It’s hard to believe that an entire month has passed since the CDC and White House issued social distancing mandates. Over the past 30 days, we have made drastic changes, both professionally and personally. If you’re one of the 60% of Americans now working from home, then you have already dealt with the operational challenges of shifting to remote work, battled with implementing new technology and managed the logistics of working together, yet apart, from your coworkers and employees.
Hopefully, with the initial challenges behind us, we are settling into the routines that have become our new normal. This presents an opportunity to prepare for the future and focus on our employees by being effective leaders for our newly remote staff. If you haven’t managed a remote team yet then here are some of the key challenges remote employees face and techniques on how to overcome them.
4 Challenges Remote Managers Face
Challenge 1: Limited face to face supervision
In a remote environment, managers lose the consistent, visual confirmation that their employees are working. This may cause them to (incorrectly) assume employees are not working as efficiently. In fact, a recent study concluded remote employees work 1.4 more days per month than their office-based counterparts, resulting in more than three additional weeks of work per year. On the other hand, employees may struggle with the reduction of support and communication, so it’s important for managers to hold structured daily check-ins. These meetings should be scheduled in advance and provide an opportunity for employees to ask questions and discuss challenges. This should be much more than a brief update call.
Challenge 2: Isolation and loneliness
Both managers and employees can struggle with the loss of social interaction through those subtle moments that bring our teams closer together; a quick conversation at the Keurig, celebrating a win, collaboration sessions, or simply walking over to a coworker to ask a question. Mangers need to create these team building activities in a virtual environment. In this case technology is your friend, and some of these solutions are free! Zoom is a great tool for videoconferencing and if you haven’t gotten on the Microsoft Teams band wagon, do it – or use another messaging & collaboration platform. Think beyond email and phone calls. Here are a few ideas:
- Have your employees take the team on a “tour” of their remote office
- Coordinate a virtual lunch or coffee session
- Introduce coworkers to your new “office mates”
- Socialize over group chat
- Challenge your coworkers to a workday fitness challenge (ex: # of pushups you can complete throughout the day)
Challenge 3: Distractions at home
In a perfect situation, remote workers will have a dedicated workspace, adequate childcare, and be free of distractions…unfortunately with this sudden and unplanned shift to remote work, many of us find ourselves working in subpar conditions. In this climate we are also dealing with the added stresses and anxieties of navigating a pandemic. It’s crucial for managers to recognize the realities of our situation and empathize with their employees. Your conversations need to address much more than the work at hand. Ask employees “how they are doing” and how their “remote situation is working out for them”. Your employees will be looking to you to see them through this situation so it’s important to affirm their confidence by saying things like “we’ve got this,” or “this is tough, but I know we’re going to get through it”. With your support you’ll help your employees rise to the occasion with a sense of purpose.
Challenge 4: Maintaining productivity
Working remote isn’t a new concept, but for many of us, this was a quick, unplanned, and unpracticed transition. The most effective remote teams are coached on methods to help them maintain high levels of productivity while practicing a healthy work/life balance. As a manager, you likely need to help your team adopt new habits to help them focus during work hours then make a clean break for personal time. One tactic is to create “work triggers,” these are the subtle repeatable behaviors that tell your brain it’s time to start the day. While some employees may claim they can just roll out of bed and start working, this usually isn’t the case. Instead of getting ready and driving to work, talk to each of your employees about their personal “work readiness” plan. Simple things like walking around the block, drinking a cup of coffee on the deck or doing a set of crunches can tell your brain it’s time to go!
Another productivity trick is planning and list making. Help your employees get in the habit of making a daily to do list. Talk to them each day about what they have planned and what they accomplished yesterday. This will help you acknowledge their accomplishments and make sure your team focuses on the right outcomes.
You’re not alone.
Remember, you are not the only one figuring out how to make remote work effective and positive. Hundreds of thousands of managers across the globe are navigating this situation with you. Reach out to colleagues, connect with leaders on LinkedIn and access resources online. We are all in this together. We will get through this to see brighter days and you can add your new skillset for “remote management” to your list.