Having to Manage Remote Employment is becoming the new normal. There is a growing trend toward an increase in the number of organization’s employees who work from remote locations. Studies by Global Workplace Analytics show that the number of people working remotely in the USA increased from about 1.8 million in 2005 to 3.9 million in 2015. This represents almost 3% of all U.S. workers. Also, the 2014 Global Leadership Summit in London expects over half of its workers to be working remotely by 2020. This trend favors employers, as well as employees. Employees can work on their own terms and make huge savings on time and money. While companies can save on facilities cost and recruit from the best talents globally without requiring them to move to a new city or country.
However, as with all new trends, remote working creates its own set of problems. Businesses are discovering that the models for achieving success in a co-located workforce do not work with a distributed team. Those things teams working from the same location take for granted are missing in a remote team. As a result, organizations have to develop new methods for achieving the same results with a distributed team as they would with a co-located one. The following are some of the cons of remote working, along with recommended solutions.
Communication presents the biggest challenge when working with remote teams because the benefits of in-person communication are missing; much of communication non-verbal and it is often impossible to convey non-verbal cues by technology.
Additionally, a lot of a team’s bonding comes from impromptu conversations along the corridor, at the water cooler and through unscheduled visits to somebody’s cubicle. The absence of these amplifies the possibilities for discord and miscommunication in remote teams. This is in addition to team members often being from very different cultures.
Effectively managing remote team communications requires doing things a bit differently than for non-remote teams.
– It is necessary to obtain every piece of information about members that could affect performance, such as type of technology, speed of internet connection, level of comfort with technology, time zones, cultural differences, preferred hour of work and when they can be contacted. The best way to do this is through a survey tool. Make sure this is available in a central and shared repository.
– Remote teams need to engage with one other in ways that encourage emotional expression. Take the time to “check-in ” at the beginning of every virtual team meetings – What made you smile today? What is your internal weather? That kind of small talk at the beginning of phone calls and chit-chatting during work can help to achieve this.
– Make sure every voice is heard – ask every participant their opinion, what they want to contribute. You could for example use a visual container representing the people in the meeting – for example a circle that helps you visually represent who is in the call, who has talked already and who has not.
It is easier to build a team culture in co-located teams than in remote teams. One of the most important aspects of team culture is trust. Creating an atmosphere of openness and collaboration is easier if there is trust.
In a remote environment, assessing the trustworthiness of others can be challenging and can impact the group’s ability to work. In a sense, trust is even more important to remote teams because that is all that team members really have. This point should not be overlooked in remote team employment situations.
– Agree on the ground rules from the beginning, so everyone knows what to expect
– Clearly outline the goals of the group and establish teamwork as the basis for its success.
– Outline a set of shared values as it relates to the work together.
– Make an effort to understanding the spoken and unspoken factors that influence people’s behavior.
– Encourage open disclosure of feelings; as much as possible have everyone be honest about their needs and expectations
– Accept and value people’s differences, even if you do not understand them.
– Set an example of fairness and transparency in your relationship with team members.
#3 Synchronized Work Efforts
How do you ensure that people in a remote team do what they are supposed to do? In a co-located team this may be achieved by direct control and supervision. But those methods are not available to a remote team.
Especially when members of the team work different hours and may never all be available at the same times. The assurance that people will do what they are expected to do is the foundation of remote team employment. Without it, organizations must return to using only co-located groups.
– Define the scope: elaborate goals and objectives at various levels of details
– Develop clear timelines and set tangible milestones
– Allocate tasks to members with clear and expected delivery dates. Make sure people know they can come forward if they expect any deviation. Make sure the “No Surprise” rule is clearly explained and respected.
– Come up with clear metrics for measuring the success of each person
– Create a system for group self-assessment, such as sharing weekly updates in the team meeting room or on the shared scorecard.
#4 Monitoring Performance
Just as in a co-located team, evaluation and rewards are important in a remote team. They may be even more important because remote teams have greater need for sustaining its members’ motivation.
In order to stay up to speed with the performance of its members, reward performance appropriately and encourage people to keep putting up their best, remote team managers need to do the following.
– Stay focused on outcomes and encourage mutual accountability.
– Celebrate when an important milestone is reached
– Constantly monitor employees’ record of meeting attendance and timely start-up.
– Create a tool that tells each person where they stand in relation to expected results – make it visual, make it visible and easily accessible by the team and project stakeholders.
– Provide useful and constructive feedback
– Develop a reward system that encourages results and reinforces positive and desired behaviors
Finally, the leader is the pivot on which the team effort revolves. Managers who deploy processes and systems to achieve their goals will be more effective than those who try to manage through direct supervision. Creating a strong culture of mutual accountability within the group will help members have a greater level of involvement and feel a deeper sense of ownership. This will allow the group’s work flow more seamlessly and require less direct intervention by the leader; creating a more pleasant work environment and making the remote employment a success for all the parties involved.