Learning & Development

Managing remote teams: challenges and best practice

Remote working environment

Managing remote teams is now a required skill set for most managers. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, some managers played the role of remote manager but most managed teams in situ at the office, or across offices. However, organisations had already started to recognize that the ability to manage on a remote basis was becoming a key leadership attribute, according to research by Deloitte.  

Interestingly, the research also shows that organisations increasingly look for leaders who can lead through more complexity and ambiguity, as well as lead more quickly.

Managers to remote managers overnight

The Covid-19 pandemic has pretty much made managers into remote managers overnight. It has also made managers’ teams remote working teams. This presents a whole host of challenges for managers who are learning on their feet about how to be a good remote manager and for their teams who are also learning on their feet about how to work from home and be effective remote team members.  Working context is everything now for employees. And managers have a critical role to play in ensuring they and their teams can operate effectively in their individual working context as well as their collective team context.

Remote management challenges

Managers will face different challenges as their organisation responds to the impact of the pandemic. Some will be managing redundancy and the winding down of the business whilst others will be managing hugely increased workloads, the recruitment of new colleagues and the ongoing support of the rest of the team. When we think about the challenges facing remote managers we have to be sure to understand their context and the context of the business and how it is operating through these times.

Early stage remote managers face a range of challenges.  They fall into three categories:

  1. Working routine
  2. Remote working set up
  3. Remote working life

Recent research from Asana shows that remote managers have numerous factors to consider both for themselves and their team.

Working routine

Working from home has changed the working routines of many workers. Of the 1,016 adults in the UK polled, 30% say they are starting their working day earlier, 27% are working later in the evening and 24% are working while juggling other priorities such as childcare.

For managers used to their team visibly working a time-defined working day, this presents a huge shift. Now colleagues could be working while their manager isn’t and while other colleagues aren’t either.

New working routines will require new management approaches that enable teams and their managers to operate effectively.

Remote working set up

An individual’s home working set up is governed by workplace regulations. These will become a focus for managers if team members continue to work remotely for the foreseeable future – and potentially permanently.

The home working environment has to be safe and enable colleagues to work effectively. Currently, this is not the case for most employees, according to the Asana research, with 67% of respondents saying they did not have at least one of the following: a desk to work from, PC/laptop or a reliable internet connection.

Only 31% say they are working from a desk, with 35% saying they are working predominantly from a dining/kitchen table, 20% saying they are are getting their job done from their sofa and 5% admitting to working from their bed.

This current situation isn’t sustainable for employees or employers, which means that managers will play a key role in providing their teams with the equipment and guidance they need to work safely and effectively.

Remote working life

Finally, managers will need to support the wellbeing of their teams. The Asana research shows that there are several key concerns for employees: self-discipline (45%), stress about the current health and/or economic situation (36%) and “feeling like I can’t switch off” (23%). It gets worse for employees who are homeschooling their children, with 79% saying the current way of working is significantly impacting their work. And 77% admit to finding it hard to switch off in the evenings.

5 tips for managing remote teams

The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown up many challenges for remote managers. However, before adopting new approaches to remote management it is worth remembering the fundamentals of what makes a good manager. Extensive research carried out by Google shows that traits such as being a good coach, empowering the team, creating an inclusive environment and being a good communicator are all essential skills. Covid-19 doesn’t change that.

What it does do is require managers to focus more on their remote management approach. These five areas are where managers can have a positive impact.

1. Process and infrastructure

Remote managers must be crystal clear on work processes and how they relate to remote working. It is likely the organisation will create and renew guidance for managers on work processes such as health and safety, recruitment, onboarding, learning and development, wellbeing, the disciplinary process and so on. Employees will have specific requirements related to their work set-up at home and managers will need to be responsive to their needs. For remote team success, managers need to ensure their team members are set up to be able to do the job. This will also include ensuring they have the right equipment and technology.

2. Communication

As in an office setting, a team’s success is in large part based on how well it communicates.  Now that the team are working in different places, managers must be clear on the best communications strategy for the team. This starts with listening to the team and understanding everyone’s communications preferences, the channels they like to use, how and when.

To avoid feelings of isolation and distance from what’s going on, mangers will need to establish regular one to one check-ins as well as team get-togethers. What they look like and which technology is used is up to the manager and team to decide.

3. Support/coaching

Working remotely brings a whole set of new pressures for managers and their teams. The Asana research shows the impact home schooling is having on employees, for example. In this new working context, managers will be required to play the role of coach, support and enabler. By listening and understanding the different challenges team members have, managers can start to provide the right support to the right person. They can also help team members support each other. This is about creating a nurturing, supportive team culture.

4. Trust

Research shows that trust amongst team members drives performance. This is why managers have a key role in building a transparent and trusting team culture. But how can managers do this remotely? Trust is created through actions and mangers need to consider their behaviours when managing remotely. They need to role model the types of behaviours that create trust both between the manager and the team and between team members. Openness, honesty and clear communications are key. As is consistency in the way people are managed. Effective and timely decision-making is also important as people will trust a manager more if they do what they say they will do.

5. Wellbeing

The Asana research shows that 36% of employees are stressed about the current health and/or economic situation. Remote working in this context comes with its own stresses which means managers will be required to take an active role in ensuring the wellbeing of their team.  That means helping colleagues stay physically and mentally well. Working from home can lead to bad dietary habits, a lack of exercise and strains on mental health. By being proactive with the team, managers can head off some of these challenges. That said, it is imperative that organisations support the wellbeing of their managers in order that managers can support the wellbeing of their teams. This calls for a clear wellbeing strategy that is well communicated to managers and teams. Tools for pushing out communications, and measuring their impact can help this process.

Managing remote teams – conclusion

Change and uncertainty will be common themes for most organisations in the coming weeks and months, as will remote working.  Managers play a critical role in guiding their teams through these unprecedented times and helping them stay well and productive whilst working in new ways. (See our recent client case study to see how client Hemsley Fraser has adapted their business in response to recent events).

Communication is key. Managers need to be equipped with the right tools to help them communicate effectively with their teams and stakeholders. Working remotely cannot be a remote experience. Managers need to focus on engaging and supporting teams so that everyone feels a part of the team.

Find out more about how the 5app learning platform could help with your management of remote employees or contact us to book a demo.

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