Before March 2020, while working remotely was likely many employees’ dream, the reality was that employers just weren’t embracing the idea. Then something happened: the pandemic, which forced employers and even some employees to change their minds and give remote work a try.
Although working from home was initially thought to be only a stopgap measure for a couple of weeks, a significant number of employees are still working from home 3 years later. And, while some of these workers may be physically located near their employers’ brick-and-mortar locations, others may be dispersed around the world.
Why is that?
Remote Work Has Become More Distant
For one, during the pandemic, some employees who suddenly found the freedom to literally work from anywhere pulled up roots and moved to areas that might have been either more desirable from a quality of life or an economic standpoint or both.
In addition, employers suddenly discovered an unexpected benefit of remote work: They could find top talent anywhere, not just in locations near them.
As borders blur in the digital realm, employees are no longer confined to a physical office, with many working several time zones away or even in entirely different countries. This new paradigm offers a wealth of opportunities but also presents unique challenges. How do companies navigate this vast expanse of remote work, ensuring productivity while fostering a sense of unity and shared purpose?
The Global Workforce Trend
The concept of a “global office” has taken on a literal meaning for many companies. With the rise of digital tools and platforms, geographical barriers have diminished, allowing businesses to tap into talent pools from around the world. Companies like Mailmodo and BizReport are prime examples of organizations that have wholeheartedly embraced this model.
“Mailmodo was born during the Covid era, which forced us to become a remote-only company,” says Tarun Agarwal of Mailmodo. “Surprisingly, this turned out to be an advantage as we could hire globally without any location barriers.”
To make remote work successful, Agarwal says, “we focused on creating robust documentation and processes for every aspect of the business, promoting cross-functional collaboration.” Mailmodo created detailed documents to outline its mission, product vision, and onboarding procedures for new hires. “This approach facilitated the evolution of our ideas while promoting transparency throughout the organization, building trust with our employees,” he adds.
This global approach to hiring not only broadens the talent pool but also introduces diverse perspectives, fostering innovation and creativity. However, as with any significant shift, it comes with its set of challenges and learning curves.
Challenges in Managing Remote Workers
As the global workforce expands, so do the challenges associated with managing remote teams. These challenges often revolve around communication, team dynamics, and ensuring consistent productivity.
Communication and Collaboration
One of the most pressing challenges is maintaining effective communication and collaboration across different time zones and cultures. “One of the foremost challenges has been maintaining effective communication and collaboration across different time zones and cultures,” says Young Pham of BizReport. “Miscommunications and delays in responses can impact project timelines and quality.”
Without the daily face-to-face interactions that traditional offices offer, building a cohesive team spirit among remote workers can be challenging. The absence of these interactions can lead to feelings of isolation and hinder the development of a shared company culture.
“Ensuring that remote employees remain productive without micromanaging is essential. Trusting that work is being completed efficiently is crucial, but it can be a challenge, especially in roles that require close supervision,” notes Pham.
With employees accessing company data from various locations, ensuring robust data security measures becomes paramount. This involves striking a balance between granting access and protecting sensitive company information.
As Logan Nguyen of NCHC, a health and wellness site, points out, “Varying levels of technological infrastructure in different regions can lead to inequalities in access to necessary tools and platforms for remote work.”
Despite what can sometimes seem like insurmountable challenges, plenty of companies are making the remote model work—and work well. The bonus: Employees are coming to far prefer the flexibility of remote or hybrid work and are making decisions on which companies to work for based on this flexibility.
Overcoming the Challenges
Addressing the challenges of managing a remote workforce effectively requires a multifaceted approach, combining clear protocols, technology, and an emphasis on team dynamics.
Clear Communication Protocols
“We’ve established clear and standardized communication channels and protocols, ensuring everyone knows where and how to communicate. Regular team meetings and project updates are integral,” says Pham.
To bridge the gap created by physical distance, companies are investing in virtual teambuilding activities. These initiatives, ranging from virtual happy hours to team challenges, foster a sense of belonging and collaboration among remote workers.
Instead of merely tracking hours, the focus has shifted to outcomes and deliverables. “We’ve shifted our focus from measuring time spent on tasks to outcomes and deliverables. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are defined for each role, and regular performance reviews help maintain accountability,” Pham explains.
Companies are implementing robust data security practices, including VPNs, two-factor authentication, and regular security training for all team members.
Robust Technology Stack
Using a combination of collaboration and project management tools has become essential. Platforms like Slack, Trello, and Asana streamline work processes, while videoconferencing tools facilitate face-to-face interactions.
The Role of Technology
In the realm of remote work, technology serves as the backbone, ensuring seamless communication, collaboration, and productivity. It also bridges the geographical divide, making it feel as though team members, though miles apart, are just next door.
Project platforms like Asana and Trello have become indispensable. “At BizReport, we leverage platforms like Asana and Trello to organize tasks, set deadlines, and track progress in real time,” says Pham.
Communication tools and real-time messaging platforms like Slack offer more than just text communication. They also provide channels for team discussions, file sharing, and integration with other essential apps, making project collaboration efficient.
“Seeing peoples’ body language and intonation matters. In fact, it matters so much that on my team we often record quick, 30-second Loom videos to share with each other on what we’re working on or to explain complex issues,” says Justin Hein of Check. Platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams have become virtual boardrooms, facilitating team meetings, brainstorming sessions, and one-on-ones.
People Management Practices for Remote Teams
Beyond technology, the human aspect of managing remote teams is paramount. Trust, understanding, and clear communication are the cornerstones of effective remote team management.
Trust and Autonomy
“Trust is everything. You’re only going to get to high performing outcomes if you trust your team members,” emphasizes Hein. Micromanaging remote employees can be counterproductive. Instead, setting clear expectations and trusting them to meet those expectations are key.
Setting Clear Standards
As Nguyen suggests, setting clear standards when assigning tasks ensures everyone is aligned with the company’s goals and objectives.
Boundaries and Work/Life Balance
With the lines between work and home often blurred in remote work, setting boundaries is essential. Hein advises, “For remote employees, that might include scheduling a 30-min lunch block on their calendar to avoid having calls scheduled right through mealtimes. It may also mean blocking out time for personal or family time.”
The landscape of work has undeniably changed, with remote work becoming a mainstay in many industries. While the challenges of managing very remote teams are real, they aren’t insurmountable. With the right blend of technology, people management practices, and expert insights, companies can harness the benefits of a global workforce. As we move forward, the lessons learned from pioneers in remote work will serve as a beacon, guiding the way to a more connected, productive, and flexible future of work.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.