The Challenges of Managing a Remote Team

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Managing remote employees isn’t always easy. Every team is different and will have different needs. What works for one company, team, or even employee may not be successful for another, especially considering COVID forced many managers to learn how to manage remote employees with no training or road map in a very short amount of time. The “how” of it all was an afterthought.

I was lucky enough to have managed remote employees prior to the start of the pandemic, so I had more time than most to figure out what approaches worked well for my team and what areas needed more focus. In that remote environment, it was a challenge to figure out how to have open communication and ensure projects were on track, deadlines were being met, the company culture was still being cultivated, and the employee was happy.

Creating communication

Keeping open communication was the first obstacle I had to figure out how to overcome. Checking in with the employee periodically was not working; things often slipped through the cracks and I went too long without talking to my team. I found that regularly scheduled weekly meetings worked best. In addition to weekly meetings, I also made sure I communicated with the employee multiple times a week either via email, Zoom, Skype, or instant message.

These conversations were not just limited to business talk either. The “water cooler” or “hallway conversations” are important forms of communication and are essential in cultivating a culture and encouraging conversation. I needed to ensure those continued to happen by reaching out and asking my employees how their day was going, how their weekend went, or how their child’s first day of kindergarten went. These conversations keep us connected to our team members and help us continue building relationships in a remote environment.

Keeping track of employee progress

Another challenge I had immediately discovered was how to manage projects and tasks. How did I know if projects were falling behind schedule? Were deadlines being met? Was the employee struggling with tasks? No matter how open the lines of communication are, when teams are not face-to-face, it can be difficult to know the answers to these questions, and employees can be increasingly hesitant to reach out for help.

To avoid these pitfalls at the beginning of a project or task I would always do the following:

  • Ensure the employee understood what was being assigned
  • Estimate the number of hours and ensure the employee was aware
  • Set deadlines
  • At the weekly meeting discuss the status, any questions, concerns, or delays for each project/task that the employee is responsible for, and ensure both parties have the same understanding
  • Be available to help the employee in any way possible; it is important that each team member feels they are essential and know that you are always available to help them

The last item I would suggest for remote employees is to ensure all team members have the hardware, software, and office supplies they need to work efficiently and comfortably from home while ensuring they have a professional and secure environment.

Find the method that works best for you

Managing remote employees can be intimidating in the beginning, especially if you and your employees are in varying time zones, but the key is to make sure communication with your team—both business and personal—is frequent and that you are staying on top of your teams’ needs. Eventually, you will learn what works best for you and each member of your team with experience.

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  • Vice President, Integrated Technologies & Innovation Center, CU*Answers

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