not interested in spying on their activities or data, but you want to help safeguard their devices and your company’s assets.
Creating consistency throughout your organization has nothing to do with the location of your staff. It’s all about effective onboarding, cultivating a sense of culture, and connecting the dots between each employee’s role and the business goals. Your employees are walking advertisements for your business, so they need to understand your company’s brand, mission, and key objectives.
How to Create Consistency Among Remote Teams
Even the simplest of business models need to include employee onboarding and training so that everyone is on the same page and knows how to communicate with others inside and outside of the company. Consider including or informing staff of business objective discussions so that they understand how their specific job helps drive the high-level strategy. Also, be sure to upload logos, letterhead, style guides, and any other common resources that employees might need to a shared cloud storage area so that all team members use the templates.
8. Time Off
Remote employees with flexible schedules enjoy and appreciate being able to structure their work around their home lives. However, when you have a bunch of employees working non-standard hours, how do you reasonably issue paid time off? For example, some may take days off during the week to accommodate their kids’ summer schedules. Others use flex time to stay in bed when they’re ill without worrying about how many sick they have left. The problem is that remote employees tend not to use vacation or sick days since they can always make up work on their own time.
How to Issue Time Off to Remote Employees
Spend some thought creating a policy for sick leave and paid time off (e.g., vacation time, family and medical leave, personal days). Remote employees shouldn’t be expected to make up earned days off simply because they can do their work at any time. Give them the breaks you would offer any office employee to ensure that your staff is healthy and happy.
Telecommuters are just as interested in advancement as any other employee. However, when managing a remote team, it can be difficult to know who should be in the running for a promotion. To keep your best and brightest engaged, you’ll need to set clear employee performance criteria and provide a promotion roadmap so that team members can gauge where they’re headed.
How to Assess Performance for Remote Teams
Hold your virtual staff to the same standards as in-office employees. Therefore, you can create or apply your current employee evaluation program to your remote workforce with only minor adjustments. As ProSky recommends, focus more on the quality and quantity of your staff’s progress instead of the amount of time they work each week or how long they’ve been at the company. Also, stay in touch with your team members and ask for feedback from coworkers and managers. If you communicate with your team on a regular basis, it shouldn’t be hard to know who is exceeding expectations.
Many remote employees confess to feeling lonely, isolated, and underinformed. Some lack a strong sense of connection with their team members, while others feel extra pressure because they work remotely. Such realities cause workers to jump ship and find another company that’s more attentive to their needs and goals. Though your employees are responsible for their own satisfaction in many ways, there’s a lot you can do to retain your telecommuters and prevent frequent turnover.
How to Retain Remote Workers
Your task is to find a balance where you can effectively manage your remote team while giving your telecommuters the freedoms they desire. Also, you need to find efficient ways of staying connected to your virtual staff by including team members in emails and virtual conferences, sharing information about the company, offering accolades and congratulations, and adding humor to daily discussions. The more they feel included and respected, the more likely they’ll want to stick around.
Looking to Build a Remote Team?
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- An overview of your company’s industry, products, services, and functions
- Information on your company headquarters location including a Google map
- Company stats like the year your company was founded as well as a graph of your recent hiring trends
- Links to your official company website, social media pages, and Better Business Bureau page (if applicable)
- A list of your current telecommute job postings found within our job board
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Do you have concerns about how these remote work challenges will impact your business? Have you found your own solutions? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to tell us about your strategies for integrating remote work into your business model. We’d love to hear from you!
Photo Credit: 1. iStock.com/spukkato
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