Challenges of a Remote Workforce

Challenges of a remote workforce

Giving your employees the opportunity to work from home can greatly improve their work-life balance as well as your employee retention rates. The Work Institute’s 2017 Retention Report surveyed 240,000 exiting employees to find the most common reasons workers left their jobs. The second most common reason cited, Work-Life Balance, drove 12 percent of respondents to quit their jobs.

But if your remote work policy isn’t carefully crafted, you may inadvertently exacerbate other problems that can push your employees to leave your company.

Remote Employees’ Careers May Stagnate

Lack of career development, the top driver of voluntary resignations, may cause your remote employees to search for another job.

Research indicates that employees who work outside the office may not receive as much recognition or salary as their in-person peers. This “remote-work penalty,” as The Atlantic calls it, happens when managers favor in-office employees at their desks because they perceive them as being more dependable and hard-working. 

This Face-Time Bias can be detrimental to the careers of employees who opt for remote work. Your company will also suffer if talented remote employees can’t climb to leadership positions. Because women with children and people of color are more likely to opt to work from home, Face-Time Bias may hamper your diversity and inclusion efforts.

Instead, incorporate policies that discourage Face-Time Bias and create equitable opportunities for employees regardless of their location.

Use objective measures to gauge employees’ productivity. Researchers found that one reason in-office employees receive more recognition is because their bosses see them working. Bosses give these employees latitude even if they don’t complete their work on time.

When remote employees struggle, managers are more likely to imagine they’re wasting their time. By using the same objective standards to judge each employee’s overall productivity, you can more accurately assess their performance.

Schedule frequent communications with remote employees. Don’t wait for the formal annual review to voice your expectations or dissatisfaction. It’s easy to drop by the desk of an in-office employee to talk about the workload and key tasks.

Proactively provide the same kind of feedback to remote employees. Communicate frequently with remote employees about what they’re doing well and what they can improve. At the same time, listen to their concerns.

Use an applicant tracking system or another software solution to track inter-company applications and promotions. Hard data is an effective tool to combat all forms of bias, including Face-Time Bias. Track promotions to ensure opportunity is equally distributed across in-office and remote teams.

Remote Work Intensifies Existing Management Issues

The third leading cause of employee resignations, problematic manager behavior, intensifies when teams work remotely.

Problematic management approaches tend to use bullying, passive-aggression, or micro-management to get results. Managers who use any of these tactics rely on in-person interactions to get their results. Bullying managers can’t intimidate employees over the phone as effectively. Passive-aggressive managers can’t compensate for their indirectness with gestures or facial expressions when communicating with remote employees. Leaders prone to micro-managing can’t hover around their employee’s home offices. All of these approaches, while always troublesome, will fail to achieve their intended result when used on a remote team.

If you have managers with these unhealthy leadership styles, chances are they’ve already driven away talent with their questionable methods. But any results they’ve achieved will quickly dissipate under the unique pressures of managing a remote team. Take steps now to rehabilitate these leaders and ensure they have the interpersonal skills to gain their team’s trust.

Create an anonymous employee survey to rate your managers. An annual survey that employees can fill out anonymously will give you insight into your managers’ existing weaknesses. These surveys can be an important tool for implementing training to help your managers overcome problematic leadership behavior.

Challenges Unique to Remote Work

Lack of career development opportunities and problematic manager behavior are complaints shared across the workforce that worsen when teams work remotely. But other problems uniquely shared by remote workers include isolation and difficulties connecting and collaborating with co-workers.

Remote Work Can Be Isolating

A common difficulty remote workers face, isolation, may make some of your employees long for the water cooler. In one survey, 16 percent of remote workers reported feeling lonely while working remotely. Companies that want to implement a remote workforce as a cost-saving measure will need to help employees navigate the isolation of working from home.

Your remote work policy should include clear strategies managers can use to help their team members feel less isolated. Employees can get some much-needed social interaction during informal, virtual social hours with their teams. Always spend the first few minutes of any meeting chatting and asking employees about their lives and personal interests. A group text is a great way to share memes, pictures of pets, or personal tidbits. 

Cameras can help facilitate social interactions. You can create guidelines regarding the use of cameras that balance a sense of community with employees’ need to set aside time for focused, interrupted work. 

An online training course can empower employees to tackle isolation with proven strategies. Working outside the house one day a week, taking a class, or joining a networking group are simple actions that may not occur to employees burdened by loneliness. Finally, encourage employees who are struggling to take advantage of the EAP or to reach out to their manager.

Collaboration Can Suffer with Remote Teams

A study published in Nature Human Behavior examined the effects of remote work on collaboration and connections at Microsoft. The researchers found that collaboration and access to new information suffer when workers are fully remote.

The informal social ties employees form by being in the office foster the connections that help them access new information. Being in the office also helps employees develop a smaller network of stronger connections through which collaboration occurs. Researchers found that these connections suffer when teams work fully remotely, jeopardizing innovation and creativity.

Researchers blamed the overuse of “less rich” communication, such as email and text messaging for the loss of innovation. You can be on the cutting edge of your industry while also gaining the benefits of a remote workforce by implementing these strategies.

  • Set clear communication guidelines. Tell employees that picking up the phone is always preferable to a long email message.
  • Invest in technology that fosters collaboration. Conference cameras can provide full room coverage. Messaging apps capture the conversational tone of in-person communications while also creating a transcript employees can refer to later.
  • Bring teams together. You can encourage the kind of connections that promote innovation by bringing your employees together periodically. Incorporate social activities such as tickets to a sports game along with dedicated time for working on projects.
  • Use a hybrid remote work model. Employees can foster their connections and collaborate when they come to the office one or more days a week. Many of your employees may even prefer working a hybrid schedule to working fully remotely.

You Can Overcome the Challenges of Managing a Remote Team

By implementing a remote work policy, you can help alleviate one of the most common complaints that cause employees to quit their jobs: lack of work-life balance. But the challenges of managing a remote team can exacerbate existing problems and create new challenges for employees and their managers.

The natural preference managers develop towards the employees they see in the office can leave remote workers stagnating in their career goals. And managers with problematic, unhealthy leadership styles can sabotage the success of your remote work policy. Finally, the unique challenges of working remotely, such as isolation and dwindling innovation, can make remote work less alluring.

But when you tackle each of these challenges with creative, proven measures, you can increase your employees’ satisfaction, reduce turnover, and become a pioneer in your industry, while realizing the cost-saving benefits of having a remote workforce.

The solutions to the typical challenges of managing a remote workforce share a common foundation: trust. In the next chapter, we’ll examine how trust impacts your efforts to implement a remote work policy. We’ll also explore ways you can incorporate trust into all of your interactions with your remote team.