5 steps managers can take to understand remote team struggles

Managing remote teams can feel like you’re driving at night and your headlights are broken. You’re sometimes in the dark about what your team is working on, how teammates are collaborating with one another, how everyone is feeling and whether you will meet your objectives as a collective.

Working from home is very different from being in the same office as the whole team. Relationships between remote team members shift to fit a more complex dynamic and so does the relationship between managers and their direct reports. All of a sudden, managing becomes that much more time consuming and complicated.

The biggest obstacle for a manager in charge of a remote team (or when working with remote employees in general) is to have a complete overview. That includes keeping track of collaboration, productivity, results, manager-employee rapport, team morale, performance, and everything in between. As a manager, you are doing all of this from a distance, behind a computer and have no in-person face-to-face time with the employee(s).

In this article, we’ll focus on breaking down the main goals and challenges managers struggle with when managing remote teams. After that, we’ll go over a 5 step solution to help you understand and attend to the biggest obstacles your remote workers are facing.

In this article, we focus on the following (jump ahead):

- Challenges and goals of managing remote teams

- 5 steps to understanding remote team struggles

- Summary

Challenges and goals of managing remote teams

Know what’s going on at all times

Challenge
People are working apart from each other and everyone is in their homes or in a land far, far away. You’re in the dark about team collaboration and productivity of individuals.

Questions to ask yourself

How do I know what’s going on with each employee?
Are team members collaborating at all?
If they are, are teammates collaborating effectively?
Are people replying fast enough to each other’s requests?
What’s everybody working on?
Who is having personal issues?

Goal
You want to be able to have a deep understanding of what everyone on the team is up to, what they’re struggling with and what they’re going through. And that understanding needs to come from a place of wanting team members to be aligned and working harmoniously, rather than micromanaging. You want a structured and efficient system since you can’t rely on face-to-face interactions and your gut anymore.

Scattered emails, too much noise on Slack, postponed or skipped 1:1s and random updates during various meetings only add to the chaos. Regular communication and trust are essential when managing remote employees and trying to help them thrive. You’re looking for a simple solution to help you navigate your way through times of uncertainty and get a solid grasp on the team’s pulse.

Meet objectives on time

Challenge
Just because your whole team is working remotely or you’re managing separate remote employees, it doesn’t mean that this should affect team performance and productivity in a negative way. Working from a distance should not become a bottleneck.

Questions to ask yourself

Is everybody aware of what they need to be working on?
Are employees using their time efficiently?
Is someone blocked somewhere? Either by fellow teammates or other departments?
Are team members being overworked?
Is another team (unintentionally) stealing time from my direct reports?


Goal

This might be your first time managing a remote team or remote employees. This might be the first time you have to work with people on the other side of the world. Regardless of what the circumstances are and where your team is located, you as a manager need to deliver and you need to do it on time. The good news is that there are countless studies that have shown that remote employees tend to be more productive than their office counterparts.

You’re aiming to have a regular update from each employee about what their challenges are, how they’re moving along with their tasks, if they’re clear on the overall goal and if someone or something is hijacking their time.

Of course, you’d like to stay away from micromanaging, which means that constantly checking in with and bugging team members is out of the question. You are looking to develop an efficient process that enables employees to be open and honest so you can get a good understanding of where everybody’s at without being counterproductive. Your goal is to meet objectives by being in the know yet without sacrificing trust.

Support team and individuals

Challenge
When you’re not working with your whole team together in one place every day, it becomes very difficult to read people’s emotional state, their reactions or pinpoint what they’re struggling with. You’re unable to read people’s non-verbal cues.

Popular research has accredited only about 7% of all communication to verbal exchange and about 55% to body language. Without in-person interactions, it becomes that much more difficult to catch on to things employees might not want to express right away.

Questions to ask yourself

Do people have all the tools and resources necessary to do their job?
Am I providing enough guidance?
Do I know what’s going on in people’s lives?
Am I making myself available enough so that employees can reach out to me if they need it?


Goal

Focusing on making sure your team is equipped with the right tools, and that support will be provided when necessary is your number one priority. You can’t afford employees falling behind and you don’t want to risk direct reports becoming disconnected from the rest of the team. You want remote employees to stay connected and engaged.

Keep remote teams motivated, engaged and aligned

Challenge
Managing people in different places is no easy task, especially when it comes to getting everybody to push in the same direction and stay motivated while they’re at it. You’re worried that everyone might not be on the same page. You’re also wondering how to keep the spirits up while meeting objectives on time and creating an environment of inclusion for everybody.

Questions to ask yourself

Is every remote member of the team aware of our team goals?
What about our organizational goals?
Are they aware of the progress being made on both fronts?
How are they contributing to the company objectives?
Is motivation declining while people are remote? If so, what is the reason for that?

Are all remote teammates participating in engagement surveys?
Are they participating in company-wide events like update meetings, virtual drinks, product showcases, etc.?
Am I recognizing people’s good work on time and in a way that is meaningful?


Goal

It’s no secret that remote employees are likely to detach themselves from the collective if they’re not included and engaged with on a regular basis. As much as 70% of remote workers feel left out of the workplace.

Studies have shown that employee engagement continues to be an important predictor of company performance even in a tough economy. So no matter what the circumstances are, you want to keep engagement high as it is crucial for the success of your remote team.

You need to track engagement levels as often as possible so you can find solutions for disengaged employees. You want to know how motivated each member of your team is and if they know what they’re putting in hard work for.

5 steps to understanding remote team struggles

There’s a simple solution to all the challenges above. The underlying problem when managing remote teams is lack of awareness. You want a solid overview of team progress and individual feelings.

Turn to your employees and learn from them on a regular basis. How can you do that without disrupting their workflow? By sending out short, to the point Remote Employee Pulse Surveys. Here’s how you can go about that.

Step 1: Pinpoint the biggest challenge for managing your remote team

Choose one challenge at a time so you can properly investigate it and determine how severe it is. After asking yourself the questions above, where do you think there’s room for improvement? Do you consider yourself falling short as a manager on any of the challenges above? What goal is the most important for you as a manager right now?

Depending on your colleagues, the company size and the situation you’re all in, this will be different for every manager reading this. So take some time and try to pinpoint the biggest bottleneck and start from there.

Step 2: Involve HR to help you with the right process

After you’ve decided to zoom in on a challenge, it’s time to learn straight from the source: your employees. The easiest, fastest and most reliable way to do that while ensuring a high participation rate is a Remote Employee Pulse Survey.

There are a few key things you need to know about Remote Employee Pulse Surveys:

And don’t worry. You don’t have to do this by yourself. Contact your organization’s HR practitioner to help you with setting up a Remote Employee Pulse Survey. HR practitioners can use tools like Survey Monkey or Typeform to create them (or even directly copy and paste templates from here).

There are also some more advanced tools that are specifically designed to help automate the whole survey process (including features like reminders for participants) and surface valuable insights with a lot less work.

If your HR colleague has never done one before, simply send them this resource that contains a detailed explanation of what a Remote Employee Pulse Survey is, how to set up an effective one and urge them to use the template provided inside for ease of use.

Step 3: Encourage participation within the team

Once you have involved an HR representative to help you set all of this up, make sure to let your team know that this survey is coming their way. Explain why:

Assure them this is in their best interest and is the most effective way for you as a manager to find out what’s going on and how you can support your team better. Ask them to fill it out as honestly as possible. Be very transparent and offer to answer any questions employees might have about the survey.

Step 4: Analyze results and act on findings

Set a deadline for the completion of the survey. Once the survey can no longer be filled out, it’s time to look into the results. If you’re using tools like Google Docs or email, the findings will have to be manually computed either by you or the HR practitioner.

Instead, if you’ve opted in for a purpose-built tool that serves your needs, you should be receiving an automated report with a complete overview. That way you can analyze trends over time.

By digging into the findings, you’ll gain awareness as to what needs attention first. Next, make an action plan about what needs improvement. Follow up with employees about what you will do to help them while they’re remote.

Having an overview of the feedback and a report will help you keep track of changes.

Step 5: Repeat as many times as necessary

Remote Employee Pulse Surveys can be created and distributed as often as you like. The rule of thumb is to only send out the next survey based on your ability to act on the feedback and suggestions gathered from the previous ones.

You need to make your employees feel heard and supported so take into account what they share every time around. Test the waters for different aspects of remote working more frequently and be in the know at all times.

Ask employees about motivation levels while remote.

Summary

In order to get a better understanding of the feelings and challenges of your remote team as well as pinpoint the biggest workflow bottleneck, you as a manager can quickly get a grasp on the situation by conducting a Remote Employee Pulse Survey. To do that efficiently, this 5 step process will guide you:

  1. Decide on one main aspect of remote work which you believe needs attention
  2. Ask HR for help with creating the Remote Employee Pulse Survey and send it out
  3. Encourage team members to fill it out as honestly as they can
  4. Analyze the results and act on the findings to make employees feel heard
  5. Repeat the process as many times as you believe necessary

If you would like to help your HR team with creating and sending out Remote Employee Pulse Surveys that give you valuable feedback about what’s going on in your team, take a look at how we at Impraise can help you with that. Start setting up your people for success today so you can reap the benefits tomorrow.

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