Overcoming the Challenges of Managing Remote Teams

We live in a world where companies are looking less and less like the companies in the 1990s, 1980s and especially before that. Whereas it was almost impossible for team members to work remotely (there were some very specific exceptions), nowadays it has become a common practice.

For example, a software development company based in San Francisco might employ a couple of developers from half the world away, without them ever setting the foot in the U.S. offices. There are companies that do not even exist in the physical world, so to say, existing purely on the web.

Of course, managing such teams comes with a string of challenges, some larger, some smaller, but all complicating things to a degree. Today, we will be looking at these challenges and the best ways to overcome them.

Different Time Zones

In case of remote teams that work in the same city or even country, time zones are not much of a problem. However, for global teams, this can be quite an issue. For example, as team members of a hypothetical remote team are just logging on to do some work early in the morning, it is 5 p.m. in New York where their manager lives and works.

At first glance, this seems like a trivial issue that can be overcome by someone biting the bullet and sacrificing their “normal” work-free time-sleep patterns or by utilizing project management solutions that enable teams to work with a delay.

In reality, however, this slowly but steadily grows into an issue that chews into the teams productivity and success rates.

Unfortunately, there is no simple solution to this. Some meeting in the middle may be required, where everyone works wonky hours, or the solutions that we mentioned above. Either way, the situation will not be perfect.

Communication Problems

Sure, we live in a world where it is easier than ever to communicate with people thousands of miles away for free and collaborate on projects using all kinds of helpful software. Still, this is far from sitting in the same office and being able to share an idea with someone by simply uttering a sentence.

When direct, face-to-face communication is impossible, it can lead to a whole slew of problems. For example, a tiny aspect of a certain task that would have been cleared up with a three-second exchange can get overlooked and cause an entire cascade of issues down the line.

Often times, team members feel that seemingly tiny questions are not worth asking because it takes an email or a pm instead of an orally-posed question.

Managers who wish to overcome this problem have to build a culture where all communication is encouraged, across all channels. There is no silly question, there is no shame in asking a billion questions every day. Of course, this will also entail regular online meet-ups where the most important tasks of the day or the week will be discussed. Moreover, it might be a good idea to organize informal online chats where team members will get to know each other better.

When it comes to communicating the pertinent project information, a piece of project management software is simply a must. Without it, it is all but impossible to run a remote team. Since different teams have different needs, managers will want to do comparison of project management tools before committing to one.

Reduced Accountability

The reality is that not too many people are naturally hard-working. Even when they are perfectly happy with their job, their salary and their interpersonal relationships, there is a possibility that they will start slacking off. Procrastination is in the human nature and there is no way around it.

With remote teams, there is an even greater chance that people will stop putting in their fullest effort and start looking for ways to work to rule. It is much harder for remote managers to stay on top of them and to monitor their day-to-day work, which slowly but surely grows into less and less accountability that is further exacerbated by the fact that it can be quite difficult to discern who dropped the ball in a remote team.

It is therefore absolutely crucial that managers of remote teams are alert to any signs that someone is trying bunk off work or that they are not putting in an effort. More frequent employee evaluations will probably be necessary, as will more stringent approach to mistakes that could have been avoided with a bit care.

Remote teams have to understand that just because they are remote this does not mean they are not accountable for the work they put in. Or don’t. It is a paying job just like any other and they should see it that way.

Closing Word

Managing a remote team is definitely a challenge, but with some additional preparation and a willingness to go the extra yard, a skilled manager will be able to do wonders with even the most diverse and dispersed team.