Are remote teams difficult to manage?

Throughout my many years of management experience, I’ve overseen teams in a regular office environment and teams in remote environments. And you might be surprised at which option I’ve found to be more effective, and more conducive to proper management. Hands down, I think managing teams in a remote environment is the better option. 

And whether you’re already convinced about the remote working perks, or are raising your hand with a few questions, keep reading to uncover the main reasons why, in my personal opinion, managing a remote team is easier:

  • To start with, remote employees have better motivation to succeed in their jobs. Although remote work is on the rise, conventional office jobs still account for the majority of workplaces. So when a candidate finds a remote employer, and lands the job, they’re inclined to work harder to keep the job, and all of the perks that come with working remotely.  
  • Punctuality and attendance – At my company, we work within set hours, as the team needs to be in constant communication with each other. So everyone, with the exception of the Customer Support and IT teams, is required to work from 8am/9am UK time, Monday to Friday. And like clockwork, everyone shows up on time. I credit this lack of a commute for eliminating most of the variables that can delay an employee’s arrival at work. In addition to timely arrivals, I also find that fewer people take sick days at remote companies. Don’t get me wrong, if an employee is sick, I’m the first to direct them to log out, and rest until they’re feeling well again. But on the whole, the flexibility of a remote job cuts down on the number of false “sick days,” compared to conventional offices.
  • Because of the better motivation, the rotation of employees in remote positions is much lower. In the six years of managing my existing team of 30+ employees, I’ve had only five people voluntarily step away from their position. As with any other company, we let a small number of people go, based on their performance or, in one instance, due to general restructuring. But overall, the flexibility and lifestyle of working remotely keeps most employees driven and motivated to do the best work they can, in order to maintain their ideal work-life balance. And this extremely high retention rate is good for both managers and employees alike. 
Motivated remote employee after project completion
  • In a remote work environment, all projects are tracked online. This allows me to easily see progress and quickly take corrective action if needed. In an instant, I can see if a project is on time, or if I need to bring additional support to the project, in order to prevent unnecessary delays. Ultimately, with remote managing, you end up having excellent, easily-accessible records of everything you and your team do.
  • With a remote job, the only factor people are evaluated on, is results. You know the saying, ‘’Perception matters?” Anyone in a traditional office will tell you that results are what matter when evaluating employees. But the truth is that there are a number of different factors at play in an office building. Imagine a coworker who is coming to the office one hour early every day and spending all of her time in front of her PC. She’s always dressed professionally in lovely suits and heels – smiling and saying “hello” to everyone. At meetings she always speaks to every point which is raised.  Now imagine another coworker – who bikes to work (a few drops of sweat are her favorite 9-5 accessory), arrives at the office right on time, leaves on time, and in general, it seems like she never puts in the extra hours. Her looks are on the casual end, and you’ll find her at the water cooler dressed in jeans and t-shirts. She speaks at the meetings, but only when she has something important to contribute.  Based on what I’ve told you, which employee do you think has a better chance of getting promoted? Yes, results matter, but take into account all of these ‘’noise factors’’ as well. There are indeed companies which offer promotions on a very strict performance basis, but this is increasingly rare. In a remote setup, the only thing that matters is results. Not how early you come to the office, not how you dress, not how much you talk at the meetings. What counts is consistently meeting targets, what customers say about you, and how well your recent email campaign performed. Remote work simply creates an extremely fair work environment and allows you to see everyone’s talents clearly. (And biking is highly encouraged…)
  • Problem resolution vs negative vibes – Because the only way to “show” your work online is by delivering your work, most remote workers are focused more on the task at hand, than with taking valuable time to stand around the coffee pot and complain. There’s no office gossip, and no negative whispers about your coworkers. When a task is challenging, employees get focused, get productive, and get results, all from the comfort of their own home or coworking space. (And when the task is complete, sending  celebratory GIFs is a must!)
  • Meetings tend to be more on point in a remote setting. There are two main reasons for this: 
  1. There’s nobody sitting next to you in the office, so you can’t just raise your head above the cubicle wall and say, “Hey Amy. What about John’s campaign? Should I start with the first newsletter design?” Meetings are the time to get ALL of your questions answered. 
  2. Because everyone has a daily list of tasks they have to get through before logging out, there’s not a tendency for meetings to drag on. If something isn’t done, you will have to make time for it somewhere else, so it’s best to be efficient.

I had an interesting dinner this week with a project manager who I met while commiserating about our cancelled flights, leaving us with a night in Oslo. She expressed to me that she believes most jobs can probably be effectively performed online, although she doesn’t believe it would work (just yet) at her company. Why? In her own words, the ability to see her employees at their desks, working, gives her peace of mind. It comforts her to see everybody working, and not watching Netflix on their couch while logging hours on their work Skype, next to bowl of popcorn. (Ok, those might not be her exact words, but you get the point!) 
I took this opportunity to explain how we are running the company I work for; how everyone has their lists of tasks and responsibilities, and if something is not done it’s much more visible than in a traditional office environment, where employees can easily create the impression of being busy. We agreed that there are three key factors that need to be in place, in order for non-remote companies to start hiring remote workers:

Hiring Remote Teams
  1. Tools to manage remote teams – This is the most simple necessity. Some of the tools we use include: Asana, Skype and Google Docs. All of these programs are available in a free version. Read more out these, and other tools, here.
  2. Clear roles and projects broken down into tasks  – Everyone needs to have clearly defined roles, with monthly, weekly and sometimes daily deliverables. They need to be realistic and achievable in the timeframe allocated. Only when you measure performance based on the delivery of outcomes, will you be able to let go of that feeling of, ‘’If I don’t see Kate working, how do I really know she’s working?’
  3. Recruitments & contracts:
    • When hiring, you need to consider if the person will be able to remain focused on their tasks, even if there is no manager standing over them watching their screen. But think about it this way: Even if you are hiring for the office, do you really want to hire people who require that much supervision? 
    • In terms of contracts, you should clearly define the role, targets and performance standards required from the contractor. If you find yourself in a situation where your contractor is consistently not delivering on the tasks agreed upon, you need to be able to legally terminate the contract.

Above, I’ve explained why managing remote teams is easier, more efficient and economical, by my standards. I do realize that just like every other job, there are challenges (which I’ve written about here), but overall the benefits of managing a remote team far outweigh the challenges.

If you are not yet ready to start hiring remote, full-time employees, start by putting tools in place to allow you to launch a pilot project with your existing team. Begin with some of your best employees, by offering them one or two days a week working from home. Evaluate the project and employee performance after a month or two, and then decide on the next steps. Just make sure that before you launch the project your employees know their targets and tasks which you expect them to achieve, regardless of their location. 

Hiring remote employees? Let us know below, and share how the experience has been for you! Not convinced on going remote? Tell us, what hesitations are holding you back?

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