By Maria Geokezas, Chief Operating Officer at Heinz Marketing
When remote work stormed the scene, we had no choice but to accept it. Now, it seems there’s no going back.
A recent survey reports that 87% of employees would opt for a flexible work arrangement. So, if you’re hoping to snag and retain top talent, you have no choice but to learn to manage a remote workforce.
However, most managers still aren’t trained to oversee remote teams effectively. This lack of training leaves managers feeling trapped and employees feeling defeated.
In fact, poor management practices cost U.S. companies between $960 billion and $1.2 trillion per year. To solve the issue, we must first understand the challenges of supervising remote teams.
Facing the Challenges of Managing a Remote Workforce
Remote work appears like a win-win for companies and employees. Companies save on office expenses, and employees eliminate their commute, often adding that travel time to their available work hours.
What everyone failed to acknowledge is that managers were left holding the bag.
Now, managers still struggle to respond quickly to new challenges under the vague guidelines their organizations have in place—and there are plenty of challenges to overcome.
- How to establish quality communication – Remote teams adopted an “open-door” policy with constant communication through Teams, Slack, and recurring video calls, but the quality of the communication suffered. Too much noise without enough value led to tuned-out employees who felt like another cog in the system instead of appreciated contributors.
- How to provide routine training and feedback – Employees stop seeking manager input when every piece of training or feedback requires a meeting. And when managers can’t observe their employees, they don’t know it’s time to intervene until after there’s an issue.
- How to maintain productivity – Employees either feel micromanaged or that they’re not given enough direction from management, leading to trends like quiet quitting that create an even larger divide.
- How to demonstrate company culture – Work practices that don’t match company values can quietly creep in and take over before managers have time to react. But employees need more than salary and benefits to stay with a company long-term. People commit to companies they align with, not a paycheck.
- How to create a team mentality – Working long hours for a tight deadline is easier to take in stride when surrounded by your team. That camaraderie helps you rally in a way talking to a screen can’t. Managers have to find ways to keep their teams connected and engaged even though they’re miles apart.
The challenges of managing remote teams compound as employees continue to prefer flexible work arrangements. Companies must realize that empowering managers with the training and tools they need is the only way forward. Every organization is unique, but there are some management principles that every company should have in place.
Empowered Managers Make the Best Leaders
Traditionally, managers physically observed employees to know if they were overwhelmed, but remote work removed that oversight.
So, the first instinct for many companies was to use productivity tools and set up seemingly never-ending video conference calls to monitor employee actions. But tools are no replacement for good management.
Productivity tools track the time spent working but not the genuine progress. As any good manager knows, time doesn’t equal output.
Instead, companies must encourage managers to lead their employees through clear expectations, feedback, and company values.
One of the biggest obstacles to remote work is that companies don’t have established expectations from the start. Remote work makes it too easy for each team member to have tunnel vision, ending up with a poor result because there are no checkpoints along the way. When expectations are left open to interpretation, poor time management and disconnected project contributions creep in.
Management needs to set expectations early and reiterate them often. For example, clearly defined expectations on meeting attendance, accepted work environments, and message response times significantly improve misunderstandings.
Additionally, managers should communicate concrete deadlines for deliverables to prevent late submissions that stall projects and deplete team morale.
Setting expectations is the first step to a positive remote working arrangement. Beyond that, managers have to learn to provide constructive feedback and incentives from a distance.
Workplace communication should include more than project update meetings. To facilitate proactive management, managers can provide immediate, constructive feedback for team members and follow up to ensure it’s correctly implemented before major issues occur.
Remote work limits managers’ interactions with their teams, so each conversation holds added weight. Therefore, your company needs to allow managers to adopt a praise in public and correct in private style that promotes employee confidence. Remember, one negative public comment can irreversibly damage a professional relationship when there are limited chances to rebuild the connection.
Too many companies allowed their culture to become an afterthought once they shifted to remote work. However, assuming that your employees no longer value your company culture because they aren’t in the office is a mistake.
In fact, the best way to promote culture is from the top down, meaning management has to lead by example. But for your managers to emulate company culture, it has to have defined guiding values.
At Heinz Marketing, we have well-established company values under which every team operates. Our company values start at the management level because we know our teams will follow our lead. We instill confidence in our employees and their ability to rise to the challenge—remote or otherwise.
We’ve all heard the adage—people don’t leave their jobs; they leave managers. And right now, companies need to hold on to their employees more than ever. That’s why remote work needs empowered managers to guide it through this challenging adjustment phase.