remote employee management

8 Challenges of Managing Remote Employees (And How To Solve Them)

Leading a remote team? Learn how you can overcome the challenges of managing remote employees to create a more productive and engaged workforce.

Shannon Hodgen
Written by Shannon Hodgen
April 29, 2022
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Approximately 40% of remote managers have low confidence in their ability to manage their employees. Meanwhile, remote teams are only getting bigger, nearly doubling in size since 2020—the average manager oversees seven direct reports.

As a manager, you can burn yourself out trying to solve the biggest challenges of managing remote employees without clear communication strategies, easy-to-follow processes, or support from your superiors. At the same time, your remote employees can experience disengagement, low productivity, and low morale.

Below, you’ll learn how to streamline your team’s workflow, increase employee productivity, and build better employee relationships to become a better remote manager.

Challenge: Your remote team isn’t aligned with company mission and values

Employees are 27% more likely to stay on their team when they believe their company has a higher purpose (other than profits). Mission alignment is a huge factor for Millennial workers especially—eight out of ten say working for a socially responsible employer aligned with their values is important.

If your remote employees don’t have insight into your company’s mission, or their values and your company’s values don’t align, you could lose their talent to a competitor.

Solution: Openly share and discuss your company’s mission and values

Regularly communicate and share resources related to your company’s mission with your remote team members. Demonstrate your company’s values by living them out every day as a manager and have conversations about how an employee’s role directly impacts the company’s mission.

Create a document that acts as a source of truth for your company’s mission and values. This document should live in a public place and clearly explain:

  • What your company does
  • How you do what you do
  • Why you do what you do
  • The values you stand for
  • The values you don’t stand for
  • Progress toward the mission (other than profits)
  • Past and upcoming company-wide initiatives
  • How employees should treat each other (and be treated)
  • Your approach to work, learning, and innovation

When you openly share and discuss these topics, your remote employees will clearly understand your company’s stance and their role in the company mission. And if they ever need a refresher, they’ll know where to find the information.

Challenge: Remote employees aren’t following processes or meeting expectations

A remote employee won’t perform at the level of your expectations if those expectations aren’t clear. Managers who don’t overcommunicate about processes and KPIs (key performance indicators) set their team members up to fail.

Unclear expectations is an especially big challenge for employees new to remote work (or new to the company). They might not know how you expect them to perform or behave because they are used to in-person management which facilitates more time tracking.

Or, remote employees may be following their own ad-hoc processes because they don’t have official documentation on your processes and expectations. The result? A disorganized workflow and confusion among colleagues.

Solution: Share an easily-accessible resource on your processes and expectations

Virtual employees will be more confident in their day-to-day responsibilities, processes, and expectations if they have clear guidelines. The document will answer their questions before they even have to ask, saving time for everyone involved.

Gather all of the information on your team’s processes, roles, and work expectations, and save it in one place online. Make the document easily accessible to your team members so they can reference the information as needed.

This document should include:

  • Communication guidelines
  • Team processes and procedures
  • Org or team chart
  • Clear expectations about behaviors
  • KPIs for their specific role

Challenge: Scheduling virtual meetings across different timezones

Timezone differences can stall employee productivity when managing remote workers.

Say you’re in California and you have team members in Germany and the Philippines. You have to find a “Goldilocks” time slot whenever you book a meeting—a time that’s not too early, not too late, and works for everyone involved. This planning can take up precious time and energy as you try to get your team in one virtual room together.

If you’re a globally dispersed team that relies on virtual meetings and real-time communication, your remote employees might have to take meetings outside of their regular working hours. This habit can disrupt their work-life balance and isn’t realistic for most people with after-work responsibilities or children.

Solution: Create an asynchronous work process

Your team members don’t need to be online at the same time to be productive when you work asynchronously. Remote teams can keep their work moving, even if their regular work hours don’t overlap.

Asynchronous work (also known as async work) has risen in popularity due to how well it works for global remote teams. Recently, 60% of remote teams have become more asynchronous. Before you transition to async work, you need to create guidelines that explain:

  • When to work async: When does your team work asynchronously and when will you host mandatory one-on-ones and team meetings?
  • Who works async: Do all team members have to work asynchronously? Can some work together in real-time due to their shared or overlapping work hours? How do async employees and other employees work together?
  • What tools to use: How will your team communicate and collaborate? Some companies use digital project management tools like Jira or Asana to communicate about project progress. Others choose internal communication tools like Slack to easily see when colleagues are online

Challenge: Your team is struggling to bond and connect

Remote workers are more likely to experience disengagement than on-site workers because they often don’t see or hear from their team members. A lack of face-to-face interaction with colleagues weakens remote workers’ commitment to the company and their bond with their colleagues.

Team building is vital for building trust and improving morale and company culture, improving employee engagement, productivity, and retention. In 2019, six out of ten employees quit their job because due to the work environment (mostly due to poor work culture and problematic coworkers).

Solution: Create opportunities for virtual socializing and conversations

You can’t socialize with your colleagues face-to-face on a remote team (unless you happen to live in the same area). But you can use Zoom to create virtual watercooler environments that simulate the same casual bonding from home offices across the world:

Challenge: Recurring tasks are monopolizing your team’s time and attention

According to Zapier, 30% of workers say repetitive work is their top barrier to employee productivity. They spend one to three hours per day moving data from one place to another.

If your remote team is falling behind on tasks and missing project deadlines, it may be due to too many recurring tasks. For a marketing team, recurring tasks like publishing social media posts and setting up ad campaigns are essential but time-consuming. For team members in Operations or HR, manually creating and sharing reports can take up hours every week.

Solution: Save time by automating your workflow and recurring tasks

Project management tools can save you and your team time, energy, and resources, improving the work experience for all. In a Salesforce survey, 89% of employees said they’re more satisfied with their job due to workplace automation. The same employees said automation makes them more productive and gives them more time to learn new skills and take on new projects.

When comparing automation tools, look for:

  • An easy-to-use interface so employees at all levels are comfortable using it
  • Flexible role assignments and access permissions
  • Web- and mobile-friendliness
  • A drag and drop workflow builder
  • Integration with your most-used platforms and applications
  • A monthly task limit that works for your team
  • Data encryption and security for sensitive employee information

Challenge: Lack of cultural understanding is damaging your work environment

Most remote teams are globally dispersed, with employees belonging to a wide range of backgrounds and beliefs, which can cause communication challenges and cultural misunderstandings. If you can’t overcome language barriers or take the time to understand your remote workers’ cultural norms, you might unintentionally offend your team and create a negative work environment. This could lead team members to submit an HR complaint or leave the company altogether.

Some cultures have a more reserved way of communicating, while others are more direct. Some workers might value punctuality, while others don’t care about late starts or a few minutes of overhang after the allotted meeting time. Understanding these differences within your team can help you avoid any rifts or misunderstandings.

Solution: Create a more inclusive workplace by building cultural intelligence

Having cultural intelligence means you easily (and empathetically) understand the intentions, emotions, and thought processes of those different from you. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, culturally intelligent people make better decisions in intercultural situations, are more creative, and have better work performance.

To develop cultural intelligence and build a more inclusive remote environment:

  • Have your entire team complete on-the-job training, including Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) courses and scenario-based learning
  • Encourage employees to share about their regional holidays and religious celebrations throughout the year so their colleagues can gain their first-hand perspective
  • Have your entire team complete bias training to identify their own conscious and unconscious biases
  • Include a commitment to DEI in your company’s employee guidelines/handbook

Learn more about building an inclusive work culture with a remote team.

Challenge: You’re micromanaging your team and burning yourself out

According to a report by Kona, managers say that burnout is the second-hardest part of managing remote teams. 63% of managers or supervisors have recently experienced burnout and mental health issues.

In the same report, managers said building relationships and lack of trust is the number one hardest part of managing remote teams. Without trust, remote managers constantly question their team members’ work ethic and damage their team’s morale by micromanaging them.

Solution: Become a coach—not just a manager

Instead of just managing your team’s workload, coach your remote employees to become better self-managers. Provide current employees with self-management training that teaches them how to prioritize work and manage their time effectively. Look for candidates with experience in management or self-management when recruiting workers for your remote workforce.

Next, contact your HR team or People Operations team and inquire about an internal mentorship and coaching program. See if you can get partnered up with a senior manager who can provide insights and advice into remote team management, including how to avoid burnout and build more trust in your employee relationships.

Challenge: Your remote workers aren’t motivated

41% of remote team members struggle to stay motivated without teammate interaction. When low motivation goes unaddressed, it can lead to higher turnover, low productivity, and disengagement.

For other remote workers, motivation decreases when they don’t understand the purpose behind their work or how they’re driving progress at the company. If remote workers don’t understand their career growth potential, they can lose motivation and start looking for other opportunities since it’s unclear what they’re working toward in their current role.

Solution: Reward and recognize remote workers

Employees are happier when they’re recognized at work. While recognition and rewards from CEOs and colleagues are appreciated, you as a manager can make a huge impact on your employees’ motivation and morale.

Here are a few ways you can reward and recognize your remote team members:

  • Monetary or gifts: Reward your workers with a monetary bonus, gift card, or other employee perks as a celebration of their achievements
  • Verbal or written: Send a written message privately or publicly on your internal instant messaging app or highlight their achievements verbally in a team-wide video conferencing call
  • Opportunities: Providing a high-performing employee with further career development is a great motivator for them (and others on the team). Book check-ins focused on career development planning, provide training and coaching, let them lead a project, or promote them

Keep your focus on your remote employees—let Deel handle the rest

To be a great remote team manager, your employees need your undivided attention. Your focus should be on their development and progress, but when you’re managing a worldwide virtual team, your focus (and time) can be dominated by hiring, remote employee onboarding, and payroll tasks.

With Deel, you can hire and onboard talent from countries over the world in minutes, cost-effectively, and with minimal effort on your end. The entire employment process gets handled by local hiring experts, so you can focus on building your best business.

Read more about how Deel works or book a demo to see how we can help you and your team grow.

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